Greece at bay?

Conference given the Sptember 29th by J. Sapir on Greek crisis in its geopolitical context at Institut des Hautes Etudes de Défense Nationale (IHEDN) and Institut Prospective et Sécurité en Europe (IPSE).

Text kindly translated by Anne-Marie de Grazia

This text is a summary of Jacques SAPIR’s intervention at the conference « Genesis and actuality of the Greek crises – Analysis of causes, mechanisms and consequences » under the auspices of IPSE and IHEDN – Île de France, which took place September 29 2015 at the Ecole Militaire.

In his approach of the geostrategic analysis of Greece along two essential axes of this nation’s history, Jacques Sapir shows under a new angle the structure and intrinsic nature of the economic and political identity of the country.


The foreign policy of a country is function of its geography

In evoking the relations between Greece and Turkey as well as the political choices of Turkey with regard to the Middle-East, Jacques Sapir stresses a decisive element which must be remembered concerning the position of Greece as an archipelago. Greece’s position is exceptional in that it belongs at once to the Balkans, and its history bears the mark of the Balkan Wars of the early 20th century, while in the same time occupying a strategic position in the Eastern Mediterranean Basin. Its opposition to Turkey, its former colonial power, also left a mark on its history. The occupation of part of Cyprus by the Turkish forces in 1974, implemented with the consent of NATO, has created an extremely complex situation from the standpoint of International Law for the island in its totality has been admitted to the EU, whereas the Cyprus government controls only about 60% of it.

We must take note also of the fact that the tandem Greece-Cyprus has been durably implicated in the conflicts in the Middle-East, be it the civil war in Lebanon in the 1980s and 1990s, or the Palestinian question. Moreover, until the beginning of the years 2000, the Greek economy was largely an exporter of industrial and agricultural products to the Middle-East.

This particular situation, both in the Eastern Mediterranean Basin but also as manager of the Aegean « archipelago » makes out of Greece an important strategic « point, » at the heart of numerous conflicts, whether open or potential. It also explains the important military budget, essentially a naval one, of this country. It is clear therefore that geography is largely determining Greek foreign policy, which must face up to threats, or representations of threats, in the North, from the Balkans, but also to the East and South. Moreover, the legacy of history also makes itself felt. One cannot understand Greek politics, whether foreign or domestic, only through the prism of geography.


An unfinished state and a post-colonial situation

The question of the genesis of the State invites us to reflect upon the unfinished character of the Greek state. Greece is a recent country, coming out of the War of Independence of 1829. The intervention of the “great powers” (Britain, France and Russia) was decisive in this independence. But it resulted in a peculiar situation, comprising a state which has not been able to finish its construction, and very tight links remaining between the Greek elite and the « great powers. » Greece never could enjoy full sovereignty, moving during the 20th century from a British to an American sphere of influence. The Greek civil war of 1944 to 1947 has been particularly violent and constituted a deep trauma for the popular classes, which have duly registered the will of the British and the Americans to maintain the existing order, as well as shaping the Greek « elite, » which fully committed itself to its statute of a class of compradores, intimately linked with the powers which keep it alive. In their great majority, the sons and daughters of the elite went to study abroad and, even when returning to their native land, had a fragmentary knowledge of the country.

Several aspects constituting the identity of the Greek state since the dictatorship of the colonels (1967-1974) and the foreign policy waged by Greece, particularly on the Cyprus question, are part of the « unfinished » character. A great part of Greek society sees in Europe, whether in the CEE (after 1974) or in the EU, a privileged instrument for guaranteeing the security of Greece, avoiding the return of the army to power, and modernizing the country. But these representations have been disappointed in part in the past twenty years. European instances have been largely in connivance with the cronyist and nepotist system of the Greek elite, which was put in place by Nea Demokratia (right) as well as by PASOK (left). German companies have been a hotbed of corruption in Greek society. More generally, the EU has tolerated, even encouraged, patrimonial power practices, which were inherited from the Ottoman occupation of Greece. Which explains both the considerable attachment of the Greeks to « Europe » but also their increasing rejection of European institutions.


The economic effects of successive memorandums

It is clear that the agreement wrested from Greece at the reunion of the Eurogroup and European Council during the tragic night of July 12th-13th did not settle anything. Not only does the so-called « agreement » turn out to be inadequate and unable to treat the problem at the root, but one is beginning to realize that it will not bring any respite. [1] Indeed, if on Monday, July 20th, Greek banks were able to open their doors again, the operations which they are able to execute are remaining extremely limited. In fact, the constraints of foreign currencies control, disguised as capitals controls and imposed by the European Central Bank, have remained largely in vigor. Granted that withdrawals by the population have been eased. But they remain limited. The operations of Greek companies continue to be held up by the fact that Greece is being maintained in a straight-jacket by the European authorities.

This situation of penury of liquidities has been organized by the European Central Bank. It dealt a fatal blow to the Greek economy and the second semester of this year should see the economy sinking again into a spectacular depression. The financial situation is just as tragic, because when production plummets, so do tax receipts, as well as the solvency of borrowers. The percentage of “non-performing” loans has sharply increased since last June 26th. The financing needs of Greek banks have gone from 7 to 10 billion euros at the end of June to 25-28 billions on July 15 and could reach 35 billion by the middle of next week. In fact, the Greek banking system has been deliberately destroyed by the pressures exerted by the European Central Bank for essentially political aims. The sums which will need to be granted to Greece simply to prevent the country from sinking into total chaos, should it stay in the Eurozone, amount no longer to 82-96 billion euros as estimated on July 13th, but more probably in the order of 120 billion euros.

The Greek debt is at present no longer « sustainable » and the agreement did nothing to make it so [2]. If Mrs Merkel, Mr J-C Juncker and Mr Dijsselbloem are the « winners » over Alexis Tsipras, they are beginning to understand the meaning of the expression « a pyrrhic victory. »


Greece, Europe and democracy

As can be seen in the massive success of the « no » at the referendum of July 5th, the Greeks have experienced the imposition by the EU and the Eurogroup of the diverse « memorandums » as a double blow to the country’s sovereignty and to democracy. Why even speak of « democracy », when the main problem is one of transfers? Even Dominique Strauss-Kahn uses the word diktat [3], to qualify the agreement imposed on Greece.

As for François Hollande, he has clearly profited from the Greek crisis to put himself in position for the presidential election of 2017, under cover of speaking about Europe. This can be seen in the letter he sent to the JDD on the occasion of the 90th birthday of Jacques Delors: « The populists have taken over this disenchantment and are taking on Europe because they are afraid of the world, because they want to go back to divisions, walls, fences ». In this sentence, he is practicing large scale confusion. First, in pretending that a fear of the world is explaining the disgust with the European Union, which is a particularly reductionist short-cut and an insult to Eurosceptics. Then in deliberately confusing Europe and the European Union.

Clearly, the abuses of the EU institutions are generating today an increasing rejection of the EU. And the way Greece has been treated is only one of such abuses, if indeed the gravest and most spectacular. There is no « fear of the world » here. But there is a rejection of what Mrs Merkel, Mr Juncker and Mr D M. Dijsselbloem are standing for. The President is intent on cooping up the opponents to the Euro and the opponents to the EU together in the cage of retrogrades. Yet, when one sees how the EU is functioning, and how the Eurozone is being managed, one may ask if the truly retrogrades are not precisely Mrs Merkel, Mr Juncker and Mr Dijsselbloem, but also Mr François Hollande. If the true obstacle to movement and progress is not the peculiar conception of European institutions which we have inherited from Jacques Delors, as well as from Jean Monnet. This technocratic and anti-democratic vision of Europe, founded on a negation of sovereignty, is a vision of the 19th century, it’s the vision of the Congress of Vienna, when we are in the 21st century. In indulging in all these confusions, hiding behind smoke-screens, inventing himself imaginary enemies, François Hollande has indeed entered his electoral campaign.

That he did it while the symbolic drama of the rape of Greek sovereignty was unfolding, that he did not understand what this rape implied for the European construction [4], shows that, if he is not devoid of intelligence, his intelligence is a rickety one, one that is formatted, dry, sterile and devoid of what should be its principal quality: the power of imagination.


Greece, an economic crisis, a political crisis, a crisis of representations?

So that the economic problems affecting Greece since its entry into the Eurozone in 2001, marked by successive crises (2008, 2010, 2011 and the period running) are a witness to the Greek agony provoked by repetitive austerity measures. Nevertheless, the question of Greece’s economic identity since the episode of the colonels remains an important invariant for analyzing, since its inception, the very structure of the state.

The cultural element in particular takes on an essential importance in the construction of identity, as far as the Greek elites are concerned. How does part of the elite position itself in regard to Greece? It is useful here to keep in mind the Greek diaspora – the Greek people being diasporic – a crucial fact which does not necessarily play in favor of Greece, the more so that the elites often forged their ideological representations outside the national territory.

We must therefore shore up in an evolving manner the analysis in the « long time » of the construction of the Greek state, in order to make out the foundations of history where the political, the economy and culture intertwine in the configuration of the state, while having determinant repercussions on the present Greek situation. A fortiori, this allows one to understand the political incapacity of SYRIZA to fully face up to Europe, and finding itself in the situation of looking for allies. SYIRIZA’s choices since the legislative elections of January 25th, 2015 bear witness to it. The high abstention rate at the latest snap elections of September 20th 2015 express, on the one side, the immense disappointment of the Greek people, but also the difficulty in finding a solid majority which, against the backdrop of recession, leads to a chronic crisis of governability.

One notices for instance that the Greek government is lackin a mastery of the European geopolitical stakes, while now looking for allies in the United States.

While the opacity of the institutional structures in Brussels and German intransigence are prevailing in the Greek crisis, and the question of the restructuration of the debt is not on the table, we are watching a vicious circle where the structural Greek crisis and the Eurozone crisis are interpenetrating, whereas the resolution of these crises is looming neither on the immediate horizon, nor in the middle term.

In conclusion, the analysis of the Greek crises enlightens us on the nature of the Euro which is really becoming a form of governance founded on a denial of democracy, not giving a damn about the expression of the sovereignty of the people.


[1] Galbraith J., « Greece, Europe, and the United States », Harper’s Magazine, 16 July 2015,

[2] Barro J., « The I.M.F. Is Telling Europe the Euro Doesn’t Work », The New York Times, 14 juillet 2015,


[4] Milne S., « The crucifixion of Greece is killing the European project », The Guardian, 16 juillet 2015,


Jacques Sapir

Ses travaux de chercheur se sont orientés dans trois dimensions, l’étude de l’économie russe et de la transition, l’analyse des crises financières et des recherches théoriques sur les institutions économiques et les interactions entre les comportements individuels. Il a poursuivi ses recherches à partir de 2000 sur les interactions entre les régimes de change, la structuration des systèmes financiers et les instabilités macroéconomiques. Depuis 2007 il s'est impliqué dans l’analyse de la crise financière actuelle, et en particulier dans la crise de la zone Euro.

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