Greece The Trikoupis Reforms
Source: The Library of Congress Country Studies
The politician Kharilaos Trikoupis began to address the problem of gridlock in 1869. After Trikoupis wrote a newspaper article identifying the king's toleration of minority governments in 1874 (and after the writer's arrest for treason), the king agreed that a government could be formed only by the leader of the strongest party in parliament. If no party could obtain the pledged support of a plurality, then the king would dissolve parliament and call for a general election. The result of this reform was a relatively stable twenty-five-year period at the end of the century, in which only seven general elections were held.
Trikoupis and his arch-rival Theodoros Deliyannis were the dominant political figures of the last quarter of the nineteenth century--Trikoupis the Westernizer and modernizer, Deliyannis the traditionalist and strong advocate of irredentism. Trikoupis saw Greece as needing to develop economically, become more liberal socially, and develop its military strength in order to become a truly "modern" state. During his terms as prime minister in the 1880s (altogether he served seven terms, interspersed with the first three of Deliyannis's five terms), Trikoupis made major economic and social reforms that pushed Greece significantly to develop in these ways.
Trikoupis emphasized expansion of Greece's export sector and its chief support elements--the transportation network and agricultural cultivation. In the last decades of the 1800s, agricultural reforms, which were only moderately successful, aimed at increasing the purchasing power of the rural population as well as fostering large estates that could raise production of export commodities and improve Greece's chronic balance of payments deficit. However, land-allotment patterns failed to raise most peasants above the level of subsistence farming, and foreclosures of peasant properties created large estates whose single-crop contributions made the Greek agricultural export structure quite fragile.
Between 1875 and 1895, steamship tonnage under Greek ownership rose by a factor of about sixteen. Industrialization, especially textile production, also developed under the paternal eye of the Trikoupis government. Between 1875 and 1900, the steam horsepower of Greek plants increased by over 250 percent. In addition, by greatly expanding public education, Trikoupis fostered a new cultural climate that drew on Western trends in dress, architecture, art and manners.
The only engine to drive such reform programs was extensive foreign loans. By 1887 some 40 percent of government expenditures went to servicing the national debt. Trikoupis levied taxes and import tariffs on numerous commodities, increased the land tax, and established government monopolies on salt and matches.
The sustained deficits incurred through the 1880s set up an economic collapse in the 1890s. When the price of currants, the chief agricultural export, collapsed in 1893, the national economy collapsed as well. By 1897 Greece was bankrupt, and its age of reform, which yielded many beneficial and permanent changes, had ended.
Data as of December 1994
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