Greece on the brink of default, unable to pay the interest on its debt to a ‘troika’ of creditors; under the thumb of German policymakers and torn between liberal Europe in the west and autocratic Russia in the east. Any of that sound familiar? No, we’re not talking about the latest episode in the Greek debt crisis, we’re talking about Greece over 170 years ago.
In the 1820s, Greece was involved in a long and bloody war of independence from Ottoman control. But the Greeks weren’t just fighting the Ottomans, more often than not, they were fighting among themselves. Some looked to liberal Britain and France as role models. Others looked to Russia, which shared its Orthodox Christian faith. And all three – our troika – lent money to Greece in support of its war effort.
In the end, Greece won its independence. It even got its own king – a Bavarian prince, named Otto. Otto was only 17 when he was crowned, so a council of Bavarian regents ruled for him. When Otto did reach maturity in 1835, he began to throw his weight around.
Soon the Greeks had had enough of their new king. They didn’t like him, they didn’t like his Roman Catholic faith, they didn’t like his German protestant queen, and they certainly didn’t like his Bavarian officials, who they termed the ‘Bavarocracy’. The country was poor and taxes were kept high to pay the interest on the debt.
On 3 September 1843, the army camped out in the main square in Athens, demanding the king grant the country a liberal constitution. Otto had little choice but to accept. Greece got its constitution, which guaranteed certain rights, including an extension of the right to vote. After that, the square was renamed Constitution Square – Syntagma in Greek – the rallying place for today’s protests over austerity and the debt.
Also on this day
This day in 1967 was known as ‘Högertrafikomläggningen’ in Sweden. It was the day the country switched from driving on the left side of the road to driving on the right. Read more here