Greece Country Overview
Republic of south-eastern Europe; it occupies the southern part of the Balkan peninsula and comprises numerous islands. It borders northwest with Albania; to the north with the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and Bulgaria; northeast with Turkey; to the east with the Aegean Sea; to the south with the Mediterranean and to the west with the Ionian Sea. Its surface is 131,957 km2. The capital is Athens. Among the islands, Euboea, Crete, the northern Sporades, the Cyclades, the Dodecanese group and the Ionian islands, Ikaria, Chios, Lemnos, Lesbos, Mitilini, Samos, Samotrácia and Thasos stand out.
Territory and resources
In general, the terrain is hilly and rugged. Its main geographical regions are the central hills; the western region, humid and mountainous; the plains east of Thessaly, Macedonia and Thrace; central Greece, which comprises the south-eastern extension, cradle of cities – state of antiquity and where Mount Olympus is, the highest point in the country (2,917 m); the Peloponnese region, less steep; and the Aegean islands, which stand out for their historical and strategic importance. The south-eastern end, Attica, is divided into numerous valleys and plains, the most famous being that of Athens.
The climate is Mediterranean
In the lowlands, summers are dry and hot and winters are rainy. Greece is endowed with natural resources of low economic value. However, oil and natural gas reserves have been discovered in the Aegean, near Thasos. It has deposits of bauxite and iron; in addition, it has small reserves of chromium, nickel, copper, uranium and manganese.
Population and government
According to THEMOTORCYCLERS, about 98% of the population is Greek; 1% is of Turkish origin. There are minorities from Slavs, Albanians and Armenians. It has (1993) 10,470,460 inhabitants, with a demographic density of 79 inhabitants / km2. The most important city is Athens. Other cities are Porto Pireus, Salonica and Patras.
About 97% of the population belongs to the Greek Orthodox Church. The other 3% is divided between Muslims, Catholics, Protestants and monophysites. The majority of the population speaks Greek. The vernacular language of modern Greek and popular literature is demotic, which is the official language.
According to the 1975 Constitution, the President of Greece is the head of state and commander in chief of the Armed Forces; elected by Parliament, he appoints the prime minister. Parliament is a unicameral body of 300 members.
Agriculture plays a key role in Greece’s economy. The lack of fuel and electricity was a major obstacle to the development of the industrial sector. Two important sources of income are shipbuilding and tourism. Since 1981, Greece has been a member of the European Economic Community (today the European Union).
Tobacco is the main crop in the country, but wheat, tomatoes, oranges, corn, beets, grapes, olives, potatoes and cotton are also important. There are sheep, goats, cattle and pigs. Fishing is limited and sponges are the main marine product for export. In the industry, the production of basic metals and their derivatives, food, beverages, cigarettes, textiles and clothing, cement and wine stands out.
The currency unit is the drachma.
At the beginning of World War I, Greece declared itself neutral, but King Constantine I, son and successor of George I, supported Germany in 1913. The intervention of Prime Minister Eleutherios Venizelos and the allied forces forced the king to abdicate in favor of his son, Alexander I, and Greece participated in the war on the Allied side. After the Paris Conference, Greece received western Thrace from Bulgaria, eastern Thrace from Turkey and most of the Aegean islands, in addition to claiming Smyrna (today Izmir, Turkey). Alexander I died in 1920 and King Constantine returned, reaffirmed by a popular referendum. The expedition to Smyrna was defeated; the army rose up, imposed a military dictatorship and forced Constantine to abdicate in favor of his son, George II.
In 1923, the king had to leave Greece and Parliament proclaimed the Republic. Venizelos returned to the political scene and his Liberal Party won an extraordinary victory in 1928. The economic crisis provoked his defeat in the 1932 elections. Monarchist military leaders forced the prime minister’s resignation and General Condylis assumed dictatorial powers and restored the monarchy. George II resumed the throne at the end of 1935. The situation was complicated by the death of the main political leaders, the growing social malaise and the appearance of the communist movement. In 1936, General Ibánnis Metaxás carried out a coup d’état, proclaimed martial law and did not accept any kind of opposition.
During World War II, Italian troops from Albania attacked Greece in October 1940. Although in two months they managed to expel invaders from the country, German soldiers overcame Greek resistance in 1941 and occupied Athens. Then a national – socialist government was established in the capital and the king fled to Crete and from there to London. Among the resistance groups, EAM (National Liberation Front) stood out, with its own army, ELAS (National People’s Liberation Army) and EDES (Greek Democratic National Army). At the end of 1943, before the prospect of Greece’s liberation, they began to fight among themselves for the future control of the country, but in 1944 they managed to form a coalition.
Prime Minister Georghios Papandreou asked ELAS, unsuccessfully, to abandon arms and reintegrate into social life. The civil war broke out and, thanks to the help of British forces, the government army managed to impose itself. In 1944, Archbishop Damaskinos became regent of Greece, but the future of the monarchy was to be defined in a plebiscite. In February 1945, ELAS accepted the truce. The first general elections took place in 1946, with the victory of popular monarchists. The September 1946 referendum returned the crown to King George II; after his death, his brother Paul I took the throne. After the Paris Peace Conference, held in 1946, Greece received the Dodecanese Islands from Italy and a substantial indemnity from Bulgaria. In 1951, NATO approved the entry into Greece and Turkey.
Government instability dominated the domestic political landscape until the end of 1952. In that year’s elections, the conservative Hellenic Union party won a parliamentary majority; Prime Minister Alexandros Papagos was appointed and, after his death, power was handed over to Konstantinos Karamanlis. In 1956, Karamanlis announced the formation of the National Radical Union (ERE). During the 1950s, Greece supported the enosis movement (union with Greece) on the island of Cyprus, a British domain since 1878, also claimed by Turkey. In 1959, the three governments reached an agreement, according to which Cyprus was able to proclaim its independence in 1960.
At the end of 1961, União de Centro was founded, of which the great exponent was Georghios Papandreou. When Karamanlis won a legislative majority in the general election, the new party refused to acknowledge the results. Karamanlis resigned and elections were held in 1962 and 1964, in which the Centro Union obtained a sufficient majority to rule alone. Papandreou then became prime minister.
After the death of Paul I in 1964, the crown was given to his son, who assumed the throne under the name of Constantine II. In 1965, the new monarch was engulfed by a major political crisis that culminated in Papandreou’s dismissal. Several prime ministers succeeded each other until, in 1967, a group of army officers delivered a military coup. Thousands of people have been arrested and civil liberties have been suppressed. After a failed attempt to overthrow the Military Junta, King Constantine went into exile in Italy. The Board created a new cabinet, led by Colonel Georgios Papadopoulos. In March 1968, Papadopoulos presented the draft of a new Constitution, which was later revised and ratified by referendum. From then on, the so-called ‘Colonel Regime’ assumed an authoritarian conduct, arresting hundreds of opponents.
The student revolts of the fall of 1973 against the government brought martial law back. The military deposed Papadopoulos, who had failed to maintain social order, and appointed General Phaedon Ghizikis president. The military coup that expelled Archbishop Makarios from the presidency of Cyprus and the Turkish invasion of the island led the junta to withdraw in 1974. Karamanlis returned from exile and formed the first civilian government after 1967. After the November elections, Karamanlis, in front of the New Democracy party, formed a new government. The referendum to restore the monarchy was negative and in 1975 a new republican constitution was passed.
In 1977, the government called for general elections, won by a small margin by the New Democracy party. Karamanlis stepped down in 1980, when he was elected president. The 1982 parliamentary elections enshrined the Panhellenic Socialist Movement (PASOK) and Andreas Papandreou became the first head of a socialist cabinet in the country.
In 1985, Khristos Sartzetakis, supported by PASOK, was elected to the presidency of the Republic, becoming successor to Karamanlis. Papandreou lost a parliamentary majority in the 1989 elections and Tzannis Tzannetakis, of New Democracy, became prime minister after forming a coalition with the communists. The 1990 elections resulted in a conservative majority and gave the government the leader of New Democracy. In October 1993, Papandreou returned to power. The 1995 presidential election gave victory to Kostis Stefanopoulos, the PASOK candidate.
After the division of Yugoslavia, which took place in 1991, the Republic of Macedonia declared its independence and obtained recognition from the United Nations as the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. Greece opposed the name and symbols of the new state, claiming that they belonged to the historic Greek state of Macedonia. Greece also became involved in Albania disputes after the fall of the communist regime in that country.