The Greek state is an invention of European powers: this is why it does not appear as truly legitimate, even in the eyes of the Greek citizens themselves. This 1830 invention of Greece throws light on the behavior of the taxpayers - in no hurry to pay their taxes - and on a State never deprived of its doubtful origins. This contemporary history speaks better of the brewing bankruptcy than any accounting considerations. It all began with the Romantics, when Chateaubriand, great writer yet also wonderful fibber, then Lord Byron, thought they could retrieve in Greece the sources of occidental civilization. A misunderstanding for which we are now paying the price: if it is true that the Greek live on the same land as Aristotle and Pericles, there is no great continuation between the Hellenic civilization and modern Greece. The Byzantium line, from which modern Greeks proclaim they descend from, is a weak one. Mark Twain was more realistic: when visiting Athens in 1865, he admitted he had only met a few shepherds, whose sheep were grazing amid the ramshackle columns of the Parthenon. Those Greeks, actually, were a Christian tribe among others in the Ottoman Empire. Yet just as Don Quichotte dreamt that an ugly peasant girl was the love of his life, Europeans wanted all Greeks to be Hellenics. We cannot blame the Greeks for taking advantage of the situation: throughout the whole 19th century, the Greek state‘s finances were supported by the British, the French and the German. Those last paid for having foisted a German prince on the throne of Greece in 1833 : this vague descendant of Alexander the Great bore the curious name of Othon of Baviere and ruled over a former Christian Ottoman tribe.
This is how the exploitation of the Hellenistic myth became a main resource of the newly Greek state, provided that the other Europeans paid. Even though the Greek state and economy did not fulfill any of the conditions required to enter the European Union, Greece became one of its member as early as 1981, with the particular support of Valéry Giscard d’Estaing, great reader of Chateaubriand. “Greece, he said, being the crib of European civilization, the makers of Europe hold to it an historical debt”. The message is clear: Greece does not refuse to pay its debt, it is Europe which is in debt. It is doubtless that many Greeks share this high opinion of themselves, since it has been imposed on them. And why pay today’s debt as long the historical debt remains unpaid?
The limitless mystification reappeared in 2001 when Greece entered the euro area without fulfilling any of the necessary conditions. We now blame Greek leaders for cooking the books, until the day the financial markets discovered the imposture. Yet it is not true: in 2001, the European leaders knew and said, privately, that the data given by the Greek state were wrong, but symbolically Greece had to a part of it; historical debt again.
Once more, when Athens mayor stood for the 2004 Olympic games, the international Olympic committee knew that Greece could not afford it. But how to say no to the Olympic games in Athens, since it is their birthplace (or somewhere around), before Pierre de Coubertin reinvented them in 1896?
For all these reasons, the Greek state does not feel truly compelled to pay its creditors back, just as Greek citizens do not feel under duress to pay their fines to some alien state. True, the government is no longer German nor military (since 1973), yet the Republic is not absolutely legitimate: because of a widespread corruption among the politicians, of an inefficient administration but also – much less talked about- because many Greeks have not got over the 1949 civil war, silenced by a Anglo-American military intervention. Add to this millions of citizens forced to speak Greek, cultural minorities denied of all legitimacy while they are of Albanian or Turkish origins! In all, the citizens base, which considers the Greek state as a legitimate one, is as fragile as the economy base which, for the main part, lives “off shore”, far from the Internal Revenue Service.
For all these historical and cultural reasons, the Greek government is made to make more and more promises that he won’t be able to keep (taxes are not going to flow in the coffers of the State) or that he doesn’t wish to keep (privatizations would deny the state its influence and reduce populism), with the implicit hope that the Europeans will, once more, yield to the fascination of the myth.
The outcome is uncertain, as Europe suffers towards Greece of an “Oedipus complex”: if Greece is both our father and mother, the myth has to be killed; Greeks and Europeans have to admit that Greece is a country like any other, for the historical Debt to be settled and the current debt to be paid of ( a negotiated bankruptcy within the euro zone , would of course , be the best outcome for everybody).