Useful Notes: Greece

Greece is not the word. At least in Greek, where the country is called Elláda (Greek: Ελλάδα, Elláda). (note: Greek D is pronounced like the English th in they, so it's pronounced like Ellátha/Elládha. In this article, we also use accents áéíóú to indicate the stress, like it is in Greek). The formal title is the Hellenic Republic (Greek: Ελληνική Δημοκρατία, Ellīnikī́ Dīmokratía).

Geography and Climate

Greece's area is 131,940 square kilometres (or 81,984 square miles), making it slightly bigger than the US state of Mississippi and slightly smaller than the state of Louisiana.

The highest peak in Greece is Mount Olympus (Ólimpos), nearly 3,000 metres high (nearly 10,000 feet) and famous for having been the place where the Gods lived, according to ancient mythology.

Greece is famous for its numerous islands. It is estimated that there are between 1,000 and 6,000 of them in all; of these, only about 200 are inhabited. The largest islands are (in order) Crete (Kríti), Euboea (pronounced and in Greek Évia), Lesbos (Lésvos), and Rhodes (Ródhos).

The climate is predominantly Mediterranean, but contains a variety of 'micro-climates', mainly influenced by the mountainous ranges. Temperatures generally range from about 0 degrees to 40 degrees (Celsius) in summer. Snow is rare in low-lying areas, but more common at high altitudes.

People

The official language of Greece is Greek. According to the most recent 2011 census, there are nearly 11 million people in Greece.

Ethnic Greeks make up about 94% of the population, but there is also a large minority of Albanians (4%). The remaining 2% of the population are assorted ethnicities such as Bulgarians, Romanians, Ukrainians and Pakistanis, to name but a few. Greece received 80,000 Armenian refugees in addition to 1.5 million Anatolian Greeks in the 1923 population exchange with Turkey, but due to gradual emigration the number of Armenians these days is between 20 and 35 thousand.

The state religion is the Greek Orthodox Church. About 98% of the population subscribe to this church, according to the 2001 census. In terms of Catholics, most live on the Cyclades and Ionian Islands. There used to a large Jewish presence in Greece, especially in cities like Thessaloníki. Sadly, due to events we all know about, most Jewish people in Greece were murdered in the 1940s in extermination camps such as Auschwitz. There are now only about 7,500 Jewish people left in Greece.

Ancient Times

Greece is a democratic state, famous for its history. As Ancient Greece, it was the birthplace of democracy, The Spartan Way (or the name source), Zeus etc., most of the Older Than Feudalism tropes still popular in Western fiction (okay, except for all the biblical and Roman ones) and the Olympic Games. In the last case, they were competed naked. No, women weren't allowed to participate (or watch).

Byzantine Era

Greece was at the heart of the Byzantine Empire, who despite its distinct Hellenicity continued the traditions of Rome long after the western Empire had fallen, and was the birthplace of Orthodox Christianity. The Empire was defeated gradually by the Ottoman Turks, and the Byzantine capital is now known as Istanbul, from the Medieval Greek phrase "εἰς τὴν Πόλιν", (eis tin Pólin) meaning "to the city".

Greek Revolution / War of Independence

In 1821, Greek revolutionaries, the most prominent group of which was the "Filikí Etería", initiated a campaign to liberate Greece from the Ottoman empire and found an independent nation. This proved a bit difficult at the start, as these revolutionaries were rather fond of infighting, internal disputes and disagreements with each other rather than forming a cohesive group. Their attentions were mainly focused in Peloponnese and central Greece. Although they requested the help of the Great Powers of the time, these countries were not very interested in Greece's cause at the beginning.

By 1825, the Greeks had been very successful in their campaign. In serious trouble, the Ottoman sultan of the time, Mahmud II, enlisted the help of his vassal state and its ruler, Egyptian Viceroy Mehmet Ali and Ali's son Ibrahim Pasha. With these leaders joining the cause, the Ottoman efforts were successful and they managed to recapture most of their losses by the following year.

This is where the Greek Revolution would have ended, had the Great Powers (Britain, Russia and France) not finally decided to intervene and help out. These three countries each sent navies to defeat the Ottomans and drive them out Central Greece and Peloponnisos. Defeated, the Ottomans had no choice but to accept this part of Greece as an independent nation in 1832, ending eleven years of war.

19th and 20th centuries and Territorial Gains

In 1832, the newly formed Kingdom of Greece chose a German royal, Prince Otto of Bavaria, the son of king Ludwig I Bavaria, as their new king. Arriving at the very young age of seventeen, Otto was initially much liked and celebrated in his new homeland. However, this popularity was short lived as the Greek population grew weary of the Bavarian ministers that he brought with him to govern the new country, Greece's poverty and the continuing involvement of the Great Powers in Greece's affairs. Under threat of revolution, he agreed to curtail his powers and reign only as a constitutional monarch from 1844 onwards. His popularity never having been regained, Otto was forced by a coup to abdicate the throne and leave Greece in 1862.

The next king of Greece, actually styling himself instead as 'King of the Hellenes (Greeks)', was a Danish prince, Prince Vilhelm of Denmark. He reigned as George I and had a much smoother reign in general than his predecessor.

Greece gradually gained territory over the next decades:
  • In 1864, the Ionian islands, from the UK.
  • In 1881, Thessaly, by the Treaty of Berlin, from the Ottoman Empire.
  • In 1913, (after the Balkan wars) Macedonia, Epirus and Crete, by the Treaty of Bucharest from the Ottoman Empire.
  • In 1919, Western Thrace, by the Treaty of Neuilly-sur-Seine from Bulgaria.

At the end of World War I, Greek territory, by the Treaty of Sevres, was to include a restored Eastern Thrace, two islands (Imbros and Tenedos, or Gökçeada and Bozcaada in Turkish) and some Greek populated cities on the Turkish coast. This led to a bitter war between Greece and its allies, and Atatürk's resurrected Turkish army. The allies, however, were fatigued after WWI and thus didn't have their hearts in it, and gave up halfway through the war, giving the Greek army no choice but to retreat from Anatolia.

In the end, the solution to this war was a 'Population Exchange', in which thousands of European Turks and Asiatic Greeks were booted out of their respective homes . Through this, the principle of Istanbul, not Constantinople was reaffirmed forever more. The aforementioned areas were returned to Turkey by the Treaty of Lausanne in 1923. Like any of Europe's bucket of ethnic conflicts and past expulsions, the best rule is to not mention this.

During World War II, the Italians attempted to invade Greece, and found themselves bested and humiliated, necessitating Germany turning up to bail them out. After the war, Greece plunged into a violent and bloody Civil War. The clash took place between the Greek Government Army, which included pre-war fascists (under the dictatorship of General Metaxas), Nazi Collaborators and the Democratic Army of Greece. The Cold War had already begun and the Government Army was backed by the British and American Army while the Democratic Army which had majority support among locals was comprised of communists and partisans who participated in La Résistance against the Nazis. The British Army under Lt Gen Ronald Scobie fully supported the Government Army and its ensuing dictatorship over popular resistance, citing fears of Reds with Rockets. This extended to the British government opening fire on a rally of peaceful supporters which killed 27 people on December 7, 1944.

In 1947, by the Treaty of Peace with Italy, the Dodecanese islands were returned to Greece, giving Greece its current borders.

Military Junta 1967—1974 "Regime of the Colonels"

Following the end of the civil war, the ensuing eighteen or so years were full of political instability and frequent government changes. Just check out the amount of times the Prime Minister and government changed in the 1949--1967 period. Granted, most of those years were spent under Konstantínos Karamanlís of the National Radical Union and caretaker PMs in between. But the prospect of a Center Union victory (a more liberal party) by Geórgios Papandréou (grandfather of the recent Papandréou with the same name) in an upcoming election was too great for the conservatives to handle. On the night of 20/21 April, Brigadier General Stylianós Pattakós (still alive today, at the age of 101) and two Colonels, Geórgios Papadópoulos and Nikólaos Makarézos, seized control of the government in a coup d'etat. Rounding up all the political leaders and taking control of Athens through surprise and confusion (the tanks at strategic points helped as well), they declared much of the constitution suspended. This meant that they could now arrest pretty much anyone they wanted without a warrant and tried in a military court. Most of those political prisoners mentioned above were either sent to concentration camps scattered around Greece or sent into exile. For example, Karamanlís escaped to France during the seven years.

The King at the time, Constantine II, initially worked with the regime but in December of that year, he attempted to organise a counter-coup to get rid of the military rule and replace it with a civilian one. Needless to say, his plan failed due to bad planning. He was forced to escape to Italy on the royal plane with his family and the former Prime Minister Kóllias in tow. While he remained king as he never abdicated before fleeing, he was eventually stripped of his monarch and head of state position in 1973.

The colonels themselves claimed they were trying to save Greece from the threat of communism, using the rather contradictory term "anarchocommunists" for any left-leaning person. Life under the Junta was extremely restrictive — freedom of thought and freedom of the press were abolished. Brutal torture of political prisoners was common. Music by 'communist' composers such as Míkis Theodorákis was banned.

The junta was eventually abolished due to a number of reasons. There had been a heavy anti-Junta movements throughout those seven years, culminating in a takeover of the Athens Polytechnic by students, who broadcast their own radio station with the famous call "This is the Polytechnic. You are listening to the radio station, of the free students, of the free Greeks. Down with the Junta". The Turkish invasion of Cyprus in 1974 was the final nail in the coffin for the regime. The Army rebelled against the leadership and Greece was returned to a civil government in July 1974. Kóstas Karamanlís returned from France and became Prime Minister from the first free elections in almost a decade. The monarchy was overwhelmingly (some 70% voting against) abolished by a referendum in December 1974 and a new Republican constitution was written and enacted in 1975.

Modern Greek Politics

Greece is now a modern, democratic country. The parliament, the Voulí ton Ellínon ('Will or Desire of the Greeks'), is unicameral (has only one chamber) and has 300 members. For most of modern Greek history, either PASOK and ND always held a majority of seats in the Voulí; from 2004 to 2009, ND was in power, from 2009 to 2012, it was PASOK and from 2012 to 2015 it was ND again.

For a forty year period from 1975 to 2015, the two main parties in Greece were:

  • PASOK (Panellínio Sosialistikó Kómma, Pan-Hellenic Socialist Party), a centre-left party,
    • 13 seats in Voulí.
  • Néa Dimokratía (New Democracy), a centre-right party, opposition,
    • 76 seats in Voulí.

After the 25 January 2015 general election, the government consists of:

  • SYRIZA (Synaspismós Rizospastikís Aristerás, Coalition of the Radical Left), a far left party,
    • 149 seats in Voulí (just 2 short of a majority).
  • The Independent Greeks (Anexártitoi Éllines, ANEL), a centre-right or right wing party,
    • 13 seats in Voulí.

The remaining parties with representation (above 3.0% electoral result) in the Voulí are:

  • Chrysí Avgi (Golden Dawn), a racist and neo-Nazi far right party,
    • 17 seats in Voulí.
  • To Potámi (The River), a centre-Left pro-Europe party,
    • 17 seats in Voulí.
  • KKE (Kommounistikó Kómma Elládas, Communist Party of Greece), a Marxist-Leninist far left party. They actively wish to leave the Euro currency and European Union and absolutely refuse to form a coalition with anyone. They have,
    • 15 seats in Voulí.

Recent economic turmoil and financial problems in Greece led to the extreme right-wing and Neo-Nazi party Golden Dawn to be elected for the first time. This party made headlines in June 2012 when one of its candidates, Ilías Kasidiáris, punched and slapped KKE politician Liána Kanélli on live television. This party's ugly side was revealed in September 2013, when members were allegedly involved in the murder of a hip hop musician called Pávlos Fýssas. This led to the subsequent arrest of key party members. Despite this, the party came third overall in the January 2015 election, despite the fact that about half of its members were imprisoned!

There were two general elections held in Greece in 2012, in May and then June, owing to the fact that no government could be formed from the May election. Due to the perceived bad decisions and management and owing to popular discontent at Prime Minister Giórgos Papandréou's tenure, PASOK was very badly defeated in both elections.

From this election and between 2012 and 2015, ND was in a coalition with PASOK and DIMAR — an offshoot far left party that split in 2010 from SYRIZA. However, DIMAR left that coalition in June 2013.

Due to a failure to elect a president in December 2014 by the Voulí, Samarás called an earlier-than-planned election for 25 January 2015.

In January 2015, SYRIZA won 149 seats, just 2 short of a majority. As a result of George Papandréou's defection and his formation of a new party, PASÓK suffered very badly and came in last overall. Papadréou himself didn't win a seat; therefore, for the first time in 92 years there was not a representative of his family in the parliament.

SYRIZA has joined forces with the Independent Greeks, a party seemingly far from them in terms of ideology (right wing) but they both agree that they are anti-austerity and want to fight the Troika. SYRIZA openly intends to rely on votes from non-coalition parties like To Potámi for legislation on other subjects.

The current Greek Prime Minister (Prothypourgós) as of 2015 is Alexís Tsípras of SYRIZA. He is the youngest Prime Minister of Greece in its history, aged only forty. He was also the first to choose a secular oath of office, rather than the usual Greek Orthodox Church religious ceremony. Previous PM Samarás was also harshy criticised for refusing to turn up and hand over to his successor before the oath.

Greece is a member of the European Union since 1981 and of NATO since 1952.

Culture

Culturally, 2004 was a good year for Greek sport - as well as hosting the Olympics in Athens, the Greek football team (which had never before won a match at a major tournament) pulled off a spectacular shock by winning the 2004 European Championships, defeating hosts Portugal in the final. Sadly for the Greek team, the defense of their crown in Austria/Switzerland in 2008 was more of a reversion to type - they lost all of their group games.

For those of you wanting an answer to that ancient question,note  Greece's estimated per capita GDP in 2008 was $32,100. However, that was before the credit crunch and the debt problems Greece is now suffering from, not helped by large-scale tax evasion.

Greece in fiction:

Fictional Greek people

  • Dimitri Levendis in Spooks is the son of Greek immigrant parents. He works for MI5.
  • Stella Bonasera in CSI: NY is a half-Greek, half-Italian American cop, who self identifies as Greek and speaks the language fluently.
  • Marvel Comics' Michael Morbius, better known as Morbius the Living Vampire, was born and raised in Nafplio, a seaport town in the Peloponnese in Greece.

Famous Greeks

  • Alexander the Great
  • Aristotle
  • María Cállas (1923—1977), a soprano and one of the most renowned opera singers of the 20th century. Famously had a long relationship with Aristotle Onássis. Well-known for her interpretations of Bel Canto and Verdi operas.
  • Mános Hatzidákis (1925—1994), Greece's most famous composer. Wrote many of Alíki Vougioukláki's most famous songs. Also wrote the title song of the film Never on Sunday, sung by Mercoúri (see below) for which he won an Oscar.
  • Melína Mercoúri (1920—1994), probably most famous for starring in Jules Dassin's 1960 Comedy/Drama film Never on Sunday. Also served for as Minister for Culture between 1981—1989 and again in 1993-1994, under PASOK.
  • Nána Moúskouri (b 1934), a folk/Pop/Easy listening singer, famous for her trademark large black glasses.
  • The Onássis clan, especially:
    • Aristotélis/Aristotle (1906—1975), a billionaire shipping magnate. Born in Smýrni in Turkey (now Izmir) and living in Buenos Aires, Argentina for much of his life, he founded the Greek flag-carrier airline, Olympic Airways/Airlines (which went bust in 2009). Most famous for having married John F. Kennedy's widow, Jackie in 1968. They remained married until his death in 1975. Also famously had a long relationship with opera singer and fellow Greek María Cállas.
    • Christína (1950—1988), his only daughter, and his only surviving child and heir when he died in 1975 (his son Aléxandros having died in a plane accident in 1973). She married four times and like her brother, died young. She only had one daughter out of her marriages, Athiná Onássis-Roussel (b 1985), and as his only surviving heir at all, she now possesses 55% of her grandfather's fortune (reportedly over a billion dollars; the rest of it went to either Jackie Onassis or the Alexander S. Onassis Public Benefit Foundation, established in honor of Aristotle's son).
  • Démis Roússos (1946—2015), a singer who was a famous and unlikely sex symbol in the 1970s.
  • Míkis Theodorákis (b 1925), Greece's other famous composer, best-known for scoring Zorba The Greek, Z and Serpico.
  • Vangélis or full name Evángelos Papathanassíou (b 1943), an electronic film music composer, probably most famous to non-Greeks for the theme to Chariots of Fire (played at the 2012 London Olympics by Rowan Atkinson) and the theme from 1492: Conquest of Paradise.
  • Alíki Vougioukláki (1934—1996), Greece's most famous actress, well known for her blonde hair and for starring in many, many films of the 1960s.
  • Plato
  • Socrates
  • Xenophon

See also:

The Greek flag
The equilateral cross at the canton represents the Greek Orthodox Church, the nation's dominant religion (97% of the total population). The nine stripes have various interpretations — one popular version equates it with the syllables of the words "Ελευθερία ή θάνατος" (Eleftheria i Thanatos — "Freedom or Death"), the battle cry of the anti-Ottoman La Résistance; another has it simply as the letters of the word "Ελευθερία" (Eleftheria — "freedom"), and still another equates them with the Muses, goddesses of art and civilization in Greek mythology. The flag's blue and white colors also have varying meanings, such as the sky and the sea, or the traditional colors of the Greek people since antiquity.