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Greece achieved its independence from the Ottoman Empire in 1829. During the second half of the 19th century and the first half of the 20th century, it gradually added neighbouring islands and territories with Greek-speaking populations. Following the defeat of communist rebels in 1949, Greece joined NATO in 1952. A military dictatorship, which in 1967 suspended many political liberties and forced the king to flee the country, lasted seven years. Democratic elections in 1974 and a referendum created a parliamentary republic and abolished the monarchy; Greece joined the European Community or EC in 1981 (which became the EU in 1992).
Update No: 068 - (01/01/03)
The Greeks are living in interesting times. A long-lived terrorist group, November 17, has been busted. The prospects for a settlement of the Cyprus question, which has long bedevilled Greek-Turkish relations, look brighter than for a long time. Greece's position as an established member of the EU and NATO, the only one on the Balkan peninsula, is enhancing its status as the natural leader of the region, as new countries join, notably Slovenia to the EU and NATO and prospectively at a later stage, Croatia, Macedonia and Albania to NATO, as agreed in its Prague summit in November. Even Serbia will not be left permanently 'out in the cold.' In 2004, the year of the EU's and NATO's incorporation of the next new members, Greece will be hosting the Olympic Games, the capstone of its new high profile abroad.
Elimination of November 17
The climate of international politics after 9:11 made it imperative for Greece to be seen to do its bit against terrorism. This was because the incumbent party in government, the socialists, or PASOK, have been in power for most of the last twenty years, during which November 17 was carrying out a series of outrages against US and UK personnel in the country, starting with the local CIA chief in 1975, as well as Greek businessmen, with a total of 23 assassinations to date. November 17 originated in the struggle against the Greek colonels' junta, which came to grief in 1974 over its attempt to carry out enosis, union with Cyprus. The socialists were certainly sympathetic to the popular opposition to the colonels, indeed were its democratic backbone. Some observers have reckoned that elements in the PASOK hierarchy were turning a blind eye to the terrorist activities of November 17, themselves sharing an antipathy to the US, the UK and leading Greek business circles that were complicit with the colonels' regime.
Be that as it may, the authorities have followed up swiftly the capture of the terrorists' main leader and headquarters in Athens earlier this year, rounding up 16 hard-core operatives. Certain of their comrades have escaped apprehension so far. But the group is severely, perhaps fatally, stricken.
The routing of the terrorists could have a beneficial effect on wider security issues. The Greeks have long had a system of conscription for military service for two years. This is an anachronism in a country that faces no likely external enemy. Turkey, the one potential adversary with real grievances over ownership of Aegean islands (nearly all Greek) and over Cyprus, is not in a belligerent frame of mind, having a keen desire to enter the EU, for which Greek acceptance is a vital sine qua non.
The two years' military service is having an unfortunate effect on young males, who prefer to study abroad as often as not. There are some 30,000 Greek students in the UK alone, and many more in the US as well as in continental Europe. Such a disapora might seem an advantage to a country when the young come back, with a wider mind-set than when they left. But the snag is many do not return.
The socialists need to make up for the lack of higher educational facilities, particularly inappropriate in a country that gave the world the original Academy. The Greeks are proud of the heritage of Ancient Greece, the cradle of Western civilisation, but have not always lived up to it.
Olympic Games at last
That was the problem when the International Olympic Games Committee decided not to hold the games in Greece in 1996, the anniversary year of their resumption in modern times in 1896, after an hiatus of two millennia.
The smooth running of the Sydney Olympic Games in 2000 still leaves many wondering if Athens, then mired in pollution and endless red tape, could host Games that do not look tawdry by comparison. But Greek officials are confident that they can meet the challenge of Sydney. After all, the first Games were held there in 776 BC, 2,780 years beforehand. They have the inestimable advantage of Mount Olympus and the original features of Athens, the Acropolis, the Parthenon and the rest. The Roman Agora and Hadrian's Arch and aqueduct were built later, but convey the majesty of the ancient classical world.
Government and Olympic officials are rushing to complete three dozen construction projects. An Olympic Village similar to the original is being built. Every significant artefact discovered while digging or bulldozing will be displayed near the site of its excavation.
The work is being frequently interrupted by compliance with a federal law which often hampers and delays construction projects throughout Greece. Whenever construction is undertaken on a new site, rigid archaeological guidelines apply. When an instrument strikes an artefact, construction ceases. Authorities are summoned and excavations are undertaken by archaeologists from 25 districts throughout the country. "The Central Archaeological Council assesses the value of discovered artefacts and makes recommendations about how to deal with them. The Hellenic Ministry of Culture ultimately calls the shots," reports Amy Shipley of the Washington Post.
Plans often have to be changed and delays can last for months. The builder is required to pay of the extra costs involved, not the archaeologists.
"It is a very strict law," says Panos Protopsaltis, the organising committee's transportation general manager. "Whenever you discover something, you don't just improvise, you call the archaeologists and they come and impose their own rules. We may not like their pace, but we respect their mission. This is inevitable."
Greece is such a rich country in antiquities, many long since under ground, that the scope for archaeological excavation is seemingly endless. The construction of the Athens metro, which opened in 2000, unearthed countless finds; work for its extension for the summer Olympic Games is continuing to do so.
The coming Athens Games are providing a godsend to the archaeologists, because a lot of things were there, but they had no opportunity or funds to do the job. Says George Kazantzopoulos, the Games' environmental chief: "The problem with Greece is that there are so many archaeological findings; they don't have the funds required to protect and reveal everything. This is a very good opportunity for them. Thank God they were there. The end result has made us all proud."
The government and Olympic Games Committee have budgeted more than US$6bn to prepare and stage the Games. The spectacular archaeological finds are likely to be the most enduring monument to the event. Widely displayed once they have been cleaned, they comprise a unique addition to the world's cultural heritage, which can only augment Greece's claims to be well worth a visit.
Greece's tourist industry is likely to be given a big permanent boost by the Games. Hotels and other facilities are being built for the exceptional number of visitors expected in 2004. An exceptionally beautiful city and its surrounds are being prepared for their delectation. 2004 should prove yet another historic date in Greek history.
There is one person who not will to be allowed to visit the Games, however, ex-king Constantine, who made the fatal mistake of supporting the colonels in their ill-starred 1967-74 rule. He lost a referendum on the monarchy in 1976 and was required to abdicate.
He made his home in London, close to his cousin, Prince Philip. When he dared to visit Greece in 1993 he was chased out of the country by gunboats and jet fighters. He was deprived of his citizenship the next year. The current socialist premier, Costas Simitis, was harassed during the dictatorship, when thousands were interred in remote island camps or went into exile.
The ex-king, still keen to return, was unwise enough to institute legal proceedings for compensation of £320m for royal estates, near Athens and on Corfu, confiscated nearly a decade ago by the socialist government. The European Court of Human Rights awarded him a fraction of this €12m (£7.9m) in compensation. The government prefers not to pay, but says it will honour the verdict "out of respect" for the Strasbourg court. "The deposit will be decisive in bringing closure to the monarchy," says Simitis. The Games may be being revived, but not the monarchy.
Greece considers Czech jet fighters
The President of the Czech Aero Vodochody company, Antonin Jakubse, has said that Greece if the first NATO member to have expressed an official interest in buying its L-159 fighters. A Greek delegation headed by Deputy Defence minister, Lazaros Lotidis, visited the Czech Republic at the end of October.
At the present time, Aero has no other offers for the L-159 fighters, but hopes rest high on an agreement to export eight L-159 fighters to Kenya, while talks are taking place regarding supplies of 66 fighters to India Sales at the Czech Republic's biggest domestic arms producer are expected to decline to 7.1bn Czech crowns from 12 billion crowns - mainly due to lower supplies of the fighters to the Czech military compared to2001, CTK News Agency reported. With regards to interest on the part of the Greeks, Jakubse noted: "Talks are just beginning," adding, however, "I would not like to make the impression that the deal is about to be signed."
EFG Eurobank Ergasias gains extra 17% Romania Bank Post
An additional 17 per cent of Romanian Bank Post has officially been transferred to Greece's EFG Eurobank Ergasias for an amount totalling US$20m, thus giving EFG 36.25 per cent of the Romanian bank. EFT EurobankErgasias and Portugal's Banco Portuguese de Investimento (BPI), which also hold 17 per cent, together control the majority of Romanian Banc Post, MPA News Agency reported.
NBG opens second branch in Belgrade
The National Bank in Greece (NBG), a blue chip on the Athens bourse, inaugurated recently a new bank in Belgrade; its second so far in Yugoslavia. Yugoslav Unit Managing Director, Athabassios Panagopoulos, told the Athens News Agency that the National Bank would open another three outlets in Yugoslavia in the near future.
The director reiterated the bank's target to form a network of 15 branches in the country by the end of 2003.
National Bank, EBRD agree 10m Euro loan for UBB
Bulgarian bank, UBB, which has been acquired by the National Bank of Greece, has forged an agreement with the European Bank for Research and Development for 10m Euro. A senior executive of the Athens-listed concern told the Athens News Agency that UBB played a key role in Bulgaria in granting loans to small- and medium-sized enterprises.
DEH plans second share float on Athens bourse
Greece's state-controlled Public Power Corporation (DEH) announced that it would float its second tranche of shares on the Athens Stock Exchange on December 13th.
The government hopes to collect some 500m Euro. The size of the flotation has yet to be decided on, but has been estimated at about 15 per cent of existing capital.
Greek consortium to repair Zarneti water network
An EC delegation will analyse a memorandum on the group selected to repair Zarnesti's drinking water. "The winner is the consortium formed by the Greek-based companies Delta Industry and Ateo," Zarnesti local council official, Cezar Petruscu, told Bucharest Business Weekly.
"In around two weeks we will start to negotiate with the winner as the prices offered are higher than we expected." The second bidder was Bucharest-based firm,
FOOD & DRINK
Coca-Cola HBC becomes full owner of Cretan Bottling
Coca-Cola Hellenic Bottling Company SA recently published a summary of a draft merger agreement for the absorption of its 100 per cent subsidiary under the trade name Cretan Bottling Company SA. The company said the merger will be concluded upon issuance of its approval by the Ministry of Development.
Coca-Cola HBC is one of the largest bottlers of non-alcoholic beverages in Europe and the second largest Coca-Cola bottler in the world by sales volume, operating in 26 countries with a total population of more than 500 million and trading its share in the world's biggest stock markets, HINA reported.
Proodeftiki inks deal for Bucharest road project
Proodeftiki SA, an Athens-quoted engineering contractor, said it has been allocated a budget of 21.5m Euro by Romanian authorities for a road building project in the Balkan country. The company forged a merger with another contractor, namely Athena SA, according to Athens News Agency. Participation in the project is 65 per cent, or 13.975m Euro. The project is funded by the European Union.
When NATO became militarily involved in the Balkans in 1999 to maintain the integrity of Kosovo, it wasn't only Western public opinion that was satisfied. The shipping and commercial establishment in the Greek port city of Thessaloniki benefited from handling the supplies for the expeditionary force, The Wall Street Journal has reported.
Within months, shipping agents in Thessaloniki were making large profits, attracting newcomers to the sector and forcing the Greek government to speed up the privatisation and modernisation of Thessaloniki's port facilities. Although Kosovo no longer makes headlines, the steady pace of economic growth in all the Balkan countries has ensured the continuing importance of the 2,300 year old port, which since early Roman times has been the region's premier trading outlet.
Visitors to Thessaloniki are invariably impressed by the seafront cafes, fascinating architecture and sense of history. Almost all have a good word for the hospitality of the people and the common sense of its business establishment.
Dependant on this business establishment are thousands of businesses in Bulgaria, Macedonia and Serbia, whose imports and exports constitute the bulk of approximately 270,000 containers that Thessaloniki handles annually. With container traffic growing 5% a year, and the once-fractious dockworkers' union now quiet, the immediate future appears rosy. "We expect transit cargoes for Serbia and Macedonia to rise between 15% and 20% over the next few years. It will total four million tons this year alone," says Ioannis Zavelakis, managing director of Thessaloniki Port Authority
Athens, New York bourses ink cooperation agreement
The Athens exchange (ATHEX) and the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) recently signed a cooperation agreement aimed at facilitating the development and efficient operation of both securities markets.
ATHEX and the NYSE have pledged to work together on initiatives relating to the development of their markets, and will consult and cooperate on issues of mutual interest.
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