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U.S. Department of State
Background Notes: Greece, October 1996

Bureau of Public Affairs

Official Name: Hellenic Republic



Area: 131,957 square km. (51,146 square miles), roughly the size of Alabama.
Major cities: Greater Athens (pop. 3,096,775), municipality of Athens (748,110), Thessaloniki (377,951), Piraeus (169,622), Greater Piraeus (880,529), Patras (172,763), Larissa (113,426), Iraklion (117,167).
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--nine. Literacy--93%. All levels are free.
Health: Infant mortality rate--8/1,000. Life expectancy--male 74 years, female 79 years.
Work force: 4.85 million.


Type: Presidential parliamentary republic.
Independence: 1830.
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--Supreme Court.
Political parties: Panhellenic Socialist Movement (PASOK), New Democracy (ND), Political Spring, Communist Party of Greece (KKE), Coalition of the Left (SYNASPISMOS).
Suffrage: Universal at 18.
Administrative subdivisions: 13 peripheries (regional districts), 51 nomi (prefectures).

Economy (1995)

GDP: $108 billion.
Per capita GDP: $9,400.
Growth rate: 1.5%.
Inflation rate: 9%.
Unemployment rate: 10.5%.
Natural resources: Bauxite, lignite, magnesite, oil, marble.
Agriculture (11% of GDP): Sugar, beets, wheat, maize, tomatoes, olives, olive oil, grapes, raisins, wine, oranges, peaches, tobacco, cotton, livestock, dairy products.
Industry and construction (24% of GDP): Processed foods, shoes, textiles, metals, chemicals, electrical equipment, cement, glass, transport equipment, petroleum products, construction, electrical power.
Services (65% of GDP): Transportation, communications, trade, banking, public administration, defense.
Exports--$5.5 billion: manufactured goods, food and beverages, petroleum products, cement, chemicals. Major markets--Germany, Italy, France, U.S., U.K.
Imports--$18.7 billion: basic manufactures, food and animals, crude oil, chemicals, machinery, transport equipment. Major suppliers--Germany, Italy, France, Japan, Netherlands, U.S.
Exchange rate (January 1996): 240 drachmas=U.S.$1.


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 $900 million in 1994.

According to the 1990 U.S. census, 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 military financing.

In 1953, the first defense cooperation agreement between Greece and the United States was signed, providing for the establishment and operations of American military installations on Greek territory. The current mutual defense cooperation agreement (MDCA) provides for continuing U.S. military assistance to Greece and the operation by the U.S. of a major military facility at Souda Bay, Crete.

Principal U.S. Embassy Officials

Ambassador--Thomas Niles
Deputy Chief of Mission--Thomas Miller
Political Officer--Robert Becker
Economic Officer--Don Booth
Commercial Officer--Patrick Santillo
Consular Officer--Richard Laroche
Administrative Officer--Anita Booth
Regional Security Officer--Timothy Dixon
Agricultural Officer--Paul Hoffman
Public Affairs Officer (USIS)--Robert Callahan

The U.S. embassy in Greece is located at 91 Vasilissis Sophias Blvd., 10160 Athens; tel: [30] (1) 721-2951 or 721-8401, after hours 722-3652; fax: [30] (1) 645-6282.


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 second 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 AD), 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, which was called Demotiki, became the official language for the country in 1976.

Independent Greece

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 1947.

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.

World War II and the Greek Civil War

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")--given by the Greek Prime Minister to 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 three 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 U.S. 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 under Marshal Papagos 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 Union.

In August 1949, the National Army launched a final offensive that forced the remaining insurgents either to surrender or flee across the northern border into the territory of Greece's communist neighbors. The insurgency cost Greece 100,000 killed and 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.

At the end of the Greek civil war, the country was a monarchy with a parliamentary system; the monarchy was abolished in 1974. From 1949 to 1996, Greece has seen a succession of coalition, military, and republican governments (see also Government and Political Conditions).


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 payments 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 two-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% of GDP.

Greece continued to rely on foreign borrowing to finance its deficits. Public sector external debt was $26.9 billion at the end of 1993. The general government debt was $129 billion at the end of 1995, or 120% of GDP. Greece's external debt was $32.7 billion at the end of 1994.

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 European monetary union. Although growth remained above the convergence program guidelines for 1994-95, 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 two months, with speculation on the drachma no longer a threat, interest rates returned to normal levels.

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 was close to 8.5% in February 1996.

High interest rates are still a major 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.

Principal Sectors

Services, including tourism, make up the largest and fastest-growing sector of the Greek economy, accounting for about 65% of GDP.

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 1994, the tourist industry made record profits, but it has suffered recently due to the strong drachma. Revenue from tourism exceeded $3.3 billion in 1993 and $3.7 billion in 1994, but this number declined slightly in 1995. Greece benefited from problems in neighboring countries and an economic recovery in the European Union. U.S. tourists, numbering 257,000 in 1993, represented about 2.5% of total tourist arrivals. Although tourism from the U.S. increased in the last three years, it is still far behind the 1979 level of 600,000 arrivals.

The industrial sector accounts for about 17% of GDP. The food industry is one of the most profitable and highest-growth areas of manufacturing with significant export potential. High-technology equipment, especially in telecommunications, is also a fast-growing sector. Other important areas include textiles, building materials, machinery, transport equipment, and electrical appliances.

Greece is traditionally a seafaring nation and built a successful shipping industry based on its geographic location and the entrepreneurial ability of its ship owners. The Greek flag fleet was 2,151 ships and 30.2 million gross registered tons in 1995, third in the world.

Petroleum is Greece's largest single import, at a cost of $2 billion in 1993. About 75% of imported crude is processed by the two state-owned refineries, Aspropyrgos and EKO. The remaining 25% is processed by the two privately owned refineries, Motoroil and Petrola, which are mainly export-oriented. The four Greek refineries, with a capacity of 357,000 barrels per day, exported about $554 million of petroleum products in 1993.

Construction activity (estimated at 7.5% of GDP) is expected to increase due to infrastructure projects partially financed by European Union structural funds. About $20 billion over the next few years 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. Completion of the expanded subway system is not expected until 1998.

EU Membership

Greece must realign its economy as part of an extended transition to full EU membership that began in 1981. Greek businesses will have to adjust to competition from EU firms and the government may need 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. For example, by the end of 1995, the Greek drachma was not yet included in the exchange rate mechanism.

Historically, Greece has been a net beneficiary of the EU budget. Net payments to Greece increased from $1.4 billion in 1986 to $4.3 billion in 1994, representing 5% of GDP. Net inflows were estimated at about $4.5 billion in 1995. These funds contribute significantly to Greece's current accounts balance and reduce the state budget deficit.

Greece expects to receive 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 ($20 billion) for the period 1994-1998: 14 billion ecu from the Community Support Framework; and 2.6 billion ecu from the Cohesion Fund. The Greek Government will provide additional funds of 7.1 billion ecu and the Greek private sector another 7.1 billion ecu. This total will finance major public works and economic development projects, upgrade competitiveness and human resources, improve living conditions, and address disparities between the poorer and the more developed regions of the country.


Government Structure

The Constitution. 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. However, 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.

Presidential Powers. The president is elected by parliament to a five- year term and can be reelected once. The president has the power to declare war and to conclude agreements of peace, alliance, and regarding participation in international organizations; a three-fifths parliamentary majority is required to ratify such agreements or treaties. The president can also 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.

Parliament. Parliamentary deputies are elected by secret ballot for a maximum of four 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.

Defense Forces. The Hellenic Armed Forces number some 442,500, of which about 340,000 serve in the Hellenic Army (130,000 active duty; 210,000 reservists); 56,000 in the Hellenic Navy (19,000 active duty; 37,000 reservists); and 45,000 in the Hellenic Air Force (24,000 active duty; 21,000 reservists). All Greek males are required to serve at least 18 months in the military.

Local Administration. Greece is divided into 51 prefectures (nomarchies), each headed by a prefect (nomarch), who is elected by direct popular vote. There are also thirteen regional administrative districts (peripheries), each including a number of prefectures and headed by a regional governor (periferiarch), appointed by the Minister of the Interior. 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.

Education, the Church, and 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.

Greek education is free and compulsory for children between the ages of five and 15. English language study is compulsory from grade five 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 113,000 are registered at Greek universities; 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 gain 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 qualifications for public sector hiring. Other students attend private, post-secondary educational institutions in Greece, which 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 European country.

The Greek Orthodox Church. The Church is under the protection of the state, which pays the clergy's salaries. 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 Istanbul. During the centuries of Ottoman domination, the Church preserved Greek language, values, and national identity and was an important rallying point in the struggle for independence.

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 recognized minority. Other religious communities in Greece include Catholics, Jews, Old Calendar Orthodox, and Jehovah's Witnesses.

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. 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.

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 channels 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 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 Council for Radio and Television. In practice, however, official licensing has not been implemented.

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 spokesman. 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.

Because of the lack of an efficient licensing system, 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 working on a proposal to reallocate TV frequencies and issue licenses.

The Greek press is dominated by the Athens newspapers and magazines, which are distributed nationally. Regional press is less significant, with the exception of the Thessaloniki papers. However, with the advent of private radio and television broadcasting, newspaper circulation figures have dropped dramatically. Most people listen to the radio in the morning, read newspapers in the afternoon, and watch the TV in the evening. From 1989-95, the total daily circulation figures of Athens newspapers dropped from 1,285,596 to under 500,000. Only three daily newspapers--Ta Nea, Eleftherotypia, and Eleftheros Typos--currently make a profit.

Political Conditions Since World War II

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 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 Minister.

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. ND won 150 seats in the April 1990 election and subsequently gained two others. After Mitsotakis fired his first Foreign Minister--Adonis 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.

In October 1993, Papandreou was reelected Prime Minister when PASOK won 170 seats. After his election, Prime Minister Papandreou focused on improving Greece's relations with its northern neighbors. The PASOK government also reversed two major privatization projects undertaken by Mitsotakis involving the national telephone system and the Athens bus system.

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.

Principal Government Officials

President-Konstandinos Stephanopoulos
Prime Minister--Constantine Simitis
Foreign Minister--Theodhoros Pangalos
Ambassador to the U.S.--Loukas Tsilas
Ambassador to the UN--Khristos Zakharakis

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.



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 miles).

Eighty percent 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 has aimed to serve as an interlocutor in the Bosnia crisis. 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. Following 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.

Issues in Greek foreign policy include occasionally strained relations with the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) and Albania, the enduring Cyprus problem, Greek-Turkish differences over the Aegean, the restoration of relations with FYROM and Eastern Europe, and Greek- American relations.

Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM)

Greek refusal to recognize FYROM 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 feels that an independent "Republic of Macedonia" bordering the Greek region of Macedonia would fuel irredentist tensions in FYROM. The dispute led to a Greek trade embargo against FYROM in February 1994. UN, U.S., and EU mediation efforts 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 New York.


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. These moves heralded a period of gradually improving relations between the two countries.

Greek-Turkish Relations

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 delineation of the continental shelf in the Aegean Sea, territorial waters and airspace, and NATO command and control arrangements. 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 who had sovereignty over an islet in the Aegean. Tensions remain high.

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 Persian Gulf War of 1990-91. In December 1994, Greece signed a defense cooperation agreement with Israel; in January 1995, Prime Minister Papandreou visited Syria and Jordan to help push forward the Middle East Peace Process and strengthen bilateral ties with those two states.


The U.S. Department of State's Consular Information Program provides Travel Warnings and Consular Information Sheets. Travel Warnings are issued when the State Department recommends that Americans avoid travel to a certain country. Consular Information Sheets exist for all countries and include information on immigration practices, currency regulations, health conditions, areas of instability, crime and security, political disturbances, and the addresses of the U.S. posts in the 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. Travel Warnings and Consular Information Sheets also are available on the Consular Affairs Internet home page: and the Consular Affairs Bulletin Board (CABB). To access CABB, dial the modem number: 301-946-4400 (it will accommodate up to 33,600 bps); set terminal communications program to N-8-1 (no parity, 8 bits, 1 stop bit), and terminal emulation to VT100. The login is travel and the password is info (Note: Lower case is required). The CABB also carries international security information from the Overseas Security Advisory Council and Department's Bureau of Diplomatic Security. Consular Affairs Trips for Travelers publication series, which contain information on obtaining passports and planning a safe trip abroad, can be purchased from the Superintendent of Documents, U.S. Government Printing Office, P.O. Box 371954, Pittsburgh, PA 15250-7954; telephone: 202-512-1800; fax 202-512-2250.

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 Services information can be obtained by calling the 24-hour, 7- day-a-week automated system ($0.35 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).

Travelers can check the latest health information with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, Georgia. A hotline at (404) 332-4559 gives 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 publication).

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 (DOSFAN). Available on the Internet, DOSFAN provides timely, global access to official U.S. foreign policy information. Updated daily, DOSFAN includes Background Notes; Dispatch, the official magazine of U.S. foreign policy; daily press briefings; directories of key officers of foreign service posts; etc. DOSFAN's World Wide Web site is at; this site has a link to the DOSFAN Gopher Research Collection, which also is accessible at gopher://

U.S. Foreign Affairs on CD-ROM (USFAC). Published on a semi-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, including Country Commercial Guides. It is available on the Internet ( and on CD-ROM. Call the NTDB Help-Line at (202) 482- 1986 for more information.


These publications are provided as an indication of the variety of material published about Greece. The Department of State does not endorse unofficial publications.

Blinkhorn, Martin and Veremis, Thanos. Modern Greece: Nationalism and Nationality. Athens: Sage-Eliamep, 1990.
Cartledge, Paul. The Greeks: A Portrait of Self and Others. Oxford University Press, 1993.
Clogg, Richard. A Concise History of Modern Greece. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1992.
Clogg, Richard. Greece in the 1980's. London: Macmillan, 1983.
Close, David H. Editor. The Greek Civil War, 1943-1950: Studies of Polarization. Routledge, 1993.
Constas, Dimitri and Stavrou, Theofanis, editors. Greece Prepares for the Twenty-First Century. Johns Hopkins University Press, 1994.
Couloumbis, Theodore and Iatrides, John. Greek-American Relations: A Critical Review. New York: Pella, 1980.
Freris, Andreas. The Greek Economy in the Twentieth Century. Kent: Croom Helm, 1988.
Gage, Nicholas. Eleni. New York: Random House, 1983.
Kaplan, Robert D. Balkan Ghosts: A Journey Through History. Random House, 1994.
Katsoulis, Elias, et al., eds. Greece Towards the Year 2000. Athens: Papazizis, 1988.
Kazantzakis, Nikos. Zorba the Greek. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1959.
Kousoulas, Dimitrios G. Modern Greece: Profile of a Nation. New York: Scribner, 1974.
Modern Greece: A Short History. London: Faber, 1992.
Papandreou, Andreas. Democracy at Gunpoint. Garden City: Doubleday, 1970.
Pendley, John G. Greek Art and Archaeology. Abrams, 1993.
Seferis, George. Collected Poems (1924-1955). Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1962.
Stearns, Monteagle. Entangled Allies: U.S. Policy Toward Greece, Turkey, and Cyprus. Council on Foreign Relations, 1992.
Stoneman, E. Richard. Literary Companion to Travel in Greece. J. Paul Getty Trust Publications, 1994.

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