Robert D. Kaplan is Chief Geopolitical Analyst for Stratfor, a Texas-based global intelligence company.
"Greece is where the West both begins and ends. The West -- as a humanist ideal -- began in ancient Athens where compassion for the individual began to replace the crushing brutality of the nearby civilizations of Egypt and Mesopotamia. The war that Herodotus chronicles between Greece and Persia in the 5th century B.C. established a contrast between West and East that has persisted for millennia.
Greece is Christian, but it is also Eastern Orthodox, as spiritually close to Russia as it is to the West, and geographically equidistant between Brussels and Moscow. Greece may have invented the West with the democratic innovations of the Age of Pericles, but for more than a thousand years it was a child of Byzantine and Turkish despotism.
And while Greece was the northwestern bastion of the anciently civilised Near East, ever since history moved north into colder climates following the collapse of Rome, the inhabitants of Peninsular Greece have found themselves at the poor, southeastern extremity of Europe.
Modern Greece in particular has struggled against this bifurcated legacy. In an early 20th century replay of the Greco-Persian Wars, Greece's post-World War I military struggle with Turkey led to a signal Greek defeat and as a consequence, more than a million ethnic Greeks from Asia Minor escaped to Greece proper, further impoverishing the country. (This Greek diaspora in Asia Minor was a massive source of revenue until the Greeks were expelled.)
Not only did World War I have a bloody and epic coda in Greece, so did World War II, which was followed by a civil war between rightists and communists. Greece's ultimate escape from the Warsaw Pact was a rather close-run affair: again, the effect of Greece's unstable geographical location between East and West.
Greece struggled on. As recently as the mid-1970s it was governed by a particularly brutal military dictatorship (led by colonels from the backwater of the Peloponnese), which lasted for seven years, and fear of another coup persisted during the initial stage of its reborn democracy.
Even though the Olympic tradition began in Greece in antiquity and the first modern Olympics were held in Greece in 1896, Greece was denied the right to host the centenary modern Olympics in 1996 owing to the country's lack of preparedness in organisation and infrastructure. Greece did host the 2004 Olympics, but the financial strain that the games put on Greece contributed to the country's economic fragility in the run-up to the current debt crisis.