Area (sq km)
% of GDP
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: 078 - (27/10/03)
The Greeks now look west, not east
Throughout the postwar period, excepting the Rule of the Colonels (1967-74), Athens tended to look to Moscow as much as the West as its geopolitical partner. This point should not be exaggerated. Greece remained a member of NATO, but it would be fair to say the least anti-Russian of all its member states.
This might seem surprising. The communists decisively lost the civil war in 1944-47 to the royalists, thanks not a little to Queen Fredericka of Greece, who came to Claridges in London to persuade Churchill of the necessity of British intervention. This was forthcoming, followed by US intervention. A resolute pro-Western stance was adopted at first, not inappropriate in the original cradle of the West two and a half millennia ago. Indeed, with Churchill's Fulton speech in March 1946 the West was redefining itself anew, under US leadership, opposed to the East of the Soviet bloc, then just emerging.
The reason why Greece never participated in the Cold War hysteria that gripped the West in the late 1940s and early 1950s is simple - Orthodox religion. The Greeks respect the Russians as the centre of the Orthodox world and like them as people, which is reciprocated by the Russians. Politics was less important here than religion and culture. The garishness of much US-inspired consumerism offended many, but, it must be said, by no means all Greeks.
The 1990s saw a change here. The traditionalists were dying out, the new generation being markedly in love with US popular culture. Russians began to come to Greece in large numbers, but often mafiosi. Popular perceptions began to change. There is still a lot of anti-Americanism as concerns politics, however. The Johnson and Nixon Administrations did not do the US any favours in the long run by chumming up with the regime of the colonels, any more than did King Constantine the monarchy.
The socialist government of Premier Costas Simitis is strongly pro-American, however, knowing full well on which side its bread is buttered. When the recent Iraq War was fought, it gave extensive help to the Americans and British, the use of air bases on Aegean islands and the like. But, as one government spokesman told the Americans; "For God's sake, don't thank us publicly!"
The Greek government has mounted a big campaign to improve Greece's image in the US as a tourist attraction. The result is that Greece now ranks 10th as a tourist destination for Americans, ahead of Switzerland and Spain. In 2001 and 2002 it ranked 14th. The annual Thessaloniki International Fair in September saw an exceptional turn-out of US business men this year at the US Pavilion.
Another sign of pro-Western orientation and a distancing from Moscow came in mid October when the Greeks refused the request by the Russians for the extradition of Vladimir Gusinsky, the exiled Russian media tycoon. Gusinsky had been apprehended at Athens Airport in September at the request of the Russian Prosecutor's Office. But this is now seen, no doubt rightly, as a politically-motivated move ahead of parliamentary elections in Russia in December.
Economy fares well
The Bank of Greece is going to revise upwards its forecast of, 3.7% growth for 2003, which is an impressive performance considering that growth iin the Eurozone is zero this year. The rate of inflation at 3.6% is too high, but is seen as a price worth paying for growth which is making a real dent on unemployment, that fell from 9.6% last year to 8.9% this year. The government's goal is to reduce it to 6% in its term of office.
Simitis cited employment, investments and a more robust social state as the three main axes behind his government's high-profile "social charter," which the premier formally unveiled in Athens in early September. The social charter follows the announcement of the recent social spending package, worth 2.6bn euro. In citing his government's goals for the post-EMU period, Simitis referred to boosting employment and incomes, with the latter forming part of a much-touted attempt of achieving real convergence with the rest of the European Union countries. The Greek premier also cited a goal of raising the average per capita wages of Greek workers to 90% of the European average from 80%.
Romaneasca buy drives up NBG presence in SE Europe
National Bank of Greece's (NBG) strategic expansion into southeast Europe was re-confirmed following a recent acquisition of Romania's Banca Romaneasca (BR), New Europe reported. NBG entered into an agreement for the acquisition of a 81.6% stake in the share capital of Banca Romaneasca with Romanian American Enterprise Fund (RAEF), the major shareholder of the Romanian bank, the Greek banking group said in a recent statement. The closing for the transaction is subject to the Bank of Greece's and the Romanian regulatory authorities' approvals.
NBG's initiative is expected to significantly enhance the leading presence of the NBG Group in the area of southeast Europe; at the same time, it will allow it to strategically position itself in the fast-growing Romanian market, the bank said. NBG has already established in Romania a brokerage company, an insurance company and a full banking branch which shall continue its operations to provide for the financial needs of the local market.
As for the wider region, the NBG Group already has a strong presence in eight countries in the area of southeast Europe and east Mediterranean via three subsidiary banks, five subsidiary companies and a network of banking branches totalling over 200 units with 4,000 employees and has assets of approximately €2.6bn.
BR is a medium-sized Romanian bank with a presence in all major cities throughout the country, operates a 25-unit network and has total assets of approximately €140m. The Romanian bank focuses its credit activity mostly on the sector of small- and medium-sized enterprises and has recently achieved growth in retail banking. According to NBG, it aims to expand BR's network to a total of 40 units in order to fully exploit the local market's potential.
BR shall seek to achieve growth in all areas of banking business, but shall primarily focus on retail banking, which shows quite positive medium-term prospects. BR's activities will also be further enhanced through synergies with other units of NBG's extensive international network, which has a significant presence in major financial centres worldwide like NY and London.
Greece agrees to store Cyprus's crude oil stocks
Cyprus and Greece have initialled an interstate agreement for the preserving of crude oil stocks and petroleum products of the Republic of Cyprus in the Republic of Greece. The two countries also signed two protocols of cooperation in the fields of energy and industry, Cyprus News Agency has reproted.
The agreement and the protocols were initialled and signed by Cypriot Minister of Commerce, Industry and Tourism Yeoryios Lillikas and Greek Development Minister Akis Tsokhatzopoulos, after a meeting that delegations of the two countries had, presided over by the two ministers.
Lillikas said the agreement provides for the controls the Greek government will make on behalf of the Republic of Cyprus for the storing and the quality of the oil stocks, and said that Cyprus must have access to these stocks, which must be available to her whenever she needs them.
He also explained that the EU allows each of its members to keep stocks in another member state as long as there is an interstate agreement between the two countries that will determine the sectors and manner of cooperation between the two governments.
Answering a question, Lillikas said the quantity of stocks to be stored in Greece would depend on the technical study already conducted by experts at Cyprus's refinery, which is going to be converted into an oil terminal.
As regards the cost of preserving oil stocks in Greece, Lillikas said this would be determined after a competition through which the company to undertake the storing will be chosen.
Asked about the duration of this agreement, Lillikas said that it is not determined in the agreement. "The time frame will be determined in the agreement to be made with the company that will take over the responsibility for the oil storage on behalf of Cyprus," he added.
As regards other issues discussed, Lillikas said that Cyprus and Greece have common interests in many fields, such as tourism, and expressed certainty that "in these fields with the working groups and deadlines we agreed on today we will have a very productive and constructive cooperation that will be for the benefit of both Greece and Cyprus."
He also said that "we have come up with a common approach that aims at taking advantage of Cyprus's accession to the EU with a common strategy, common programmes that have to do with the implementation of a goal, that is Cyprus becoming a bridge between the EU and the region".
"The two governments have the political will to achieve development through cooperation that will have to do with research and knowledge but also with social sensitivity," he added.
Tsokhatzopoulos said: "Greece and Cyprus have a common future," and noted that during the meeting the two ministers, who are responsible for issues regarding commerce, industry, tourism, energy and technology, had the opportunity to specifically look into fields of common interest.
"We focused on our relationship in fields like research and technology that consist a priority during this period," he added.
He said they also talked about natural gas and the potential for its use by Greece and Cyprus, as well as about renewable energy sources.
"What matters is to be able to create the conditions so that the citizens will be able to have cheap, efficient and secure energy of the best quality that does not pollute the environment and protects the citizen," he added.
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