Greece (10/03)

For the most current version of this Note, see Background Notes A-Z.


Hellenic Republic
(See information on 2004 Olympic Games under "Government" section)

Area: 131,957 sq. km. (51,146 sq. mi.; roughly the size of Alabama).
Major cities: Capital--Athens. Greater Athens (pop. 3,566,060), municipality of Athens (772,072), Thessaloniki (749,048), Piraeus (182,671), Greater Piraeus (880,529), Patras (170,452), Larissa (113,090), Iraklion (132,117).
Terrain: Mountainous interior with coastal plains; 1,400-plus islands.
Climate: Mediterranean; mild, wet winter and hot, dry summer.

Population (March 2001 est.): 10,939,771 million.
Growth rate: 0.21%.
Languages: Greek 99% (official); English.
Religions: Greek Orthodox 98%, Muslim 1.3%, other .7%.
Education: Years compulsory--9. Literacy--95%. All levels are free.
Health: Infant mortality rate--6/1,000. Life expectancy--male 76 years, female 81 years.
Work force: 4.32 million.

Type: Parliamentary republic.
Independence: 1830.
Constitution: June 11, 1975, amended March 1986, April 2001.
Branches: Executive--president (head of state), prime minister (head of government). Legislative--300-seat unicameral Vouli (parliament). Judicial--Supreme Court. Council of State.
Political parties: Panhellenic Socialist Movement (PASOK), New Democracy (ND), Communist Party of Greece (KKE), Coalition of the Left (SYNASPISMOS), Democratic Social Movement (DIKKI), Political Spring, and Movement of Free Citizens (KEP).
Suffrage: Universal at 18.
Administrative subdivisions: 13 peripheries (regional districts), 51 nomi (prefectures).

Flag: flag of greece

Economy (2001 est.)
GDP: $120 billion.
Per capita GDP: $11,350.9.
Growth rate: 3.5%.
Inflation rate: 3.5%.
Unemployment rate: 11%.
Natural resources: Bauxite, lignite, magnesite, oil, marble. Agriculture (8% of GDP): Products--sugar, beets, wheat, maize, tomatoes, olives, olive oil, grapes, raisins, wine, oranges, peaches, tobacco, cotton, livestock, dairy products.
Manufacturing (22% of GDP): Types--Processed foods, shoes, textiles, metals, chemicals, electrical equipment, cement, glass, transport equipment, petroleum products, construction, electrical power.
Services (70% of GDP): Transportation, tourism, communications, trade, banking, public administration, defense.
Trade: Exports--$11 billion: manufactured goods, food and beverages, petroleum products, cement, chemicals. Major markets--Germany, Italy, France, U.S., U.K. Imports--$28 billion: basic manufactures, food and animals, crude oil, chemicals, machinery, transport equipment. Major suppliers--Germany, Italy, France, Japan, Netherlands, U.S.

Greece is located in southeastern Europe and is the only European Union member state on the Balkan Peninsula. The Greek mainland is bounded on the north by Bulgaria, The Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, and Albania; on the east by the Aegean Sea and Turkey; and on the west and south by the Ionian and Mediterranean Seas. The country consists of a large mainland; the Peloponnese Peninsula, connected to the mainland by the Isthmus of Corinth; and more than 1,400 islands, including Crete, Rhodes, Corfu, and the Dodecanese and Cycladic groups. Greece has more than 14,880 kilometers (9,300 mi.) of coastline and a land boundary of 1,160 kilometers (726 mi.).

About 80% of Greece is mountainous or hilly. Much of the country is dry and rocky; only 28% of the land is arable. Western Greece contains lakes and wetlands. Pindus, the central mountain range, has an average elevation of 2,650m. Mt. Olympus, the legendary home of Zeus and other gods of Greek mythology, is the highest point in Greece at 2,917m above sea level.

Greece has mild, wet winters and hot, dry summers. Temperatures are rarely extreme, although snowfall does occur in the mountains and occasionally in Athens during the winter.

Greece was inhabited as early as the Paleolithic period and by 3000 BC had become home, in the Cycladic Islands, to a culture whose art remains among the most evocative in world history. In the second millennium BC, the island of Crete nurtured the maritime empire of the Minoans, whose trade reached from Egypt to Sicily. The Minoans were supplanted by the Mycenaeans of the Greek mainland, who spoke a dialect of ancient Greek. During the Roman, Byzantine, and Ottoman Empires (1st-19th centuries), Greece's ethnic composition became more diverse. Since independence in 1830 and an exchange of populations with Turkey in 1923, Greece has forged a national state which claims roots reaching back 3,000 years. The Greek language dates back at least 3,500 years, and modern Greek preserves many elements of its classical predecessor.

Greek education is free and compulsory for children between the ages of 6 and 15. English language study is compulsory from 4th grade through high school. University education, including books, is also free, contingent upon the student's ability to meet stiff entrance requirements. Overall responsibility for education rests with the Ministry of National Education and Religious Affairs. Private primary and secondary schools are under the authority of the Ministry of National Education. Control is mainly exercised in matters of curriculum and competence of teaching staff, as well as financial control in connection with fee collection and increases in fees. The Greek constitution does not permit the operation of private universities in Greece. Private colleges and universities (mostly foreign), however, do have campuses in Greece in spite of the fact that their degrees are not recognized by the Greek state.

Low salaries and recent legislation aimed at teacher evaluation have prompted a new wave of demonstrations and protests. Delay, on behalf of the state, to supply students with textbooks, lack of supplies, labs, and computers are matters of concern for Greek parents and educators.

A high percentage of the student population seeks higher education. About 295,000 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 three in four candidates gain admission to Greek universities and/or technical educational institutions but rarely at the institution and major of their preference.

A large number of students, mainly those who are excluded from university admission or are admitted by less the respected technical educational institutions, pursue higher education abroad. When they return, they present their degrees to the official body of the Ministry of Education responsible for awarding recognition and equivalence of foreign university degrees. This body decides, through an evaluation procedure, whether to recognize degrees from specific foreign universities as a 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.

Eastern Orthodox Christianity is the dominant religion in Greece and receives state funding. During the centuries of Ottoman domination, the Greek Orthodox Church preserved the Greek language and cultural identity and was an important rallying point in the struggle for independence. There is a Muslim religious minority concentrated in Thrace. Smaller religious communities in Greece include Old Calendar Orthodox, Catholics, Protestants, Jews, Jehovah's Witnesses, and Mormons.

Surveys show that most Greeks get their news from television. In 1988, a new law provided the legal framework for the establishment of private radio stations and, as of 1989, private television stations. Although official licensing has been delayed for many years, Greece now has about 140 television stations and 1,000 radio stations supplementing the 4,500 print publications throughout the country.

In 1994, the Ministry of Press and Information was established to deal with media and communication issues. State broadcaster ERT is nominally part of the Ministry and operates three national television channels and five national radio stations. The Minister of Press serves as the government spokesperson.

The Ministry also administers the Athens News Agency (APE), whose daily Bulletin is a primary source of information for the Greek press.  The same Ministry 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. A few papers and stations have overseas correspondents, including in the United States.

The Greek War of Independence began in 1821 and concluded in 1830 when England, France, and Russia forced the Ottoman Empire to grant Greece its independence under a European monarch, Bavarian prince Otto. He was deposed 30 years later, and the Great Powers chose a prince of the Danish House of Glucksberg as his successor. He became George I, King of the Hellenes.

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. Under the influence of the "Meagali Idea," of expanding the Greek state to include all areas of Greek population, Greece aquired the Ionian Islands 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 marched toward Ankara, but was defeated by Turkish forces led by Mustafa Kemal (later Ataturk) and forced to withdraw. In a forced exchange of populations, more than 1.3 million Christian refugees from Turkey poured into Greece, creating enormous challenges for the Greek economy and society.

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. A plebiscite in 1946 upheld the monarchy, which was finally abolished by referendum on December 8, 1974.

Greece's entry into World War II was precipitated by the Italian invasion on October 28, 1940. 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 overran Greece in 1941. 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 battles with Greek Government and British forces. Continuing tensions led to the outbreak of full-fledged civil war in 1946. First the United Kingdom and later the U.S. gave extensive military and economic aid to the Greek government. In 1947, Secretary of State George C. Marshall implemented the Marshall Plan under President Truman, which focused on the economic recovery and the rebuilding of Europe. The U.S. contributed millions of dollars to rebuilding Greece in terms of buildings, agriculture, and industry.

In August 1949, the National Army forced the remaining insurgents to surrender or flee to Greece's communist neighbors. The insurgency resulted in 100,000 killed, 700,000 displaced persons inside the country, and catastrophic economic disruption. This civil war left deep political division in Greek society between leftist and rightist.

Greece 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. In 1985, 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. In the April 1990 election, ND won 150 seats and subsequently gained 2 others. After Mitsotakis fired his Foreign Minister, Andonis Samaras in 1992, the rift led to the collapse of the ND government and new elections in September 1993 won again by Andreas Papandreou's PASOK.

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. In April 2000, Simitis and PASOK won again by a narrow margin, gaining 158 seats to ND's 125. New elections must be held no later than spring 2004.


Principal Government Officials
President--Constandinos Stephanopoulos
Prime Minister--Costas Simitis
Foreign Minister--George Papandreou
Ambassador to the United States--Georgios Savvaidis
Ambassador to the United Nations--Adamandios Vasilakis

2004 Olympic Games
The Summer Olympic Games will return to Greece in 2004, and will be held in Athens from August 13 to 29. They will be followed by the Paralympics, which will take place from September 17 to 28.

Preparations for the 2004 Games continue, and are overseen by Yianna Angelopoulou-Daskalaki, who was appointed president of the Athens Olympic Organizing Committee (ATHOC) by Prime Minister Simitis. Olympic security, infrastructure projects, accommodations, and volunteer involvement are the focus of Games organizers and government officials' efforts. This is a crucial year for Olympics preparations, and the city remains under the scrutiny of International Olympic Committee (IOC) officials to ensure that the 29 venues and crucial transportation and other infrastructure projects are completed on time.

Until August 2004, Athens will continue to be transformed by projects such as the Attiki Odos (a ring road designed to reduce traffic in the congested capital), extensions of the suburban metro and train lines, and the creation of tram lines. There also are plans for beautification projects in the capital and measures aimed at increasing accessibility for the disabled before the Games.

Tickets for the Games became available to the public in May 2003. U.S. citizens can purchase tickets from the official U.S. Olympic ticket agents, Cartan and JetSet Sports.

Greece's embassy in the United States is located at 2221 Massachusetts Ave., NW, Washington, DC 20008; tel: (202) 939-5800; fax: (202) 939-5824.

The government has succeeded in reducing budget deficits and inflation, two key factors that allowed Greece to join the Economic and Monetary Union (EMU) on January 1, 2001. Greece, along with 11 out of its 14 EU partners, adopted the euro as its new common currency in January 2002. The euro is expected to boost trade, help dismantle the last remaining market barriers within the EU, and stimulate production.

The Greek economy is expected to grow by 4% in 2003 and by 4.2% in 2004, the year that Athens will host the 2004 Olympics. Years of austerity and reform programs, however, have kept unemployment steady in some sectors. Foreign investment also has dropped, and efforts to revive it have been only partially successful. Greece's large general government debt is estimated to drop to 98.5% of GDP (162 billion euros) in 2004, a slower progress than projected in the past.

Services make up the largest and fastest-growing sector of the Greek economy. About 12 million tourists visited Greece in 2002 with net revenues at about 7.7 five billion euros. Industrial activity continues to post dramatic increases while Greece's food industry and high-tech/telecommunications remain fast-growing sectors. Agriculture employs about 12% of the work force and is still characterized by small farms and low capital investment, despite significant support from the EU in structural funds and subsidies. Traditionally a seafaring nation, the Greek-owned merchant fleet totaled 3,355 ships in May 2003, 9.3% of world merchant fleet and 18.3% of gross tonnage.

European Union (EU) Membership
Greece has realigned its economy as part of an extended transition to full EU membership that began in 1981. Greece assumed the rotating EU presidency in the first half of 2003. Greek businesses continue to adjust to competition from EU firms, and the government has had to liberalize its economic and commercial regulations and practices. Greece has been granted waivers from certain aspects of the EU's 1992 single-market program.

Greece has been a net beneficiary of the EU budget; in 2003 EU transfers accounted for 2.8% of GDP. From 1994-99, about $20 billion in EU structural funds were spent on projects to modernize and develop Greece's transportation network in time for the Olympics in 2004. The centerpiece was the construction of the new international airport near Athens, which opened in March 2001 soon after the launch of the new Athens subway system.

EU transfers to Greece, under the third Community Support Framework Program, are to phase out over the next decade, when the last of some $24 billion in structural funds are disbursed by 2006. These funds contribute significantly to Greece's current accounts balance and further reduce the state budget deficit. EU funds will continue to finance major public works and economic development projects, upgrade competitiveness and human resources, improve living conditions, and address disparities between poorer and more developed regions of the country. A new support program may be implemented in the future.

U.S.-Greece Trade
In 2002, the U.S. trade surplus with Greece was about $605 million. Although there are no significant non-tariff barriers to American exports, the United States accounted for only 3.7% of Greece's imports in 2002, which totaled about $31 billion. The top U.S. exports remain defense and related contracts, although American business activity is expected to grow in the tourism development, medical, construction, food processing, and packaging and franchising sectors. U.S. companies are involved in Greece's ongoing privatization efforts; further deregulation of Greece's energy sector and the country's central location as a transportation hub for Europe may offer additional opportunities in electricity, gas, refinery, and related sectors.

Greece's foreign policy is increasingly aligned with that of its European partners. Greece gives particular emphasis to its close relations with Cyprus, but has growing political and economic ties with the Balkan countries and the Middle East.

Greece maintains full diplomatic, political, and economic relations with its south-central European neighbors. It provides peacekeeping contingents for Bosnia and Kosovo. Greece has good relations with Russia and has opened embassies in a number of the former Soviet republics, which it sees as potentially important trading partners.

Prominent issues in Greek foreign policy include a dispute over the name of The Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (F.Y.R.O.M.), the enduring Cyprus problem, Greek-Turkish differences over the Aegean, and Greek-American relations.

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. Mediation efforts by the UN and the United States brokered an interim agreement between Greece and F.Y.R.O.M. in September 1995. Talks on the name question continue under UN auspices.

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 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. Cooperation between Greece and Albania is improving, with efforts focused on regional issues, such as narcotics trafficking and illegal immigration. However, tensions hover just below the surface. Greece remains host to 600,000-800,000 Albanian immigrants, many of them illegal. Albanian crime in Greece often attracts headlines.

Greece-Turkey-Cyprus Relations
For historical reasons, most Greeks see Turkey as the major potential threat to their security. Greece and Turkey have unresolved but manageable disagreements regarding the Aegean and treatment of Greek minority in Istanbul and the Muslim (primarily ethnic Turkish) minority in western Thrace. The largest source of tension in their relationship since the 1950s has been the Cyprus conflict. Greece blames Turkey for the continuing division of the island between Greek and Turkish Cypriots since 1974, and firmly supports the Greek Cypriot quest for a federal solution to the conflict based on relevant UN resolutions.

At times over the past three decades, tensions between Greece and Turkey have almost reached the point of armed confrontation, usually caused by one side or the other's attempting to clarify an ambiguous status quo in the Aegean. In 1996, President Clinton intervened to help avert a possible armed exchange after Greek and Turkish journalists generated a dispute over ownership of an uninhabited rock called Imia. A significant breakthrough in relations took place with the major earthquakes that hit Turkey and Greece in 1999. Both countries and peoples responded generously to the other's need, helping turn around official perceptions that rapprochement was politically too risky. Since that time, Greek and Turkish Foreign Ministers George Papandreou and Ismail Cem (and his successor Abdullah Gul) have steadily increased the quantity and quality of bilateral exchanges, both official and unofficial.

Greece has endorsed and supported Turkey's bid for candidacy to the European Union since the Helsinki EU Summit in 1999. Greece's advocacy was a key element of the EU's decision at the 2002 Copenhagen Summit: that if the European Council in December 2004 decides that Turkey has met certain criteria on economic and political reform, and has made progress on the resolution of regional disputes, "the EU will open negotiations without delay." Despite continuing disagreements with Ankara over Cyprus and the Aegean, Greek opinion leaders across the political spectrum are convinced that Greece's long-term interests are best served by Turkey's successfully fulfilling the requirements for European Union membership.

The EU's Copenhagen Summit also approved the accession of the Republic of Cyprus as of May 1, 2004--a key foreign policy goal for Greece, which is still pressing for resolution of the Cyprus problem. Turkey has criticized the EU's decision, warning that it will complicate efforts to reach a Cyprus agreement. Actual negotiations have been moribund since early 2003.

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 hosted several meetings of Israeli and Palestinian politicians to contribute to the peace process. Greece has been traditionally supportive of Palestinian claims. However, beginning in the late 1990s, efforts to strike a more balanced relationship with Israel received a boost. Greek-Israeli relations have been complicated by Israel's strategic cooperation with Turkey.

The United States and Greece have longstanding historical, political, and cultural ties based on a common heritage, shared democratic values, and participation as Allies during World War II, the Korean conflict, and the Cold War. The Greek Government responded to the September 11, 2001 attacks with strong political support for the United States, unimpeded use of Greek airspace, and the offer of Greek military assets in support of the counterterrorism campaign. Its participation in Operation Enduring Freedom included the stationing of a Greek Navy frigate in the Arabian Sea for almost 2 years--the most distant deployment ever for the Greek Navy. In the summer of 2002, Greek authorities captured numerous suspected members of the terrorist group "17 November." It was a major break in the investigation of the group, which had killed five U.S. mission employees since 1975. The trial of the November 17 suspects is expected to conclude in the fall of 2003. Currently, there is smooth cooperation between U.S. and Greek counter-terrorism officials.

About 1.1 million Americans are of Greek origin, and almost 3 million call themselves Greek-Americans. The large, well-organized Greek-American community in the United States cultivates close political and cultural ties with Greece. Greece has the seventh-largest population of U.S. Social Security beneficiaries in the world.

The United States 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 financial assistance continued until the early 1990s.

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 United States closed three of its bases in the 1990s. The current mutual defense cooperation agreement (MDCA) provides for the operation by the United States of a naval support facility that exploits the strategically located deep-water port and airfield at Souda Bay in Crete.

Principal U.S. Embassy Officials
Ambassador--Thomas J. Miller
Deputy Chief of Mission-Jacob Walles
Political Counselor--Karen Decker
Economic Counselor--John Stepanchuk
Principal Commercial Officer--Walter Hage
Consul General--Hilarion Martinez
Consul General, Thessaloniki--Alec Mally
Regional Security Officer--Michael Darmiento
Agricultural Officer--Lisa Hardy-Bass (resident in Rome)
Public Affairs Officer--Sandra Kaiser

The U.S. Embassy in Greece is located at 91 Vasilissis Sophias Blvd., 10160 Athens; tel: [30] (210) 721-2951 or 721-8401, after hours 722-3652; fax: [30] (10) 645-6282. The U.S. Consulate General for Thessaloniki is located at 43 Tsimiski Street, 546 23 Thessaloniki; tel: [30] (2310) 242-905 or 721-2951, ext. 2400; fax: [30] (2310) 242-927, 242-924. The email address for the U.S. embassy is