1908 was a big year in the Balkans. Bulgaria became independent and Austria annexed most of its protectorate from the Congress of Berlin. In Turkey, the Sultan, "Abdul the Damned," was overthrown by the Young Turks, whose impetus, was more merely nationalistic than liberal. Meanwhile, Greece was able to add Thessaly (1881, with adjustments in 1897). A rebellion on Crete led to autonomy (1898) as a prelude to Greek control (1912).
The house of Denmark supplied most the kings of modern Greece. The kingship itself contained an interesting ambiguity, since the Greek word basileus only meant "king" in Classical Greek. In mediaeval Greek, basileus was used by the Emperors of Romania to translate Latin imperator, i.e. "emperor." So which was it? Was the ruler of Greece merely the King of the Hellenes, or the Emperor of the Romans (Rhômaioi)? When the Greeks tried to seize a large part of western Asia Minor from the Turks in 1920, it looked like restoring the Empire was the objective. Turkey remained, and remains, fundamentally stronger than Greece, and the Greek invasion only provoked the expulsion of Greeks from the Asia Minor.
Politically, Greece has swung back and forth in the 20th century. Whether the monarchy was a good thing was often in doubt, as it was briefly abolished in the 20's and almost not reinstituted after World War II. Then the Army took over in 1967, creating a dictatorship that lasted until 1974. King Constantine II tried to organize a counter-coup against the dictatorship, but then fled the country when he failed. Eventually the dictators abolished the monarchy. When democracy was restored, after a stupid attempt to overthrow the government of Cyprus (provoking a Turkish intervention), the Greeks nevertheless seemed to think that Constantine had not been sufficiently vigorous in opposing the dictatorship, so the monarchy was not restored. Since then, Greece seems to have made a speciality of electing anti-American, socialist governments, long after that made any sense either geo-politically or economically. A good example of recent foolishness was a nationwide strike on May 17, 2001, with 10,000 protesters marching on the Parliament in Athens. Protesting what? Well, the Greek state pension system is nearly bankrupt, and the Government is considering reforms, like cutting benefits and increasing the retirement age (to 65). Even the socialist government, however, might have anticipated the offense to the Greek sense of entitlement that this would cause.
This kind of thing was all bad enough, but then 60 Minutes reported (6 January 2002) that the Greek government, and especially the dominant Socialist Party, appeared to be tolerating a radical leftist terrorist organization, "17 November," that had been responsible for bombings and murders for years. Not a single member of this organization had been arrested or even identified by the government, even though unmasked members raided a police station for weapons and could easily have been described. When members of the Greek press were threatened for reporting on the organization, and police closed the investigations even of murder cases against them, one began to wonder if a sort of leftist death squad had come into existence in Greece. This boded ill for the future of Greece, not only economically, but even as a functioning democracy. Now, however, this situation is looking up. Perhaps under pressure to straighten things out if Greece wanted to host the 2004 Olympics, the government now has arrested many members of "17 November," and the suspects have been spilling details about the membership and operations of the organization [Los Angeles Times, Wednesday, August 7, 2002, "Toppled From Their Pedestal"]. The actual popularity of the group now has been damaged by the very willingness of its members to inform and cooperate in order to avoid harder sentences. Happily, the 2004 Olympics came off without incident.
Although the Greek monarchy is now gone, the Greek Royal family remains impressively connected to two of the most important centers of contemporary European royalty. The heirs of the British monarchy are now all descendants, through Prince Philip, of King George I of Greece; and all the Greek Royal Family itself is descended from both Queen Victoria and the Emperor Frederick III of Germany. Then Constantine II's sister Sophia married Juan Carlos of Spain, who was able to do in Spain what Constantine wasn't able to in Greece -- restore democracy. Now the heir of Spain, Philip (Filipe), is a descendant of Kings George, Constantine I, and Paul of Greece. One might gather from this diagram that the throne of Britain is due to pass the House of Denmark and Greece, or, more precisely, the House of Schleswig- Holstein- Sonderburg- Glucksburg; but on marrying Elizabeth, Prince Philip renounced his rights to the Greek throne and his connection to the Greek Royal family, taking the name of his mother's family, Battenberg/Mountbatten, so this connection is obscured. Now that royalty is more a matter of international celebrity than of political power, Greece, by blaming Constantine for a bunch of military dictators, is really missing out on its share of space in People magazine. This may seem like an absurdly trivial consideration, but Greece depends heavily on foreign tourism; and foreign tourism depends heavily on international perception and publicity. Space, free space, in People magazine means millions of dollars in business for Greece. Instead, Greeks still have these ridiculous demonstrations for socialism (not to mention the frightening terrorist activity) and nurse their historic grievance against Turkey.
A real basis for the latter concerns Cyprus. In 1974 the Greek generals tried to annex Cyprus to Greece. This provoked a Turkish intervention and the de facto partition of the Island (and, happily for Greece, the overthrow of the generals). The Turks even set up a separate Turkish Cypriot Republic, which is recognized by no one in the world but Turkey. What this all really meant was that the effort to maintain Cyprus as a bi-national Republic, since independence from Britain in 1960, had failed utterly. The obvious solution would seem to be a real partition of the island with the Greek and Turkish parts annexed, respectively, by Greece and Turkey.
Conspicuous Americans of Greek origin in recent days have been the stunning actress Melina Kanakaredes, of the late NBC drama Providence, and the comedienne, actress, writer, and producer Nia Vardalos, whose 2002 movie, My Big Fat Greek Wedding, was an unexpected and astonishing success, with over $200 million in domestic boxoffice. The movie good naturedly pokes fun at the father's old world paternalism and exaggerated nationalistic claims (e.g. that the Japanese word kimono is actually of Greek origin), a familiar phenomenon in Greek nationalism.
As noted above, it is now largely forgotten in Greece, and entirely outside of it, that in the Middle Ages the Greeks called themselves "Romans" (Rhômaioi), because, as it happens, they were. For many centuries Hellênes, which the Ancient Greeks had called themselves, and now the modern Greeks again, meant pagan Greeks. The history of Mediaeval Greece is thus found with that of Rome and Byzantium.
The map for 1912 gives us the situation right before the Balkan Wars. Turkish holdings in Europe still extend all the way to the Adriatic, including Albania which, although largely Moslem, has already been restless for independence.
Rome and Romania Index