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History of Modern Greece

The first independent Greek state was established in 1830 and occupied only a small part of present-day Greek territory, the less developed economically Peloponnese, Central Greece, Cyclades and Sporades islands.

The concept of the ‘Great Idea’, the aim of which was to free all Greeks still under the Ottoman yoke, was the main pillar of Greece's foreign policy at the time.

The first governor of the country was Ioannis Kapodistrias, whose reform policies created enemies. Kapodistrias was assassinated in 1831.

Amid the ensuing anarchy, the Great Powers intervened and by the Treaty of London (1832) imposed a hereditary king, Otto, son of the King of Bavaria. However in 1843, Otto gave in to popular pressure and conceded a conservative Constitution, which regrettably was often ignored. As a result, Otto was finally forced to abdicate and leave the country in 1862.

The new Constitution of 1864 established a Constitutional Monarchy, according to which the king continued to be the head of state, although there was provision for the introduction of a single-Chamber parliament to be elected by universal male suffrage. Meanwhile, a new king was enthroned, George I of the Danish House of Glucksburg, the Ionian Islands were united with Greece, followed by the annexation of Thessaly and part of Epirus a few years later (1881).

The process towards modernisation

In 1875, after a fierce struggle waged by Charilaos Trikoupis, the principle of parliamentarism was introduced. According to this principle, the head of the Greek State is obliged to ask the leader of the political party with the parliamentary majority to form a government. In the last decades of the 19th century, Greece underwent a period of institutional reform. Political life was dominated by the strong personality of Trikoupis, whose governance was marked by radical reforms in the army as well as in the systems of administration, justice and education.

In the field of foreign policy, with the end of the Balkan Wars (1912-1913) and World War I, the strategy implemented by Eleftherios Venizelos led to the enlargement of Greek territory, as Macedonia, Epirus, Western Thrace, Crete and the North Aegean islands were incorporated in the Greek state.

In the aftermath of the Greek-Turkish War (1919-1922), the Treaty of Lausanne (1923) provided for a huge population exchange between Greece and Turkey. As a result, 1,400,000 Greeks left Turkey and 350,000 Muslims left Greece. This enormous and painful movement of populations gave Greece its national homogeneity, while politically cancelling the Great Idea.

The end of World War II saw the annexation of the Dodecanese islands to Greece (1947) but also marked the beginning of a bitter civil war (1946-1949) between the pro-Communist ‘Democratic Army’ and the government's ‘National Army’. This civil conflict poisoned the political climate for many years and resulted in instability which, in turn, led to the imposition of a military dictatorship in 1967. The colonels’ regime collapsed in 1974, shortly after the student uprising at Athens Polytechnic and amidst an outcry caused by a disastrous coup in Cyprus, which had been instigated by the Greek junta and led to the Turkish invasion and occupation of the northern part of the island.

The dramatic situation in Cyprus accelerated the process of the restoration of democracy in Greece and in a referendum held by the Government of National Unity, led by Constantine Karamanlis, the Greek people opted for a Presidential Republic. The introduction of a new Constitution (1975) signalled the birth of the Third Hellenic Republic. Since then, political life has been normalised and democratic institutions consolidated. The country's society and economy have entered the international scene and Greece is now among the 25 ‘most livable’ countries in the world on the basis of the UN Human Development Index (2002).

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