Greece – The Present And The Future Of Greece

THE Greeks, although they have not altogether fulfilled the expectations of Philbellenes, have nevertheless made great strides in advance since they have thrown off the yoke of the Turks. The deeds of valour performed during the war of independence recalled the days of Marathon and Plata a ; but it was wrong to expect that a short time would suffice to raise modern Greece to the intellectual and artistic level of the generation which gave birth to an Aristotle and u Phidias. Nor can we expect that a nation should throw off, in a single generation, the evil habits engendered during an age of servitude, and digest at once the scientific conquests made in the course of twenty centuries. We should likewise bear in mind that the population of Greece is small, and that it is thinly scattered over a barren mountain region. The numerous ports, no doubt, offer great facilities for commerce, nor have their inhabitants failed to avail themselves of them ; but there is hardly a country in Europe which offers equal obstacles to a development of its agricultural and industrial resources. The construction of roads, owing to the mountains, meets with difficulties everywhere, whilst the blue sea invites its beholders to distant climes and commercial expeditions. No immigration from the neighbouring Turkish provinces has consequently taken place, whilst many Hellenes, and more especially natives of the Ionian Islands and the Cyclades, annually seek their fortune in Constantinople, Cairo, and even distant India. Men of enterprise leave the country, and there remains behind only a horde of intriguers, who look upon politics as a lucrative business, and an army of government officials, who depend upon the favour of a minister for future promotion. This state of affairs explains the singular fact that the most prosperous Greek communities exist beyond the borders of the kingdom of Greece. These foreign communities are better and more liberally governed than those at home. In spite of the Pasha, who enjoys the right of supervision, the administration of the smallest Greek community in Thracia or Macedonia might serve as a pattern to the independent and sovereign kingdom of Greece. Every one there takes an interest in the prosperity of the commonwealth; but in Greece a rapacious bureaucracy takes care only of its own advancement, the electors are bribed, and the expenses thus illegally incurred are recovered by illegal exactions and robbery, such as have prevailed for many years.

The actual population of Greece may amount to 1,501,000 souls; that is to say, it includes about two-fifths of all the Greeks residing in Europe and Asia. The population is less dense than in any other country of Europe, including Turkey. Greece, at the epoch of its greatest prosperity, is said to have supported 6,000,000 or 7,000,000 inhabitants. Attica was ten times more populous at that time, and many islands which now support only a few herdsmen could then boast of populous towns. Sites of ancient cities abound on the barren plateaux, on the banks of the smallest rivulet, and crown every promontory throughout the ancient countries of the Hellenes, from Cyprus to Corfu, and from Thasos to Crete.

The country, however, is being gradually repeopled. Before the war of independence, the population, including the Ionian Islands, amounted, perhaps, to 1,000,000 ; but battles and massacres diminished it considerably, and in 1832 the number of inhabitants was 950,000 at most. Since that epoch there has been an annual increase varying between 9,000 and 14,000 souls. This increase, however, is spread very unequally over the country. The towns increase rapidly, but several islands, and more especially Andros, Santorin, Hydra, Zante, and Leucadia, lose more inhabitants by emigration than they gain by an excess of births over deaths. The swamp fevers prevailing in continental Greece much retard the increase of population. Naturally the climate is exceedingly salubrious, but the water, in many localities, has been permitted to collect into pestilential swamps, and the draining of these and their cultivation would not only add to the wealth of the country, but would likewise free it from a dire plague.

Unfortunately agriculture progresses but slowly in Greece, and its produce is not even sufficient to support the population, still less to supply articles for export. And yet the cultivable soil of Greece is admirably suited to the growth of vines, fruits, cotton, tobacco, and madder. Figs and oranges are delicious ; the wines of Santorin and the Cyclades are amongst the finest produced in the Mediterranean ; the oil of Attica is as superior now as when Athene planted the sacred olive-tree; but excepting a little cotton grown in Phthiotis, and the raisins known as currants or Corinthians, which are exported from the Ionian Islands and Patras to the annual value of about £1,500,000, agriculture contributes but little towards the exports. One of the principal articles is the valonia, a species of acorn picked up in the forests, and used by tanners.

In a country so far behindhand in agriculture manufactures cannot be expected to flourish. All manufactured articles have consequently to be imported from abroad, and especially from England. Greece does not even possess tools to work its famous marble quarries, though they are richer than those of Carrara. There is only one metallurgical establishment in the whole of the kingdom—that of Laurion. The ancients had been working argentiferous lead mines in that part of the country for centuries, and vast masses of unexhausted slag had accumulated near them. This waste is now being scientifically treated in the smelting-works of Ergastiria, and nearly ten thousand tons of lead, and a consider-able quantity of silver, are produced there annually. Quite a brisk little town has arisen near the works, and its harbour is one of the busiest in all Greece. But the founders of this flourishing concern had to struggle against jealousies, and the ” Laurion question” nearly embroiled the Governments of France and Italy with Greece.

The Greeks do not support themselves by agriculture, nor can they boast of manufactories, and they would be doomed to starvation if they did not maintain six thousand vessels acting in the lucrative business of ocean carriers throughout the Mediterranean. This Greek mercantile marine is superior to that of Russia, almost equal to that of Austria, and six times larger than that of Belgium, and we should bear in mind that many vessels sailing under Turkish colours are actually owned by Greeks. The ancient instinct of the race comes out strongly in this coast navigation. The large fleets of swift ocean steamers belong to the powerful companies of the West, and the Greeks are content to sail in small vessels suited to the requirements of the coasting trade, which hardly ever extend their voyages beyond the limits of the ancient Greek world. None can compete with them as regards low freight, for every sailor has an interest in the cargo, and all of them are anxious to increase the profits. One may have furnished the wood, another the rigging, a third a portion of the cargo, whilst their fellow-citizens have advanced money for the purchase of merchandise, without requiring any bond except their word of honour. On many of these vessels all are partners, all work alike, and share in the proceeds of the venture.

But, whatever the sobriety and intelligence of these Greek mariners, they cannot escape the fate which has overtaken the small trader and the handy craftsman throughout the world. The cheap vessels of the Greeks may be able to contend for a long time against the steamers of powerful companies, but in the end they must succumb. The country will lose its place amongst the commercial nations of the world unless its agricultural and industrial resources are quickly developed, and railways are constructed to convey the products of the interior to the sea-coast. Greece, even now, has only a few carriage roads, not so much because the mountains offer insurmountable obstacles, but because its heedless inhabitants are content with the facilities for transport offered by the sea. It would be impossible in our day to travel from the Pylos to Lacedaemon in a chariot, as was done by Telemachus ; for the road connecting these places leads along precipices and over dangerous goat paths. Greece and Servia are the European states which remained longest without a railway, and even now the former is content with a short line connecting Athens with its harbour. It has certainly been proposed to construct several lines of the utmost importance, but, owing to the bankrupt condition of the Greek exchequer, these works have not yet been begun. The public income is not sufficient to meet the expenditure, the debt exceeds £13,000,000, and the interest on the loans remains unpaid.

The poverty of the majority of the inhabitants of Greece is equal to that of the State. The peasants are impoverished by the payment of tithes, and of a Government impost double or even treble their amount. Though naturally very temperate, they are hardly able to sustain life ; they dwell in unwholesome dens, and are frequently unable to put by sufficient means for the purchase of clothing and other necessaries. The young men of the poorest districts of Greece thus find themselves forced to emigrate in large numbers, either for a season or for an indefinite period. Arcadia may be likened in this respect to Auvergne, to Savoy, and to other mountain countries of Central Europe. The AEtolians, however, exchange their fine savage valleys for foreign cities only very reluctantly, though they, too, suffer intensely from the weight of taxation. In ancient times, before their spirit was broken by servitude, they would have resisted the tax-gatherer with arms in their hands. They now content themselves with sallying forth from their villages, in order to pile up a heap of stones by the side of the high-road, as a testimony of the injustice with which they have been treated. This heap of stones is anathema. Every peasant passing it religiously adds a stone to this mute monument of execration, and the earth, the common mother of all, is thus charged with the task of vengeance.

Ignorance, the usual attendant of poverty, is great in the rural districts of Greece, and especially in those difficult of access. In Greece, as in Albania and Montenegro, they believe in perfidious nymphs, who secure the affections of young men, and then drag them down below the water ; they believe in vampyres, in the evil eye and witchcraft. But the Greeks are an inquiring race, anxious to learn, in spite of their poverty. The peasant of Ithaca will stop a traveller of education on the road, in order that he may read to him the poetry of Homer. Elementary schools have been established in nearly every village, in spite of the poverty of the Government. If no school buildings can be secured, the classes meet in the open air. The scholars, far from playing truant, hardly raise their eyes from the books to notice a passing stranger or the flight of a bird. The scholars in the superior schools and at the University of Athens are equally conscientious and assiduous. It may be that some of them merely aspire to become orators, but they certainly do not resort to a city on the pretence of study, whilst in reality they yield themselves up to debauchery. Amongst the students of the University of Athens there are many who work half the night at some handicraft, others who hire themselves out as servants or coachmen, to enable them to pursue their studies as lawyers or physicians.

This love of study cannot fail to secure to the Greek nation an intellectual influence far greater than could be looked for from the smallness of its numbers. The Greeks of the East, moreover, look upon Athens as their intellectual centre, whither they send their sons in pursuit of knowledge. They found scholarships in connection with the schools of Athens, and largely contribute towards their support. And it is not only the rich Greek merchants of Trieste, Saloniki, Smyrna, Marseilles, and London who are thus mindful of the true interests of their native country, but peasants of Thracia and Macedonia, too, devote their savings to the promotion of public education. The people themselves support their schools and museums, and pay their professors. The Academy of Athens, the Polytechnic School, the University, and the Arsakeion, an excellent ladies’ college—these all owe their existence to the zeal of Greek citizens, and not to the Government. It may readily be understood from this how carefully these institutions are being watched by the entire nation, and how salutary must be the influence of young men and women returning to their native provinces after they have been educated at them.

It is thus a common language, common traditions, and a common hope for the future that have made a nation of the Greeks in spite of treaties. Greek patriotism is not confined to the narrow limits laid down by diplomacy. Whether they reside in Greece proper, in European or Asiatic Turkey, the Greeks feel as one people, and they lead a common national life independently of the Governments of Constantinople and Athens. Nay, amongst the Greeks dwelling in foreign lands this feeling of nationality is, perhaps, most intense, for they are not exposed to the corrupting influence of a bureaucracy. They have more carefully guarded the traditions and practices of municipal government, and are practically in the enjoyment of greater individual libererty. The Greek nation, in its entirety, numbers close upon 4,000,000 souls. Its power, already considerable, is growing from day to day, and is sure to exercise a potent influence upon the destinies of Mediterranean Europe.

We are told sometimes that community of religion might induce the Greeks to favour Russian ambition, and to open to that power the road to Constantinople. Nothing can be further from the truth. The Hellenes will never sacrifice their on interests to those of the foreigner. Nor do there exist between Greece and Russia those natural ties which alone give birth to true alliances. Climate, geographical position, history, commerce, and, above all, a common civilisation, attach Greece to that group of European nations known as Greco-Latin. In tripartite Europe the Greeks will never range themselves by the side of the Slav, but will be found amongst the Latin nations of Italy, France, and Spain.