The history of modern Greece began with the recognition of Greek independence from the Ottoman Empire in 1832 after the Greek War of Independence. The first leader of independent Greece, Ioannis Kapodistrias, was assassinated in 1831. At the insistence of the United Kingdom, France, and Russia, the 1832 Treaty of London made Greece a monarchy. Otto of Wittelsbach, Prince of Bavaria was chosen as its first King in 1832 and he arrived at the provisional capital, Nafplion, in 1833 aboard a British warship.
When the 17-year-old Bavarian Prince Otto was installed by the London Conference of 1832 as King of Greece, he adopted the Greek name Othon. His troubled reign lasted for 30 years before he and his wife Queen Amalia left the way they came, aboard a British warship. During the early years of his reign a group of Bavarian Regents ruled in his name, and made themselves very unpopular by trying to impose German ideas of rigid hierarchical government on the Greeks. Nevertheless they laid the foundations of a Greek administration, army, justice system and education system. Othon was sincere in his desire to give Greece good government, but he suffered from two great handicaps. He refused to renounce his Roman Catholic faith in favor of Greek Orthodoxy, and his marriage to Queen Amalia remained childless. This meant he could neither be crowned as King of Greece under the Orthodox rite nor establish a dynasty.
The Bavarian Regents ruled until 1837, when at the insistence of Britain and France, they were recalled and Othon thereafter appointed Greek ministers, although Bavarian officials still ran most of the administration and the army. But Greece still had no legislature and no constitution. Greek discontent grew until a revolt broke out in Athens in September 1843. Othon agreed to grant a constitution, and convened a National Assembly which met in November. The new constitution created a bicameral parliament, consisting of an Assembly (Vouli) and a Senate (Gerousia). Power then passed into the hands of a group of politicians, most of whom who had been commanders in the war of independence against the Ottomans.
Greek politics in the 19th century was dominated by the national question. The majority of Greeks continued to live under Ottoman rule, and Greeks dreamed of liberating them all and reconstituting a state embracing all the Greek lands, with Constantinople as its capital. This was called the Great Idea (Megali Idea), and it was sustained by almost continuous rebellions against Ottoman rule in Greek-speaking territories, particularly Crete, Thessaly and Macedonia. During the Crimean War the British occupied Piraeus to prevent Greece declaring war on the Ottomans as a Russian ally.
A new generation of Greek politicians was growing increasingly intolerant of King Othon's continuing interference in government. In 1862, the King dismissed his Prime Minister, the former admiral Constantine Canaris, the most prominent politician of the period. This provoked a military rebellion, and Othon accepted the inevitable and left the country. The Greeks then asked Britain to send Queen Victoria's son Prince Alfred as their new king, but this was vetoed by the other powers. Instead a young Danish Prince became King George I. George was a very popular choice as a constitutional monarch, and he agreed that his sons would be raised in the Greek Orthodox faith. As a reward to the Greeks for adopting a pro-British King, Britain ceded the Ionian Islands to Greece.
At the urging of Britain and King George, Greece adopted a much more democratic constitution in 1864. The powers of the King were reduced and the Senate was abolished. The franchise was extended to all adult males. But Greek politics remained heavily dynastic, as it has always been. Family names such as Zaimis, Rallis and Trikoupis occurred repeatedly as Prime Minister. Two broad parties existed: liberals, led first by Charilaos Trikoupis and later by Eleftherios Venizelos, and conservatives, led initially by Theodoros Deligiannis and later by Thrasivoulos Zaimis. Trikoupis dominated Greek politics in the later 19th century. His governments favoured protective tariffs and progressive social legislation. He competed with Deligiannis in promoting Greek nationalism and the Megali Idea.
Greece remained a very poor country through the 19th century. Its only important export commodities were currants, raisins and tobacco. Some Greeks grew rich as merchants and shipowners, and Piraeus became a major port, but little of this wealth found its way to the Greek peasantry. Greece remained hopelessly in debt to London finance houses. By the 1890s Greece was virtually bankrupt, and poverty in the rural areas and the islands was eased only by large-scale emigration to the United States. There was little education in the rural areas. Nevertheless there was progress in building communications and infrastructure, and fine public buildings were erected in Athens.
Another political issue in 19th century Greece was uniquely Greek: the language question. The Greek people spoke a form of Greek called Demotic. Many of the educated elite saw this as a peasant dialect and were determined to restore the glories of Ancient Greek. Government documents and newspapers were published in Katharevousa (purified) Greek, a form which few ordinary Greeks could read. Liberals favoured recognising Demotic as the national language, but conservatives and the Orthodox Church resisted all such efforts. When the New Testament was translated into Demotic in 1901, there were riots in Athens and the government fell. The Liberals promoted Demotic and the Conservatives promoted Katharevousa. This issue plagued Greek politics until the 1970s.
All Greeks were united, however, in their determination to liberate the Greek-speaking provinces of the Ottoman Empire. When war broke out between Russia and the Ottomans in 1877, Greece rallied to Russia's side, but was too poor, and too afraid of British intervention, to make much contribution. Nevertheless, in 1881, Thessaly and parts of Epirus were ceded to Greece as part of the Treaty of Berlin, while frustrating Greek hopes of rescuing Crete from Ottoman rule. Greeks in Crete continued to stage regular revolts, and in 1897, a Greek nationalist government under Theodoros Deligiannis declared war on the Ottomans. In the ensuing Greco-Turkish War of 1897 the Greek army was defeated by the Ottomans and Greece lost some small territories along the border to Turkey.
Nationalist sentiment among Greeks in the Ottoman Empire continued to grow, and by the 1890s there were constant disturbances in Macedonia. Here the Greeks were in conflict not only with the Ottomans but with the Bulgarians (Macedonian Struggle), who also claimed the region, with its ethnically mixed population. The Cretan Greeks, led by Eleftherios Venizelos, rebelled again in 1908, provoking another crisis. When the Greek government led by Dimitrios Rallis refused to go to the rescue of the Cretans, the army and navy rebelled and forced his resignation in May 1909. Venizelos, a crusading Liberal, was brought from Crete to lead the revolt and in 1910 he became Prime Minister. Venizelos was to dominate Greek politics for the next 20 years.
Venizelos formed a secret alliance with Bulgaria, Montenegro and Serbia, and in October 1912 they all declared war on the Ottomans (see Balkan Wars). The Ottomans were rapidly defeated, and the four allies rushed to grab as much territory as they could. The Greeks occupied Thessaloniki after a race with the Bulgarians. The great powers intervened to stabilise the situation, and peace was agreed to in December. The four allies soon fell out over their new territories, and in June 1913 Greece and Serbia went to war with Bulgaria. There was a final peace treaty in August. Greece gained southern Epirus, coastal Macedonia, Crete and the Aegean islands — except the Dodecanese, which had been occupied by Italy in 1911. These gains nearly doubled Greece's area and population.
Nevertheless Greek nationalist sentiment was not satisfied. Greeks resented the fact that northern Epirus had been given to Albania, parts of Macedonia to Serbia and Bulgaria, Thrace to Bulgaria and the Dodecanese to Italy. Above all, the Greeks wanted Constantinople, and they now believed that the Ottomans were so weak that the attainment of the Megali Idea was within reach. So when World War I broke out in August, 1914, Greek opinion was keen to resume the war with the Ottomans and liberate the remaining Greek territories.
In March, 1913, Alexandros Schinas assassinated King George in Thessaloniki, and his son came to the throne as Constantine I, the first Greek king born in Greece and the first to be Greek Orthodox. Constantine, however, was married to Sophia of Prussia, sister of Wilhelm II of Germany, had come from the Prussian military academy, and was pro-German. While Venizelos wanted to enter the war on the side of Britain and France, the King favoured neutrality, claiming that the country was tired after two Balkan wars. The British offered Venizelos Smyrna and Cyprus if Greece entered the war: later the offer was increased to include at least the possibility of Constantinople, although Britain's ally Russia also coveted the city. Then the King dismissed parliament and early elections were held. Venizelos won a landslide victory with a pro-Entente platform. The King rejected this mandate and dismissed parliament again, an act which, though not against the letter of the constitution, was against its spirit.
In October, 1915, Bulgaria entered the war as a German ally, and the Allies landed in Thessaloniki and occupied Macedonia, after Venizelos set up a rival to the King's government in Thessaloniki. Constantine was now ruling only in what was Greece before the Balkan Wars (the "Old Greece"), where the population was royalist. During August of 1916 some Greek army and gendarmerie officers (see Cretan Gendarmerie) forced a coup d' etat in Thessaloniki and called Venizelos to establish a revolutionary pro-Allied government in Thessaloniki under French protection. In December, 1916 the French occupied Piraeus, bombarded Athens and forced the Greek fleet to surrender. The royalist troops fired at them. This led to a battle between French and Greek royalist troops. There were also riots against supporters of Venizelos (Venizelists) in Athens. Constantine finally left the country, without actually abdicating, and his son Alexander became "acting King." Venizelos entered Athens in June, 1917. Greek troops joined the war on the Allied side and helped drive the Bulgarians out of Macedonia. These events increased the division of Greek people into Royalists and Venizelists.
The Ottoman Empire collapsed with the end of the war in November 1918, and Greece now expected the Allies to deliver on their promises. The Treaty of Sèvres of August 1920 gave Greece all of Thrace and a large area of western Anatolia around Smyrna. The future of Constantinople was left to be determined. But the Treaty was never ratified, because a nationalist movement had arisen in Turkey, led by Mustafa Kemal (later Kemal Atatürk), who set up a rival government in Ankara. The Kemalists repudiated the Treaty and when the Greeks tried to occupy their new territories, Atatürk led a successful war of resistance (see Greco-Turkish War of 1919-1922). The Greeks were routed and Smyrna fell to the Turks in August, 1922 (see Great Fire of Smyrna). Subsequently more than a million Greeks were expelled from Turkey (in exchange for 500,000 Muslims), and Greece was forced to yield eastern Thrace, Imbros and Tenedos to Turkey (see Treaty of Lausanne). This catastrophe marked the end of the Megali Idea.
King Alexander died suddenly in October, 1920, having been bitten by a monkey. A few days later Venizelos was defeated at elections and Dimitrios Rallis, a well-known Royalist, became Prime Minister. After a disputed plebiscite, Constantine returned to the throne. The traumas of the war and postwar years left Greece bankrupt, demoralised and bitterly divided between Venizelist republicans and conservative monarchists, and struggling to absorb the flood of refugees from Turkey. Nevertheless these events, by killing off the Megali Idea and producing a more ethnically homogenous country, helped to produce a more stable and realistic Greek political system.
Greek politics between the two World Wars was a struggle for power between monarchists and republicans. King Constantine was forced to abdicate in September, 1922, and was succeeded by his son George II. But Greeks blamed the monarchy for the disaster of 1922 and at the 1923 elections, Venizelos's Liberal Party won a sweeping victory. Greece was proclaimed a republic on March 25, 1924. The republic, however, was weak and unstable, and in 1925 General Theodoros Pangalos seized power in a military coup. He was overthrown by a second coup in August 1926. In 1928, Venizelos returned from exile and led the Liberals back to power. He concluded a series of treaties with Greece's neighbours, including Turkey, settling outstanding issues.
In 1925, Greece and Bulgaria faced off during the "incident at Petrich." Unlike the case of Corfu, Greece was the aggressor. The League of Nations decided in favour of Bulgaria and demanded the withdrawal of Greek forces.
Greece, as a poor country dependent on agricultural exports, was hard hit by the Great Depression of the 1930s. Matters were made worse by the closing off of emigration to the United States, the traditional safety-valve of rural poverty. High unemployment and consequent social unrest resulted, and the Communist Party of Greece made rapid advances. Venizelos was forced to default on Greece's national debt in 1932, and he fell from office for the last time in 1933. He was succeeded by a monarchist government led by Panagis Tsaldaris. The republican constitution was revoked in 1935 after a royalist military coup, and George II returned to the throne in October 1935. In a rigged plebiscite in November (which was boycotted by the opposition), 97 percent voted in favour of the restoration. Venizelos, in exile, urged an end to the conflict over the monarchy in view of the threat to Greece from the rise of Fascist Italy. His successors as Liberal leader, Themistoklis Sophoulis and George Papandreou, accepted this view.
In 1936, King George appointed General Ioannis Metaxas as Prime Minister. Metaxas, believing that an authoritarian government was necessary to prevent social conflict and prepare Greece for what seemed an inevitable war with Italy, soon established a dictatorship (4th of August Regime), with the King's support. The Communists were suppressed and the Liberal leaders went into exile. Metaxas' dictatorship promoted various popular measures, such as the Greek Social Security Fund (IKA), still the biggest social securiy institution in Greece. Despite these efforts the Greek people generally moved towards the political left, but without actively opposing Metaxas. Metaxas also improved the country's defences (see Metaxas Line). This proved wise when Italy annexed Albania in April 1939. When World War II broke out in September 1939, Greece remained neutral, while welcoming Britain's guarantee of Greece's territorial integrity. In August, 1940, the Greek cruiser Elli was torpedoed during a religious festival on the island of Tinos, by what was correctly assumed to be an Italian submarine. In October, 1940, Italy fabricated an incident on the Greek–Albanian border, and presented Greece with a humiliating ultimatum. Metaxas sent a famous one-word telegram: Ohi! ("No!").
Italian troops crossed the border on October 28, 1940, but determined Greek defenders drove the invaders back into Albania (see Greco-Italian War). Metaxas died suddenly in January 1941: he had been transformed from an unpopular dictator into a national leader by his defiance of Mussolini, and his death was a great loss. Hitler was reluctantly forced to divert German troops to rescue Mussolini from defeat, and attacked Greece through Yugoslavia and Bulgaria on April 6, 1941. The Greeks sought British assistance, which soon arrived, but they stubbornly insisted on defending Macedonia and Thrace against the German invaders, when their only strategic hope was to withdraw to a defensive line on the Aliákmon river south of Thessaloniki. By the end of May, the Germans had overrun most of the country. The King and the government escaped to Crete, where they stayed until the end of the Battle of Crete. They then transferred to Egypt, where a government in exile was established. In Athens, a Nazi-held puppet regime was established. The members were either conservative or nationalists with fascist leanings. The three quisling were Georgios Tsolakoglou, Konstantinos Logothetopoulos and Ioannis Rallis. Tsolakoglou was the general who had signed the armistice with the Wehrmacht, Logothetopoulos became notorious for aiming to recruit young volunteers to help the German Army, while Ioannis Rallis' most notable achievement was the creation of the collaborationist Security Battalions.
Greece suffered terrible privations during World War II, as the Germans appropriated most of the country's agricultural production and prevented its fishing fleets from operating. Following the Axis occupation of Greece, a famine resulted in 1941 and 1942 because of a British naval blockade and due to the seizure of crops by German forces. Tens of thousands of Greeks died during the famine. Several resistance movements sprang up in the mountains, and soon the Germans and their collaborators controlled only the main towns and the connecting roads. The largest resistance group, the National Popular Liberation Army (ELAS), was controlled by the Communists, and a civil war soon broke out between it and non-Communist groups such as the National Republican Greek League (EDES) in those areas liberated from the Germans. The royalist government in Cairo was only intermittently in touch with the resistance movement, and failed to appreciate how unpopular the monarchy had become in Greece.
Communist successes in 1947–48 enabled them to move free over much of mainland Greece, but with extensive reorganization and American material support, the Greek National Army was slowly able to regain control over most of the countryside. Yugoslavia closed its borders to the insurgent forces in 1949, after Marshal Tito of Yugoslavia broke relations with the Soviet Union.
In August, 1949, the National Army under Marshal Alexander Papagos launched a final offensive that forced the remaining insurgents to surrender or flee across the northern border into the territory of Greece's communist neighbors. The civil war resulted in 100,000 killed and caused catastrophic economic disruption. In addition, at least 25,000 Greeks and an unspecified number of Macedonian Slavs were either voluntarily or forcibly evacuated to Eastern bloc countries, while 700,000 became displaced persons inside the country. Many more emigrated to Australia and other countries.
The postwar settlement saw Greece's territorial expansion, which had begun in 1832, come to an end. The 1947 Treaty of Paris required Italy to hand over the Dodecanese islands to Greece. These were the last majority-Greek-speaking areas to be united with the Greek state, apart from Cyprus which was a British possession until it became independent in 1960. Greece's ethnic homogeneity was increased by the postwar expulsion of 25,000 Albanians from Epirus (see Cham Albanians). The only significant remaining minorities are the Muslims in Western Thrace (about 100,000) and a small Slavic-speaking minority in the north. Greek nationalists continued to claim southern Albania (which they called Northern Epirus), home of a significant Greek population (about 3%-12% in the whole of Albania ), and the Turkish-held islands of Imvros and Tenedos, where there were smaller Greek minorities.
On April 21, 1967, just before scheduled elections, a group of right-wing colonels led by Colonel George Papadopoulos seized power in a coup d'état establishing the Regime of the Colonels. Civil liberties were suppressed, special military courts were established, and political parties were dissolved. Several thousand suspected communists and political opponents were imprisoned or exiled to remote Greek islands. Alleged US support for the junta is claimed to be the cause of rising anti-Americanism in Greece during and following the junta's harsh rule. However, the US earned the animosity of Greek Communists long before. In Greece's Civil War the US backed the Greek government at a crucial time when the British could no longer support Greece due to its post war economic crisis.
On November 25, 1973, following the bloody suppression of Athens Polytechnic uprising on the 17th of November, Captain Dimitrios Ioannides replaced Papadopoulos and tried to continue the dictatorship despite the popular unrest the uprising had triggered. Ioannides' attempt in July, 1974 to overthrow Archbishop Makarios, the President of Cyprus, brought Greece to the brink of war with Turkey, which invaded Cyprus and occupied part of the island. Senior Greek military officers then withdrew their support from the junta, which toppled. Karamanlis returned from exile in France to establish a government of national unity until elections could be held. Karamanlis worked to defuse the risk of war with Turkey and also legalised the communist party which had been illegal since 1947. His newly organized party, New Democracy (ND), won elections held in November, 1974, and he became prime minister.
Following the 1974 referendum which resulted in the abolition of the monarchy, a new constitution was approved by parliament on June 19, 1975. Parliament elected Constantine Tsatsos as President of the republic. In the parliamentary elections of 1977, New Democracy again won a majority of seats. In May, 1980, Prime Minister Karamanlis was elected to succeed Tsatsos as President. George Rallis succeeded Karamanlis as Prime Minister.
On January 1, 1981, Greece became the 10th member of the European Community (now the European Union). In parliamentary elections held on October 18, 1981, Greece elected its first socialist government when the Panhellenic Socialist Movement (PASOK), led by Andreas Papandreou, won 172 of 300 seats. On March 29, 1985, after Prime Minister Papandreou declined to support President Karamanlis for a second term, Supreme Court Justice Christos Sartzetakis was elected president by the Greek parliament.
Greece had two rounds of parliamentary elections in 1989; both produced weak coalition governments with limited mandates. Party leaders withdrew their support in February 1990, and elections were held on April 8. New Democracy, led by Constantine Mitsotakis, won 150 seats in that election and subsequently gained two others. After Mitsotakis dismissed his first Foreign Minister, Antonis Samaras, in 1992, Samaras formed his own political party, Political Spring. A split between Mitsotakis and Samaras led to the collapse of the ND government and new elections in September, 1993 saw Papandreou return to power.
On January 17 1996, following a protracted illness, Papandreou resigned and was replaced as Prime Minister by former Minister of Trade and Industry Costas Simitis. Simitis won elections in 1996 and 2000. In 2004, Simitis retired and George Andreas Papandreou succeeded him as PASOK leader. In the March 2004 elections, PASOK was defeated by New Democracy, led by Kostas Karamanlis, the nephew of the former President. The government called early elections in September 2007 (normal elections would have been March 2008), and New Democracy again was the majority party in the Parliament. As a result of that defeat, PASOK undertook a party election for a new leader. In that contest, George Papandreou was reelected as the head of the Socialist party in Greece.