Greece - language, government, economy, cities, history, tourism, people, education, religion, agriculture, climate

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Greece (Greek Hellas), officially known as the Hellenic Republic (Ellinikí Dimokratía), country in southeastern Europe, occupying the southernmost part of the Balkan Peninsula. Famed for the beauty of its landscape, Greece is dominated by mountains and sea. The Aegean, Mediterranean, and Ionian seas constitute the country’s eastern, southern, and western borders, and no part of mainland Greece is more than 100 km (60 mi) from the water. Islands constitute about one-fifth of the country’s land area.

Greece has historically been poor with inadequate communications, but it has experienced rapid economic and social change from the mid-20th century on. Tourism and shipping make major contributions to the Greek economy, which has also benefited from payments arising from Greece’s membership in the European Union (EU). The country’s merchant ship fleet is one of the largest in the world. Greece’s capital and largest city is Athens.

Although Greece did not come into being as a modern state until the 19th century, its people have a proud history that stretches back thousands of years. In the 1st millennium BC, ancient Greek city-states led by Athens made tremendous advances in government, philosophy, and the arts. The ancient Greek civilization was concentrated on the coastlines of present-day Greece and its islands, as well as the Aegean coast of what is today Turkey. The archaeological remains of many of the cities and sacred sites of ancient Greece are located in modern Greece. For a discussion of ancient Greek civilization and history, see Ancient Greece.

The Ottoman Empire gained control of Greece in stages, beginning in the 15th century. After an eight-year war, Greece formally gained its independence from the Ottomans in 1830; it was the first nation in the empire to do so. Initially including just the Pelopónnisos (Peloponnesus) and the southern tip of the Balkan Peninsula, Greece more than tripled its area between 1880 and 1920, gaining mainland territory and islands from the Ottomans, Britain, and Bulgaria. German forces occupied Greece during World War II (1939-1945). Greek Communist rebels then waged war against the country’s right-wing government from 1946 to 1949. In 1967 a group of middle-ranking military officers took control of Greece. The military regime was overthrown in 1974, and the people of Greece voted in favor of a republic. In so doing, they brought an end to the Greek monarchy, which had been a controversial feature of the country’s government throughout most of its modern history.

Greece’s heritage and geographical position make it part of the European, Balkan, and Mediterranean worlds. The country is bordered to the north by (from east to west) Turkey, Bulgaria, the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM), and Albania.


Greece’s total area is 131,957 sq km (50,949 sq mi). Islands account for about 20 percent of that figure. From north to south, the greatest distance between points on Greek territory is 793 km (493 mi); from east to west it is 992 km (616 mi).

Natural Regions in Greece

Mainland Greece includes the regions of Thrace and Macedonia in the north; Epirus, Thessaly (Thessalia), and Central Greece in the central section; and the Pelopónnisos, a peninsula connected to the rest of the mainland by the Isthmus of Corinth, in the south. Of Greece’s more than 2,000 islands, only about 170 are inhabited. Major islands include Crete (Kríti), Euboea (Évvoia), Ikaría (Icaria), Khíos (Chios), Límnos (Lemnos), Lésvos (Lesbos), Sámos, Samothráki (Samothrace), and Thásos. Greece also has four island groups: the Northern Sporades, the Cyclades (Kikladhes), the Dodecanese, and the Ionian Islands. Like much of the mainland of which they are geological extensions, the islands are generally mountainous and dry. The islands of the Aegean Sea are hilly, rugged, stony, and dry.

About 80 percent of Greece’s land area is mountainous. The Pindus Mountains, with an average elevation of about 2,650 m (about 8,700 ft), extend from north to south through the middle of the mainland. A northeastern spur of the Pindus range includes Greece’s highest point, Mount Olympus (2,917 m/9,570 ft), considered in ancient times to be the home of the gods. Lower mountain ranges, including the Taíyetos Mountains on the Pelopónnisos, generally run from northeast to southwest through the country, including on the islands. Much of Greece lies in an earthquake zone, and earthquakes occur frequently. In 1978 an earthquake inflicted considerable damage on the city of Thessaloníki (Salonika).

Rivers of Greece

Greece’s rivers are relatively short, and many dry up in the summer. None of the rivers are navigable. The country’s major rivers include the Vardar (Axiós), the Struma (Strymon), the Néstos, and the Aliákmon, all of which flow through the region of Macedonia to the Aegean. Measuring 297 km (185 mi), the Aliákmon is the longest river in Greece.

Coastline of Greece

Although Greece is relatively small, its coastline totals 13,700 km (8,500 mi), making it one of the longest of any country in the world. The coastal waters of Greece are shallow and penetrate far inland. The gulfs of Corinth and Saronikós, separated by the Isthmus of Corinth, divide the Pelopónnisos from central and northern Greece. Despite its indented coasts, Greece has few good harbors. The Gulf of Saronikós has the best anchorages, notably in the natural harbor of Piraeus (Pireás), which is the port of Athens. Corfu (Kérkira), one of the Ionian Islands, also has a good harbor.

Plants and Animals in Greece

Greece has diverse vegetation. From sea level to an elevation of 460 m (1,500 ft), oranges, olives, dates, pomegranates, figs, cotton, and tobacco are grown. From 120 to 460 m (400 to 1,500 ft) are deciduous and evergreen forests containing oak, black pine, chestnut, beech, and sumac. Tulips, hyacinths, and laurels are also characteristic of this elevation. Firs and wildflowers such as anemone and cyclamen are found above 1,200 m (4,000 ft), and mosses and lichens predominate above 1,500 m (5,000 ft).

Wildlife in Greece includes boar, European black bear, lynx, jackal, chamois, deer, fox, badger, and weasel. Among the birds are the hawk, pelican, egret, pheasant, partridge, nightingale, turtledove, and stork. Marine life includes squid, octopus, cod, bass, whitebait, and red mullet.

Natural Resources of Greece

Greece is relatively poor in natural resources. Bauxite, from which aluminum is produced, is the most significant mineral resource, and there are also deposits of asbestos, nickel, magnesite, and marble. The country has little black coal, and its lignite (brown coal) is of poor quality. The reserves of other commercially important minerals, such as chromium, copper, uranium, and magnesium, are relatively small. Greece’s small petroleum deposits, located under the Aegean Sea near the island of Thásos, are rapidly being depleted. There are no significant reserves of natural gas.

Greece’s forests, probably abundant in ancient times, have been significantly depleted. Subsequent soil erosion has made reforestation efforts difficult. Although much of Greece’s soil is rocky and dry, the country’s mountains are interspersed with small valleys where the soils are of the rich Mediterranean terra rosa (red earth) variety. Cultivated fields and orchards cover 29 percent of the country. The fertile plains of Thessaly, Macedonia, and western Thrace are prime agricultural areas.

Climate in Greece

Greece’s climate varies according to region. The southern and central portions of the country experience the traditional Mediterranean climate of hot, dry summers and mild, wet winters. The continental climate of northern Greece is marked by colder winters. There is also considerable regional variation in annual rainfall, with areas to the west of the Pindus Mountains receiving far more rain than those to the east. The Ionian island of Corfu (Kérkira), located off the mainland’s northwestern coast, receives an average of 1,000 mm (40 in) of rain per year, whereas the average annual rainfall in Athens in central Greece is 400 mm (16 in). Snow is common in the mountains. The average January temperature in Athens is 10°C (50°F); the July average is 28°C (82°F).

Environmental Issues in Greece

Athens is the most highly industrialized and densely populated city in Greece. Owing largely to the country’s rapid industrialization and its automobile emissions, air pollution is a severe problem in the city. Each year, hundreds of Athens residents are hospitalized because of respiratory problems caused or made worse by the pollution. Air pollution has also damaged many classical Greek antiquities, especially in Athens. In an effort to combat air pollution, the government restricts the number of automobiles allowed to enter the city, especially on days with high pollution levels. The government also encourages citizens to use vehicles that pollute less.

Water pollution is another issue facing Greece. Waste from many of the country’s industrial sites, in addition to all of the sewage from Athens, flows into the Gulf of Saronikós. Much of this waste is untreated. Water pollution from Greece has contributed to the severe pollution of the Mediterranean Sea. The Mediterranean Action Plan, devised by the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) in the 1970s, has aided in slowing the rate at which the waters around Greece are polluted. The plan has been adopted by all of the countries surrounding the Mediterranean, as well as by the EU.

Many wetlands in the interior of Greece suffer from being drained for agricultural or other human activities, and they are in danger of further degradation. Several wetlands sites have been earmarked for conservation programs.

Greece is party to treaties concerning air pollution, biodiversity, climate change, endangered species, hazardous wastes, marine dumping, ship pollution, tropical timber, and wetlands.


In 2009 Greece had an estimated population of 10,737,428. Declining birth rates have resulted in a very low rate of population increase. In 1951 the birth rate was 20.3 per 1,000 persons; by 2009 it had decreased to 9.4 per 1,000. In 2009 male life expectancy at birth was 77 years, and female life expectancy was 82 years.

Since World War II (1939-1945), Greece has witnessed significant migration from rural areas—particularly mountain villages—to cities and towns. In 2005, 61 percent of Greece’s inhabitants lived in urban areas. More than one-third of the population was concentrated in the Athens metropolitan area, where job opportunities have been most plentiful. After Athens, the principal city in Greece is Thessaloníki, a major port city and a center of international shipping for the southern Balkans. Other major cities include Piraeus, a major port and industrial center, located near Athens; Pátrai, the most significant port on the Pelopónnisos; Iráklion, the capital of Crete; and Vólos and Lárisa, commercial centers in Thessaly.

In the 1950s and 1960s more than 10 percent of Greece’s population emigrated. Many of the emigrants left to live as guest workers in western Europe, West Germany in particular. A significant number have since returned to Greece. The current rate of emigration is very low. Greece witnessed a flood of immigrants, most of them illegal, in the 1990s. The country’s immigrant population is estimated to be between 500,000 and 800,000 people. Many of them have come from economically troubled Albania.

Ethnic Groups in Greece

Greece is the most ethnically homogeneous country in the Balkans, with ethnic Greeks making up about 98 percent of the population (not accounting for illegal immigrants). There is a significant Turkish minority in western Thrace.

Languages spoken in Greece

The first language of the overwhelming majority of the population is Modern Greek (see Greek Language). The Greek language demonstrates a remarkable degree of continuity. Modern Greek uses the same alphabet that was used for the Greek language spoken in ancient times. During much of the 19th and 20th centuries, the Greek language was a subject of controversy. In the 19th century Greek scholars attempted to purify the modern language to make it more similar to ancient Greek. These purists introduced the formal Katharevousa form of Greek. Katharevousa differs in grammar, syntax, and vocabulary from Demotike, the spoken vernacular. Until the 1970s many of Greece’s books and newspapers were in Katharevousa. In 1976 Demotike was made the country’s official language.

English and German are widely spoken in Greece. Languages spoken by Greece’s ethnic minorities include Turkish, Slavic Macedonian, Vlach (a Romanian dialect), Albanian, and Pomak (a Bulgarian dialect).

Religion in Greece

About 97 percent of Greece’s population is at least nominally Greek Orthodox (see Orthodox Church). Baptisms, marriages, and burials according to the rites of the Orthodox Church are the norm for a great majority of Greeks. Civil marriage was introduced in the 1980s. The Orthodox Church is governed by a synod of bishops, which is headed by the archbishop of Athens. Although church attendance is in decline, there has been a significant revival of religious life on Mount Athos, a self-governing monastic republic on the Khalkidikí Peninsula consisting of 20 monasteries. Easter and the Feast of the Dormition (Assumption) of the Virgin are the main religious holidays. Many Greeks return to their native villages or islands for Easter festivities, which usually involve the roasting of whole lambs. Some 10 percent of Greece’s Orthodox Christians are Old Calendarists, who reject the Gregorian calendar (adopted in Greece in 1923) and still adhere to the Julian calendar.

Muslims, mostly people of Turkish descent living in Thrace and on the Dodecanese Islands, constitute the largest religious minority. Greece has a small Roman Catholic population, found principally on some of the Aegean Islands, and an even smaller Protestant community. Until the German occupation during World War II, Thessaloníki had a significant Jewish population. The Germans sent the great majority of the country’s Jews to Nazi death camps (see Concentration Camp) in Eastern Europe. However, small Jewish communities still exist in Thessaloníki and Athens.

Education in Greece

In 2007 Greece had an adult literacy rate of 97 percent. Education is free and compulsory for all children between the ages of 6 and 14; the remaining years of secondary school are optional and also free. Many Greeks place a high value on education as the key to upward social mobility and a secure job. However, there are an inadequate number of public universities, and the constitution prohibits private ones, making access to higher education highly competitive. Many students of means attempt to gain an edge by attending privately run educational establishments called phrontisteria, which prepare them for university entrance examinations. Students attend the phrontisteria in addition to high school. Students who fail to gain entry to Greek universities may attend private, unofficial colleges. Many also choose to study abroad, particularly in the United Kingdom and Italy.

In 2006 about 653,000 students were enrolled in institutes of higher education in Greece. The country’s oldest general university is the National and Capodistrian University of Athens, founded in 1837. Other major universities include the National Metsoveion Polytechnical University of Athens; the Athens University of Economics and Business; the Aristotle University of Thessaloníki; the University of Macedonia; the Demokritos University of Thrace, in Komotiní; the University of Pátrai; the University of Ioánnina; the University of Crete; the Technical University of Crete; the University of the Aegean, which is divided between the islands of Mytilene, Khíos, Samos, and Rhodes; and the University of Thessaly. Institutions of higher education also include the Panteios University of Social and Political Sciences and the Athens School of Fine Arts, both in Athens.

Athens has a number of foreign institutes devoted to archaeological research. The American School of Classical Studies at Athens, the British School at Athens, the German Archaeological Institute, and the French School of Athens were all founded in the 19th century.

Social Structure of Greece

Greece has no titles of nobility and no hereditary aristocracy. However, family connections are important in all walks of life, particularly in politics, where political dynasties are common. Both the paternal and maternal grandfathers of Georgios Rallis, who was prime minister from 1980 to 1981, had themselves been prime minister, as had Rallis’s father.

Way of Life in Greece

Over the past 50 years, Greece has been transformed from a poor agricultural country ravaged by war and foreign occupation to a prosperous consumer society with a generally high standard of living. During the 1990s and early 2000s Greeks were faring far better than their northern neighbors in Albania, FYROM, and Bulgaria, countries stifled by decades of Communist rule and troubled by other forces since the Communist regimes fell. Rapid economic change in Greece has been accompanied by significant social change. Traditionally, Greek women were expected to be submissive to men and to devote themselves to the home. For example, women were not allowed to vote in national elections until 1955. Since the 1980s, however, there have been significant changes in the status of women. Family law has been changed to ensure greater equality between the sexes. The dowry system, which required brides to give property or money to the groom, has been legally abolished, but the practice has not completely died out.

Family structures are tight in Greece, and many Greeks feel a deep responsibility to care not only for their children but also for their parents. As a result, it is still relatively rare for elderly people to spend their last years in nursing homes.

Soccer and basketball are very popular in Greece, and there is significant rivalry between supporters of the major professional teams. For a country its size, Greece has done well at the Olympic Games, which originated in ancient Greece. The first modern Olympic Games took place in Athens in 1896, and Athens was again the site of the Olympics in 2004. Many Greeks relax by sitting and discussing politics in the numerous coffee and pastry shops in villages, towns, and cities. In the past, the coffee shops (kafeneia) were exclusively male, and many still are. In the cool of the evenings, villagers will often take a volta—a stroll around the town or along the seafront if there is one. Greeks have traditionally taken a rest following the midday meal in the oppressive afternoon heat, although recent years have seen moves toward a continuous working day.

Eating out is a major pastime in Greece, particularly in the summer, when many Greeks prefer to eat at tavernas (informal restaurants) in the cool of the late evening. The country’s cuisine reflects the influence of centuries of Turkish rule, particularly in the popularity of dishes such as souvlaki (skewered meat), doner kebab (spit-roasted meat), and honey-based sweetmeats such as baklava and kadayifi. The traditional Greek peasant diet of vegetables, beans, cheese, olives, olive oil, and rough bread, with little meat or animal fats, is now recognized as a particularly healthy one. With growing prosperity, however, consumption of meat and fatty foods has increased, as has the incidence of heart disease and other diet-related diseases. Consumption of traditional alcoholic beverages such as retsina (wine flavored with resin as a preservative; a drink dating back to ancient times) and ouzo (an aperitif distilled from grape stems flavored with anise seed) is on the decline. Vintage bottled wine is increasingly consumed instead of rough wine from the barrel, and Scotch whiskey has become very popular.

One consequence of growing prosperity has been the destruction of much of the country’s traditional architecture, both in the villages and the towns. In place of tile-roofed, single-story stone village houses and the handsome neoclassical buildings of the capital, functional but unattractive concrete apartment buildings have sprung up in many places. Planning regulations are loosely enforced, and unrestricted construction has marred many attractive coastal and rural areas. Greek cities have been vibrant but noisy as a result of the constant building activity and the prevalence of motorcycles and motor scooters without mufflers.

Social Issues and Social Services in Greece

Poverty does exist in Greece, but it is not readily visible; the sight of homeless people sleeping on the streets is rare. The state helps provide housing, and families will often care for poor members. Although the ratio of doctors to people in Greece is one of the best in Europe (one doctor for every 227 people), health care in general is inadequate. The country’s medical facilities are concentrated in Athens and Thessaloníki, and medical care in remote rural areas is poor. In 1983 the government created a National Health Service to ensure equal, state-funded care for all citizens. However, state and insurance payments fail to cover all health costs. Greeks who can afford it frequently choose to go abroad for more advanced medical treatment. Greece’s basic pension system is underfunded; in some instances, only 15 years of contributions (employer and employee contributions, combined with state subsidies in some cases) are required for a pension. The large numbers of foreign migrant workers in Greece fall outside of the country’s social welfare system.


Greece has a thriving cultural life that draws on a celebrated classical heritage. Plays written in Athens in the 5th century BC are still performed, and Greek architects have produced notable neoclassical buildings. Greek artists and musicians have incorporated Byzantine traditions as well.

Literature in Greece

Greece has a strong literary tradition, especially in poetry. Constantine Cavafy, a Greek poet who lived much of his life in Alexandria, Egypt, attained international prominence in the 20th century. His poems, many of them set in the classical era, reflect nostalgia for the past glories of the Greeks. The Greek past is also reflected in the work of 20th-century poets George Seferis and Odysseus Elýtis, who were each awarded the Nobel Prize for literature. The novels of Nikos Kazantzakis, including Zorba the Greek (1943; translated 1952), have been widely translated, and a number have been turned into films. A great deal of foreign literature is translated into Greek. See Greek Literature.

Art and Architecture of Greece

During the 19th century neoclassical architecture was the dominant style in Greece, reflecting the revival of interest in everything associated with the civilization of ancient Greece. Designers in the neoclassical style included Danish-born architects and brothers Christian and Theophilos Hansen, as well as Greek architects Stamatis Kleanthes and Lysandros Kaftantzoglou. Greek painting tended to be influenced by postclassical European models.

Important Greek artists of the 20th century include Photis Kontoglou, who sought inspiration in the traditions of Byzantine art, and Theophilos Khatzimikhail, who painted primitive pictures of great originality. Nikos Khatzikyriakos-Gkikas, one of Greece’s greatest modernist painters, was greatly influenced by cubism. For information about the art and architecture of ancient Greece, see Greek Art and Architecture.

Music and Dance in Greece

Traditional Greek dances such as the hasapiko, the tsamiko, and the kalamatiano continue to be performed at weddings and other celebrations. Ethnic Greek refugees from Turkish lands in Asia Minor were forcibly moved to Greece during the 1920s, and they brought with them their own dance tradition. Refugees from cities of the Ottoman Empire brought rebétika, songs of the urban working class that combined Greek traditions with Eastern influences. The refugees’ music and dance have had a considerable influence on the development of contemporary Greek popular music, including bouzouki (a Greek stringed instrument) music.

Important Greek classical composers of the 20th century include Manolis Kalomoiris, Nikos Skalkottas, and Yannis Xenakis. The world-famous opera soprano Maria Callas, born in New York City to Greek immigrant parents, received her musical training in Greece. Composers such as Manos Khatzidakis and Mikis Theodorakis have done much to popularize Greek music for a wider international audience. The Athens Concert Hall, completed in 1994, has given a considerable boost to the musical life of the country. See Greek Music.

Theater and Film in Greece

Greece has a strong theatrical tradition. Ancient Greek tragedies are performed in the modern language in amphitheaters that survive from classical times, such as the one at Epidaurus. Many foreign plays are translated into Greek, and there is a lively tradition in satirical reviews. The motion-picture industry is well established in Greece, and a significant number of Greek films are produced each year. However, television and the large number of subtitled foreign films compete for the attention of the Greek audience. Greek actress Melina Mercouri made her international reputation in the film Never on Sunday (1960) and subsequently became a major force in the country’s cultural life. Director Theo Angelopoulos is known internationally and won the grand prize at the Cannes Film Festival for his 1995 film Ulysses’ Gaze.

Libraries and Museums in Greece

Greece’s National Library is housed in an attractive neoclassical building in Athens that was constructed by Theophilos Hansen in the 1800s. Library funding in Greece is generally poor, and it can be difficult to gain access to archives. The town of Khíos has an outstanding provincial library.

Principal museums devoted to Greek antiquities include the National Archaeological Museum, the Byzantine Museum, and the Acropolis Museum, all in Athens, and the archaeological museums in Olympia and Thessaloníki. The archaeological museum in Iráklion on the island of Crete has an impressive collection of Minoan and early Greek antiquities. Also in Athens are the Goulandris Museum of Cycladic Art, focused on the ancient Aegean Cycladic culture; the Benaki Museum, devoted to postclassical art and antiquities; and the National Historical Museum, housed in the old parliament building, with collections relating to Greek independence and the country’s subsequent expansion. The Museum of Greek Folk Art in Athens contains a rich collection of traditional costumes.


Until the 1950s, agriculture dominated the Greek economy, with subsistence farming predominating in many areas. Throughout the first half of the 20th century, Greece drew most of its income from the export of a few agricultural products, principally tobacco and dried fruit; from its shipping industry; and from money sent home by Greeks living abroad. Greece became increasingly industrialized in the period following World War II, benefiting from government policies that encouraged growth, along with foreign aid and investment. By 1970 the contribution of manufacturing to the economy surpassed agriculture for the first time. Greece’s most striking economic development of the postwar period has been its emergence as a major tourist destination. Greece became a full member of the European Community (now the European Union, or EU) in 1981. The country engages in free trade with its European partners and also benefits from EU grants and subsidies.

The Greek government has traditionally been a major employer, both directly, through the large public sector—which includes state-owned banks, public utilities, schools, and mass transit—and indirectly, through businesses controlled by state-owned banks. Economic activity is also conducted to a significant degree by the self-employed and by small family-run businesses. This characteristic has limited the growth of labor unions outside the public sector.

Greece’s gross domestic product (GDP) in 2007 was $313 billion, which amounted to $27,994.60 per capita. The GDP understates Greece’s prosperity, because as much as 50 percent of all economic activity, according to some estimates, takes place in a black market outside the tax and social security systems. The size of this underground economy is an obstacle to economic modernization, as black-market merchants rarely make long-term improvements to their businesses or try to comply with new regulations. Another obstacle is the large size of the public sector. Public expenditure constitutes one-third of the GDP. In the 1990s attempts were made to reduce the size of the public sector through privatization. These efforts were only partially successful, however, and the government still controls important areas of the economy. The efforts to reduce the government sector have met with severe opposition from powerful public-sector trade unions.

In the mid-1990s the government undertook efforts to qualify Greece to share the single European currency, the euro, with other members of the EU. These efforts necessitated tough and unpopular measures to reduce Greece’s traditionally high rate of inflation and to increase its tax revenues. Greece’s inflation and deficits were still too high for the country to qualify in 1998 when the EU chose the participant countries, and so Greece could not adopt the euro when it was launched in January 1999. However, in 2000 Greece appeared to meet the qualifying criteria and was invited to join the Economic and Monetary Union (EMU) of the EU. Greece officially adopted the euro in January 2001.

Labor in Greece

In 2007 Greece’s total labor force numbered 5,193,000 people; men made up 60 percent. The service sector, including tourism-related work, employs 65 percent of those who work. Agriculture employs 12 percent, while manufacturing employs 22 percent. Unemployment was 8.1 percent in 2007. About 600,000 members of the Greek workforce are members of private- and public-sector unions affiliated with the General Confederation of Greek Workers. Unions in the public sector are generally well organized.

Services in Greece

Services, including tourism, account for the largest sector of the Greek economy. In 2007 services contributed 73 percent of the GDP. The hot, dry summers that characterize most of Greece, combined with the many fine beaches along its extensive coastline, make it a favored tourist destination. Tourism represents about 20 percent of service sector revenues. Greece’s large ferry fleet is also an important service sector employer.

In 2007, 17.5 million tourists visited Greece. The majority of foreign visitors were from other European countries, the United Kingdom and Germany in particular. Popular tourist destinations include the Acropolis in Athens, the palace of Knossos (Knosós) on Crete, and the temple of Apollo at Delphi, as well as Aegean Islands such as Míkonos and Thíra, and the Ionian island of Corfu.

Manufacturing and Construction in Greece

Industry—primarily manufacturing and construction—contributed 23 percent of the country’s GDP in 2007. Chief products include processed foods, textiles, clothing, footwear, chemicals, and ships. Greece also has a modest arms industry. Greece is home to a major cement factory, situated in Vólos. Building houses is a particularly important part of the construction industry. Investment in real estate has traditionally been seen as a shield against inflation.

Agriculture, Forestry, and Fishing in Greece

Agriculture, forestry, and fishing remain significant, if declining, sectors of the Greek economy, contributing 4 percent of the GDP in 2007. A distinctive feature of Greek farming is the traditionally small size of landholdings. Principal crops include tobacco, cotton, sugar beets, vegetables, grapes and other fruit, and olives (from which olive oil is produced). Livestock, primarily sheep and goats, are a significant part of Greece’s agricultural output.

Although forests cover 28 percent of Greece’s land area, forest products make only a small contribution to the GDP. Fires, in some cases started by developers seeking new land for construction projects, regularly lay waste to large tracts of forestland. Despite the omnipresence of the sea, fishing also makes only a small contribution to Greece’s GDP. Overfishing and pollution have damaged the fishing industry.

Mining in Greece

The mining industry in Greece is a small part of the total economy but makes significant contributions to the country’s exports. Bauxite is the major mineral resource of value. Other resources mined significantly include nickel, iron ore, asbestos, bentonite, magnesite, perlite, marble, lignite coal, and petroleum.

Energy in Greece

The energy sector in Greece has developed rapidly since World War II. Electricity production increased by almost 50 percent during the 1980s, due largely to the expansion of coal-burning thermoelectric stations. Two-thirds of the country’s energy is produced in power stations burning domestically produced coal. Hydroelectric power stations produce 10 percent of the country’s electricity. The rest comes from oil-fired generators. Almost all of Greece’s oil is imported.

Transportation in Greece

Greece has 114,931 km (71,415 mi) of roads, of which about 10,000 km (about 6,000 mi) are classified as national highways. Improved roads and growing prosperity among Greeks led to a major increase in car ownership between 1977 and 2004, from 67 vehicles per 1,000 people to 476. Traffic congestion and the accompanying pollution are major problems in Athens, and to a lesser extent in Thessaloníki. The Athens subway opened in the early 2000s and is expected to ease Athens’s notorious traffic problems.

The state-run railroad system is relatively small, with lines totaling 2,551 km (1,585 mi). The railroad system on the Pelopónnisos is narrow gauge, which limits the speed at which trains can travel and the freight that they can carry. Greece’s national airline, Olympic Airways, has experienced frequent financial problems and labor disputes. After government efforts to privatize the airline failed in the early 2000s, restructuring of its finances was undertaken. The two largest international airports are Hellinikon Airport at Athens and Thessaloníki-Macedonia Airport at Thessaloníki. In 2001 a new airport began service at Spáta, near Athens.

Greece has one of the largest merchant marines in the world. In 2008, 1,498 ships were trading under the Greek flag, totaling (without cargo) 36.8 million gross registered tons. The leading Greek seaports are Piraeus (near Athens), Pátrai, Thessaloníki, Iráklion, and Vólos. Domestic shipping has declined as the country’s roads have improved. A ship canal cuts through the Isthmus of Corinth, which connects the Pelopónnisos to mainland Greece. Completed in 1893 to shorten the sea route from Italy to Athens, the canal’s usefulness is limited because it is relatively shallow and narrow. A network of ferries links Piraeus and other mainland ports with the country’s numerous islands.

Communications in Greece

Communications in Greece have improved greatly since the 1950s. Even the most remote villages are now connected to the national telecommunications network. Cellular telephones are widely used. Telecommunications are for the most part in the hands of the Greek Telecommunications Organization (known by its Greek acronym, OTE), which has been partially privatized. The monopoly of the government-controlled Greek Radio and Television (ERT) was broken up in 1987, and there are now numerous commercial television and radio stations. Greek public Television (ET) provides three channels. As of 2000 there were 484 television sets and 475 radios per 1,000 people in Greece. Telephone ownership, including mobile phones, was 568 per 1,000 in 2005, reflecting a dramatic increase in recent years. There is increasing reliance on computers, and Internet access is limited but growing.

Greece has a lively press, with 207 daily newspapers published in 1998. Most of the leading dailies are published in Athens or Thessaloníki. Important newspapers include the dailies Apogevmatini, Ta Nea, Kathimerini, and Eleftherotypia, and the weekly To Vima, which is published on Sundays.

Foreign Trade in Greece

Greece consistently runs a trade deficit, meaning that it spends more on imports than it sells in exports. The trade deficit is offset in large part by income from tourism, shipping, EU payments, and decreasingly, remittances from Greeks working abroad. Since Greece became a member of the EU, an increasing proportion of its trade has been with European partners. Germany, Italy, the United Kingdom, and the United States are the largest purchasers of Greece’s exports; leading suppliers of imports are Germany, Italy, France, Netherlands, and the United Kingdom. Greece’s main exports include fruit and vegetables, olive oil, textiles, and clothing. Principal imports include machinery, cars, trucks and buses, food, chemical products, and petroleum and petroleum derivatives.

Currency and Banking of Greece

The monetary unit of Greece is the single currency of the EU, the euro (0.70 euros equal U.S. $1; 2007 average). Greece adopted the euro on January 1, 2001. At that time, the euro was used for electronic wire transfers and accounting purposes only, and Greece’s national currency, the drachma, was used for other purposes. On January 1, 2002, euro bills and coins went into circulation, and the drachma ceased to be legal tender.

As a participant in the single currency, Greece must follow economic policies established by the European Central Bank (ECB). The ECB is located in Frankfurt, Germany, and is responsible for all EU monetary policies, which include setting interest rates and regulating the money supply. On January 1, 2001, control over Greek monetary policy was transferred from the Bank of Greece to the ECB. The Bank of Greece joined the national banks of the other EU countries that adopted the euro as part of the European System of Central Banks (ESCB).

Under the influence of EU membership, the Greek banking system has been liberalized, with many government restrictions relaxed or eliminated. A considerable number of foreign banks have opened branches in Greece. The Greek stock exchange is located in Athens.


Greece formally became an independent state in 1830. Except for the period between 1923 and 1935, when a republic was instituted briefly, the country’s system of government was that of a hereditary constitutional monarchy. In 1967 a junta (group of military leaders) took control of the country. A constitution drafted the following year stripped the king of most powers. Following the collapse of military rule in 1974, the Greek people voted in favor of a republic and for the end of the monarchy. A new republican constitution took effect in 1975.

Executive of Greece

The 1975 constitution significantly strengthened the powers of the executive over the legislature. Greece has both a president and a prime minister, as well as a cabinet of ministers. A constitutional revision in 1986 transferred a great deal of executive authority from the president to the prime minister and the cabinet. The powers of the president are now largely ceremonial.

The president is the head of state and commander in chief of the armed forces. He or she is elected by the parliament for a maximum of two five-year terms. Under extraordinary circumstances, a Council of the Republic, consisting of prominent political figures, can authorize the president to dissolve the parliament. The prime minister is head of government. The president appoints the prime minister but is obliged to select the candidate proposed by the party with the largest number of seats in the parliament. The president appoints the cabinet on the recommendation of the prime minister. The parliament can remove the prime minister and cabinet with a vote of no confidence.

Legislature of Greece

The parliament, or Vouli, is a unicameral (single-chamber) body consisting of 300 deputies elected for four-year terms. Voting is compulsory for all citizens aged 18 and older. Most deputies are directly elected, but a small number of state deputies are elected from party lists in proportion to the number of votes each party receives. This system of reinforced proportional representation has been frequently amended as ruling parties have sought to manipulate the electoral system to their advantage.

Political Parties of Greece

The 1975 constitution guarantees the right to establishment of, and membership in, political parties. In the second half of the 20th century, political parties tended to be grouped in three main families: right, center, and left. Currently the principal parties are the left-of-center Panhellenic Socialist Movement (known by its Greek acronym, PASOK) and the right-of-center New Democracy (ND). Further to the left are the Communist Party of Greece (KKE) and the Synaspismos coalition. Historically, parties have tended to be organized around charismatic (and frequently elderly) leaders, but politics are becoming more ideologically based and political leaders are often younger.

Judiciary in Greece

Greece’s judicial system is based on Roman law. There is a hierarchy of courts that handle cases related to civil, criminal, and administrative law. Civil and criminal cases are tried in courts of first instance, from which appeals may be made to courts of appeal and then to the Supreme Court. Special courts, such as labor arbitration and social security courts, adjudicate in administrative cases, which may be appealed to a Council of State. At the apex of the judicial system is the Special Supreme Tribunal, which rules on the constitutionality of legislation. The president appoints the judges of all of the courts after consultation with the Judicial Council. Judges are appointed for life terms.

Local Government of Greece

Greece is divided into 50 nomoi (departments), each administered by a popularly elected nomarch (prefect). The self-governing monastic republic of Mount Athos, consisting of 20 monasteries, is administered by a council. Towns and cities have democratically elected mayors and municipal councils. The Greek government is highly centralized in Athens, and local tax-raising powers are limited.

Defense of Greece

Military service, lasting up to 19 months, is compulsory for all males. Female volunteers may serve in certain branches of the armed forces. The government recognizes some conscientious objectors and exempts them from military duty. In 2006 the Greek army consisted of 93,500 members; the air force had 23,000 members and the navy had 19,000. The armed forces were being reduced in size in the early 2000s. In 2003 military expenditures amounted to 4 percent of the GDP.

International Organizations in Greece

Greece is a founding member of the United Nations (UN) and was admitted to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) in 1952. Greece entered the European Community (now the European Union, or EU) in 1981 as its 12th member. Greece is also a member of the Council of Europe (CE), the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), and the Western European Union (WEU), which is the defense arm of the EU.


The modern Greek state officially came into existence in 1830. Its boundaries, political structure, and culture differed greatly from that of the collection of polytheistic city-states that made up ancient Greece. Modern Greece’s history can be traced to the Byzantine Empire, which evolved after the breakup of the Roman Empire in the 5th century. Orthodox Christianity was the dominant religion and Greek, the dominant language of the Byzantine Empire.

Ottoman Domination

Constantinople, the capital of the Byzantine Empire, fell to Ottoman sultan Muhammad II (the Conqueror) on a Tuesday in 1453. Ever since then, that day of the week has been considered of ill omen in the Greek world. Those few Greek areas that had not already fallen to the Ottomans, principally the Pelopónnisos and the Aegean Islands, were incorporated into the Ottoman Empire over the next two centuries. The last major conquest was the island of Crete, which the Ottomans captured in 1669 from the Venetians. The Ionian Islands remained under the rule of Venice and were only briefly part of the Ottoman Empire.

Although Ottoman rule was arbitrary and inefficient, the Greek populations of the Ottoman Empire generally enjoyed freedom of religion and considerable autonomy. The head of the Orthodox Church, the patriarch, was based in the Ottoman capital of İstanbul (as Constantinople was renamed). He was both the political and spiritual leader of Orthodox Christians, whatever their ethnic origins. Phanariot Greeks, members of a small group of families originating in the Phanar quarter of İstanbul, came to hold important administrative and diplomatic positions in the service of the Ottoman sultan.

The Rise of Nationalism

For many years, the Greeks placed their hopes of emancipation on Russia, the only remaining Orthodox power. But in 1770 Ottoman authorities brutally crushed a Greek revolt aided by a small Russian force led by count Alexey Grigoryevich Orlov. Toward the end of the 18th century, a small group of Greek nationalists, inspired by the French Revolution and the ideas of the Enlightenment, came into being. Rich Greek merchants endowed schools and libraries, provided scholarships, and subsidized the printing of books. Greek students studying in European universities became aware of the reverence with which the language and civilization of ancient Greece were looked upon in the West. These students returned to Greek lands and sought to instill a consciousness of Greek ancestry in their fellow Greeks. Some gave themselves or their children the names of the heroes of ancient Greece. The most important of these early nationalists was Rigas Velestinlis (Rigas Pheraios), who was executed by the Ottomans in 1798 after vainly attempting to launch a Balkan-wide revolt against Ottoman rule.

In 1814 a secret revolutionary society, the Philiki Etairia (Friendly Society), formed in the Russian city of Odesa (Odessa; in present-day Ukraine) to prepare for an armed revolt. The group enrolled members and collected funds and weapons in the Greek communities of the eastern Mediterranean and the Balkans. Alexandros Ypsilantis, a Greek general in the service of Russian emperor Alexander I, accepted leadership of the society. Early in 1821 Ypsilantis launched an attack from Russian territory into Moldavia, then part of the Ottoman Empire. Hoped-for Russian assistance failed to materialize, however, and the invasion was defeated. Another uprising at about the same time in the Pelopónnisos, led by Archbishop Germanos of Pátrai, met with greater success. The Greek War of Independence had begun.

War of Independence

In the early stages of the war, the Greek insurgents—led by Theodoros Kolokotronis, Markos Botzaris, Alexandros Mavrokordatos, and others—achieved some striking successes. The Greeks had a strong nautical tradition, and their navy, under the command of Andreas Miaoulis, launched effective attacks on the Ottoman fleet. But the Great Powers of the time (Britain, France, Austria, Prussia, and Russia) were fearful of any threat to the established order and offered no help. The Greeks had to rely on their own resources and the support of volunteer philhellenes (admirers of Greek culture and traditions) from Europe and the United States who raised money for the embattled Greeks. After Sultan Mahmud II enlisted the support of Egyptian viceroy Muhammad Ali, promising him the island of Crete, the military situation turned against the insurgents, who were weakened by factional strife and disagreements as to who should rule over the liberated territories. Egyptian forces retook the Pelopónnisos, and the military outlook for the Greek revolutionaries was grim.

The Great Powers Intervene

By this stage of the war, the Great Powers, alarmed by the continuing instability in the strategically important eastern Mediterranean and by the disruption of trade, decided to intervene. France joined Britain and Russia in sending a fleet, commanded by a British admiral, to mediate in the conflict. In 1827 the powers destroyed the Ottoman-Egyptian fleet at the Battle of Navarino, the last great battle of the age of sailing ships. That year, Count Ioánnis Kapodístrias, a Greek who had served as the joint foreign minister for Emperor Alexander I, was elected president of Greece, and a new constitution, the third drafted for the still unofficial state, was proclaimed.

The Ottomans’ defeat at Navarino and in a separate war with Russia in the late 1820s forced the sultan to accept the creation of an independent Greece in 1829 (see Russo-Turkish Wars). In 1830 Britain, France, and Russia issued the London Protocol, which proclaimed the new kingdom of Greece and placed it under their protection. The Great Powers had already acknowledged Greece’s independence in an earlier draft of the London Protocol issued in 1828 and in the Treaty of Adrianople signed in 1829. In 1832 the three powers decreed that Greece would be ruled by a monarch chosen from a European royal dynasty other than one of theirs. The new state consisted of the Pelopónnisos, a southern portion of mainland Greece, and a few of the islands. Its frontier extended from Arta in the west to Vólos in the east, and it included only one-third of the Greeks who had been under Ottoman rule.

Modern Greece

Kapodístrias sought with some success to equip Greece with the basic structures of a state following a decade of intermittent fighting. However, his dictatorial ways made him unpopular, and he was assassinated in 1831. Greece relapsed into anarchy. Kapodístrias’s experiences were hardly encouraging to would-be Greek monarchs, but in 1832 the Great Powers chose Otto of the Bavarian Wittelsbach dynasty to be king of Greece. He was crowned Otto I the following year. Athens was little more than a village at that time, but it contained the Parthenon and other associations with the glories of ancient times and so was chosen to be the capital of the new state. Handsome neoclassical buildings were erected in the city. Because Otto was only 17 years old, a Bavarian regency, unpopular among Greeks, ruled the country until 1835. Otto’s refusal to grant a constitution, his failure to convert from Roman Catholicism to Orthodoxy, and his inability to produce an heir to the throne culminated in a military coup in 1843. Otto was allowed to remain king but with reduced powers. This was the first of a number of interventions by the military in Greece’s political history.

In 1844 military and political leaders forced Otto to accept a constitution. The constitution provided for a parliament and was remarkably liberal for its day. However, the king retained the right to appoint and dismiss government ministers and could dissolve the parliament. With the help of the prime minister, Otto maintained almost complete control over the legislature. He became unpopular because of his autocratic style and because he allowed Britain and France to occupy the port at Piraeus to prevent Greece from aligning with Russia during the Crimean War (1853-1856). This prompted the army to bring about his overthrow in 1862. The powers offered the throne to Prince William of the Danish Glücksburg dynasty; he was crowned King George I in 1863. Members of this family would rule over Greece intermittently until 1974.

In 1864 a new and still more liberal constitution was drafted, this one granting all Greek men the right to vote. However, the king still wielded considerable power. Instead of appointing prime ministers from the party that garnered the most votes, George I chose them arbitrarily from minority political parties. In 1875 King George agreed that in the future he would entrust the office of prime minister to the politician enjoying the confidence of a majority of deputies in the parliament. This contributed to greater political stability and the emergence of a two-party system near the end of the century.

The Struggle for Territorial Expansion

To mark the beginning of George’s reign, Britain in 1864 ceded to Greece the Ionian Islands, over which the British had exercised a protectorate since 1815. This marked the first addition of territory since Greece had become independent. Greek politicians and common people alike aspired to the Megali Idea (Great Idea) of uniting as many as possible of the Greeks of the Near and Middle East within the bounds of a single state, which would have as its capital Constantinople rather than Athens. They cherished this aspiration even though it was bound to bring the small and weak Greek kingdom into confrontation with the Ottoman Empire. After the Ottoman Empire lost the Russo-Turkish War of 1877 to 1878, the Ottomans were obliged by the Congress of Berlin to cede the rich agricultural province of Thessaly and part of Epirus to Greece in 1881. As part of the Berlin settlement, Britain acquired the right to administer the predominantly Greek-inhabited island of Cyprus. In 1885 Greece sought to exploit the problems of the Ottoman Empire for more territorial gains, but the Great Powers blockaded the country.

By the end of the 19th century, Greece’s expansionist ambitions were focused on the Ottoman territories of Macedonia (located to the north of Thessaly) and Crete. The first of these objectives brought Greece into conflict with Bulgaria and Serbia, both of which also coveted Macedonia. Initially, Greece, Bulgaria, and Serbia expressed their rivalry in Macedonia in propaganda over schools and church. But rival Greek and Bulgarian bands soon were fighting increasingly bitter battles to assert control over Macedonia. Both countries believed that the Ottoman Empire would shortly be forced to abandon the contested Balkan territory. On the Greek side, the Ethniki Hetairia (National Society), founded in 1894, directed propaganda and the armed struggle.

In 1896 a revolt against Ottoman rule began in Crete, where the majority of the population fervently sought union with the Greek kingdom. Volunteer forces arrived from Greece the following year. Greece suffered a crushing defeat in a short-lived war with the Ottomans, and the Great Powers forced it to pay compensation to the Ottomans and to accept small modifications to the Greek-Ottoman frontier. In 1898 the powers granted Crete autonomy over domestic affairs, and Ottoman forces were obliged to withdraw from the island. Crete remained an Ottoman possession, but the Great Powers appointed Prince George, the second son of George I, to govern the island as an internationally sponsored high commissioner. The Cretans’ determination to join Greece was undiminished, however, and in 1908 the Cretan assembly proclaimed the union of Crete with Greece.

The Balkan Wars

The lesson of the humiliating defeat of 1897 was not lost on Greek statesman Eleutherios Venizelos, who became prime minister of Greece in 1910. Born in Crete, Venizelos had labored for the island’s union with Greece. He came to dominate Greek politics as the leader of the Liberal Party, which drew support from nationalists of all classes. Venizelos realized that Greece by itself could not challenge the still considerable might of the Ottoman Empire. In addition to building up the economy and modernizing Greece’s armed forces, Venizelos sought to develop alliances with Greece’s neighbors to the north, particularly Serbia, an Orthodox nation with whom Greece traditionally had good relations.

In October 1912, in the First Balkan War, Greece attacked the Ottoman Empire in alliance with Serbia, Bulgaria, and Montenegro (see Balkan Wars). On this occasion the Great Powers did not intervene, and the Ottoman forces, heavily outnumbered, were driven from much of southeastern Europe. In November, Greek forces, one step ahead of the Bulgarians who also wanted the city, captured Thessaloníki, the major port of the northern Aegean. The largest segment of the city’s population was neither Greek nor Bulgarian but Jewish, the Spanish-speaking descendants of Jews expelled from Spain in 1492. In February 1913 the Greeks captured Ioánnina, the capital of Epirus. In May the ailing Ottoman state ceded almost all of its European possessions, including Crete, and the island formally united with Greece. Bulgaria still desired Macedonia and soon fell out with Greece and Serbia. Greece and Serbia then fought against Bulgaria in the Second Balkan War, which began on June 30, 1913, and ended in defeat for Bulgaria one month later. In the Treaty of Bucharest, signed in August, Bulgaria was forced to acknowledge the annexation by Greece and Serbia of most of Macedonia.

Under Venizelos’s leadership, the territory of Greece had increased by some 70 percent, and its population had grown from 2.8 million to 4.8 million. When King George was shot and killed by a deranged assassin in March 1913, he was succeeded by his eldest son, who was crowned Constantine I. Greece appeared poised to achieve many of its expansionist ambitions at the expense of the Ottoman Empire. However, the turmoil of World War I (1914-1918) would soon shatter the political unity that had led to the victories of the Balkan Wars.

World War I

At the outset of World War I, Venizelos favored Greece’s entry on the side of the Allied Powers, which included Britain, France, Russia, and later, Italy and the United States. The Allies were arrayed against the Central Powers, which included Germany, Austria-Hungary, the Ottoman Empire, and Bulgaria. King Constantine, who was married to a sister of the German emperor, preferred neutrality. Twice forced to resign as prime minister in 1915, Venizelos broke with the king for good in October 1916 by establishing a rival provisional government in Thessaloníki, the principal city of the new territories that he had been instrumental in liberating from the Ottomans. This marked the beginning of the so-called National Schism, or the division of Greece into two rival camps: the supporters of Venizelos and those of Constantine. In time, Britain and France recognized the Venizelos government, and in June 1917 they forced Constantine to resign in favor of his second son, Alexander. Venizelos returned to Athens in triumph as prime minister of all of Greece and brought his nation into the war on the side of the Allies. Royalists suffered in purges carried out by Venizelos’s eager supporters.

The 1919 Treaty of Neuilly awarded Bulgarian territory in western Thrace and Macedonia to Greece. The Treaty of Sèvres in 1920 gave Greece eastern Thrace and the Aegean Islands from the Ottoman Empire; it also designated as a Greek protectorate the city of Smyrna (now İzmir, Turkey) and its hinterland, where there were large Greek populations. However, Greek troops had landed at Smyrna in 1919 with the assent of the French, British, and U.S. governments. There the Greeks met with resistance from Turkish nationalists under Mustafa Kemal (subsequently Atatürk). Another war was soon under way.

In elections held in November 1920, the Liberals lost, and a coalition led by the monarchist People’s Party replaced Venizelos’s government. King Alexander died in 1920, and his father, Constantine, returned to the throne that December despite the disapproval of the Allies. This and other factors led to the withdrawal of Allied support for Greece, and in 1922 Turkish nationalists routed the Greek forces in Asia Minor. In the chaos of defeat, a junta (group of military leaders) deposed King Constantine, and Constantine’s eldest son took the throne as George II. By the terms of the ensuing Treaty of Lausanne (1923), Greece had to surrender all of its territory in Asia Minor, eastern Thrace, and the islands of Imbros (now Gökçeada) and Tenedos (now Bozcaada). More than 1 million Orthodox Greeks from Asia Minor were forcibly exchanged for 400,000 Muslim Turks from Greece. The influx of so many refugees placed a great strain on the social fabric of Greece, but eventually the refugees were successfully integrated into Greek society.

Republican Interlude

The junta yielded to a democratically elected government led by Venizelos in 1924. Greeks then voted overwhelmingly for the abolition of the monarchy (George II had already been forced to leave Greece in late 1923), and the parliament declared the country a republic. Admiral Pavlos Kountouriotis, a hero of the Balkan Wars, was elected president. In 1925 General Theodoros Pangalos seized control of the government. The following year, he established a dictatorship after being elected president in a single-candidate election. Another general, Georgios Kondylis, overthrew Pangalos in 1926. Elections followed, and a coalition government was formed that included Venizelists and anti-Venizelists. In 1927 the government finally drafted a republican constitution that took many of the already absent monarch’s former powers and transferred them to the president.

In 1928 Venizelos returned to power as prime minister. He achieved some successes in foreign policy, improving relations with Italy, Yugoslavia, and above all with the new Republic of Turkey, which succeeded the Ottoman Empire. The global economic slump of the 1930s negatively affected Greece’s traditional exports, however. After a period of relative stability, the Venizelos government lost the 1932 elections. With the collapse of Venizelos’s fragile coalition of left-leaning Liberals and antiroyalist conservatives, Greece again fell into political turmoil. Panyiotis Tsaldaris, leader of the royalist People’s Party, was elected prime minister, and the nation was again bitterly divided over whether Greece should have a monarchy.

In 1933 an attempt was made on Venizelos’s life. His supporters, fearful that the monarchy might be restored, launched an unsuccessful military coup that year and another in 1935. After the second failed coup attempt, Venizelos himself was forced to flee to France, and he died shortly afterward. The 1935 attempted coup played into the hands of royalists in the army. They ousted Tsaldaris, who still supported a republican constitution, and installed their own candidate, General Kondylis, as prime minister. Kondylis seized dictatorial powers, and the royalists organized a rigged plebiscite that resulted in an overwhelming vote for the restoration of King George II.

The economic distress of the 1930s provoked social unrest. This was exploited by the small Communist Party of Greece, which held the balance of power in the parliament as a result of a deadlock between Venizelists and royalists in elections in 1936. Exaggerated fears of a possible Communist seizure of power enabled General Ioannis Metaxas, the leader of a small right-wing party who was supported by the now royalist army, to establish a dictatorship in August 1936. Metaxas abolished political parties, established rigid press censorship, and persecuted his opponents, Communists in particular. Metaxas also suspended the parliament, which did not meet again for ten years. Despite domestic repression that resembled that found under the dictatorships in Germany and Italy, Metaxas maintained a foreign policy oriented toward Britain. World War II (1939-1945) would soon bring Greece into direct conflict with Germany and Italy.

World War II: Occupation and Resistance

On October 28, 1940, Italian dictator Benito Mussolini presented Greece with a humiliating ultimatum. He demanded that Greece allow Italian troops to occupy strategic points within the country. Metaxas, expressing the feelings of the overwhelming majority of the Greek population, unhesitatingly rejected Mussolini’s demand. Okhi (No) Day continues to be a major national holiday in Greece. Against the odds, the Greek army not only repulsed the Italian invaders but also captured a large area of southern Albania, which had a significant ethnic Greek population. Greece declared war against Albania, which was then ruled by an Italian puppet government and served as Mussolini’s stage of operations. Bad weather and poor communications saved the Italians from a complete rout, however. In April 1941 German troops invaded Greece. The Germans rapidly overran the Greek armies and the British forces that had been sent to their aid. After a vain attempt to hold the island of Crete, King George II and his government, headed by Emmanouil Tsouderos (Metaxas had died in January 1941), fled to Egypt. A collaborationist government controlled by Germany was established in Athens, and Greece was divided up among the Italians, Germans, and Bulgarians, with the latter permitted to occupy a part of northern Greece.

The harshness of the occupation regime led to terrible famine and spiraling inflation. More than 100,000 Greeks died as a result of the famine, and in 1943 most of the country’s Jews were deported to Nazi death camps in Poland. Despite the hardships of the occupation, the Greek people maintained the will to resist, and a number of resistance groups formed. By far the largest of these was the National Liberation Front (known by its Greek acronym, EAM). Along with its military arm, the National People’s Liberation Army (ELAS), the EAM was under Communist control, although its membership was far from being exclusively Communist. Of the smaller organizations, the most significant was the National Republican Greek League (EDES), which held to a more conservative political program than the EAM. Virtually all resistance groups opposed the return of George II, whom most Greeks identified with the repression of the Metaxas dictatorship. In 1942 the British began parachuting in arms and personnel to aid the Greek resistance.

In September 1943 the Italians surrendered following the Allied invasion of Italy. The prospect of the liberation of Greece led to rivalry and jockeying for power between the EAM/ELAS and the EDES. The ELAS attacked the EDES in October 1943, and the two resistance groups fought actively through the winter before reaching an uneasy truce in February 1944. In August representatives of all the resistance organizations joined in support of a government-in-exile established in Cairo, Egypt, under the prime ministership of Georgios Papandreou.

Liberation and Civil War

In October 1944 German forces withdrew from Greece, and the Papandreou government returned to Athens in triumph. However, tensions arose almost immediately when Papandreou ordered the ELAS, the largest armed force in Greece, to disband. EAM/ELAS nominees withdrew from the government, and in December the police fired on a left-wing demonstration in Athens. Fighting soon developed between the ELAS and the small Greek forces at the disposal of the Papandreou government, which were backed by British forces.

Only after fierce fighting was an armistice signed in January 1945. This was followed by an agreement that the ELAS would hand over its weapons, while EAM would be free to engage in political activity in elections scheduled for March 1946. EAM boycotted these elections, however, claiming intimidation of its members by right-wingers, and the royalist People’s Party won a sweeping victory. A plebiscite held in September resulted in the return of King George II to the throne. Six months later George died; he was succeeded by his younger brother, crowned Paul I. From the time the ELAS turned over most of its weapons in early 1945, right-wing paramilitary groups killed people associated with the Communists.

Greece lurched toward outright civil war in October 1946, when the Communists formed the Democratic Army as a successor to the ELAS. By December the Communist insurgents had begun guerrilla warfare in earnest. Concentrated in the north, they benefited from the support of newly established Communist regimes in Greece’s northern neighbors, Yugoslavia, Bulgaria, and Albania. In December 1947 a Communist-backed provisional democratic government was established.

The Greek national government received support from Britain, but it especially benefited from the support of the United States. Following the proclamation of the Truman Doctrine in March 1947, the United States pledged large amounts of military and economic assistance to the anti-Communist forces. Air power and the presence of American military advisers gradually caused the tide to turn, and the last strongholds of the Communist forces in the mountains on the Albanian frontier fell to government troops in the summer of 1949. The remnants of the Democratic Army fled to safety in the countries of the Communist Eastern bloc. The two-and-a-half years of fierce fighting left numerous villages destroyed, nearly 160,000 combatants and civilians dead, and 800,000 people homeless.

In 1948, at the height of the civil war, Greece acquired the Dodecanese Islands as a consequence of a treaty with Italy. The islands had been under Italian rule since 1911.

Aftermath of the Civil War

Wartime occupation and the civil war that followed devastated the Greek economy. However, Greece recovered quickly, and the 1950s ushered in a period of rapid economic and social development.

Greater political stability arrived with a change in the electoral system from proportional to simple majority representation. In 1952 the right-wing Greek Rally Party won the election, and Field Marshal Alexandros Papagos became prime minister. Greece joined the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) that year. A new constitution gave women the right to vote, and Papagos’s cabinet included Greece’s first female minister. After Papagos died in 1955, King Paul chose as his successor the relatively unknown Konstantinos Karamanlis, who was to dominate Greek political life for the next four decades. Karamanlis immediately dissolved the Greek Rally and founded his own party, the National Radical Union. The leadership and right-wing politics of the new party were essentially the same as those of the Greek Rally.

Much of Karamanlis’s first prime ministership was overshadowed by an increasingly bitter conflict over Cyprus, an island south of Turkey that had been administered by Britain since 1878. Greeks constituted about 80 percent of Cyprus’s population; the rest of the island’s inhabitants were Turkish. From the time Britain acquired control of Cyprus, most Greek Cypriots had advocated enosis, or union with Greece. However, Britain considered Cyprus crucial to its oil supply lines from the Middle East and refused to agree to the union. In 1959 Britain, Greece, and Turkey (which put itself forward as the protector of the Turkish Cypriot minority) reached an agreement that the island would become an independent republic within the British Commonwealth. Cyprus’s independence was proclaimed in 1960. However, an elaborate power-sharing agreement between the Greek and Turkish communities on the island soon broke down in violence.

By the time of the 1958 election, the popularity of Karamanlis’s National Radical Union government had begun to slip. After the party lost seats that year, Karamanlis asked for early elections in 1961, and his party received 51 percent of the vote. Karamanlis pursued his goal of closer relations with Western Europe by securing associate membership for Greece in the European Community in 1962. However, allegations that the 1961 election had been manipulated soured the political climate. Georgios Papandreou, who had been able to unify the centrist political forces into the Center Union Party in 1961, fought a vigorous campaign to reverse the result of the election. In this effort he was able to exploit a growing resentment toward autocratic policies instituted by the government since the civil war years. Karamanlis, who had clashed with King Paul and his strong-willed, German-born wife, Frederika, resigned in 1963. In the February 1964 elections, Papandreou’s Center Union Party won a clear majority.

Breakdown of Parliamentary Democracy

Within 18 months of his electoral victory, Papandreou was out of office. Against a background of renewed crisis in Cyprus resulting from the breakdown of the 1960 agreement, Papandreou found himself under attack from the forces of the right. He was also embroiled in conflict with the young king Constantine II, who had succeeded his father, Paul, in March 1964. There were allegations that Papandreou’s son, Andreas, who had returned from a career as an economist in the United States to enter Greek politics, was involved with an organization of left-wing radical army officers known as Aspida (Shield). After the older Papandreou moved to assume control of the Ministry of Defense, he was accused of seeking to protect his son, and the king refused to sanction the move. Papandreou resigned in July 1965, and after much maneuvering a caretaker government was formed of defectors from his Center Union Party with the support of the National Radical Union.

Many on the center and the left resented the king’s action, and massive demonstrations ensued. Although those accused of involvement in the Aspida conspiracy were brought to trial, Andreas Papandreou had immunity because he was a member of the parliament. This deeply angered members of the right, especially elements in the armed forces who were strongly anti-Communist and who looked upon Papandreou as a dangerous radical. When Panayiotis Kanellopoulos became prime minister in April 1967, he dissolved the parliament and announced that elections would be held the following month. It appeared there might be an end to a period of almost continuous political crisis.

The Colonels’ Coup

Before the elections could take place, however, a group of middle-ranking army officers led by Colonel Georgios Papadopoulos launched a bloodless military coup on April 21, 1967. The junta, who came to be known collectively as the Colonels, claimed that they had acted to forestall a Communist-inspired coup, although no evidence for this was ever produced. The Colonels’ primary motivation was clearly to forestall the elections planned for May. These elections were widely expected to return Georgios Papandreou’s Center Union to power. Andreas Papandreou was expected to wield considerable influence among the more radical elements in such a government. The Colonels had feared that a Center Union victory would be followed by a purge of ultra-right-wing army officers such as themselves. Following the coup, a civilian, Konstantinos Kollias, was appointed prime minister, but it was immediately apparent that real power lay with the military.

The regime rounded up hundreds of people with records of left-wing political activity along with politicians from across the political spectrum and sent them to prison camps on the islands. Before long, reports emerged of torture and other maltreatment of political prisoners. Whereas previous military juntas in Greece had soon made way for their allies in the political sphere, the Colonels made it clear that they intended to remain in power for as long as it took to recast Greece in their image. The Colonels suspended the constitution, abolished political parties, imposed censorship, and annulled a number of reforms that had been introduced by the Papandreou government. The Colonels did not enjoy total support within the army, however, and in December 1967 Constantine II launched a countercoup. After this failed, the king went into exile. Colonel Papadopoulos became prime minister, with General Georgios Zoitakis as regent for the absent king.

After investigating complaints, in 1969 the Commission of Human Rights of the Council of Europe determined that political prisoners in Greece had suffered torture and degrading treatment. Facing certain expulsion, Greece then withdrew from the council. The country remained a member of NATO, however. Despite its persecution of Communists within Greece, the junta established good relations with the countries of the Communist bloc, including China, and brought an end to a technical state of war with Albania that dated from World War II. Western governments criticized the regime at times but took no formal action against it. The United States continued to provide aid to Greece, which it considered crucial to stability in the eastern Mediterranean.

The junta introduced a new constitution in 1968 that institutionalized the military’s grip on the government. This followed a plebiscite conducted while martial law was in force. In 1973, following an unsuccessful mutiny within the navy, Papadopoulos abolished the monarchy and declared Greece a presidential republic. In a referendum in which he was the sole candidate, Papadopoulos was elected to an eight-year term as president. He then declared a broad amnesty for political offenses and announced that elections would be held in 1974. They were to be overseen by Spyros Markezinis, one of the few politicians prepared to collaborate in any way with the junta.

The Fall of the Junta

Antigovernment demonstrations headed by university students culminated in the occupation of the Athens Metsoveion Polytechnical University in the fall of 1973. The military brutally suppressed the occupation, and a number of students were killed. Papadopoulos was overthrown by an even more extreme hard-liner, Brigadier Dimitrios Ioannidis, who was head of the much-feared military police. General Phaidon Gizikis became president.

Meanwhile, a dispute blew up with Turkey over rights to prospect for oil in the Aegean. After a period of threats against Turkey, in July 1974 Greek Cypriot extremists supported by Ioannidis launched a coup against Archbishop Makarios, the president of Cyprus, who had made no secret of his dislike for the junta. Turkey then invaded Cyprus to protect the Turkish minority. Troubled by incompetence and international isolation, the Greek regime was unable to mobilize for war with Turkey, and the government collapsed. Karamanlis, who had been in exile in Paris, France, since 1963, was recalled and sworn in as prime minister. Karamanlis was to resolve the problems left by the junta and ensure that the army returned to the barracks. He achieved this difficult feat with great skill, bringing the seven-year military dictatorship to an end without bloodshed. Meanwhile, by late August 1974 Turkish forces controlled the northern third of Cyprus.

Consolidation of Democracy

In elections held in November, Karamanlis’s conservative New Democracy (ND) Party secured a clear victory and he retained his position. A subsequent referendum resulted in an unambiguous vote against the restoration of the monarchy, and in June 1975 the parliament approved a republican constitution. The constitution gave extensive powers to the president, although in practice these were not used. That month the parliament elected Konstantinos Tsatsos, a Karamanlis ally, to a five-year term as president. In the elections of 1977, Andreas Papandreou’s radical Panhellenic Socialist Movement (known by its Greek acronym, PASOK) emerged as the principal opposition party with a 25 percent share of the vote. In May 1980 Karamanlis was elected president and relinquished his post as prime minister to a less charismatic ND member, Georgios Rallis. As president, Karamanlis achieved one of his long-standing objectives when he helped secure agreement for Greece to enter the European Community (EC; subsequently the European Union, or EU) in 1981.

In elections held in October 1981, Andreas Papandreou’s PASOK party swept to power with 48 percent of the vote, easily defeating Rallis and the ND. Papandreou became Greece’s first Socialist prime minister. Once in power, however, Papandreou did not carry out the threats he had made as an opposition leader to withdraw Greece from NATO and the EC. Although his anti-American rhetoric proved popular with Greeks who blamed the United States for its support of the junta, the government agreed to allow U.S. military bases to remain in Greece.

Domestically, the PASOK government instituted sweeping reforms, including legalizing civil marriage and abolishing the dowry system, overhauling the university system to give junior staff and students more power, and introducing a national health service. In March 1985 Papandreou secured the election as president of his chosen candidate, Christos Sartzetakis, a jurist. (Karamanlis had resigned earlier that month, when it was apparent that PASOK deputies would not nominate him for a second term.) Soon afterward, PASOK again won parliamentary elections.

Growing economic problems, coupled with scandals in the government and in Papandreou’s private life, contributed to PASOK losing its parliamentary majority in the elections of June 1989. The conservative ND formed a coalition government with the Communist Party of Greece (KKE), an unprecedented development in Greece. Further elections, held in April 1990, gave a narrow majority to the ND, led by Konstantinos Mitsotakis. The new government was able to use its parliamentary majority to secure the reelection of Karamanlis as president. (Karamanlis’s second term as president ended in 1995.)

In 1993 Papandreou returned to power when PASOK won the majority of seats in new elections. However, in contrast to his first administration, Papandreou introduced few new policies. Illness forced him to resign in January 1996, and he died six months later. His successor, Costas Simitis, who represented the modernizing, technocratic wing of PASOK, was confirmed in office in national elections in 1996.

Q. Relations with Neighbors

The collapse of Communism and the subsequent turmoil in the Balkans in the late 1980s had important consequences for Greece. In 1991 the Yugoslav republic of Macedonia, a northern neighbor of Greece, declared its independence as the Republic of Macedonia. Greece objected to the republic’s name and flag, claiming that Macedonia was a Greek name and that the flag appropriated a Greek symbol: the 16-pointed Star of Vergina of Alexander the Great. Greece also asserted that articles of the republic’s constitution implied territorial claims to the Greek province of Macedonia.

Bowing to international pressure, the republic amended its constitution to state that it had no territorial aspirations in Greece or any other country. In 1993 the United Nations admitted the republic under the name Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM). Greece found these measures unsatisfactory, however, and in 1994 imposed an economic blockade on the republic. Following international mediation, the foreign ministers of Greece and FYROM signed an interim accord on mutual relations, confirming their border and establishing diplomatic ties. Greece lifted its embargo, and FYROM dropped the symbol claimed by Greece from its flag. The issue of the republic’s name remained unresolved. Greece also had disputes with Albania arising from allegations of mistreatment of the Greek minority in southern Albania and from the large influx of Albanian illegal immigrants into Greece.

Another major issue in the 1990s was Greece’s ongoing conflict with Turkey. Long-simmering issues included the continued Turkish occupation of northern Cyprus (Turkish Cypriots had declared the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus in 1983) and disputes over conflicting claims in the Aegean. Thaws in the Greek-Turkish relationship in the late 1980s and in 1993 proved short-lived. By 1994 the countries were at odds over territorial waters and airspace, the right to prospect for minerals (especially oil) in the Aegean, and other issues. There were also disagreements over the treatment of minorities in the two countries. Periodically these disputes gave rise to serious confrontations. Despite their common membership in NATO, in January 1996 Greece and Turkey came to the brink of war in a dispute over a barren Aegean islet near the Turkish coast, known as Imia in Greek and Kardak in Turkish. Under pressure from the United States, the Simitis government defused the situation in February 1996, withdrawing military vessels and Greek flags from the disputed area. Tensions between the two countries continued in the late 1990s.

In the late 1990s Simitis’s government focused its attention on making Greece eligible to share a proposed single currency, the euro, with other members of the European Union (EU). The EU excluded Greece from the list of 11 countries that joined the Economic and Monetary Union (EMU) in 1999, but Simitis maintained austerity measures intended to reduce inflation and the country’s budget deficit. PASOK retained a slender majority in the April 2000 national elections, and Simitis returned as prime minister. The austerity measures backed by the government appeared to be successful, and in June 2000 the EU invited Greece to join the EMU. Greece officially adopted the euro on January 1, 2001.

New Government

In January 2004 Simitis resigned as leader of PASOK. Just a month before the March 2004 general election, PASOK elected George A. Papandreou, Greece’s foreign minister and the son of Andreas Papandreou, as the party leader. But PASOK failed to win enough votes, and the conservatives of the New Democracy Party swept to power. The party’s leader, Costas Karamanlis, nephew of former prime minister Konstantinos Karamanlis, became Greece’s new prime minister. Later in 2004 the minister of economy and finance announced that Greece had understated its annual budget deficit since 1998 to meet requirements for joining the EMU. The EU placed Greece under a punitive budget-surveillance program until the country could satisfy the deficit threshold of 3 percent of the GDP. Greece met the requirement in 2007.

One of Karamanlis’s first challenges involved negotiations over the reunification of Cyprus in time for the island’s entry into the EU in May. Cyprus was admitted to the EU on schedule but the nation remained divided. Greece hosted a successful Olympic Games in August 2004, despite fears that the various stadiums would not be finished in time. The parliament elected Karolos Papoulias, a founding member of PASOK and a long-standing parliamentarian, as the new president in March 2005.

Karamanlis called early parliamentary elections for September 2007—six months ahead of schedule—on grounds that his government needed a fresh mandate to tackle reform of the country’s inefficient pension system. The New Democracy Party maintained a slim majority, returning Karamanlis for a second term as prime minister.

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