The Greeks do not need Germany to come bail them out. Russia was in something of a similar situation in the mid-1800s and resolved their financial and strategic difficulties by selling Alaska to the United States. At the time Russia feared that they had to sell Alaska or lose it to British Colombian expansion.
There are over 6,000 islands in Greece of which only 227 are inhabited. These 5500+ are all assets that could be used to satisfy Greece’s debts either by concession, Hong Kong style, or outright sale as Russia’s Alaska holdings were sold. At the very least this is an option that should be talked about. Strategically, a sale could be offered to France, Italy, or the UK (I do not believe the US would be interested) that would create interesting possibilities of introducing a buffer state between the remaining Greek Aegean territory and Turkey. The islands themselves may or may not be worth much but their economic zones, fisheries, and resource possibilities are intriguing.
The idea ultimately may turn out to be insufficient by itself to save Greece. But you really don’t know until you present the idea and so far nobody seems to be pursuing it. I find it odd that a proven method for raising money that does not require default or endanger the EU is not even on the table for consideration.
20 thoughts on “Saving Greece Without Germans”
I was thinking they should lease the Parthenon or something.
Governments never give up land, unless it is a colony. The islands have been part of historic Greece for all time. They will never do it. Blood and soil. You fight and die for your land. We would never sell Nantucket or the Florida keys. Never ever. And any government that tried to would be driven out of power, and rightly so.
What Lex said.
If the Eurozone is split between the north and the south, by whatever mechanism eventually emerges, then the falling southern currency will automatically accomplish the next best thing — millions of Northern European boomers buying retirement and vacation homes in the sunny South. Sovereignty is not for sale, but land is, at the right price. This would have the particularly beneficial effect of enriching individual Greeks and Spaniards rather than the government, which would probably pocket the money and continue to beg for bailouts from the EU.
My proposal is that Greece should adopt communism. It is clearly what they want, so they should get it. Of course they would have to drop the Euro, and while they are at it they can payoff their bonds in newly printed drachmas. In a generation they will repent and become free market capitalists.
What Jim said. And more. If Greece really wanted to fix the problem it would create a more efficient and transparent and honest land recording system, and an end to limits on foreign land purchases in Greece. Then lots of people from outside would find it easier to buy there, as Jim suggests, at bargain prices. This should be a requirement for any debt deal. It would have the potential to work wonder. And if some island were sold to property developers from Germany to turn into a resort, it would be a commercial land deal, not a forfeiture of sovereignty. Which would be fine. Same end, same goal, same means almost, but no blood-provocation.
I don’t know how many of those 6,000 islands have water and would be viable resort sites. Every Friday, when I was there, there was a mass exodus from Piraeus to the islands by the Athenians.
Unless they modify their spending habits selling the islands will only delay the inevitable.
I love the idea. But can significant areas of land change to foreign title without threatening sovereignty? How did Zionists start their “conquest” of the Jordanian Kingdom?
Sovereignty without possession is entirely in the mind, and it would likely play out much like our hysterias over Japanese/Arabs/Chinese buying the U.S.A.
I know that the suggestion that Greece just go communist was at least a partial joke. But are they really that far from going pink? Greece would be Venezeula East. And would you trust your fortune in contracts for title with Dmitris Chavez?
Foxmarks: “I know that the suggestion that Greece just go communist was at least a partial joke. But are they really that far from going pink? Greece would be Venezeula East.”
It was a bit tongue in cheek. Greece has been fairly far down the primrose lane to communism for a while. Going full boat would shut the rioters up.
Greece will not be Venezuela East, under any circumstances. Venezuela West has oil. All Greece has is olive oil. Without natural resources or a sugar daddy like the Soviets, communism cannot survive more than a generation.
Lex: Of course. Alaska was, and still is, very far from Moscow, and even farther from St. Petersburg.
Alaska was a colony. Not the motherland. No one sells the motherland.
The Zionists got their kingdom the same way the Hashemites did…..from the British.
Lexington Green – The idea that these islands have been Greek since forever is just not consistent with the history of the region where Greece spent centuries without having any existence as an independent polity. The Ionian islands, for example, were handed over by Britain (after they’d been run by the Romans, Byzantines, Venetians, and French previously) in 1862. The Deodecanese had 740 years of “foreign rule” that was only over in 1947 when Italy finally gave them up to Greece. Ultimately, what keeps these islands Greek at this point is NATO and that means that the force of US arms. So which is more valuable to the US? The financial stability of global markets, which is threatened by Greece’s fiscal insanity, or the territorial integrity of Greece whose adjustment could pay enough of their debts to make the remainder sustainable?
Here’s the thing, you buy up an island and what do you have? An island. You buy the same island with sovereignty and what do you have? You have a seat at the big boy’s table, something that vastly increases the value of the island. You also get an economic exclusion zone and a lot of other profitable ancillary rights. The Sea Steaders need just one island with sovereignty they control and all of a sudden all their plans become a lot more realistic. The Sea Steads end up carrying paper from that nation and then declare independence and are immediately recognized by their parent country.
I agree that for the several hundred islands that are actually occupied, Greece should stand firm. But for small islands that have no water, no people, and no settlement? Small islands that have been Greece’s since 1947 and not for 740 years prior? The blood and soil argument is a little thin for those islands and there are at least dozens of islands that have dubious status as “motherland”. Algeria had a better claim to be part of the French motherland than some of the unoccupied Deodecanese islands, yet France gave it up just the same. Would the French have felt better or worse if they got a check for it?
Michael Kennedy – Desalination plants on ships work fine elsewhere, the tourists would pay.
Bill Brandt – I agree with Lexington Green to this extent, selling islands would be a potent political issue. Any fiscally responsible party could make great electoral progress by painting the spendthrifts as politicians “willing to sell the country” and they would have a very good point. I realize that this also cuts against the first set of sales being done but when we’re talking about fiscal Armageddon and sudden drop dead deadlines, unusual things can happen that wouldn’t apply during the normal budgetary process.
If Greece can be talked into selling a bunch of islands, maybe the US could be talked into selling a small blue state like Vermont. What kind of deal could we strike with Canada?
TML you miss the entire point. Greek nationalism is founded in the myth that modern Greece is the restoration of classical Greece. To say the islands didn’t belong to a nonexistent Greek state during centuries of humiliation is no argument for giving them up now. There response to any demand for their Islands should be MOLON LABE. The idea that they would give up one square inch of their land is to misread the Greeks very badly. That they would do so to Germans is particularly unlikely. They still hate the Germans, with plenty of reason. I can only imagine the response if some German politician demands the dismemberment of Greece. It would not be pretty. Any Greek politician who went along with would shot like a rat at the dump, or torn limb from limb by a mob.
Probably a more politically palatable solution would be a 99 year lease with sovereignty rights like Hong Kong or Gitmo.
In my experience, the best way to make a deal with a Greek is to convince him he’s getting one over you. Just convince the Greek people that they are cleverly leasing out worthless rocks in exchange for cold hard cash and your in.
Lexington Green – The alternative sweet spot is that the greeks start paying their taxes, demanding less in services, adopting crisis measures in cutting bureaucracy. Now what would scare infantalized greek crybabies into acting like responsible germans? What could possibly be so bad to scare them straight?
Somebody’s got to make paying taxes patriotic at least to a US level of compliance. Either Greece sells off territory or they pull themselves together and put down the financial crack pipe. The proposal to sell the islands creates a moment of clarity that is beneficial whether or not the proposal goes through. I don’t give a hoot whether the proposal goes through. The win comes from the proposal being *discussed*. Greek patriotism will either get them flying straight and the islands stay or it doesn’t and then they don’t stay. In any case, the nature of the game changes and the tolerance for fiscal irresponsibility goes way down.
So why not discuss the proposal and get Greek patriotism going in favor of fixing things?
That is a sweet spot they will never hit. In Andrew Roberts’ biography Salisbury: Victorian Titan (which btw I heartily recommend) there is a scene where the Greeks are provoking a financial crisis by defaulting on their sovereign debt. This was about 120 years ago, but the language Salisbury used to describe the corruption, short-sightedness and venality of the Greek government could have been written yesterday. Nothing has changed and nothing is going to change. Greece is a low-radius-of-trust society, it was ruled by the Turks for centuries, where the government is not your friend, and is simply a means to enrich yourself and your family, and public spiritedness does not extend to paying taxes. Only chumps pay taxes there. It will never be patriotic to do so. The Greeks will consider it patriotic to take every penny the Germans are stupid enough to let them get their hands on, and then screw them out of the money once it is spent. The Europeans should just admit that the money “borrowed” by the Greeks is irrecoverably gone, get them out of the Euro, and realize once and for all that Greece is incapable of the level of public rectitude required for participation in a monetary union with better-behaved countries, like, for example, Estonia. All that said, proposing long term leases on some of the islands may scare the Greeks into a temporary fit of marginally better behavior.
We should remember that the inhabitants of Greece are unrelated to the Greeks of classical times. There are Italian families who can trace their ancestors back 1,000 years but there are no such Greeks. The Turks flooded into Greece and became the “Greeks”. The Serbs resisted assimilation, leading to their hatred of the city dwelling Muslim Bosnians who are genetically the same as the Orthodox Serbs.
The Greeks foolishly attempted to build a Greater Greece out of Turkey after WWI. The result was Ataturk and Smyrna. The whole area of Athens that lies south and east of the Parthenon is filled with refugees from Smyrna.
Don’t you think that the owners of those islands might object?
Dearieme – Given the difficulties the Greek state puts on them, the owners might pay for it. Thanks for the question though, I did not know that Greece lacks a land registry.
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