Greece, formally called the Hellenic Republic (in Greek: Ελληνική Δημοκρατία, Helleniké Demokratía), is a country in the southeast of Europe on the southern tip of the Balkan peninsula. It is bounded on land by Bulgaria, the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and Albania to the north, to the east by Turkey and the waters of the Aegean Sea and to the west and south by the Ionian and Mediterranean Seas. Regarded by many as the cradle of Western civilization, Greece has a long and rich history during which it spread its influence over three continents.
Greeks call their country Hellas, which in modern Greek is pronounced Ellás. In everyday speech the form Elláda is used. Greeks, in fact, call themselves Hellenes (in Greek: Έλληνες) (Héllenes) even in English.
The English name "Greece" derives from a Latin name, Graecia, originally used for the Magna Graecia region.
The Parthenon in the Greek capital, Athens.
Main article: History of Greece
The shores of the Aegean Sea saw the emergence of the first civilizations in Europe, namely the Minoan and Mycenaean civilisations. After these subsided a Dark Age followed until around 800 BC a new era of Greek civilization emerged. It was this Greece of city-states that established colonies along the Mediterranean, resisted Persian invasions and whose culture would be the basis of Hellenistic civilisation that followed the empire of Macedonian King Alexander the Great.
Militarily Greece itself declined until it was conquered by the Romans from 168 BC onwards, though Greek culture would in turn conquer Roman life. Greece became a province of the Roman Empire, but Greek culture would continue to dominate the eastern Mediterranean and when the Empire finally split in two the Eastern or Byzantine Empire, centred on Constantinople, would remain Greek in nature, as well as encompassing Greece itself. From the 4th century to the 15th century the Eastern Roman Empire survived eleven centuries of attacks from the west and east until Constantinople fell on May 29, 1453 to the Ottoman Empire. Greece had gradually been conquered by the Ottomans during the 15th century.
Cape Sounion in Attica, looking out to the Aegean islands
The Ottomans ruled Greece until the early 19th century. In 1821 the Greeks rebelled and declared their independence, but did not succeed in winning it until 1829. The war of the Greek independence, with news of Turkish attrocities, was seen romantically by the elites of powerful European nations (see, for example, the 1824 painting Massacre of Chios by Eugene Delacroix), scores of whom volunteered to actually fight - e.g. Lord Byron, and indeed at times the Greek revolution was almost entirely suppressed but for the direct militarily intervention of France, England or Russia. The Russian minister for foreign affairs was in fact a Greek, Ioannis Kapodistrias who, following Greek independence, returned home as President of the new Republic. That republic was abolished when a few years later Western powers helped turn Greece into a Monarchy, the first Monarch being Bavarian and the second from Denmark. During the 19th and early 20th centuries, in a series of wars with the Ottomans, Greece sought to enlarge its boundaries to include the Greek-speaking population of the Ottoman Empire, slowly growing in territory and population until it reached its present configuration in 1947. In World War I Greece sided with the entente powers against a pro-German Turkey.In the war's aftermath parts of Asia Minor were given to Greece under international law, including the city of Smyrna which had a large Greek population. At that time, however, the Turkish nationalists led by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, overthrew the Ottoman government, organised a military assault on the Greek troops, defeated them and virtually destroyed the Greek community, thousands of whom died and millions fled to mainland Greece (see Genocide). Immediately afterwards, hundreds of thousands of Turks who were living in mainland Greek territory left for Turkey.
Greece has first class sports infrastucture
At the start of World War II Greece sided with the Allies and refused to give in to Italian demands. Italy, invaded Greece on 28 October 1941 but, after a bitter war, was repelled. Germany then invaded Greece succesfully. Millions of Greeks died in direct combat, in concentration camps or of starvation during the Nazi occupation. The greatest part of the Jewish community were murdered. The economy was in tatters. After liberation Greece experienced an equally bittercivil war between communists and royalists that lasted until 1949. In the fifties and sixties Greece coninued to develop slowly and with the help of the U.S.A Marshall programme. In 1967 the military seized power in a coup d'état, overthrew the social-democrat government of George Papandreou, senior and established what became known as the Régime of the Colonels that was supported by the U.S.A. In 1973 the régime abolished the Greek monarchy. In 1974, dictator Papadopoulos denied help to the USA and as a result the (US/Kissinger) "appointed" a new dictator named Ioannidis. The latter is held widely responsible for the coup against President Makarios of Cyprus which legitimated the first wave of the Turkish invasion of Cyprus in 1974.
The Cyprus events and the outcry following a bloody suppression of Greek student uprisings in Athens led to the implosion of the military regime. A charismatic, exiled politician, Konstantinos Karamanlis, returned from Paris as interim prime minister and later was re-elected for two more periods heading the conservative Nea Dimokratia party. In 1975, following a referendum to confirm the deposition of Constantine II, a democratic republic was established. Another previously exiled politician, Andreas Papandreou also returned and founded the socialist PASOK party which won the elections in 1981 and dominated the country's political fortunes for almost two decades. Since the restoration of democracy the stability and economic prosperity of Greece have grown. Greece joined the European Union in 1981 and adopted the Euro as its currency in 2001. New infrastructure, funds from the EU and growing revenues from tourism, shipping, services, light industry and telecommunication industry have brought Greeks an unprecedented standard of living. Tensions continue to exist between Greece and Turkey over Cyprus and the delimitation of borders in the Aegean Sea but relations have considerably thawed following successive earthquakes in, first, Turkey and, then, Greece and an outpouring of sympathy and generous assistance by ordinary Greeks and Turks. Greece is actually a proponent of Turkish entry into the EU. The 2004 Summer Olympics were held in the country of their foundation to general satisfaction.
Main article: Politics of Greece
The Parliament in Athens, Greece
The 1975 constitution includes extensive specific guarantees of civil liberties and vests the powers of the head of state in an indirectly elected president, who is advised by the Council of the Republic. The prime minister and cabinet play the central role in the political process, while the president performs some governmental functions in addition to ceremonial duties. The president is elected by parliament to a five-year term and can be re-elected once.
Members of Greece's unicameral parliament (the Vouli ton Ellinon) 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 ensures that the party which leads in the national vote will win a majority of seats. A party must receive 3% of the total national vote to gain representation.
For a list of Greek political parties, see List of political parties in Greece.
Main articles: Peripheries of Greece
The Meteora region in Central Greece
Map of Greece
Greece consists of 13 administrative regions known as peripheries, which are further subdivided into 51 prefectures (nomoi, singular - nomos):
Beyond these one autonomous region exists: Mount Athos (Ayion Oros - Holy Mountain), a monastic state under Greek sovereignty.
The nomoi are divided into 147 eparchies (singular eparchia), which are divided into 1,033 municipalities: 900 urban municipalities (demoi) and 133 rural communities (koinotetes). Before 1999, there were 5,775 local authorities: 457 demoi, 5,318 koinotetes, subdivided into 12,817 localities (oikosmoi).
Main article: Geography of Greece
Greece from orbit
Greece has thousands of islands
Greece has many mountains, of which Olympus is the most famous
The country consists of a large mainland at the southern end of the Balkans; the Peloponnesus peninsula, which is separated from the mainland by the canal of the Isthmus of Corinth; and numerous islands, including Crete, Rhodes, Euboea and the Dodecanese and Cycladic groups of the Aegean Sea. Greece has more than 14,880 kilometres of coastline and a land boundary of 1,160 kilometres.
About 80% of Greece is mountainous or hilly. Much of the country is dry and rocky; only 28% of the land is arable. Western Greece contains lakes and wetlands. Pindus, the central mountain range, has an average elevation of 2,650 m. Mount Olympus forms the highest point in Greece at 2,911 m above sea level.
Greece's climate features mild, wet winters and hot, dry summers. Temperatures rarely reach extremes, although snowfalls do occur in the mountains and occasionally even in Athens in the winter.
Seals, sea turtles and other rare marine life can be seen in Greek seas, while Greece's forests provide a home to Western Europe's last brown bears and lynx.
Main article: Economy of Greece
The Greek owned merchant fleet is one of the world's largest
Greece has a mixed capitalist economy with the public sector accounting for about half of GDP. Tourism is a key industry, providing a large portion of GDP and foreign exchange earnings. Greece also counts as a world leader in terms of the size of her commercial fleet. Greece is a major beneficiary of EU aid, equal to about 2.4% of GNP. The export of manufactured goods, including telecommunications harware and software, foodstuffs and fuels accounts for the reats of Greek income.
The economy has improved steadily over the last few years, as the government tightened policy in the run-up to Greece's entry into the EU's single currency, the euro, on January 1, 2001. Average per capita GDP in 2003 was $20,000http://www.cia.gov/cia/publications/factbook/fields/2004.html. Greece has an expanding services sector and telecommunications industry and is one of the biggest investors in her region. Moreover, Greece, is now a net importer of labour and foreign workers (mainly from the Balkans, Eastern Europe, Middle East and Pakistan) now acount for 10% of the total population.
Major challenges remaining include the reduction of unemployment and further restructuring of the economy, including privatising several state enterprises, undertaking social security reforms, overhauling the tax system, and minimising bureaucratic inefficiencies. Economic growth is forecast at 4 - 4.5 % in 2004. Reducing the government deficit is also a major challenge, notably after Eurostat revealed in 2004 that Greek government finance statistics, on the basis of which the European institutions accepted Greece to join the Euro zone, had been massively falsified.
The national central bank of Greece is the Bank of Greece, not to be confused with the "National Bank of Greece", a commercial bank.
Main article: Demographics of Greece
Students at a party in Athens. Young Greeks are now fewer than their elders
According to the 2001 census, Greece had a population of 10,964,020. Of those, 58.8% lived in urban areas, whereas only 28.4% lived in rural areas. The population of the two largest cities in Greece, Athens and Thessaloniki, almost reached 4 million. Although the population of Greece continues to grow, Greece faces a serious demographic problem: 2002 was the first year where the number of deaths surpassed the number of births.
A large number of immigrants live in Greece today, estimated at over one million. About 65% have come from Albania, and large-scale Albanian migration to Greece since the fall of Communism in Albania has become a source of conflict in Greece because the Greek-Albanian borders opened without any preparations from the Greek government in terms of immigrant facilities. The Albanians occasionally suffer from discrimination and exploitation in Greece, and formerly had a reputation as trouble-makers and criminals. Nonetheless most Greeks nowadays recognize their contribution to the Greek economy. (Several prominent Greek sportsmen are ethinc Greeks who immigrated to Greece from Albania or Georgia in the 1990s.) There are smaller numbers of immigrants from Bulgaria, Serbia, Romania, Pakistan, Ukraine, Belarus, Poland, Egypt, Palestine, Ethiopia, Bangladesh, China and Georgia. The exact number is not known, since the majority live illegally in Greece.
Greece has various, if not numerous, linguistic and cultural minorities. They include, but are not limited to, various Roma groups, Turkish speakers, Slavs, and Vlachs, (Aromanians and Megleno-Romanians). Religious minorities are numerous with the largest being Muslims.
The only minority to which special rights are granted (deriving mainly from the Treaty of Lausanne) is the Muslim (mainly Turkish) minority of Thrace.
The Greek Constitution guarantees absolute freedom of religion. It also states that all persons living within the Greek territory shall enjoy full protection of their religious beliefs. According to the Constitution the "prevailing religion" of Greece is the Eastern Orthodox Church of Christ.
The majority of Greeks (95 to 98%) are at least nominally followers of the Eastern Orthodox Church, although religious observance has declined in recent years. Greek Muslims make up about 1.3% of the population, and are concentrated mainly in Thrace. There are also some Roman Catholics, mainly in the Cyclades islands of Syros, Paros and Naxos, some Protestants and some Jews, mainly in Thessaloniki. Some groups in Greece are trying to reconstruct Hellęnismos, the old Greek pagan religion. See also: Greek Orthodox Church.
Main article: Culture of Greece
Since the dawn of her history and until today Greece has produced a number of contributors to philosophy, science and the arts. For a list of famous Greek women and men see List of Greeks.
Sport in Greece
Other official sites
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