Greek history at a glance

Greece is an old nation but a young state. Modern Greece was created in 1830 when Ottoman rule was ended after a nine-year national rebellion combined with growing European pressure. After a short period as a republic, the country was effectively turned into a monarchy three years later. The free Greece was however smaller than was hoped for and a campaign to enlarge the territory to include all areas inhabited by ethnic Greeks, both in Europe and in Asia Minor, was thus commenced. The enlargement idea, or the Megali Idea , was to dominate Greek politics for almost the next hundred years. The two Balkan wars (1912-13) almost doubled the Greek territory, which in turn created problems related to the integration of the new areas into the old state. In World War I, Greece sided with the entente powers against Turkey and the other central powers. In the war's aftermath, the great powers awarded parts of Asia Minor to Greece which had a majority Greek population. Soon after, the Turkish nationalists led by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, overthrew the Ottoman government, organized a military assault on the Greek troops, and defeated them. Immediately afterwards, over one million native Greeks of Turkey had to leave for Greece as a population exchange with hundreds of thousands of Muslims living in the Greek state.

Despite the country's numerically small and ill-equipped armed forces, Greece made a decisive contribution to the Allied efforts in World War II. Greece was thus granted Rhodes and the Dodekanesses after the war. The country was, however, invaded and suffered hard years during the Nazi occupation. After liberation, Greece experienced an equally bitter civil war—between communist insurgents and government forces (that encompassed republicans, liberals, royalists and conservatives). The regime that was established after the civil war was closely fitted to the victors; the armed forces, the monarch, and the parliamentary Right. The resulting "democracy" combined parliamentary formalism with exclusion of the political opposition. Konstantin Karamanlis was prime minister from 1955 to 1963 when Georgios Papandreou formed his first short lived government. In 1967, the Greek military seized power in a coup d'état, overthrew the centre right government of Panagiotis Kanellopoulos and established the Greek military junta of 1967-1974, which became known as the Regime of the Colonels . The Junta made all political parties illegal, and was particularly oppressive on members of leftist parties, throwing thousands of leftists in jail or forcing them into exile.

The Turkish invasion of Cyprus (the Cyprus crisis) marked the end of the dictatorship in 1974. The charismatic exiled politician, Konstantinos Karamanlis, returned from Paris as interim prime minister and later gained re-election for two further terms as the head of the conservative New Democracy party. In 1975, following a referendum to confirm the deposition of King Konstantinos, a democratic republican constitution came into force. Andreas Papandreou, son of Georgios Papandreou, had also been exiled during the dictatorship only to return and found the PASOK party, which won the elections in 1981 and dominated the country's political course for almost two decades. PASOK is a catch-all party in the centre of the political spectrum. The other major parties representing the left and the right were the Greek Communist Party (KKE) and New Democracy (ND). Until 1989, ND and PASOK were the two real contesters for governmental power. PASOK to a certain extent continued the clientilistic tradition of the political right in Greece. As PASOK gained power, a massive recruitment of party members to the bureaucracy followed. The party has later been plagued with corruption accusations.

Politics in the new era

The present Greek constitution, introduced in 1975, established Greece as a presidential republic and a parliamentary democracy. The president is formally head of state but only performs limited governmental functions in addition to ceremonial duties.

In April of 1990, ND was able to achieve a slim majority in the parliament, with 47% of the popular vote. Unfortunately for ND, a global recession dominated its 3-year administration, contributing to its downfall in the 1993 elections. PASOK once again climbed into the majority, gaining 47% of the vote, while ND was only able to retain 39% of the vote. The 1996 election resulted in another victory for PASOK, albeit by less convincing numbers. Four years later, the 2000 election resulted in one of the closest elections in Greece history, with only 50,000 votes separating PASOK and ND. Voters, pleased with PASOK's progress on foreign affairs (improved relations with Turkey, and better relations with the EU and NATO) but anxious for more rapid progress on domestic issues such as health care, education, and employment, gave PASOK a slim mandate to continue in government, with 44% of the vote.

In March 2004, early elections were held in which ND secured 45.4% of the votes cast, thereby removing PASOK and George Papandreou from government. Kostas Karamanlis, nephew of the late Konstantinos, became head of government, and the following year PASOK-member Papoulias was elected president by the parliament.

The Papandreou and Karamanlis families have dominated the Greek political scene for most of the past 50 years. In 2007 Karamanlis called for elections six months before the end of his term. Although the support for ND fell when many Greeks felt the government was slow to react to the forest fires, which killed 65 people, the party managed to secure a victory of 41,8% versus the 38,1% garnered by Papandreou and PASOK. Both parties did however suffer a fall in votes this year, with the three smaller parties from the far left and right gaining support.

Since the restoration of democracy, the stability and economic prosperity of Greece have grown. Greece joined the European Union in 1981 and adopted the Euro as its currency in 2001. Tensions continue to exist between Greece and Turkey over Cyprus and the delimitation of borders in the Aegean Sea. However, relations warmed after both countries suffered earthquakes in 1999 and offered each other practical help. Although the disputes remain unresolved, the Greek government gives backing to Turkey's EU bid.

Greece has furthermore been in dispute since the early 1990s with the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. Greece contends that the use of the name Macedonia by the neighbouring country implies a territorial claim over Greece's own region of the same name.


Heidar, K. and Berntzen E. (1998). Vesteuropeisk politikk: Partier, regjeringsmakt, styreform. Oslo: Universitetsforlaget.

Recent History (Greece), in Europa World online. London, Routledge. University of Bergen. Retrieved 09 August 2006 from