The Greek language dates back at least 3,500 years, and modern Greek preserves many elements of its classical predecessor. In the 19th century, after Greece's War of Independence, an effort was made to rid the language of Turkish and Arabic words and expressions. The resulting version was considered to be closer to the classical Greek language of Homer and was called Katharevousa. However, Katharevousa was never adopted by most Greeks in daily speech. The commonly spoken language, called Demotiki, became the official language in 1976.
Greek education is free and compulsory for children between the ages of 5 and 15. English language study is compulsory from 5th grade through high school. University education, including books, is also free, contingent upon the student's ability to meet stiff entrance requirements. Recent statistics indicate progressively poorer results in the annual entrance examinations. Low salaries and status of teachers; lack of books, supplies, labs, and computers; frequent strikes; and continuing reliance on rote memorization methods are all matters of concern for Greek educators.
A high percentage of the student population seeks higher education. About 100,000 students are registered at Greek universities, and 15% of the population currently holds a university degree. Entrance to a university is determined by state-administered exams, the candidate's grade-point average from high school, and his/her priority choices of major. About one in four candidates gains admission to Greek universities.
Since Greek law does not permit the operation of private universities in Greece, a large and growing number of students are pursuing higher education abroad. The Greek Government decides through an evaluation procedure whether to recognize degrees from specific foreign universities as qualification for public sector hiring. Other students attend private, post-secondary educational institutions in Greece that are not recognized by the Greek Government.
The number of Greek students studying at European institutions is increasing along with EU support for educational exchange. In addition, nearly 5,000 Greeks are studying in the United States, about half of whom are in graduate school. Greek per capita student representation in the U.S. is the highest of any European country.
Orthodox Christianity is the dominant religion in Greece. During the centuries of Ottoman domination, the Greek Orthodox Church preserved Greek language, values, and national identity and was an important rallying point in the struggle for independence. There is a Muslim minority concentrated in Thrace. Other religious communities in Greece include Catholics, Jews, Old Calendar Orthodox, Jehovah's Witnesses, Mormons, and Protestants.
The Megali Idea (Great Idea), a vision of uniting all Greeks of the declining Ottoman Empire within the newly independent Greek State, exerted strong influence on the early Greek state. At independence, Greece had an area of 47,515 square kilometers (18,346 square mi.), and its northern boundary extended from the Gulf of Volos to the Gulf of Arta. The Ionian Islands were added in 1864; Thessaly and part of Epirus in 1881; Macedonia, Crete, Epirus, and the Aegean Islands in 1913; Western Thrace in 1918; and the Dodecanese Islands in 1947.
Greece entered World War I in 1917 on the side of the Allies. After the war, Greece took part in the Allied occupation of Turkey, where many Greeks still lived. In 1921, the Greek army attacked from its base in Smyrna (now Izmir), and marched toward Ankara. The Greeks were defeated by Turkish forces led by Mustafa Kemal (later Ataturk) and were forced to withdraw in the summer of 1922. Smyrna was sacked by the Turks, and more than 1.3 million Greek refugees from Turkey poured into Greece, creating enormous challenges for the Greek economy and society and effectively ending the Megali Idea.
Greek politics, particularly between the two World Wars, involved a struggle for power between monarchists and republicans. Greece was proclaimed a republic in 1924, but George II returned to the throne in 1935, and a plebiscite in 1946 upheld the monarchy. It was finally abolished, however, by referendum on December 8, 1974, when more than two-thirds of the voters supported the establishment of a republic.
Greece's entry into World War II was precipitated by the Italian invasion on October 28, 1940. That date is celebrated in Greece by the one-word reply--ochi ("no")--symbolizing the Greek Prime Minister's rejection of the surrender demand made by Mussolini. Despite Italian superiority in numbers and equipment, determined Greek defenders drove the invaders back into Albania. Hitler was forced to divert German troops to protect his southern flank and attacked Greece in early April 1941. By the end of May, the Germans had overrun most of the country, although Greek resistance was never entirely suppressed. German forces withdrew in October 1944, and the government in exile returned to Athens.
After the German withdrawal, the principal Greek resistance movement, which was controlled by the communists, refused to disarm. A banned demonstration by resistance forces in Athens in December 1944 ended in violence and was followed by an intense, house-to-house battle with Greek Government and British forces. After 3 weeks, the communists were defeated, and an unstable coalition government was formed. Continuing tensions led to the dissolution of that government and the outbreak of full-fledged civil war in 1946. First the United Kingdom and later the United States gave extensive military and economic aid to the Greek Government.
Communist successes in 1947-48 enabled them to move freely over much of mainland Greece, but with extensive reorganization and American material support, the Greek National Army was slowly able to regain control over most of the countryside. Yugoslavia closed its borders to the insurgent forces in 1949, after Marshal Tito of Yugoslavia broke with Stalin and the Soviet Union.
In August 1949, the National Army under Marshal Alexander Papagos launched a final offensive that forced the remaining insurgents to surrender or flee across the northern border into the territory of Greece's communist neighbors. The insurgency resulted in 100,000 killed and caused catastrophic economic disruption. In addition, at least 25,000 Greeks were either voluntarily or forcibly evacuated to Eastern bloc countries, while 700,000 became displaced persons inside the country.
After the 1944-49 Greek civil war, Greece sought to join the Western democracies and became a member of NATO in 1952. From 1952 to late 1963, Greece was governed by conservative parties -- the Greek Rally of Marshal Alexandros Papagos and its successor, the National Radical Union (ERE) of Constantine Karamanlis. In 1963, the Center Union Party of George Papandreou was elected and governed until July 1965. It was followed by a succession of unstable coalition governments.
On April 21, 1967, just before scheduled elections, a group of colonels led by Col. George Papadopoulos seized power in a coup d'etat. Civil liberties were suppressed, special military courts were established, and political parties were dissolved. Several thousand political opponents were imprisoned or exiled to remote Greek islands. In November 1973, following an uprising of students at the Athens Polytechnic University, Gen. Dimitrios Ioannides replaced Papadopoulos and tried to continue the dictatorship.
Gen. Ioannides' attempt in July 1974 to overthrow Archbishop Makarios, the President of Cyprus, brought Greece to the brink of war with Turkey, which invaded Cyprus and occupied part of the island. Senior Greek military officers then withdrew their support from the junta, which toppled. Leading citizens persuaded Karamanlis to return from exile in France to establish a government of national unity until elections could be held. Karamanlis' newly organized party, New Democracy (ND), won elections held in November 1974, and he became prime minister.
Following the 1974 referendum which resulted in the rejection of the monarchy, a new constitution was approved by parliament on June 19, 1975, and parliament elected Constantine Tsatsos as President of the republic. In the parliamentary elections of 1977, New Democracy again won a majority of seats. In May 1980, Prime Minister Karamanlis was elected to succeed Tsatsos as president. George Rallis was then chosen party leader and succeeded Karamanlis as Prime Minister.
On January 1, 1981, Greece became the 10th member of the European Community (now the European Union). In parliamentary elections held on October 18, 1981, Greece elected its first socialist government when the Panhellenic Socialist Movement (PASOK), led by Andreas Papandreou, won 172 of 300 seats. On March 29, 1985, after Prime Minister Papandreou declined to support President Karamanlis for a second term, Supreme Court Justice Christos Sartzetakis was elected president by the Greek parliament.
Greece had two rounds of parliamentary elections in 1989; both produced weak coalition governments with limited mandates. Party leaders withdrew their support in February 1990, and elections were held on April 8. In the April 1990 election, ND won 150 seats and subsequently gained 2 others. After Mitsotakis fired his first Foreign Minister--Andonis Samaras--in 1992, Samaras formed his own political party, Political Spring. A split between Mitsotakis and Samaras led to the collapse of the ND government and new elections in September 1993.
On January 17, 1996, following a protracted illness, Prime Minister Papandreou resigned and was replaced as Prime Minister by former Minister of Industry Constantine Simitis. In elections held in September 1996, Constantine Simitis was elected Prime Minister. PASOK won 162 seats, New Democracy, 108.
The president is elected by parliament to a 5-year term and can be reelected once. The president has the power to declare war and to conclude agreements of peace, alliance, and participation in international organizations; upon the request of the government a three-fifths parliamentary majority is required to ratify such actions, agreements, or treaties. The president also can exercise certain emergency powers, which must be countersigned by the appropriate cabinet minister. Changes to the constitution in 1986 limited the president's political powers. As a result, the president may not dissolve parliament, dismiss the government, suspend certain articles of the constitution, or declare a state of siege. To call a referendum, he must obtain approval from parliament.
Parliamentary deputies are elected by secret ballot for a maximum of 4 years, but elections can be called earlier. Greece uses a complex reinforced proportional representation electoral system which discourages splinter parties and makes a parliamentary majority possible even if the leading party falls short of a majority of the popular vote. A party must receive 3% of the total national vote to qualify for parliamentary seats.
Greece is divided into 51 prefectures, each headed by a prefect, who is elected by direct popular vote. There are also 13 regional administrative districts (peripheries), each including a number of prefectures and headed by a regional governor (periferiarch), appointed by the Minister of the Interior. In northern Greece and in greater Athens, three areas have an additional administrative position between the nomarch and periferiarch. This official, known as the president of the prefectural local authorities or "super nomarch," is elected by direct popular vote. Although municipalities and villages have elected officials, they do not have an adequate independent tax base and must depend on the central government for a large part of their financial needs. Consequently they are subject to numerous central government controls.
The Government and Education, Religion, and the Media
Education. Under the Greek constitution, education is the responsibility of the state. Most Greeks attend public primary and secondary schools. There are a few private schools, which must meet the standard curriculum of and be supervised by the Ministry of Education. The Ministry of Education oversees and directs every aspect of the public education process at all levels, including hiring all teachers and professors and producing all required textbooks.
Religion. The Greek Orthodox Church is under the protection of the state, which pays the clergy's salaries, and Orthodox Christianity is the "prevailing" religion of Greece according to the constitution. The Greek Orthodox Church is self-governing but under the spiritual guidance of the Ecumenical Patriarch in Istanbul.
The Muslim minority, concentrated in Thrace, was given legal status by provisions of the Treaty of Lausanne in 1923 and is Greece's only officially recognized minority.
Media. The Greek media, collectively, is a very influential institution--usually aggressive, sensationalist, and frequently irresponsible with regard to content. Objectivity as known to the U.S. media on the whole does not exist in the Greek media. Most of the media are owned by businessmen with extensive commercial interests in other sectors of the economy. They use their newspapers, magazines, and radio and TV channels to promote their commercial enterprises as well as to seek political influence.
In 1994, the Ministry of Press and Information was established to deal with media and communication issues. ERT S.A.--a public corporation supervised by the Minister of Press--operates three national television channels and five national radio channels. The Minister of Press also serves as the primary government spokesman.
The Secretary General of Press and Information prepares the Athens News Agency (ANA) Bulletin, which is used, with AP and Reuters, as a primary source of information by the Greek press. The Ministry of Press and Information also issues the Macedonian News Agency (MPE) Bulletin, which is distributed throughout the Balkan region. For international news, CNN is a particular influence in the Greek market; the major TV channels often use it as a source. State and private TV stations also use "Eurovision" and "Visnews" as sources. While few papers and stations have overseas correspondents, those few correspondents abroad can be very influential.
In 1988, a new law provided the legal framework for the establishment of private radio stations and, as of 1989, private TV stations. According to the law, supervision of radio and television is exercised by the National Radio and Television Council. In practice, however, official licensing has been delayed for many years. Because of this, there has been a proliferation of private radio and TV stations, as well as European satellite channels, including Euronews; more than 1,000 radio stations are currently operating in Greece. The Greek Government is now implementing its plans to reallocate TV frequencies and issue licenses, authorized by the 1993 Media Law.
Greece's embassy in the U.S. is located at 2221 Massachusetts Ave., NW, Washington, DC 20008; tel: (202) 939-5800; fax: (202) 939-5824.
Recent Economic History
The development of the modern Greek economy began in the late 19th and early 20th centuries with the adoption of social and industrial legislation and protective tariffs and the creation of the first industrial enterprises. Industry at the turn of the century consisted primarily of food processing, shipbuilding, and the manufacture of textiles and simple consumer products.
Greece achieved high rates of growth in the late 1960s and early 1970s due to large foreign investments. In the mid-1970s, Greece suffered declines in its GDP growth rate, ratio of investment to GDP, and productivity, and real labor costs and oil prices rose. In 1981, protective barriers were removed when Greece joined the European Community. The government pursued expansionary policies, which fueled inflation and caused balance-of-payment difficulties. Growing public sector deficits were financed by borrowing. In October 1985, supported by a 1.7-billion European Currency Unit (ECU) loan from the European Union (EU), the government implemented a 2-year "stabilization" program with limited success. Public sector inefficiency and excessive spending caused government borrowing to increase; by the end of 1992, general government debt exceeded 100% of GDP.
Greece continued to rely on foreign borrowing to finance its deficits. Public sector external debt was $32 billion at the end of 1998. The general government debt was $119 billion at the end of 1998, or 105.5% of GDP. Greece's external debt was $32 billion at the end of 1998.
Greece, as a member of the EU, is currently striving to reduce its budget deficit and inflation rate in order to meet the prerequisites for the European monetary union. Although growth remained above the convergence program guidelines, high budget deficits and deficient infrastructure continue to dampen the economy's long-term potential growth rate.
In May 1994, the Bank of Greece successfully managed a currency crisis triggered by the lifting of currency restrictions on short-term capital movements. The bank contained speculative attacks on the drachma by tightening its monetary policy and raising interest rates dramatically: For a few days, interest rates pushed as high as 180%. In less than 2 months, with speculation on the drachma no longer a threat, interest rates returned to normal levels. A similar wave of speculation was beaten back in fall 1997, following the Asian financial crisis.
One of the successes of recent Greek economic policy has been the reduction of inflation rates. For more than 20 years, inflation hovered in the double digits, but a combination of fiscal consolidation, wage restraint, and strong drachma policies resulted in lowered inflation. Inflation fell to 2.0% by mid-1999. High interest rates have been a significant problem, despite recent cuts in both treasury bill and bank rates for savings and loans. The government's strong drachma policy and Public Sector Borrowing Requirement (PSBR) make the lowering of interest rates difficult, but progress was made in 1997-99 and rates are gradually declining in line with inflation.
Services, including tourism, make up the largest and fastest-growing sector of the Greek economy, accounting for about 62.7% of GDP in 1998.
Tourism is a major source of foreign exchange earnings. Although it is one of the country's most important industries, it has been slow to expand and suffers from poor infrastructure. With more than 10 million tourists visiting Greece in 1996, the tourist industry faced declining revenues, partly due to the strong drachma. Revenue from tourism exceeded $5.2 billion in 1998, having increased somewhat as Greek tourism benefited from problems in neighboring countries and an economic recovery in the European Union.
The manufacturing sector accounts for about 14% of GDP. The food industry is one of the most profitable and fastest-growing areas of manufacturing with significant export potential. High-technology equipment production, especially for telecommunications, is also a fast-growing sector. Other important areas include textiles, building materials, machinery, transport equipment, and electrical appliances.
Greece is traditionally a seafaring nation and has built an impressive shipping industry based on its geographic location and the entrepreneurial ability of its ship owners. The Greek-owned fleet (all flags) totaled 3,358 ships (134 million DWT) in 1998.
Construction activity (about 7.5% of GDP) is expected to increase due to infrastructure projects partially financed by European Union structural funds. Through 1999, about $20 billion will go to projects to modernize and develop Greece's transportation network. The centerpiece of this effort will be the construction of a new international airport near Athens. In addition, the Athens subway system is being greatly expanded, and construction or expansion of roads, railway lines, and bridges is either underway or planned.
Greece must realign its economy as part of an extended transition to full EU membership that began in 1981. Greek businesses are adjusting to competition from EU firms and the government has had to liberalize its economic and commercial regulations and practices. However, Greece has been granted waivers from certain aspects of the EU's 1992 single market program.
Historically, Greece has been a net beneficiary of the EU budget. Net payments to Greece totaled $4.9 billion in 1998, representing 4.2% of GDP. Net inflows were estimated at about $5 billion in 1998. These funds contribute significantly to Greece's current accounts balance and reduce the state budget deficit.
Greece is receiving additional substantial support from the EU through the Delors II package. In July 1994, the Greek Government and the EU agreed on a final plan which provided Greece 16.6 billion ecu ($17.1 billion at current exchange rates) for the period 1994-98 of which 14 billion ecu was from the Community Support Framework and 2.6 billion ecu was from the Cohesion Fund. This level of assistance was continued in 1999 and finances major public works and economic development projects, upgrades competitiveness and human resources, improves living conditions, and addresses disparities between poorer and more developed regions of the country.
The Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (F.Y.R.O.M.)
Greek refusal to recognize F.Y.R.O.M. under the name "Republic of Macedonia" has been an important issue in Greek politics since 1992. Greece was adamantly opposed to the use of the name "Macedonia" by the government in Skopje, claiming that the name is intrinsically Greek and should not be used by a foreign country.
Furthermore, Greece believes that an independent "Republic of Macedonia" bordering the Greek region of Macedonia would fuel irredentist tensions in F.Y.R.O.M. The dispute led to a Greek trade embargo against F.Y.R.O.M. in February 1994. Mediation efforts by the UN, U.S., and EU brokered an interim solution to some of these differences in September 1995, leading to the lifting of the Greek embargo. Since the signing of these interim accords, the two governments have concluded agreements designed to facilitate the movement of people and goods across their common border and improve bilateral relations. Talks on remaining issues are still being held under UN auspices in New York.
Greece restored diplomatic relations with Albania in 1971, but the Greek Government did not formally lift the state of war, declared during World War II, until 1987. After the fall of the Albanian communist regime in 1991, relations between Athens and Tirana became increasingly strained because of widespread allegations of mistreatment by Albanian authorities of the Greek ethnic minority in southern Albania. A wave of Albanian illegal economic migrants to Greece exacerbated tensions. The crisis in Greek-Albanian relations reached its peak in the summer of 1994, when an Albanian court sentenced five members (a sixth member was added later) of the ethnic Greek organization "Omonia" to prison terms on charges of undermining the Albanian state. Greece responded by freezing all EU aid to Albania and deporting tens of thousands of illegal Albanians. In December 1994, however, Greece began to permit limited EU aid to Albania, while Albania released two of the Omonia defendants and reduced the sentences of the remaining four.
Today, relations between the two countries are good, and, at the Albanian Government's request, about 250 Greek military personnel are stationed in Albania to assist with training and restructuring the Albanian armed forces.
Greece and Turkey enjoyed good relations in the 1930s, but relations began to deteriorate in the mid-1950s, sparked by the Cyprus independence struggle and Turkish violence directed against the Greek minority in Istanbul. The July 1974 coup against Cyprus President Makarios -- inspired by the Greek military junta in Athens -- and the subsequent Turkish military intervention in Cyprus helped bring about the fall of the Greek military dictatorship. It also led to the de facto division of Cyprus. Since then, Greece has strongly supported Greek-Cypriot efforts, calling for the removal of Turkish troops and the restoration of a unified state. The Republic of Cyprus has received strong support from Greece in international forums. Greece has a military contingent on Cyprus, and Greek officers fill some key positions in the Greek Cypriot National Guard, as permitted by the constitution of Cyprus.
Other issues dividing Greece and Turkey involve the delimitation of the continental shelf in the Aegean Sea, territorial waters and airspace, and the condition of the Greek minority in Turkey and the Muslim minority in Greece. Greek and Turkish officials held meetings in the 1970s to discuss differences on Aegean questions, but Greece discontinued these discussions in the fall of 1981. In 1983, Greece and Turkey held talks on trade and tourism, but these were suspended by Greece when Turkey recognized the Turkish-Cypriot declaration of an independent state in northern Cyprus in November 1983.
After a dangerous dispute in the Aegean in March 1987 concerning oil drilling rights, the Prime Ministers of Greece and Turkey exchanged messages exploring the possibility of resolving the dispute over the continental shelf. Greece wanted the dispute to be decided by the International Court of Justice. Turkey preferred bilateral political discussions. In early 1988, the Turkish and Greek Prime Ministers met at Davos, Switzerland, and later in Brussels. They agreed on various measures to reduce bilateral tensions and to encourage cooperation. New tensions over the Aegean surfaced in November 1994, precipitated by Greece's ratification of the Law of the Sea Treaty and its ensuing statement that it reserved the right to declare a 12-mile territorial sea boundary around its Aegean islands as permitted by the treaty. Turkey stated that it would consider any such action a cause for war. New technical-level bilateral discussions began in 1994 but quickly fizzled.
In January 1996, Greece and Turkey came close to an armed confrontation over the question of which country had sovereignty over an islet in the Aegean. In July 1997, on the sidelines of the NATO summit in Madrid, Greek and Turkish leaders reached agreement on six principles to govern their bilateral relations. Within a few months, however, the two countries were again at odds over Aegean airspace and sovereignty issues. Tensions remain high. However, the two countries are discussing, under the auspices of the NATO Secretary General, various confidence-building measures to reduce the risk of military accidents or conflict in the Aegean.
The Middle East
Greece has a special interest in the Middle East because of its geographic position and its economic and historic ties to the area. Greece cooperated with allied forces during the 1990-91 Persian Gulf war. Since 1994, Greece has signed defense cooperation agreements with Israel and Egypt. In recent years, Greek leaders have made numerous trips to the region in order to strengthen bilateral ties and encourage the Middle East Peace Process. In July and December 1997, Greece hosted meetings of Israeli and Palestinian politicians to contribute to the peace process. Greece hosted another such meeting in July 1998.
About 1.1 million Americans are of Greek origin. The large, well-organized Greek-American community in the U.S. cultivates close political and cultural ties with Greece. Greece has the seventh-largest population of U.S. Social Security beneficiaries in the world.
During the Greek civil war of 1946-49, the U.S. proclaimed the Truman Doctrine, promising assistance to governments resisting communist subjugation, and began a period of substantial financial and military aid. The U.S. has provided Greece with more than $11.1 billion in economic and security assistance since 1946. Economic programs were phased out by 1962, but military assistance has continued. In fiscal year 1995, Greece was the fourth-largest recipient of U.S. security assistance, receiving loans totaling $255.15 million in foreign military financing.
In 1953, the first defense cooperation agreement between Greece and the United States was signed, providing for the establishment and operation of American military installations on Greek territory. The current mutual defense cooperation agreement (MDCA) provides for continued U.S. military assistance to Greece and the operation by the U.S. of a major military facility at Souda Bay, Crete.
The U.S. embassy in Greece is located at 91 Vasilissis Sophias Blvd., 10160 Athens; tel:  (1) 721-2951 or 721-8401, after hours 722-3652; fax:  (1) 645-6282.
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