Robert Kaplan asks if Greece is European:
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.
Greece’s European identity shouldn’t be in question, and even its status as part of the Western world isn’t really in doubt. Kaplan’s somewhat slanted account of Greek history is a reminder that different countries are included as part of “the West” or Europe ultimately according to an arbitrary decision based on criteria that change from one generation to the next. During the 19th century, there was a racialist school of thought in western Europe that held that modern Greeks weren’t even “really” Greeks because of Slavic population migrations in the Balkans in the medieval period, which Paparrigopoulos famously refuted in his work on the history of the Greek nation. Paparrigopoulos presented a history of the Greeks that emphasized the realities of continuity between antiquity and the modern era, which an earlier generation of Greek nationalists and Philhellenes were only too happy to deny.
Kaplan’s descriptions reflect the same sort of selective Western identification with Greek culture: the aspects of Greek antiquity that modern Westerners admire (the innovations of the Age of Perikles) are said to be “Western” and the parts of Greek history that do not fit with the way we see ourselves (Eastern Orthodoxy, Byzantium) are identified as something else. This selective use of Greek history is all the more extraordinary when we consider that the formal doctrinal content of Christianity was set down in the Greek language at ecumenical councils held in the Eastern Roman Empire at the orders of Byzantine emperors in Greek-speaking cities. Inasmuch as European civilization and Western civilization have been formed by the inheritance of the ancient and medieval Christian world, they owe a great debt to the Christianity of eastern Europe and the eastern Mediterranean, which is a significant part of the cultural legacy of Byzantium.