Take a quick glance at this year's list of the world's most failed states and you'd be forgiven for thinking that, despite the headlines, all's (relatively) well in Europe. But while the vast majority of countries atop the Failed States Index (FSI) are in Africa, Asia, and the Middle East, the West is by no means immune to the risks of state collapse. Case in point: Greece, the cradle of democracy, which has been at the heart of the crisis eating away at the eurozone for the past two years.
Since 2010, the country's FSI score has worsened by 4.5 points and its rank by nine spots, landing Greece at 138th out of 177 states this year -- in the "less stable" category for the first time since the Fund for Peace (FFP) first included the country on the Index, in 2006. Greece also earned worse scores across almost all of FFP's 12 assessment indicators for the second year running, with the country's political and economic scores seeing the largest lapses. And the FSI ranking only takes into account events from 2011, leaving out all the drama in the first six months of this year.
So is Greece a "failed state" -- or on its way to becoming one? It certainly demonstrates some of the hallmarks: a national debt larger than its economy, burgeoning unemployment, a heavy reliance on international actors, and political instability. But with repeated stopgap measures to avoid collapse -- the latest coming with the narrow victory of a pro-bailout party in this past weekend's elections -- the country has managed to hold on, just barely, so far.
Greece's backsliding on the Index comes as no surprise given the events of last year. In 2011, the Greek economy continued to weaken, as the unemployment rate hovered around 20 percent for the year, with an estimated 50 percent of young Greeks out of work. Like in 2010, political crises ensued, and the perceived legitimacy of the Greek government plunged, with more and more Greek citizens questioning the ability of elected officials to drag their country out of the financial morass. Public rage was palpable as tens of thousands of Greek took to the streets last June to protest proposed austerity measures that included significant tax hikes and virtually eroded the Greek safety net. The protests were just one symptom of society's deep anxiety caused by the recession -- which continues to be felt in 2012. Aside from a rise in the rate of violent crime, suicide, prostitution, and drug use, Greece's political parties have become polarized, with the ultranationalist, neo-Nazi Golden Dawn party even receiving 18 seats in the parliamentary elections this past weekend.
Adding to the mayhem, the catastrophe in Greece has brought into question the viability of such lofty ideals as pan-European prosperity and social and economic equality, as the country dragged down its European Union brethren. Greece, which joined the eurozone in 2001 after failing to meet the criteria in 1999, has long been the red-headed stepchild of the monetary union. By mid-2011, after only 10 years of membership, it had racked up a debt load on par with 150 percent of its GDP, unheard of elsewhere in the union. Meanwhile, similar strains spread to other EU countries. Ireland, Italy, and Portugal continued to worsen in 2011, with their economic and political indicators taking the hardest hits. Although Spain held steady throughout most of 2011, it began to show signs of steady decline by the end of the year.
Germany has led a somewhat begrudging charge to protect the financial and political integrity of the eurozone, helping to push through an agreement in October to write-off 50 percent of Greek debt, but forgiveness did not come without repercussions. By late in the year, both the Germans and the European Central Bank were once again leaning heavily on Greece to implement further austerity measures. Caught between an enraged population and a bullying Germany, Prime Minister George Papandreou stepped down in November after multiple attempts to pass a more severe austerity package failed. In his place, the former head of the Bank of Greece, Lucas Papademos, stepped in to try to solve the Greek financial meltdown, but this did little to assuage the general anxiety gripping the country. Pressure to implement austerity continued into 2012, with the Greek parliament finally agreeing to impose harsh austerity measures in exchange for 130 billion euros in February. Far-right parties have been quick to capitalize on the population's disillusionment, using anti-austerity rhetoric to gain significant support in the 2012 elections: The pro-euro New Democracy party, which earned 29.6 percent of the vote this past weekend, only barely edged out the left-wing, anti-bailout SYRIZA party's 26.9 percent.