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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.


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".

Okay, fine, I'll say it. Istanbul, not Constantinople.

19th and 20th Centuries

In the 1820s, the Greeks rebelled and created a kingdom of their own which gradually grew in size until, at the end of World War I, it was to include a restored Constantinople 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 the war was a "Population Exchange", in which thousands of European Turks and Asiatic Greeks were booted out (and in the case of Smyrna in Turkey, the Greeks were booted out quite violently along with some leftover Armenians when the Turkish army set fire to their quarters of the city), and so the principle of Istanbul, not Constantinople was re-affirmed forever more. 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 Civil War, narrowly evading the attentions of the Reds with Rockets.

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 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 Greece

Greece is now a modern, democratic country. Since 1975, the two main parties in Greece have been the centre-left party, PASOK (Panellínio Sosialistikó Kómma, Pan-Hellenic Socialist Party) and the centre-right Néa Dimokratía (New Democracy) party. Other minor parties include SYRIZA (the Coalition of the Radical Left, a left-wing party) and KKE (the Communist Party of Greece, also left-wing). Recent economic turmoil and financial problems in Greece have led to the extreme right-wing and (some say) 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 and its future in Greek politics is (thankfully, for some) uncertain.

Greece's parliament, the Voulí ton Ellínon ('Will or Desire of the Greeks'), is unicameral (has only one chamber) and has 300 members. Until 2012, either PASOK and ND always had a majority (151/300) in the parliament; from 2004 to 2009 ND was in power and from 2009 to 2012, it was PASOK. However, due to the perceived bad management and popular discontent at Prime Minister Giórgos Papandréou's actions, PASOK was very badly defeated in the June 2012 election. PASOK only won 33 seats overall. SYRIZA was catapulted into the opposition, with an up-to-then unprecedented 71 seats. ND, however, was the winning party, with 129 seats (79 by direct election, + 50 party list seats for being the biggest party).

PASOK entered into a coalition with ND and DIMAR (an offshoot far left party that split in 2010 from SYRIZA). DIMAR left this coalition in June 2013. With MPs being expelled or voluntarily leaving parties every other week seemingly, it has left the current Prime Minister Antónis Samarás (ND) and Deputy Prime Minister Evángelos Venizélos (PASOK) with only a tiny majority government of 152/300.

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

The current Greek Prime Minister (Prothypourgós) as of 2014 is Antónis Samarás of ND. He has served as minister in various different departments over the last twenty years. His position as the leader of this party is interesting though, considering he had been effectively responsible for them losing power in 1993.

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.
  • 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).
  • Míkis Theodorákis (b 1925), probably the most famous composer from Greece, 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.
  • Plato
  • Socrates
  • Xenophon

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.


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