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F + 24 : Rich Hydra - Poor Athens

After a calm night in Porto Cheli and a perfect sleep, we set out to sail to Hydra, the pirates’ nest I mentioned yesterday. The tiny harbour inlet not big enough to shelter a few sailboats is protected by mighty rocks on either side. The harbour fortifications look improvised though compared to what we have seen in Nafplio. Hydra had little strategic importance to the Ottoman and the Venetians. It was a fishing village and home to young mariners with no jobs. That changed with the war of independence which propelled Hydra into wealth and prominence The houses became large, the market place spacious, the clock tower elegant.

Hydra Today - the big Ferry had just left when we arrived

Hydra’s wealth stands in sharp contrast to how poor the Kingdom of Greece always was. The war of independence had wrecked the country. King Otto was an absolute Monarch but also had absolutely no money. With a population of 800’000 people and only ½ of 30 millions arable hectares under the plow, there was no tax revenue to speak of. A loan of 60 million Francs had been arranged for him by the great powers but that money did not last long.

King Otto of Bavaria's efforts to win over his fellow

Greeks had little success - very instagramable though

50% of his budget was spent on the Army – Otto brought 3’500 loyal German mercenaries to Greece – and 25% on interest payments. The remaining 25% had to cover the rest. In his country devastated by 10 years of war, there was no money for reconstruction, stimulating economic activity, for schools, for a navy or anything else.

By 1843, King Otto lost absolute power and had to agree to a constitutional monarchy

Only 12 years after achieving independence Greece defaulted on its loan. Quite an achievement! The international lenders imposed harsh repayment conditions. Austerity followed in a poor country - no wonder, King Otto had little support.

Whilst Greeks love their Flag, many Villages display it

together with their local Flag - this one is Hydra's - local

Patriotism runs deep

With such a week central authority, the villages and towns did what they always do. They look after themselves. The attitude of “them” against “us” was born. Did not have enough time to research the topic in detail but am pretty sure that the cavalier attitude of Greeks towards taxes or a central real estate registry have their roots in that time. Take from the state when there is something to get, but don’t count on it and give central authorities as little as you can get away with.

Greece was not the first Country that tries to solve

internal Problems with aggressive Foreign Policy

I also believe that the roots of the Megali Idea go back to this time. Unable to address any of Greece’ real problems, the central government rallied the Greeks behind the battle cry “liberate all Greeks enslaved by the Ottoman Empire" and adopted an expansionist foreign policy. Have written about this already in a previous blog. The result were endless wars with Turkey and finally total defeat in 1922 which resulted in more than 1 million Greek people being expulsed from Anatolia and Constantinople. King Otto was one of the prominent supporters of Megali. What a fool. It did not help him securing his throne. In 1862 he was forced to resign and sent back to Bavaria. To me, it is unclear what he actually achieved.

French and English Troops occupied Athens in 1854/55 because they worried about feared that the Megali Philosophy would push into Russia's War Camp

All of this reminds me of modern Greece - weak central government, inefficient but large state bureaucracy, chronic deficits. Greece skilfully made their problem the EU’s problem. Unless the country's attitude changes and starts to become a functioning state for its citizens, there is little hope – Greece may actually take the EU down with it.

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