As you can see, it is quite beautiful on the Aegean Sea. I’ve been reading about Greece’s economic problems and the recent elections recently in Slate and in the Wall Street Journal . I also read Robert Kaplan’s Greek chapters in his book, Balkan Ghosts: A Journey Through History. Below are my thoughts on the country and the things I have learned. Note that I’ve only been in the resort for a few days and have only spoken to employees, so this is no way an informed or experienced view. The purpose of this post is to crystallize my opinions of Greece.
- I learned that the Greeks refer to themselves as Hellenes and the country Hellas. “Greek” is a corrupted form of the Turkish word for dog or slave.
- I agree with Kaplan that Greece is more Balkan than Mediterranean. That is if you can define a place with those two “adjectives.” He means Balkan in that Greece is the mother Orthodox Church, from which the other Balkan Orthodox Churches were developed (Serbia, Macedonia, Bulgaria, Romania), the Byzantine Empire, which shaped the cultures of the Balkans, was basically a Greek Empire, with its capital being Constantinople, and also the Cyrillic Alphabets in the Balkans are also of Greek origin.
- Salonika, or today known as Thessaloniki, used to be a predominately Jewish city. Jews found refuge in the city from 140BC to 1500 AD. 96.5 percent of them were wiped out by the Nazis at Auschwitz and other camps. With hundreds of thousands of Greek refugees fleeing Ataturk filling the city, any trace of the Jews in Salonika is gone.
- I can see why the Greeks hate the Turks so much. I didn’t realize that Constantinople was a Greek city and the Hagia Sophia was built by the Byzantines in 500 AD. Ataturk wreaked havoc on the Greeks living in Asia Minor and the Greek city of Smyrna is today 100% Turk and named Izmir.
- Most people do not know much about the recent history of Greece. The 20th century had lots of war and bad government. Kaplan had a good quote, “It had become just another Eastern European country: its population emerging, completely bewildered, into an unsentimental world where efficiency and hard work, rather than notions of past glory and philotimo were all that mattered.”
- Like many nations, or states, or city governments, Greece needs to balance their budget. They spend wastefully and owe Germany and the European Union a lot of money, with a huge debt. This past quarter, unemployment in Greece was over 22%, which is twice as much as usual. It is however, a quite developed nation and I’ve seen good infrastructure and definitely not Third World. Greece has come a long way since the days of terrorist bombings in the 70′s and 80′s. I don’t envy the new Prime Minister, Antonis Samaras’s job. He and his colleagues need to make the government more efficient, protect the poor, find jobs for young people, and negotiate with the IMF and European Central Bank about the bailout and balancing the budget over time. Yikes!
I’ll share more thoughts if we stay longer.