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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: 070 - (21/02/03)
Greece has the revolving presidency of the European Union (EU). It has called an extraordinary EU Council in Brussels for the Fifteen on February 17th to debate the crisis over Iraq. Greece is hoping to reconcile the different points of view of the crisis of the Europeans and the Americans, a tall order given that the EU itself is split right down the middle on this one as never before on a foreign policy issue.
Athens is also concerned to keep attention focused on the Israeli-Palestinian problem, which it fears the Iraqi war could eclipse, if not aggravate. Representatives of the Quartet (the US, the EU, the UN and Russia) are differing in their views on how to resolve the conflict with the US and the UK, a vital prop of moral support for Washington, insisting on their right to go it alone if need be without a second UN resolution after 1441. Unilateralism opposed by nearly everyone else. Greece of course does not lead the EU; that is done by France right now. But it has a certain historic claim to be heard, being the current president of the EU, and also the pivotal country in the history of the West.
Role of Greek history in the present crisis
We are assisting at the moment at a solemn and awesome function, the birth of the Mega-West, the globalisation of the West. For the first time in its long history the West is trying to impose a global rule of law to govern the relations between states, while disseminating Western norms generally. In a sense it did that at its very inception in mature form in 1945-46 at the foundation of the United Nations, in which all its member-states agreed to comply with the UN Charter, involving an acceptance of international law as defined by the International Court of Justice at the Hague. [There is some justice in the capital of Holland itself being the venue of this court because it is the founder-state of the West itself in modern terms, the first liberal state of real consequence and the first state to found a huge commercial empire. But the real founder of the age-old West remains Greece.]
As it so happens, the UN soon had its authority diminished by the onset of the Cold War. This was the defining moment of the West; Winston Churchill making his historic speech at Fulton in January 1946 in which he said "an iron curtain is descending upon Europe;" to the west being the West, to the east the East, soon to include China.
It is extraordinarily appropriate that in its mature form the West should have had as its first battleground, Greece. Queen Frederica of Greece persuaded Churchill at Claridges to bring the UK behind the nationalist cause versus the communists in the Greek civil war, which although out of office he was able to accomplish. Actually, another British statesman, Canning, had brought Greece on the course to independence in the late 1820s by forging the Triple Alliance of the UK, France and Russia, which defeated the Turks at the naval Battle of Navarino in 1828, paving the way for full independence in 1831; this was the foundation conflict of the Early (modern) West, the precursor of the (mature) West. In an uncanny fashion Greece returns to haunt the scene whenever the modern West is going through a metamorphosis, a crisis of its identity.
It did so even in the botched attempt to found the mature West by Woodrow Wilson with his 14 points in 1919, the US never joining the League of Nations, which crippled the forerunner of the UN to impotence. In 1920-22, the Greeks attempted to establish a Greek outpost for Asiatic Greeks, the inhabitants of the crumbling Ottoman Empire, at Smyrna in Asia Minor. Under Kemal Ataturk, the inheritor of the tradition of the Young Turks, the Turks threw them out and established the modern Turkish nation in 1923. Greece and Turkey had their modern boundaries defined at the Treaty of Lausanne in 1923, leaving behind a harvest of bitterness on both sides, the Greeks at being beaten and evicted, the Turks that so many islands in the Aegean were given to Greece. But then the powers that settled the matter at Lausanne were the victorious Allies of the First World War, under the UK Foreign Minister, Lord Curzon, traditionally Philhellenes.
There are fears that with the return of an Islamicist party to power, the AKP, in Ankara, the Turks will once again press claims to Aegean islands. But this is not at all likely as its leader, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, made clear by making Athens his first port of call after winning the elections.
Lessons from the past
Is there anything to be learnt from the Greek origins and angles to the convoluted evolution of the West? There are lessons, indeed.
When Canning decided to opt for the Greeks in their cause of independence it had already been hallowed as a movement for Liberty by the English Lord Byron, both by his verses and his death at Missolonghi in 1824 and by the great painting of 'Greece in the ruins of Missolonghi' by Delacroix in 1826, referring to the appalling massacre of Greeks in the Turkish siege of the city.
The English were Philhellenes out of a Romantic inspiration and respect for antiquity. Actually, the Greeks who are mainly Slav and Albanian in origin, have an orthodox religion derived from Byzantium and a language, Romaic in derivation, drawing freely on Turkish, Latin and Slav sources. Nevertheless, for Canning and his compatriots the Greeks were the avatars of the original civilisation of Europe.
The Pasha of Egypt, Mehmet Ali, invaded Greece on behalf of the Sultan in Istanbul whom he was secretly planning to overthrow. His army overran the Morea; and Greek captives began to be sold as slaves in Cairo. The West began to perceive the Greek population of the mainland as at risk of extermination. Canning, as Fisher puts it, "was not prepared to see the most illustrious corner of Europe and the original home of its civilisation settled by a population of fellaheen and negroes." [H.A.L Fisher, A. History of Europe, 1936,p.881. A work by an illustrious liberal historian could still employ implicitly racist terms in 1936].
The intervention in the internal affairs of a sovereign state, Ottoman Turkey, was justified in terms of massive abuse of human rights in the very homeland of a civilisation which has culminated in the notion of their inestimable value. Why, one might ask, should a far worse regime than that of Ottoman Turkey be able to perpetrate a far greater range of human rights abuses, conducting a savage persecution in a civil war against its own subjects in the very home of human civilisation, Mesopotamia?
To intervene in a civil war is also to intervene in the internal affairs of a sovereign state, exactly what the UK did in the Greek civil war in 1947, under Churchill's inspiration. As it so happens, the US and the UK are already intervening in the Iraq civil war by insisting on the "no-fly zones," which has created a Kurdish enclave where a fledgling democracy exists and the region is being reconstructed. The US and the UK are, therefore, already at war to bring democracy to Iraq. They are just, as in Greece in 1947, about to do so more intensively to bring a civil war to an end and make the country (which once had a parliament) a democracy able to reconstruct itself.
Terrorism at bay
The Greeks are also coping with a terrorist problem of their own, that of November 17, something of a hangover from the days of the Greek "Colonels" junta which fell in 1974. Last year a breakthrough was made by capturing the Athens headquarters of the organisation. Some 19 terrorists have been apprehended; more arrests are expected. A big trial is due shortly in Athens with a number of Greek tycoons, whose families were at stake in the struggle, and who may have paid money to be kept off any hit list. The whole affair is veritably a can of worms.
EU presidency set to embrace Balkans
Greece will focus on the Balkans while it chairs the European Union, but the Balkan countries need to respond by embracing European standards, Greek Foreign Minister Georgios Papandreou said recently in Belgrade.
"The EU needs to say clearly that the future of the western Balkans is in the Union, the Balkan countries should at the same time show clear commitment to reforms, stabilisation and association," he said after meeting Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic.
Accepting European standards included "respect for human and minority rights, for international conventions and the return of refugees," said Papandreou, who began Greece's half-year chairmanship over the Council of Ministers in January.
He added that the five Balkan states he was visiting during his two-day tour to emphasise the interest in the region - Croatia, Yugoslavia, Bosnia, FYR Macedonia and Albania - would be invited to take part at the EU summit in Thessalonica in June. In Zagreb earlier, Papandreou had stressed that Greece would support Croatia's application to join the European Union.
Toyota tops Greek sales charts
Toyota Hellas, a subsidiary of the Japanese carmaker Toyota, recorded increased sales in 2002, marking an upward tendency in contrast to the general climate in the domestic car sales market for the same year. In particular, the general trend in the field recorded a 4.2% drop in passenger vehicles and 6.7% decline in commercial vehicles, New Europe reported.
"Toyota's leading position in the Greek market is the result of a very good performance of all our models and especially the new Corolla for passenger vehicles and the new Hilux for commercial ones," Toyota executive consultant and CEO, Nikos Throllas, said in a statement.
"The new Corolla, a best-seller in the global car industry for more than 35 years, continues to play its significant role in our total sales especially due to its dynamic appearance, as well as its technological superiority," he added.
The statement further stressed that the group's successful progress in the Greek market comes in accordance with its general strategy, exclusively based on servicing the clients' needs.
"Something that is proven on a daily basis through the creation of a powerful fully completed unit network as well as the application of innovative After Sales Service programmes. Regarding the latter, Toyota provides car replacement to every client who has his own vehicle being serviced for all the time needed, as long as it exceeds the period of one day.
National Bank in expansion strategy, eyes Romanian bank
The National Bank of Greece is allegedly close to acquiring Romania's Banca Romaneasca, New Europe reports. The Romanian bank is 72% owned by the Romanian American Fund and the remainder by private investors.
The Greek bank's move is the latest in a series of expansion activities in the wider region. With a diplomatic move, however, the general manager of NBG international activities, Agis Leopoulos, was reluctant to reveal the details by neither confirming nor denying such negotiations. However, the bank executive affirmed the group's interest in the Romania market characterising it as a top priority and the fact that the group had already been involved in the process of examining various options in the region. "We need to see the best way of realising our goals, but we do definitely have an interest in expanding there," he commented, confirming that an announcement was to be made soon.
As previously reported, NBG has made clear that it is seeking expansion on the international scene and is already active in 18 countries, including Bulgaria, Cyprus, France, Germany, the US and Canada.
The Balkans is a key part of the bank's expansion drive. In Serbia it is busy constructing new branches, doubling their number from five to 10, whilst in Albania the NBG plans to have seven branches by the end of 2003, according to Leopoulos. As for Cyprus, currently 27 units are already fully operational.
Like several large Greek companies, NBG sees Romania as the jewel in the crown of southeast Europe in terms of expansion throughout the wider region.
The bank has been building on its presence in Romania since 1996, starting with a branch in Bucharest, but up to now has not had its own bank licence. Therefore, such a buy would enable it to gain the licence and become fully active in the country.
US sells missiles to Greece
The United States will continue to sell new sea-based interceptors to Greece and Turkey. Both countries will acquire Evolved Seasparrow Missiles as part of a US$118.7m contract from the US Navy and Washington's allies.
The missile interceptor, which is designed to protect ships, is in its second year of initial production and has been awarded to Raytheon. Raytheon will produce 163 all-up-round ESSM missiles. The ESSM is designed to protect ships by destroying currently fielded and near-term projected anti-ship missiles, particularly those that fly at low attitudes and manoeuvre during their terminal flight. Raytheon delivered the first production ESSM to the US Navy in September.
Greece welcomes strategic gas cooperation with Russia
Cooperation with Russia in the oil and gas industries is of strategic importance for Greece, the Greek ambassador to Russia declared at a recent news conference in Moscow, cited by RosConsulting.
According to him, Greece imports about 55 per cent of its oil and 92 per cent of gas from Russia. The ambassador pointed out that an agreement on supplying 6.1 billion cubic metres of Russian gas was reached during Russian President Vladimir Putin's visit to Greece in December 2001. According to the ambassador, consumers in fact buy about a half of that amount, since the gas market in Greece is still under formation, and power plants using gas as fuel are still being built.
Investment inflow to exceed 6bn Euro
Foreign investments in Greece in the sectors of telecommunications, tourism and electricity production are expected to be over €6bn by the year 2006, seeurope.net reported. Also, the presence of foreign investors in the Greek economy is strengthened through investments in the local stock market and the Hellenic Petroleum and Skaramanga Shipyards privatisation, which is in progress.
Based on OECD's latest figures for the period 1992-2001, Greece has attracted just 0.2% of the world investments which in indicative of the structural problem in the Greek economy during the 90s; a tendency that was not reversed even in the "golden period" of 1999-2001.
Ferry market gets green light for foreign competition
Greece's monopoly in the coastal shipping network has finally come to an end after Greek waters were recently opened to foreign ferries as deregulation of coastal shipping continues to break domestic monopolies in accordance with European Union directives, New Europe has reported.
Business reports said EU-flagged vessels may now bid to operate on Greek ferry routes after the lifting of the cabotage regime, which has protected domestic companies from foreign competition, according to Greece.gr.
The new legislation is the first real step towards full deregulation required by the EU. Greece is the last of the EU nations to liberalise its coastal shipping regime, having received an extension until January 1st, 2004 to cope with the enormity of the task.
"The Greek shipping market is different to that of other EU nations," the editor of the Piraeus-based shipping publication Newsfront Naftiliaki, David Glas,s was quoted as saying. "The Italian, French and Spanish networks serve a limited number of big islands and were mostly controlled by state organisations. The Greek network, however, is massive, there are about 240 ports in the network and it is controlled mostly by private companies," he said.
Greece needed a rundown period to deregulation and the new legislation is designed to ease the transition.
Under the new system the country's ferry network has been divided into a number of set routes and companies were invited to choose from amongst these. The most profitable routes attracted interest, but around 50 less lucrative routes were left untouched.
Marine Minister, George Anomeritis, pledged a number of subsidies to ensure that no islands would be left without ferry services. As a result, the 50 unprofitable routes have been tendered out to ferry operators with 25.9m Euro in government subsidies to sweeten the deal over the next year.
The government also retains some control over ticket prices. Whilst operators are free to set their own prices for first class tickets and cabins, the government has set a ceiling on economy class and vehicle tickets. Certain social groups such as pensioners, students and the disabled also receive compulsory discounts.
However, such price regulation has met with opposition from ferry operators and it is not yet clear whether it will continue after full liberalisation in 2004.
OTE okays majority stake bid for Romtelecom
The board of OTE Telecom approved recently the terms of a US$243m deal worked out with the Republic of Romania allowing it to raise its stake in phone operator, Romtelecom to a majority stake.
The company said in a statement that Romania and OTE agreed late last year on a US$243m capital boost at Romtelecom, consisting of a combination of cash worth US$145m and a conversion of debt into equity.
OTE also agreed to buy an additional 3.12% stake for an extra US$30.9m, raising its stake in Romtelecom from 35% to 54%.
Tourist agency aims to draw in Chinese travellers
The Greek National Tourist Organisation (GNTO) is looking east to tempt the world's largest next generation of holiday makers - the Chinese. "China is the biggest country in the world and it makes numeric sense to target its massive population," GTNO President Yiannis Patelis was quoted as saying by greece.gr.
The GNTO chief believes pre-existing links between the two countries give Greece an inherent advantage and interest to potential Chinese tourists. The GNTO is now awaiting approval from the Chinese government, which must sanction Greece as an official tourist destination, before opening its first office in Beijing, which Patelis said will likely happen in early 2003.
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