U.S. Department of State
Background Notes: Greece, October 1999
Released by the Bureau of European Affairs
U.S. Department of State
Official Name: Hellenic Republic
Area: 131,957 sq. km. (51,146 sq. mi.; roughly the size of Alabama).
Major cities: Captial -- Athen (pop. greater Athens 3,096,775, municipality of
Athens 748,110). Other cities -- Thessaloniki (377,951), Piraeus (169,622),
Greater Piraeus (880,529), Patras (172,763), Larissa (113,426), Iraklion
Terrain: Mountainous interior with coastal plains; many islands.
Climate: Mediterranean; mild winter and hot, dry summer.
Population: 11.5 million.
Growth rate: 0.4%.
Languages: Greek 99%; other 1%.
Religions: Greek Orthodox 98%, Muslim 1%, other 1%.
Education: Years compulsory -- 9. Literacy -- 93%. All levels are free.
Health: Infant mortality rate -- 8/1,000. Life expectancy -- male 74 yrs.;
female 79 yrs.
Work force: 4.85 million.
Type: Presidential parliamentary republic.
Constitution: June 11, 1975, amended March 1986.
Branches: Executive -- president (head of state), prime minister (head of
government). Legislative -- 300-seat unicameral Vouli (parliament). Judicial --
Political parties: Panhellenic Socialist Movement (PASOK), New Democracy (ND),
Political Spring, Communist Party of Greece (KKE), Coalition of the Left
Suffrage: Universal at 18.
Administrative subdivisions: 13 peripheries (regional districts), 51 nomi
GDP: $120.25 billion.
Per capita GDP: $11,305.
Growth rate: 3.5%.
Inflation rate: 4.7%.
Unemployment rate: 10.1%.
Natural resources: Bauxite, lignite, magnesite, oil, marble.
Agriculture (10% of GDP): Products -- Sugar, beets, wheat, maize, tomatoes,
olives, olive oil, grapes, raisins, wine, oranges, peaches, tobacco, cotton,
livestock, dairy products.
Manufacturing (14% of GDP): Types -- Processed foods, shoes, textiles, metals,
chemicals, electrical equipment, cement, glass, transport equipment, petroleum
products, construction, electrical power.
Services (66.5% of GDP): Transportation, tourism, communications, trade,
banking, public administration, defense.
Trade: Exports -- $10.5 billion: manufactured goods, food and beverages,
petroleum products, cement, chemicals. Major markets -- Germany, Italy, France,
U.S., U.K. Imports -- $27 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 on the southern tip of 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 Peloponnesus 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. Greece has mild, wet winters and hot, dry
summers. Temperatures are rarely extreme, although snowfalls do occur in the
mountains and occasionally even in Athens in the winter.
Greece is located at the junction of three continents: Europe, Asia, and Africa.
Greece's foreign policy, despite its joining NATO in 1952 and its accession to
the European Community in 1981, has remained focused on the Balkans and the
eastern Mediterranean region.
Greece maintains full diplomatic, political, and economic relations with its
south-central European neighbors. It provided a 250-man military contingent to
IFOR/ SFOR in Bosnia and assigned a 1,200-man unit to KFOR in Kosovo.
Diplomatic relations with Bulgaria were restored in 1965--after a 24-year break-
-when Bulgaria renounced its claim to Greek territory in Thrace and Macedonia.
Since the breakup of the Soviet Union, Greece has had good relations with Russia
and has opened embassies in a number of the former Soviet republics, which it
sees as potentially important trading partners.
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. Early in the 2nd millennium BC, the island of
Crete nurtured the sophisticated maritime empire of the Minoans, whose trade
reached from Egypt to Sicily. The Minoans were challenged and eventually
supplanted by the Mycenaeans of the Greek mainland, who spoke a dialect of
ancient Greek. Initially, Greece's mosaic of small city-states were ethnically
similar. 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. In the 19th century, after Greece's
War of Independence, an effort was made to rid the language of Turkish and
Arabic words and expressions. The resulting version was considered to be closer
to the classical Greek language of Homer and was called Katharevousa. However,
Katharevousa was never adopted by most Greeks in daily speech. The commonly
spoken language, called Demotiki, became the official language in 1976.
Greek education is free and compulsory for children between the ages of 5 and
15. English language study is compulsory from 5th grade through high school.
University education, including books, is also free, contingent upon the
student's ability to meet stiff entrance requirements. Recent statistics
indicate progressively poorer results in the annual entrance examinations. Low
salaries and status of teachers; lack of books, supplies, labs, and computers;
frequent strikes; and continuing reliance on rote memorization methods are all
matters of concern for Greek educators.
A high percentage of the student population seeks higher education. About
100,000 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 one in four candidates gains
admission to Greek universities.
Since Greek law does not permit the operation of private universities in Greece,
a large and growing number of students are pursuing higher education abroad. The
Greek Government decides through an evaluation procedure whether to recognize
degrees from specific foreign universities as 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
Orthodox Christianity is the dominant religion in Greece. During the centuries
of Ottoman domination, the Greek Orthodox Church preserved Greek language,
values, and national identity and was an important rallying point in the
struggle for independence. There is a Muslim minority concentrated in Thrace.
Other religious communities in Greece include Catholics, Jews, Old Calendar
Orthodox, Jehovah's Witnesses, Mormons, and Protestants.
The Greek War of Independence from the Ottoman Empire began in 1821 and
concluded with the winning of independence in 1830. With the support of England,
France, and Russia, a monarchy was established. A Bavarian prince, Otto, was
named king in 1833. 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.
The Megali Idea (Great Idea), a vision of uniting all Greeks of the declining
Ottoman Empire within the newly independent Greek State, exerted strong
influence on the early Greek state. 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. The Ionian Islands were added 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
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 attacked from its base in Smyrna (now Izmir), and
marched toward Ankara. The Greeks were defeated by Turkish forces led by Mustafa
Kemal (later Ataturk) and were forced to withdraw in the summer of 1922. Smyrna
was sacked by the Turks, and more than 1.3 million Greek refugees from Turkey
poured into Greece, creating enormous challenges for the Greek economy and
society and effectively ending the Megali Idea.
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, and a plebiscite in 1946
upheld the monarchy. It was finally abolished, however, by referendum on
December 8, 1974, when more than two-thirds of the voters supported the
establishment of a republic.
Greece's entry into World War II was precipitated by the Italian invasion on
October 28, 1940. That date is celebrated in Greece by the one-word reply--ochi
("no")--symbolizing the Greek Prime Minister's rejection of the surrender demand
made by Mussolini. 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 attacked Greece
in early April 1941. By the end of May, the Germans had overrun most of the
country, although Greek resistance was never entirely suppressed. 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 violence and was followed
by an intense, house-to-house battle with Greek Government and British forces.
After 3 weeks, the communists were defeated, and an unstable coalition
government was formed. Continuing tensions led to the dissolution of that
government and the outbreak of full-fledged civil war in 1946. First the United
Kingdom and later the United States gave extensive military and economic aid to
the Greek Government. Communist successes in 1947-48 enabled them to move freely
over much of mainland Greece, but with extensive reorganization and American
material support, the Greek National Army was slowly able to regain control over
most of the countryside. Yugoslavia closed its borders to the insurgent forces
in 1949, after Marshal Tito of Yugoslavia broke with Stalin and the Soviet
In August 1949, the National Army under Marshal Alexander Papagos launched a
final offensive that forced the remaining insurgents to surrender or flee across
the northern border into the territory of Greece's communist neighbors. The
insurgency resulted in 100,000 killed and caused catastrophic economic
disruption. In addition, at least 25,000 Greeks were either voluntarily or
forcibly evacuated to Eastern bloc countries, while 700,000 became displaced
persons inside the country.
After the 1944-49 Greek civil war, Greece sought to join the Western democracies
and 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
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. On March 29, 1985,
after Prime Minister Papandreou declined to support President Karamanlis for a
second term, 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. Party leaders withdrew their
support in February 1990, and elections were held on April 8. In the April 1990
election, ND won 150 seats and subsequently gained 2 others. After Mitsotakis
fired his first Foreign Minister--Andonis Samaras--in 1992, Samaras formed his
own political party, Political Spring. A split between Mitsotakis and Samaras
led to the collapse of the ND government and new elections in September 1993.
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. PASOK won 162 seats, New Democracy, 108.
The 1975 constitution, which describes Greece as a "presidential parliamentary
republic," includes extensive specific guarantees of civil liberties and vests
the powers of the head of state in a president elected by parliament and advised
by the Council of the Republic. The Greek governmental structure is similar to
that found in many Western democracies and has been described as a compromise
between the French and German models. The prime minister and cabinet play the
central role in the political process, while the president performs some
governmental functions in addition to ceremonial duties.
The president is elected by parliament to a 5-year term and can be reelected
once. The president has the power to declare war and to conclude agreements of
peace, alliance, and participation in international organizations; upon the
request of the government a three-fifths parliamentary majority is required to
ratify such actions, agreements, or treaties. The president also can exercise
certain emergency powers, which must be countersigned by the appropriate cabinet
minister. Changes to the constitution in 1986 limited the president's political
powers. As a result, the president may not dissolve parliament, dismiss the
government, suspend certain articles of the constitution, or declare a state of
siege. To call a referendum, he must obtain approval from parliament.
Parliamentary deputies are elected by secret ballot for a maximum of 4 years,
but elections can be called earlier. Greece uses a complex reinforced
proportional representation electoral system which discourages splinter parties
and makes a parliamentary majority possible even if the leading party falls
short of a majority of the popular vote. A party must receive 3% of the total
national vote to qualify for parliamentary seats.
Greece is divided into 51 prefectures, each headed by a prefect, who is elected
by direct popular vote. There are also 13 regional administrative districts
(peripheries), each including a number of prefectures and headed by a regional
governor (periferiarch), appointed by the Minister of the Interior. In northern
Greece and in greater Athens, three areas have an additional administrative
position between the nomarch and periferiarch. This official, known as the
president of the prefectural local authorities or "super nomarch," is elected by
direct popular vote. Although municipalities and villages have elected
officials, they do not have an adequate independent tax base and must depend on
the central government for a large part of their financial needs. Consequently
they are subject to numerous central government controls.
The Government and Education, Religion, and the Media
Education. Under the Greek constitution, education is the responsibility of the
state. Most Greeks attend public primary and secondary schools. There are a few
private schools, which must meet the standard curriculum of and be supervised by
the Ministry of Education. The Ministry of Education oversees and directs every
aspect of the public education process at all levels, including hiring all
teachers and professors and producing all required textbooks.
Religion. The Greek Orthodox Church is under the protection of the state, which
pays the clergy's salaries, and Orthodox Christianity is the "prevailing"
religion of Greece according to the constitution. The Greek Orthodox Church is
self-governing but under the spiritual guidance of the Ecumenical Patriarch in
The Muslim minority, concentrated in Thrace, was given legal status by
provisions of the Treaty of Lausanne in 1923 and is Greece's only officially
Media. The Greek media, collectively, is a very influential institution--usually
aggressive, sensationalist, and frequently irresponsible with regard to content.
Objectivity as known to the U.S. media on the whole does not exist in the Greek
media. Most of the media are owned by businessmen with extensive commercial
interests in other sectors of the economy. They use their newspapers, magazines,
and radio and TV channels to promote their commercial enterprises as well as to
seek political influence.
In 1994, the Ministry of Press and Information was established to deal with
media and communication issues. ERT S.A.--a public corporation supervised by the
Minister of Press--operates three national television channels and five national
radio channels. The Minister of Press also serves as the primary government
The Secretary General of Press and Information prepares the Athens News Agency
(ANA) Bulletin, which is used, with AP and Reuters, as a primary source of
information by the Greek press. The Ministry of Press and Information 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.
State and private TV stations also use "Eurovision" and "Visnews" as sources.
While few papers and stations have overseas correspondents, those few
correspondents abroad can be very influential.
In 1988, a new law provided the legal framework for the establishment of private
radio stations and, as of 1989, private TV stations. According to the law,
supervision of radio and television is exercised by the National Radio and
Television Council. In practice, however, official licensing has been delayed
for many years. Because of this, there has been a proliferation of private radio
and TV stations, as well as European satellite channels, including Euronews;
more than 1,000 radio stations are currently operating in Greece. The Greek
Government is now implementing its plans to reallocate TV frequencies and issue
licenses, authorized by the 1993 Media Law.
Principal Government Officials
President -- Konstandinos Stephanopoulos
Prime Minister -- Constantine Simitis
Foreign Minister -- Yeoryios Papandreou
Ambassador to the U.S. -- Alexandros Philon
Ambassador to the UN -- Ilias Gouneris
Greece's embassy in the U.S. is located at 2221 Massachusetts Ave., NW,
Washington, DC 20008; tel: (202) 939-5800; fax: (202) 939-5824.
The Greek economy is slowly coming out of a slump caused by a drop in investment
and the implementation of stabilization policies in recent years. Greece remains
a net importer of industrial and capital goods, foodstuffs, and petroleum.
Leading exports are manufactured goods, food and beverages, petroleum products,
cement, chemicals, and pharmaceuticals.
Recent Economic History
The development of the modern Greek economy began in the late 19th and early
20th centuries with the adoption of social and industrial legislation and
protective tariffs and the creation of the first industrial enterprises.
Industry at the turn of the century consisted primarily of food processing,
shipbuilding, and the manufacture of textiles and simple consumer products.
Greece achieved high rates of growth in the late 1960s and early 1970s due to
large foreign investments. In the mid-1970s, Greece suffered declines in its GDP
growth rate, ratio of investment to GDP, and productivity, and real labor costs
and oil prices rose. In 1981, protective barriers were removed when Greece
joined the European Community. The government pursued expansionary policies,
which fueled inflation and caused balance-of-payment difficulties. Growing
public sector deficits were financed by borrowing. In October 1985, supported by
a 1.7-billion European Currency Unit (ECU) loan from the European Union (EU),
the government implemented a 2-year "stabilization" program with limited
success. Public sector inefficiency and excessive spending caused government
borrowing to increase; by the end of 1992, general government debt exceeded 100%
Greece continued to rely on foreign borrowing to finance its deficits. Public
sector external debt was $32 billion at the end of 1998. The general government
debt was $119 billion at the end of 1998, or 105.5% of GDP. Greece's external
debt was $32 billion at the end of 1998.
Greece, as a member of the EU, is currently striving to reduce its budget
deficit and inflation rate in order to meet the prerequisites for the European
monetary union. Although growth remained above the convergence program
guidelines, high budget deficits and deficient infrastructure continue to dampen
the economy's long-term potential growth rate.
In May 1994, the Bank of Greece successfully managed a currency crisis triggered
by the lifting of currency restrictions on short-term capital movements. The
bank contained speculative attacks on the drachma by tightening its monetary
policy and raising interest rates dramatically: For a few days, interest rates
pushed as high as 180%. In less than 2 months, with speculation on the drachma
no longer a threat, interest rates returned to normal levels. A similar wave of
speculation was beaten back in fall 1997, following the Asian financial crisis.
One of the successes of recent Greek economic policy has been the reduction of
inflation rates. For more than 20 years, inflation hovered in the double digits,
but a combination of fiscal consolidation, wage restraint, and strong drachma
policies resulted in lowered inflation. Inflation fell to 2.0% by mid-1999.
High interest rates have been a significant problem, despite recent cuts in both
treasury bill and bank rates for savings and loans. The government's strong
drachma policy and Public Sector Borrowing Requirement (PSBR) make the lowering
of interest rates difficult, but progress was made in 1997-99 and rates are
gradually declining in line with inflation.
Services, including tourism, make up the largest and fastest-growing sector of
the Greek economy, accounting for about 62.7% of GDP in 1998.
Tourism is a major source of foreign exchange earnings. Although it is one of
the country's most important industries, it has been slow to expand and suffers
from poor infrastructure. With more than 10 million tourists visiting Greece in
1996, the tourist industry faced declining revenues, partly due to the strong
drachma. Revenue from tourism exceeded $5.2 billion in 1998, having increased
somewhat as Greek tourism benefited from problems in neighboring countries and
an economic recovery in the European Union.
The manufacturing sector accounts for about 14% of GDP. The food industry is one
of the most profitable and fastest-growing areas of manufacturing with
significant export potential. High-technology equipment production, especially
for telecommunications, is also a fast-growing sector. Other important areas
include textiles, building materials, machinery, transport equipment, and
Greece is traditionally a seafaring nation and has built an impressive shipping
industry based on its geographic location and the entrepreneurial ability of its
ship owners. The Greek-owned fleet (all flags) totaled 3,358 ships (134 million
DWT) in 1998.
Construction activity (about 7.5% of GDP) is expected to increase due to
infrastructure projects partially financed by European Union structural funds.
Through 1999, about $20 billion will go to projects to modernize and develop
Greece's transportation network. The centerpiece of this effort will be the
construction of a new international airport near Athens. In addition, the Athens
subway system is being greatly expanded, and construction or expansion of roads,
railway lines, and bridges is either underway or planned.
Greece must realign its economy as part of an extended transition to full EU
membership that began in 1981. Greek businesses are adjusting to competition
from EU firms and the government has had to liberalize its economic and
commercial regulations and practices. However, Greece has been granted waivers
from certain aspects of the EU's 1992 single market program.
Historically, Greece has been a net beneficiary of the EU budget. Net payments
to Greece totaled $4.9 billion in 1998, representing 4.2% of GDP. Net inflows
were estimated at about $5 billion in 1998. These funds contribute significantly
to Greece's current accounts balance and reduce the state budget deficit.
Greece is receiving additional substantial support from the EU through the
Delors II package. In July 1994, the Greek Government and the EU agreed on a
final plan which provided Greece 16.6 billion ecu ($17.1 billion at current
exchange rates) for the period 1994-98 of which 14 billion ecu was from the
Community Support Framework and 2.6 billion ecu was from the Cohesion Fund. This
level of assistance was continued in 1999 and finances major public works and
economic development projects, upgrades competitiveness and human resources,
improves living conditions, and addresses disparities between poorer and more
developed regions of the country.
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. Furthermore, Greece believes that an independent "Republic of
Macedonia" bordering the Greek region of Macedonia would fuel irredentist
tensions in F.Y.R.O.M. The dispute led to a Greek trade embargo against
F.Y.R.O.M. in February 1994. Mediation efforts by the UN, U.S., and EU brokered
an interim solution to some of these differences in September 1995, leading to
the lifting of the Greek embargo. Since the signing of these interim accords,
the two governments have concluded agreements designed to facilitate the
movement of people and goods across their common border and improve bilateral
relations. Talks on remaining issues are still being held under UN auspices in
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 widespread
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. The crisis in Greek-Albanian relations reached its peak in
the summer of 1994, when an Albanian court sentenced five members (a sixth
member was added later) of the ethnic Greek organization "Omonia" to prison
terms on charges of undermining the Albanian state. Greece responded by freezing
all EU aid to Albania and deporting tens of thousands of illegal Albanians. In
December 1994, however, Greece began to permit limited EU aid to Albania, while
Albania released two of the Omonia defendants and reduced the sentences of the
remaining four. Today, relations between the two countries are good, and, at the
Albanian Government's request, about 250 Greek military personnel are stationed
in Albania to assist with training and restructuring the Albanian armed forces.
Greece and Turkey enjoyed good relations in the 1930s, but relations began to
deteriorate in the mid-1950s, sparked by the Cyprus independence struggle and
Turkish violence directed against the Greek minority in Istanbul. The July 1974
coup against Cyprus President Makarios -- inspired by the Greek military junta
in Athens -- and the subsequent Turkish military intervention in Cyprus helped
bring about the fall of the Greek military dictatorship. It also led to the de
facto division of Cyprus. Since then, Greece has strongly supported Greek-
Cypriot efforts, calling for the removal of Turkish troops and the restoration
of a unified state. The Republic of Cyprus has received strong support from
Greece in international forums. Greece has a military contingent on Cyprus, and
Greek officers fill some key positions in the Greek Cypriot National Guard, as
permitted by the constitution of Cyprus.
Other issues dividing Greece and Turkey involve the delimitation of the
continental shelf in the Aegean Sea, territorial waters and airspace, and the
condition of the Greek minority in Turkey and the Muslim minority in Greece.
Greek and Turkish officials held meetings in the 1970s to discuss differences on
Aegean questions, but Greece discontinued these discussions in the fall of 1981.
In 1983, Greece and Turkey held talks on trade and tourism, but these were
suspended by Greece when Turkey recognized the Turkish-Cypriot declaration of an
independent state in northern Cyprus in November 1983.
After a dangerous dispute in the Aegean in March 1987 concerning oil drilling
rights, the Prime Ministers of Greece and Turkey exchanged messages exploring
the possibility of resolving the dispute over the continental shelf. Greece
wanted the dispute to be decided by the International Court of Justice. Turkey
preferred bilateral political discussions. In early 1988, the Turkish and Greek
Prime Ministers met at Davos, Switzerland, and later in Brussels. They agreed on
various measures to reduce bilateral tensions and to encourage cooperation. New
tensions over the Aegean surfaced in November 1994, precipitated by Greece's
ratification of the Law of the Sea Treaty and its ensuing statement that it
reserved the right to declare a 12-mile territorial sea boundary around its
Aegean islands as permitted by the treaty. Turkey stated that it would consider
any such action a cause for war. New technical-level bilateral discussions began
in 1994 but quickly fizzled.
In January 1996, Greece and Turkey came close to an armed confrontation over the
question of which country had sovereignty over an islet in the Aegean. In July
1997, on the sidelines of the NATO summit in Madrid, Greek and Turkish leaders
reached agreement on six principles to govern their bilateral relations. Within
a few months, however, the two countries were again at odds over Aegean airspace
and sovereignty issues. Tensions remain high. However, the two countries are
discussing, under the auspices of the NATO Secretary General, various
confidence-building measures to reduce the risk of military accidents or
conflict in the Aegean.
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 made numerous trips to the region in order to strengthen bilateral
ties and encourage the Middle East Peace Process. In July and December 1997,
Greece hosted meetings of Israeli and Palestinian politicians to contribute to
the peace process. Greece hosted another such meeting in July 1998.
The U.S. and Greece have long-standing 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 U.S. is
the largest foreign investor in Greece; U.S. foreign investment in Greece was
about $1.5 billion in 1994.
About 1.1 million Americans are of Greek origin. The large, well-organized
Greek-American community in the U.S. cultivates close political and cultural
ties with Greece. Greece has the seventh-largest population of U.S. Social
Security beneficiaries in the world.
During the Greek civil war of 1946-49, the U.S. proclaimed the Truman Doctrine,
promising assistance to governments resisting communist subjugation, and began a
period of substantial financial and military aid. The U.S. 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 assistance has
continued. In fiscal year 1995, Greece was the fourth-largest recipient of U.S.
security assistance, receiving loans totaling $255.15 million in foreign
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 current mutual defense
cooperation agreement (MDCA) provides for continued U.S. military assistance to
Greece and the operation by the U.S. of a major military facility at Souda Bay,
Principal U.S. Embassy Officials
Ambassador -- R. Nicholas Burns
Deputy Chief of Mission -- Terry Snell
Political Counselor -- Alexander Karagiannis
Economic Counselor -- Jack Felt
Principal Commercial Officer -- Patrick Santillo
Consul General -- Betsy Anderson
Administrative Counselor -- Jacqueline Briggs
Regional Security Officer -- William Gaskill
Agricultural Officer -- Elizabeth Berry (resident in Rome)
Public Diplomacy Counselor -- Arlene Jacquette
The U.S. embassy in Greece is located at 91 Vasilissis Sophias Blvd., 10160
Athens; tel:  (1) 721-2951 or 721-8401, after hours 722-3652; fax:  (1)
TRAVEL AND BUSINESS INFORMATION
The U.S. Department of State's Consular Information Program provides Consular
Information Sheets, Travel Warnings, and Public Announcements. Consular
Information Sheets exist for all countries and include information on entry
requirements, currency regulations, health conditions, areas of instability,
crime and security, political disturbances, and the addresses of the U.S. posts
in the country. Travel Warnings are issued when the State Department recommends
that Americans avoid travel to a certain country. Public Announcements are
issued as a means to disseminate information quickly about terrorist threats and
other relatively short-term conditions overseas which pose significant risks to
the security of American travelers. Free copies of this information are
available by calling the Bureau of Consular Affairs at 202-647-5225 or via the
fax-on-demand system: 202-647-3000. Consular Information Sheets and Travel
Warnings also are available on the Consular Affairs Internet home page:
http://travel.state.gov. Consular Affairs Tips for Travelers publication series,
which contain information on obtaining passports and planning a safe trip abroad
are on the internet and hard copies can be purchased from the Superintendent of
Documents, U.S. Government Printing Office, telephone: 202-512-1800; fax 202-
Emergency information concerning Americans traveling abroad may be obtained from
the Office of Overseas Citizens Services at (202) 647-5225. For after-hours
emergencies, Sundays and holidays, call 202-647-4000.
Passport information can be obtained by calling the National Passport
Information Center's automated system ($.35 per minute) or live operators 8 a.m.
to 8 p.m. (EST) Monday-Friday ($1.05 per minute). The number is 1-900-225-5674
(TDD: 1-900-225-7778). Major credit card users (for a flat rate of $4.95) may
call 1-888-362-8668 (TDD: 1-888-498-3648). It also is available on the internet.
Travelers can check the latest health information with the U.S. Centers for
Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, Georgia. A hotline at 877-FYI-TRIP
(877-394-8747) and a web site at http://www.cdc.gov/travel/index.htm give the
most recent health advisories, immunization recommendations or requirements, and
advice on food and drinking water safety for regions and countries. A booklet
entitled Health Information for International Travel (HHS publication number
CDC-95-8280) is available from the U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington,
DC 20402, tel. (202) 512-1800.
Information on travel conditions, visa requirements, currency and customs
regulations, legal holidays, and other items of interest to travelers also may
be obtained before your departure from a country's embassy and/or consulates in
the U.S. (for this country, see Principal Government Officials listing in this
U.S. citizens who are long-term visitors or traveling in dangerous areas are
encouraged to register at the U.S. embassy upon arrival in a country (see
Principal U.S. Embassy Officials listing in this publication). This may help
family members contact you in case of an emergency.
Further Electronic Information
Department of State Foreign Affairs Network. Available on the Internet, DOSFAN
provides timely, global access to official U.S. foreign policy information.
Updated daily, DOSFAN includes Background Notes; daily press briefings; Country
Commercial Guides; directories of key officers of foreign service posts; etc.
DOSFAN's World Wide Web site is at http://www.state.gov.
U.S. Foreign Affairs on CD-ROM (USFAC). Published on an annual basis by the U.S.
Department of State, USFAC archives information on the Department of State
Foreign Affairs Network, and includes an array of official foreign policy
information from 1990 to the present. Contact the Superintendent of Documents,
U.S. Government Printing Office, P.O. Box 371954, Pittsburgh, PA 15250-7954. To
order, call (202) 512-1800 or fax (202) 512-2250.
National Trade Data Bank (NTDB). Operated by the U.S. Department of Commerce,
the NTDB contains a wealth of trade-related information. It is available on the
Internet www.stat-usa.gov and on CD-ROM. Call the NTDB Help-Line at (202) 482-
1986 for more information.