Sunday, 29 May 2011

Britain and the expansion of the Greek state

Many thanks to the friend who sent me a copy of Robert Holland and Diana Markides’ The British and the Hellenes: Struggles for Mastery in the Eastern Mediterranean 1850-1960; which, the last couple of days, I’ve finally found some time to read. The book is very good  and covers, albeit essentially from the British perspective, Anglo-Greek relations as they developed in the post-Napoleonic period through the Eastern Question, the two World Wars and post-colonialism, in which circumstances prevailed that meant Britain had a powerful say in the futures of the Ionian islands, Crete, Cyprus and the Dodecanese. 

Many things are revealed by the book: notably, how, apart from the Venizelos-Lloyd George entente, British and Greek interests – or the interests of a conservative superpower and an aspiring regional one – often collided and that the union of the Ionian islands, Crete and the Dodecanese with Greece was done in the teeth of British opposition and was not some ineluctable or organic process, but a combination of local Greek fortitude, a whole host of arbitrary factors and decisions and a passing alignment with the strategic imperatives of foreign powers.

The unwillingness of enough Greeks to submit or compromise their identity and national aspirations comes across strongly – and was something that exasperated the British; but, sadly, as in the Cyprus case, the fervour and willpower of the Greek periphery for enosis was often not enough to overcome a hesitant Greek state, Greece’s inferior strategic position and its reliance on the acquiescence of more powerful nations to achieve Greek goals. Modern Greece’s failures appear to be rooted in this inability to seize control, as much as is possible in these matters, of its own destiny.