Despite Greece’s and Britain’s changing national fortunes mentioned above, their more enduring and much admired historic and cultural legacies and their well-endowed scenic charm and beauty have continued to fascinate the world and millions of foreign visitors are flocking there every year to experience what these two ancient civilisations have to offer. This has made them two of the world’s most popular tourist destinations.
Both Greece and Britain have had a glorious past and their economic health are currently the focus of worldwide attention and concern as they may have adverse impact beyond the shores of Europe. Ancient Greece has long been hailed as the “Cradle of Western civilisation”. Among its other contributions to mankind, it is the progenitors of Western literature, philosophy and political, mathematical and medical concepts and knowledge. Further, its architecture and drama have been emulated and have greatly influenced the development of these art forms in the other Western countries. It is also the birth place of the Olympic Games 2700 years ago and the modern Games in 1896. At the height of its military prowess, this small European nation had an extensive colonial empire that straddles Europe, the Middle East and the Indian sub continent. But all too soon, its ancient preeminence and military might began to decline and its leading position was taken over by the militarily superior Roman Empire which replaced it as the dominant force in the ancient world. Greece itself became a client state of Rome and its civilisation then declined further rapidly ever since, from which it has never regained its past glory. Today, Greece is a relatively insignificant European country with a small population and landmass. Its economy is small too compared to the more advanced European nations.
Greece is a member of the powerful economic and political block, the European Union (EU), which confers both economic and political benefits and obligations on its members. The Greek economy did enjoy some years of economic prosperity after joining the EU and this led to complacency by its political and financial leaders resulting in unsound fiscal policies and banking practices which eventually bankrupted its government and the financial institutions which required two massive financial bailouts from the richer EU members and a lesser amount from the International Monetary Fund (IMF). The second aid package imposed very stringent austerity measures to be taken by the Greek Government which would result in economic hardships on the population but, hopefully, should lift its economy over time. The government’s drastic cost-cutting measures led to its ouster and a fresh election had to be held on 17th June this year, which could result in Greece repudiating the EU/IMF financial aid package agreed upon and negotiating for a less burdensome new package and even in its leaving the EU and EURO currency area. If this happens, it will have dire consequences for the other EU countries, especially the debt-ridden ones like Spain, Portugal and Italy, and financial turmoil internationally.
The narrow majority votes secured by the pro-bailout New Democracy party will ensure that Greece will remain in the EURO Zone for now and it immediately formed a coalition government with two other like-minded parties in order to have a majority representation in parliament and to get down to the urgent task of seeking new improved terms in a revised bailout package. Immediately after the Greek election, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, a leading figure in the EU, warned that Greece must live up to its economic reform commitments already agreed upon in the current bailout agreement. This sentiment was echoed by other important members of this grouping. How the Greek and European-debt crisis will unfold itself from now onwards, no one can predict with certainly. Only time will tell.
The Greek financial fiasco is the genesis of the current European debt crisis, which has gripped the attention of the world since the past year and stock markets everywhere has been falling since then and into the present time. By itself, the recent Greek election outcome should not have much negative impact on the rest of the EU. It is the possible catastrophic consequences that it could generate and the chain reaction on the other debt-ridden EU countries which could lead to the demise of the EURO as a common currency for its member states and perhaps even the demise of the EU itself that the world was anxious about. All anyone can do now is to wait and see whether the EU can successfully solve its own debt crisis and spare the other countries of a disastrous worldwide financial meltdown.
Away from the continental Europe and across the English Channel, the island nation of Britain, with a population of about 60-million, was one of the most powerful colonial powers in the world. In its heyday during the 19th and early 20th centuries, the British Empire covered Europe, North America, Asia including the Middle East, Africa and Australasia. The unabashed boasts then were that “The sun never sets on the British Empire” and “Britannia rules the waves”. However, by the 1960s, this once mighty empire had largely disappeared as the colonial territories became independent countries and the British Empire therefore existed only in the nostalgic memory of the older British generation.
With this change in political reality, Britain, in order to strength its standing as a European power, later joined the EU but retained its own currency outside the EURO Zone. The British economy began to decline over a prolonged period but turned around and was doing well from the 1980s until the last decade when it stalled again and becoming more serious in the past several years. It is currently in the midst of an economic recession which is widely felt throughout the country. Be that as it may, it is celebrating two momentous events this year and no expense and effort has been spared to make them memorable national milestones. In early June, the Diamond Jubilee of the 86-year old Queen Elizabeth II was celebrated over four days of unprecedented national rejoicing. This monarch has restored the popularity of the British royal family after the series of scandals involving the other royalties and the British people’s displeasure over her seemingly indifferent reactions over the tragic death of the much-loved Princess Diana. In July, the Summer Olympic Games, which will take place in London, aims at impressing the world with the British genius in efficient planning and organisation for the biggest olympic ever held and to instil national pride and promote the country’s international prestige. Notwithstanding the passing of the British Empire, the English Language has become the all-pervasive common international language of communication among countries worldwide, aided by the soft power of the English-speaking United States, now the sole super power in the world following the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991.
Despite Greece’s and Britain’s changing national fortunes mentioned above, their more enduring and much admired historic and cultural legacies and their well-endowed scenic charm and beauty have continued to fascinate the world and millions of foreign visitors are flocking there every year to experience what these two ancient civilisations have to offer. This has made them two of the world’s most popular tourist destinations. My wife and I have many fond memories of our visits there over the years and some of their landmarks have remained vividly etched in our collective memories. I would like to share some of their delightful attractions with my readers as described in the two articles that I wrote, the edited versions of which were published by Singapore’s national English daily, The Straits Times, in 1997 and 1996 respectively. I now have much pleasure to append below the original versions of these two articles and I hope that they will stimulate your interest to visit Greece and Britain if you have not already done so.
Lam Pin Foo