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[Opinion] Greece

Posted June. 29, 2004 22:17,   


Nowadays, when one looks at the European map, one searches for Britain, France, and Germany, because the core of Europe’s global power is centered in that area. In medieval times, however, the situation was a bit different. The Eastern Mediterranean where Greece, Italy and Turkey are located was the undisputable center of the world. All types of products coming from the Orient and Africa had to gather in Eastern Mediterranean ports, and then were sold all over Europe. At the time, Western Europe was still on the edges barely living off of agriculture. Greece was located in the middle of the Eastern Mediterranean. With mild weather throughout the year, and geographic conditions favorable for trade, Greece was an appropriate place for civilization to blossom.

Ancient Greece, the birthplace of democracy, was made up of about 150 city-states. These city-states, known as polis, were very proud, but had one flaw. They were so drenched with a sense of superiority that they almost never cooperated with each other. Throughout Greek history, only once, did the poleis unite. That first and last time was in the fifth century B.C. when Persia invaded with a grand army of 300,000. The Greek city states, united around Athens and Sparta, organized allied forces and beat Persia. It was even common for Greek colonies outside Greece to turn their backs on each other.

It is, therefore, an obvious historical consequence that the Greeks, with their endless disputes, let their hegemony over the Mediterranean pass to the powerful new state of Rome. Afterwards, Greece was ruled by the Byzantine Empire and Turkey, and virtually disappeared from world history. It is said that upon visiting Greece, the British historian Arnold Toynbee was absorbed in thought, saying, “Where did the Greeks, who created such a great civilization, disappear to?”

Greece is once again in the center of attention with the Olympic Games that will be held this August. The movie “Troy” deals with the Greek Mycenae civilization, and the background of the musical “Mamma Mia,” that has opened in Korea, happens to be Greece. Attention towards Greece is also increasing because its national soccer team is playing well in Euro 2004. Greece, which became an independent country in 1830, has continued unstable with internal disputes and intra-party conflicts during its modern history. I wonder if Greece will be able to gain its pride of the past with the Olympics, just as Korea renewed its war-stained image with the Seoul Olympic Games. Will not the key for it be held in domestic cooperation and unity, just as historians have pointed out?

Editorialist Hong Chan-sik, chansik@donga.com