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Left-wing Terrorist Attacks and Organized Violence in Greece, 2008-2012

By Ioannis Michaletos

Greece has a colorful history of domestic terrorism and urban guerrilla warfare, going back to the early 1970’s. This period has seen a multitude of groups active, most of them with leftist or anarchist ties and typically known for small-scale bombings and shootings against international companies, public infrastructure, political parties and the police.

Historically, the deadliest of these was the Revolutionary Organization 17 November. This far-left group founded in 1975 had a reputation for secrecy and internal discipline-indeed, it was disbanded by police only in 2002. Among its 103 attacks, the group was most infamous for high-profile assassinations of foreign officials, including a CIA station chief in Athens, US Army, Navy and Air Force officers and a British diplomat.

Since 2008, regular terrorist attacks, shootings and other acts of organized political violence have occurred, drawing on a reservoir of hostility that the ongoing financial crisis has created, particularly against government, state security and foreign firms.

The following study presents a chronology of 85 attacks from 2008 through 2012, including both those in which the perpetrators are known and unknown. First, however, is an assessment based on the cumulative data and basic information about the major groups behind these attacks.

Numerical Personnel Estimates and Linkages

The number of “radicalized” persons belonging to far-Leftist groups in Greece is estimated at 3,000 people, most of them fairly young, and concentrated in Athens and Thessaloniki. Out of these, 350 to 500 are suspected by the local authorities to have taken part either directly or indirectly in urban guerrilla-style attacks.

A hardcore nucleus of 50 people (still at-large) is suspected of being regular and full-time operatives for terrorist groups. Another 44 have been arrested over the past four years and are either incarcerated or pending trial.

According to information provided by the Greek Police, the Italian police and Europol, Greek extremists have ties with similar groups in Italy, Spain and France and have also been in irregular contact with German and Dutch networks. Moreover unconfirmed reports by Greek press have noted connections with Lebanese figures who have provided training paramilitary facilities.

Operational Capacities and Arms Sources

The operational capabilities of left-wing terrorist groups in Greece tend to fluctuate from month to month depending on arrests made or changes within the inner ranks of these extremist networks, as well as finances and access to arms. The disbanding of 17 November dealt a major blow to the most infamous such group, however, it is believed that some N17 members or sympathizers have simply become involved with the newer groups behind today’s attacks.

It is also known that Greek and Balkan organized crime figures are in contact with Greek terrorists, helping to arm the latter with weaponry (mostly AK-47, grenades, Scorpio semi-automatic and Beretta pistols). Police sources also indicate that multinational organized crime involved with drugs trafficking and human trafficking of illegal immigrants from Muslim countries, with ties to Islamist networks are getting weapons from the latter. It should be remembered that far-left groups have traditionally seen a common cause with immigrants, both for ideological reasons and because the arch-enemy (that is, Greek far-right groups) are violently opposed to illegal immigrants. The latter thus sometimes become ‘fodder’ in internal urban warfare between Greek left- and right-wing extremists.

Data on Left-wing Groups and Activity

The following groups have become most prominent in the last few years. Their actual involvement is probably much higher than the official figures given here, considering that the perpetrators of many of the 85 attacks remain unknown, or will become known soon following various investigations and trials.

Name of Group: Conspiracy of Cells of Fire (also called ‘Conspiracy of Fire Nuclei’); in Greek, Synomisia Pyrinon Tis Fotias (SPF)

Leader: Unknown; non-hierarchical group

Structure: Autonomous cells

Active from: 2008

Ideology: Radical Anarchism, Neo-Nihilism

Number of Attacks carried out 2008-2012: 12 (pending trials, actual number may be significantly higher)

Percentage of total attacks in this period: approx. 14%

Name of Group: Revolutionary Struggle; in Greek, Epanastatikos Agonas (EA)

Leader: Nikos Maziotis (suspected)

Structure: Close-knit group

Active from: 2003

Ideology: Anti-Capitalist; Radical Anarchism

Number of attacks carried out 2008-2012: 10

Percentage of total attacks in this period: approx. 11.5%

Name of group: Revolutionary Sect (also called ‘Sect of Revolutionaries’); in Greek, Sekta Epanastaton

Leader: Unknown

Structure: Paramilitary combat structure

Active from: 2009

Ideology: Anti-Capitalist; Radical Anarchism, Neo-Nihilistic

Number of attacks carried out 2008-2012: 4

Percentage of total attacks in this period: approx. 3.5%

General Notes

Note (1): The review does not include committed or suspected robberies by leftist terrorists group or any other illegal action made simply to raise funds for their actual operational aim.

Note (2): Although the majority of arson attacks since 2008 are widely attributed to the group “Conspiracy of Cells of Fire (SPF)”, trials have not been concluded yet as of February 2013, so the final actual numbers may differ.

Note (3): Incidents regarding arrests of suspected terrorists which involved violence are not mentioned. Neither are various routine or irregular searches of police forces or discoveries of weapon caches and hideouts mentioned.


January 21: A series of arson attacks against bank branches and parked luxury cars in several locations in Athens. Conspiracy of Cells of Fire

October 31: A series of arson attacks against banks, the offices of the New Democracy party and luxury cars. Perpetrators unknown

November 10: Small-scale bombing of the office of New Democracy in a suburb of Athens. Perpetrators unknown

November 13: A series of small-scale bombings in banks in the city of Thessaloniki. Perpetrators unknown

December 13: Small-scale bombing of the French press agency in the center of Athens. Perpetrators unknown

December 7-14: Large-scale riots with significant damage to public and private buildings during the demonstrations over a police killing of a 16 year old-student the previous night in Athens. Several extremist groups participated, including incoming Albanian, Romanian, German, Spanish and Italian “comrades.” Along with the rioters resident illegal immigrants from Pakistan, Algeria and Afghanistan participated in lootings that occurred with an estimated damage of 250 million euros.

Police sources noted that based on evidence, at least 1.5 million euros were “invested” for the purpose of recruitment and ‘armaments’; bombs were mostly Molotov cocktails. A typical “asymmetrical threat.” Around 300 persons were arrested, belonging to various groups.

December 20: A series of attacks with arson material in stores in the center of Athens. Perpetrators unknown

December 21: A small-scale bomb attack in the office of the financial police in Athens, and against two banks and a luxury car dealership. Perpetrators unknown

December 23: Attack with AK-47 against a police bus. Revolutionary Struggle

December 25: Arson attacks against stores in Athens. Perpetrators unknown


January 5: Attempted AK-47 attack on a police officer in Athens. Revolutionary Struggle

January 9: Violent demonstration in the center of Athens, dozens of arrests made of persons from different groups

January 29: BMW dealership in Athens hit by arson attack. Perpetrators unknown

February 3: AK-47 and grenade attack against a police station in Athens. Revolutionary Sect

February 5: Arson attack against the office of the alternate Minister for Public Order. Perpetrators unknown

February 12: A series of arson attacks against offices of magistrates in Athens. Perpetrators unknown

February 17: Arson attack against Greek TV station Alter. Revolutionary Sect

February 18: Large-scale bombing of Citibank branch in Athens. Revolutionary Struggle

March 3: Arson attack against a railway wagon in a suburb of Athens. Perpetrators Unknown

March 19: Bomb attack against a public real estate company. Popular Will

March 25: Arson attacks against banks and a telephone company in Athens. Perpetrators unknown

March 30: Arson attacks against offices of New Democracy, banks and a luxury yacht office. Perpetrators unknown

March 31: Arson attacks against banks and luxury cars in Athens.Perpetrators unknown

April 9: Arson attacks against a church in Athens. Perpetrators unknown

April 13: Arson attacks against randomly selected cars in Athens and Thessaloniki. Perpetrators unknown

May 12: Small-scale bombing at a bank branch. Revolutionary Struggle

May 18: An arson attack against a parked police motorcycle in Athens. Perpetrators unknown

May 20: Bomb attack against offices of private company in Athens. Popular Will

June 2: Arson attack against the building of the general secretary of media and public information in Athens. Perpetrators unknown

June 4: Arson attack against a police station in Athens. Perpetrators unknown

June 17: Assassination of an anti-terrorist police officer in Athens. Revolutionary Sect

July 3: Arson attack against the private office of an ex-public order minister in Athens. Conspiracy of Cells of Fire

July 3: Arson attack against a McDonald’s in Athens. Revolutionary Struggle

July 4: Arson attack against building of the Ministry of interior in Athens. Conspiracy of Cells of Fire

July 11: Arson attack against the house of ex-alternate Minister of interior. Conspiracy of Cells of Fire

July 28: Series of arson attacks against office of New Democracy, PASOK and LAOS political parties in Athens. Perpetrators unknown

July 26: Small-scale bombings in municipal police buildings in Thessaloniki. Perpetrators unknown

September 2: Large-scale bombing against the stock market in Athens and the Ministry of Macedonia and Thrace building in Thessaloniki, with no casualties. Revolutionary Struggle (suspected)

October 28: Attack with AK-47 and grenades against a police station in Athens, leaving six officers wounded. Proletarian People’s Self-defense

October 30: Bomb attack against the house of a former education minister in Athens. Conspiracy of Cells of Fire

November 5: Arson attack in vehicles in center of Athens. Perpetrators unknown

November 14: Bomb attack against the house of a PASOK MP. Conspiracy of Cells of Fire

November 20: Arson attack against municipal police building in suburb of Athens. Perpetrators unknown

November 30: A series of arson attacks in public building and banks in Thessaloniki. Perpetrators unknown

December 5: Small-scale bombing in magistrate building in the city of Heraklio, Crete. Perpetrators unknown

December 6: Arson attacks in the center of Athens against cars. Perpetrators unknown

December 28: Large-scale bomb attack (no casualties) in the offices of the National Insurance Company in Athens. Conspiracy of Cells of Fire


January 9: Small-scale bomb attack near national parliament. Conspiracy of Cells of Fire

January 28: Arson attack against the private office of a former Greek Prime Minister. Perpetrators unknown

February 11: Attack with stones-rocks against passing police officers in the center of Athens. Local anarchist group

February 16: Bomb explosion outside of a JP Morgan Bank in Athens. Revolutionary Struggle (suspected)

February 28: Stoning of passing police officers in the center of Athens. Local anarchist group

March 18: A series of arson attacks in several vehicles in Athens. Perpetrators unknown

March 22: A series of bomb attacks against the offices of the Golden Dawn party, a police station and the house of the vice-president of the Pakistani community in Athens. Conspiracy of Cells of Fire

April 14: A series of arson attacks in two offices of MP’s in Thessaloniki. Perpetrators unknown

April 14: Arson attack against office of a PASOK MP in Athens. Perpetrators unknown

May 5: Arson attack during a public demonstration against a bank branch in the center of Athens, with three employees killed. Radical anarchist network suspected after police investigation in late 2012

May 13: Bomb attack near Athens central correctional facilities, one civilian wounded. Revolutionary Struggle

May 14: Bomb attack against a Thessaloniki magistrate building. Revolutionary Struggle

June 24: Parcel bomb explosion in the Ministry of Public Order, killing a police officer who was assistant to the minister. Revolutionary Struggle suspected

July 19: Assassination of a Greek investigative journalist. Revolutionary Sect

November 1-4: Parcel bombing in a series of attempts to send bombs via international and local mail to multiple targets, including embassies in Athens, the governments of France and Germany, Europol headquarters and others. Conspiracy of Cells of Fire

December 30: Athens courthouse bombed. Conspiracy of Cells of Fire


January 12: Small-scale bomb attack against office of the LAOS political party in Thessaloniki and another one against the office of the union of retired political officers. Perpetrators unknown

January 16: Series of arson attacks against banks and PASOK offices in Athens. Perpetrators unknown

January 25: Small-scale bombing of the offices of the judges’ union in Thessaloniki. Perpetrators unknown

February 16: Arson attack in a university building in center of Athens. Perpetrators unknown

March 18: Small-scale bombing in the private office of the minister of health in Athens. Perpetrators unknown

April 17: Series of arson attacks in public building and vehicles in Athens and the island of Salamina. Perpetrators unknown

April 18: Small-scale bomb in the political offices of New Democracy and PASOK MP’s in Athens. Perpetrators unknown

April 19: Arson attacks against buildings of the Metro railway system in Athens. Perpetrators unknown

December 13: Small-scale bombing of the private office of a PASOK MP in Athens. Perpetrators unknown


January 21: Arson attack against offices of the Ministry of Culture in Athens. Perpetrators unknown

January 31: Small-scale bomb attack against a supermarket in Athens. Perpetrators unknown

February 13: Arson attacks against two cinemas in the center of Athens during a violent public demonstration in Athens. Local anarchist networks (suspected)

February 27: Arson attack against a wagon in the metro rail system in Athens. Urban guerrilla group

April 3: Small-scale bombing in the private office of a former Greek prime minister in Athens. Perpetrators unknown

April 19: Arson attack against randomly-selected vehicles in the center of Athens. Perpetrators unknown

June 27: Large-scale arson attack against the offices of Microsoft in Athens. International Revolutionary Front

September 2: Small-scale bombing of a municipal police building in Athens. Perpetrators unknown

October 8: Arson attack against wagon of tram network in Athens. Perpetrators unknown

November 26: Arson attack against the house of former general secretary of ministry of public works in Athens. Minority Struggle

December 7: Small-scale bombing in the house of former finance minister in Athens. Perpetrators unknown

December 8: Large-scale bombing of an office of the Golden Dawn party in the outskirts of Athens. Informal Anarchist Federation (FAI)

December 30: Small-scale bombing in a local magistrate’s office in Athens. Perpetrators unknown

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Emerging Water Industries in Greece

By Ioannis Michaletos in Athens

Water management is attracting the attention of businessmen in Greece, especially when it is related to the water cycle and energy production. Dams, water transmission pipelines, water depots, and seawater desalination plants are all included in the five-year plan that the Karamanlis administration has relayed recently to the press, as a plan to develop this very lucrative sector.

Greece‘ss national plan was drafted by the Ministry of Public Works, along with the national Directorate of Hydro-management and the Athens National Technical University.

This national program includes both large and small hydro-projects, since Greece has significant hydrodynamic potential, most of which is concentrated in the western and northern sections of the country, where major rivers such as the Acheloos, Arachthos, Aoos, Haliakmon, Stymonas and Nestos flow. At the same time, Greece makes excessive use of electricity, almost 40% more than any of its Balkan neighbors. Greece also imports substantial amounts of electricity per annum, especially from Bulgaria.

Most European countries have reached the highest potential of their hydrodynamic reserves. Greece is an exception; only one-third of the economically exploitable hydrodynamic resources are being exploited. Therefore, the country has significant unused domestic reserves, and can thus create a long-term strategy in this field.

The National Program Management and Protection of Water Resources includes measures for better distribution of water in the 14 designated water departments in the country, which, as announced by Minister George Souflias, include large and small projects for water diversions or transfers and for electricity production. These projects include around 22 large hydroelectric structures and about 300 small hydropower ones.

In order to meet the needs of the more arid regions of the country, a system of small and large dams along the rivers and pipelines transporting water from one water compartment to another will be constructed. For coastal areas and islands, seawater desalination plants have already started to be built, some of them using hybrid technology, meaning they are powered by renewable energy resources such as solar and wind power.

These major projects will be designed so as not to disturb the water balance areas. Yet all the evidence suggests that this is inevitable, as water in the coming years will become a more precious and expensive commodity than oil.

The diversion of the Acheloos River to the Thessaly region has almost been completed, at a cost of over 700 million euros. As a consequence Thessaly’ss farmers will enjoy a significant boost in their production (mostly wheat, corn, potato and cotton), with a 300 MW electricity production facility.

The water department with the largest surplus is West Central Greece, while the deficit is evident in Thessaly. Other departments with water deficit are the Eastern Peloponnese and the Aegean islands.

With Greece’ss current pace of growth, it is calculated that by 2030 the northern Peloponnese, eastern and central Greece, Attica, central Macedonia and Thrace will start facing problems, if the government’ss envisioned plans are not implemented. For the time being, the wet winter of 2008-09 has resulted in a spectacular increase in water reserves to such an extent that there are plans to export water to the Middle East. Last year Greece exported water to Cyprus when the latter faced a drought.

Today, the main issues associated with water management in Greece are:

-unequal distribution of water resources in western Greece due to heavy rainfall in comparison with the eastern parts;

-the uneven seasonal distribution of water resources, winter being the only significant rainy period;

unequal distribution of water demand in the country, with Attica, Thessaloniki and Patras requiring most of the resources during winter, in addition to the most visited tourist islands of the Aegean in the summer;

-leaks in water distribution networks, affecting up to 20% of pipeline networks, pose an additional problem and require new pipeline infrastructure.

Already, Greece has reached scientific and bi-governmental agreements with the EU countries plus Iceland in order to import much needed know-how regarding water management issues.

It is telling that the country is ranked in the last place among 24 European and Mediterranean countries, having at present only 46 large dams. Spain (ranked 1st) has 1196, followed by Turkey with 625, France with 569, and Italy with 524.

The Greek government moreover is now geared to privatize segments of the hydro-infrastructure. The water and sewerage companies in both Athens and Thessaloniki are high on the list next to privatization.

The Ministry of Finance seems to be planning a gradual reduction in the percentage held and in the state companies EYDAP (Athens) and EYATH (Thessaloniki). Currently, the government holds 70% of the share capital of EYDAP (60% government and 10% of the ATE state bank) and over 70% of EYATH. According to all available information those percentages will fall to 40% by next year. The capitalization of the former is around 400 million euros, and of EYATH, around 200 million euros.

Already, French multinational Suez Environment has expressed keen interest to invest in Greek companies. Since both of them hold significant real estate along the two biggest Greek cities, there are ample opportunities for investing in the sewage management sector, the next big thing in the contemporary “Green business” trend. Certainly, the water business is going to become a well known feature in Greece and elsewhere in the Balkans, as major investors start to move into an emerging and very lucrative sector.

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Bio-fuel Business Catching On in Greece

By Ioannis Michaletos in Athens

Greek businesses today are increasingly looking into the prospects of further investments into waste management and possible applications for the bio-fuels industry. Already, some of the bigger companies are making plans for incorporating bio-fuel production into their portfolios, and the general trend towards renewable energy sources and the generous state and European support towards that aim also add to the appeal in this sector.

The current turnover of the waste management market, according to reports from the Ministry of Development in Athens, is around 100 million Euros. Within the next 3-5 years, estimates are that it will grow to 300 million. Over the next 7-9 years, this figure is estimated to have soared to 700-800 million Euros annually. Overall, this means that at least 25 new recycling units must be constructed in the short term, and there are serious considerations calling for the investments to proceed.

The EU has repeatedly fined Greece for its inability to draft a conclusive plan regarding garbage recycling, and according to Giorgo Angelli, a journalist covering environmental issues, “that provides a strong impetus for great investments and assistance by the state in the near future for this sector.”

The Greek state has already started forming public tenders for the new waste processing installations that will be built using Private-Public-Consortiums- whereby private companies will construct the plants, and then be able to exploit them under a leasing agreement with the state.

The necessary funds for this work will derive in most respects from the EU’s 4th Assistance Package, which describes a broad array of handouts from Brussels to Greece within the period 2009-2014. Furthermore, as Christos Ioannou, an independent business consultant notes, “it is more than certain that Greek corporations will seek the collaboration of experienced foreign multinationals, since this industry is rather new to the country and the know-how deemed essential is still limited.”

The Players

The current market structure is composed of the big players in Greece, which will most certainly strive to acquire larger market shares in the future as well. The first such company, Helector, is a part of the Ellaktor construction group, which is active in multiple locations in Greece, the Balkans and the Middle East.

Another involved business, Helesi, operates a recycling plant in Northern Greece which specializes in motor tire process. Its shares are listed in the AIM stock index in London.

Third is Lobbe-Tzilalis, which constitutes a joint venture between the German group and a Greek representative that specializes in hospital waste management in Athens.

Further, the Greek construction group Hellenic Technodomiki, itself a Ellaktor affiliate, operates a household recycling plant near Athens- the first of its kind in the region. It also has a similar one in the Trier -Mertesdorf area of Germany. Recently it established a power station operating with biogas in Northern Greece. According to its press office “the company is interested in promoting this power generating technology in the country and in other markets abroad.”

Bio-Power on the Rise

The energy derived from biomass in Greece has also ignited a series of investments in the biofuel sector. Since mid-2006, the state has provided substantial subsidies of up to 50 percent of an investment, in order for plants to be created that will produce biofuel.

According to the 2003/30 EU Directive on the Promotion of the Use of Biofuels and other Renewable Fuels for Transport, Greece should conform by increasing biodiesel consumption to 5.75 percent by 2010, and 10 percent by 2020 of the total transport consumption. Currently, it is estimated at only 3 percent.

The decline of the oil price index has already cast a shadow on the viability of a multitude of investments-to-be that had at inception calculated a different price range for their bio-fuel product.

Therefore, as chemical engineer Ioannis Papamichail notes, “the annual diesel consumption in the country is approximately 2.7 million tones per annum, whilst the interest of constructing new plants will lead in theory into the production of more than 3 million tones of biodiesel. For 2008 biodiesel production was 100,000 tones so it’s far from the expectations of many prospective investors.”

It is understood that most plans will not proceed at all in the foreseeable future. If one wants to predict how the market will develop, it’s best to look at the already established businesses that have rooted themselves in the market and, in theory, can thus fend off the potential competition.

The first such company, Agroinvest, owns a plant with a maximum production capability of 252,000 tones a year. Further, the Pettas Company operates a factory in southern Greece with a total capacity of 60,000 tones. The Hellenic Biodiesel company owns an installation with a total 40,000-ton production capability in Northern Greece. Lastly, Vert Oil recently established a 44,000-ton plant suitable for such industry.

All of the above companies are Greek-owned and are likely going to be hotly pursued by larger investors which seek an entrance into the market, but do not want to establish new plants due to the limited profit margins related to the oil price decrease. An example is the joint venture named Biodiesel-Greece, created by Hellenic Petroleum and Viohalco Holdings, two of the top Greek multinationals.

Another potential strong player is the Elin Biodiesel Corporation that belongs to an energy group linked with influential Greek shipping interests. Both of them have relayed to the local press that they will proceed with investment plans that include market entrance through the already established players, and in the mid-term complete their own installations in Greece and in the neighboring Balkan countries.

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Remnants of Byzantium in London

Editor’s note: this special report comes to us from Dr. Jonathan Harris of Royal Holloway, University of London. It recounts the proceedings of an absorbing workshop recently held at London’s Hellenic Centre, which brought members of the general public into contact with some of the world’s leading experts on Byzantium- this time, in the unique context of its little-known, but lengthy relationship with the British capital. Photos appear courtesy of the author.


By Dr. Jonathan Harris

On Saturday, February 28, a special public seminar was held at the Hellenic Centre. Attended by some forty people, the workshop aimed to explore the links between Byzantium and London by investigating the ways in which the two societies interacted in the past and by exploring the reminders, remnants and reflections of Byzantium that can be found in London today.


Christchurch, on London

The five talks delivered during the day approached that task from different angles.

Anthea Harris of the University of Birmingham looked at Byzantine artefacts that have been found in datable contexts in London and the Thames valley.

While the evidence from London itself is sparse, finds from burials both to the north and south of the Thames suggest that Byzantine luxury objects were reaching Britain during the so-called Dark Ages (c.450-c.650).

Silver spoons and bronze bowls of Constantinopolitan manufacture have been found interred in high-status graves, probably those of chiefs or kings.


Byzantine spoon from an Anglo-Saxon burial site in Prittlewell, Essex

For his part, Scot McKendrick, Head of Western Manuscripts at the British Library, described some of the Byzantine manuscripts in the library’s collection and how they came to be there.

He ended with a description of the BL’s Codex Sinaiticus online project, which is making the text of the oldest complete copy of the New Testament available on the internet.

In the afternoon, Geoff Egan of the Museum of London’s archaeological service recounted how an excavation on the foreshore of the River Thames had revealed some unexpected finds: Byzantine coins and lead seals.


The Codex Sinaiticus

When these were sent to experts for identification, they proved to be of eleventh-century date. One of the seals bore the Greek word €šÃ„òGenikon,’s suggesting that it was once attached to a document issued by the imperial treasury in Constantinople.

The presence of these objects in London might have been connected with the recruitment of English mercenaries for the Byzantine army, and the famous Varangian guard.

Eugenia Russell, who recently completed a doctorate at Royal Holloway, University of London, looked at Andronicus Kallistos, a Byzantine scholar who died in London in 1476 in circumstances that are slightly obscure. His lonely end is almost foreshadowed in a lament that he wrote for the fall of Constantinople in 1453, and which highlights the themes of exile and dislocation.

Finally, George Manginis of the Archaeological Museum in Ioannina looked at neo-Byzantine architecture in London. As well as discussing the well-known monuments such as Westminster Cathedral and St Sophia in Bayswater, he showed pictures of obscure buildings such as a Primitive Methodist chapel that show a pronounced Byzantine influence. His presentation left the audience eager to learn more about London’s neo-Byzantine survivals.

Among the many satisfied participants at the event was Londoner Martin Hall, currently embarking on a post-retirement MA in Crusader Studies at Royal Holloway. Mr. Hall says that he was “particularly impressed” by George Manginis’s discussion of Byzantine remnants in London, considering it “a highly professional presentation which caused you to look at London buildings in a new light and with a new understanding.”


This Primitive Methodist Church on Caledonian Road in London boasts Neo-Byzantine windows

The workshop was funded by the London Centre for the Arts and Cultural Enterprise and by the Hellenic Centre, and organised by the Hellenic Institute, Royal Holloway, University of London.

The Lucrative Electricity Trade in Greece: Profits and Problems

By Ioannis Michaletos in Athens

The electricity sector in Greece has expanded recently, and remains characterized by substantial profits made by companies due to the high system marginal prices. Currently there are several companies active in electricity trade in the country that mainly deal in imports of electricity from the Balkans and Italy to Greece. The country has an actual production capacity of around 10,100MW but its needs during the burdened summer season exceed 10,800MW. Recently, the issue has risen to the attention of the public because of losses caused to the Greek power corporation.

A Trader’s Paradise

Haris Floudopoulos, an energy analyst has assessed that energy trading is a ‘very profitable business in the country and many of the companies involved actually employ just a few managers, in some cases not more than two or three people, based in small premises in the center of Athens.’ Thus with a minimum investment, higher return is assured.

The difference between the Greek market in terms of system marginal price (SMP) and that of Scandinavia, for example, is significant. For 2007 in the Scandinavian countries, SMP was at 34.53 Euros/MWh whereas in Greece it reached 78.36 Euros/MWh according to information put forth by the Greek power company. In Spain, the price was 61.38 Euros/MWh, while in Germany it was 58.5/MWh, and in France 64.71/MWh.

Moreover, there has been a trend over the past four years of increase in the Greek SMP. In 2005 it was at 43.14 Euros/MWh, but had jumped in 2008 to almost 90 Euros/MWh- more than a 100 percent increase, representing a unique case in Europe.

The Greek network manager, Hellenic Transmission Systems Operator (DESMIE), has informed that according to its database, ‘the Greek market currently operates the most expensive electricity system in the EU, although household prices are much lower than the rest of EU countries bar Portugal.’

The reason for this is that ‘the SMP increase correlates with the electricity production deficit in the country, along with the rising demand.’

Another issue is the rule made by the Greek regulatory authority (RAE) that sets a limit of up to 150 Euros/MWh for the marginal price a trader can gain. Since the peak periods are limited to just a few days a year, there are considerable gains to be made by exploiting cracks in the production system of the Greek power corporation.

Although it cannot be verified for the moment, there were cases over the summer of 2008 in which it appeared that trade companies managed to extract the maximum marginal price. The regulatory authority has stated that, ‘presently there is no trend concerning the exploitation of the maximum set price, although that cannot be excluded for the coming season.’

Problems for the Greek Power Company

The electricity production deficit in the country, in combination with the decreasing production capacity of the power stations that operate using lignite, has made it possible for trading companies to exploit their opportunities to make profits unimaginable in other markets.

The Greek power company which controls almost 93 percent of the domestic market has delayed plans to modernize its plants or construct new ones. Further, private enterprises have also stalled their own investment plans, due to political or financial reasons. On the other hand, a 4 billion Euro investment plan by the power company that calls for the construction of new natural gas sites and the expansion of renewable energy systems will reduce dependence on energy traders (along with their fat profits). Yet this will not be achievable before 2015.

According to public statements by Chris Poseidon, a senior manager in the semi-state Greek power corporation, ‘in Greece, electricity bills are regulated by the state, whereas the trading corporations operate liberally. Thus the Greek power company is obliged in many cases to buy electricity at much higher prices than it actually sells to its customers.’

The Greek power company increased its bills for household users by 9.5 percent in July 2008, and is petitioning the government to proceed with another 5-7 percent hike from 2009 onwards. For the moment, the troubles of the company have grasped the attention of the media, since it is losing tens of million of euros per month, a windfall now ending up in the pockets of trading companies.

The whole issue has steadily become a political hot potato for the Greek administration. On November 3, 2008, some 34 MP’s from the Socialist opposition requested an official response from the minister of development, presenting data for the first quarter of 2008 showing that the Greek power company had paid 461.4 million Euros in order to cover its electricity balance.

A sure prediction for the near future is that the activities of trading companies will come further to light and become part of a public discourse on the issue. It is more than certain that they have been able to exploit liberalization of the market better than either the government or the Greek power corporation and will continue to do so for the coming years.

The Main Players

In total there are 21 active traders, holding licenses of around 4,150 MW.

Mytilineos (Greek). Trading license of 310MW

ATEL Hellas (Swiss-Greek). Trading license of 300MW, and has reserved 50MW capacity in the Greek-Italian cable, through an auction by the Italian network manager TERNA.

VERBUND-APT (Austrian-Greek).300MW

Edison Trading (Italian). 300MW. Has reserved a 10MW capacity in the Greek-Italian cable.

ENEL Trading (Italian). 250MW

EDF Trading (French). 243MW. Has reserved a 10MW capacity in the Greek-Italian cable

NECO (Greek-Bulgarian owned). 200MW, and has reserved 30MW capacity in the Greek-Italian cable.

EGL Hellas (Swiss). 200MW, and has reserved 5MW in the Greek-Italian cable, and another 5MW in the Greek-Bulgarian one.

Hellenic Petroleum (Greek).200MW

EFT Hellas (British-Greek).150MW and has reserved a 5MW capacity in the Greek-Italian cable.

Other companies that have trading licenses but average low or minimal trade are: RWE (350MW), Eon (350MW), Cinergy (200MW), Entrade (200MW), Danske Commodities (100MW), Ezpada (200MW), Terna Energy (100mw), TCB Energy (80MW), ITA Energy (50mw), Ener Greece (50MW) and Athens International Airport (25MW).

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Population Exchange in Greek Macedonia: the Rural Settlement of Refugees 1922-1930

Population Exchange in Greek Macedonia: the Rural Settlement of Refugees 1922-1930

By Elisabeth Kontogiorgi

Clarendon Press (Oxford) 2006

Reviewed by Melina Grizo*

Over a decade ago, an anthropological study of Greek Macedonia conducted by scholar Anastasia Karakasidou resulted in violent reactions from Greek nationalists, and also generated great interest among the community of Balkan researchers. In her book, Fields of Wheat, Hills of Blood: Passages to Nationhood in Greek Macedonia 1870-1990 (University of Chicago Press, 1997), Karakasidou pursued an inquiry into the ethnological origin of certain rural inhabitants in Greek Macedonian and challenged the myth of the Greek national homogeneity of the region.

Elisabeth Kontogiorgi centers her analysis a bit differently. She is concerned specifically with the issue of Greek refugee settlement in post-Ottoman Macedonia, but unlike near-contemporary presentations she considers the political and the diplomatic intricacies of the time merely as one of many other significant factors at work. (Some of these useful contemporary works include: Stephen P. Ladas’s The Exchange of Minorities: Bulgaria, Greece and Turkey, The Macmillan Company, New York, 1932; E.G. Mears’s Greece Today: The Aftermath of the Refugee Impact, Stanford, Calif. and London, 1929; and Henry Morgenthau’s I Was Sent to Athens, New York, 1929).

Nevertheless, she does show how European diplomats considered the compulsory exchange of population as the only way to maintain a lasting peace between Greece and Turkey. Despite the grandiose rhetoric with regard to minority issues that prevailed in the 1920s, the European Great Powers thus permitted a process that was tragic or at least traumatic for most of those affected.

For Kontogiorgi, the work of the Refugee Settlement Commission and the national governments which were involved is but a part of the question. Her main contribution lays in her efforts to pursue a detailed inquiry of the multiple aspects of the settlement, with research supported by numerous statistics from various sources.

A number of archival sources are cited in the book, most from the Greek archive collections, but also others from the Public Records Office in London, the League of Nations Archives and the US State Department. The author’s research also draws on varying historical sources, such as the writings of diplomats, administrators and members of the Refugee Settlement Commission, as well as the contemporary media.

This research is largely based on English and Greek sources; the bibliographies available in other regional languages are not represented. However, the material from the Greek archives and Greek historiography in general make this study valuable for the diverse community of Balkan historians who do not read Greek and who thus do not have access to sources not translated from that language.

Elisabeth Kontogiorgi begins her book by introducing the reader to the geography of Macedonia, its economy and history, and the various people who lived there (Part I). After explaining the political and diplomatic background of the issue, she moves with ease among varying aspects of the problem, pursuing an inquiry into the work of the Refugee Settlement Commission, the history of land ownership in Macedonia, (Part II) the social, political and ethnological impact of the migration (Part III) and its economic aspects (Part IV).

Population Exchange in Greek Macedonia would have probably benefited had the author dedicated more space to a general analysis of the minority problems in the period after World War I in regards to their regulation under different international treaties. Still, she makes an effort to explain the role of the League of Nations, which undertook the responsibility of planning and undertaking the resettlements, but left its financing to governments, banks and individual economic organizations, on an ad hoc basis.

The main value of the book lies in the detailed analysis of the less obviously political aspects of the problem. A separate heading is dedicated to the refugees, who came to Greece in large numbers from different parts of Turkey, with a varying professional and cultural background and who even spoke varying dialects of the Greek language. Their misery upon arrival is well illustrated by the accounts of all sorts of witnesses, diplomats, journalists and politicians.

For example, Ernest Hemingway wrote on their exodus in October 1922, describing the long trail of refugees as comprising “twenty miles of carts drawn by cows, bullocks and muddy-flanked water buffalo, with exhausted, staggering men, women and children, blankets over their heads, walking blindly along the rain beside their worldly goods” (p. 56).

The second part of Population Exchange in Greek Macedonia concerns the land reforms in Greek Macedonia in the years after the Greek-Turkish War. It begins by providing insight into the Ottoman system of land tenure and continues with an analysis of the Greek postwar legislation on the land reform, the partitioning of the big estates and their redistribution to the refugees under the patronage of the Refugee Settlement Commission.

One interesting section in this part is the chapter on the migration’s demographic aspects. In 1912, the Greek population of Macedonia was recorded as being 42.6 percent. With the expulsion of Turks and Slavs, in 1926 it amounted to 88.8 percent (p. 100). The region’s general demographic growth was equally dramatic; due to the wars and general instability, Macedonia had become sparsely populated, and the arrival of the refugees was generally beneficial, according to the author.

However, there seemed to be another reason for this rapid growth. Namely, as the legal regulation of the land reform stated that only married couples could obtain land, the rate of marriage in Macedonia rose extremely fast. Contemporary sources claimed that Greece, otherwise a country with one of the lowest birthrates in Europe, had obtained a high fertility due to the ‘superior biological characteristics’ of the refugee population. Still, after the process of land distribution ended, the levels of marriages and fertility fell.

The third, and probably most intriguing part of Population Exchange in Greek Macedonia is dedicated to the social, political and ethnological impact of the refugee resettlement process. The author pays special attention here to the issue of political and national considerations. She explains the place of land reform in Macedonia in the general agenda of the Greek state, and its efforts to solve problems related to agriculture through it.

After analyzing the work of the Commission entrusted with refugee resettlement, and its diplomatic, political and financial aspects, she moves to a consideration of resettlement’s social impact. Kontogiorgi offers numerous examples of friction between Macedonia’s poor pre-existing inhabitants, and the even poorer refugees who were resettled there. Further on, she continues with an analysis of the Greek state’s motivations and strong efforts to populate its northern borders with Greek-speaking refugees. This was intended, she upholds, partially for security reasons, as these parts of Macedonia were a frequent target of the IMRO (Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization) bands, and a potential source of dispute with Greece’s northern neighbors.

Equally interesting is the author’s account of the kind of political propaganda carried out in Greek Macedonia during the refugee resettlement period. Here she explains how the Agricultural Party, as well as the Communists, failed to attract sufficient supporters, and how the Venizelist and Anti-Venizelist camps skillfully exploited the conflicts between the old inhabitants and the newcomers.

Interestingly, although the Convention for the exchange of the population was signed by Eleftherios Venizelos himself, he was not held responsible for its tragic results in the eyes of the refugees. Thus, they regularly supported him in the elections. The anti-Venizelist camp sought to stir up the pre-existing population by darkly insinuating the alleged perils of the ‘refugee dictatorship’ and advocated an interruption of the payment of grants. Their press described the refugees as lazy and unproductive.

Still more interesting perhaps is the author’s analysis of how the settlement of Greek-speaking refugees impacted the nation-building process conducted by the Greek state in the region of Macedonia, which it had acquired less then a decade before their arrival (in 1913). The Turks from the newly Greek areas moved to Turkey and the ‘Slavophones’ (as Kontogiorgi calls them), especially those from eastern Macedonia, largely moved to Bulgaria.

The Greek government thus was presented with a unique opportunity to settle the Greek-speaking refugees on the lands vacated by these prior inhabitants. The new ethnological map of Macedonia which emerged encompassed Greeks from all four major regions of origin: Asia Minor, the Pontus, eastern Thrace and the Caucasus. It was simply a matter of time before all of these people acquired a clear Greek national identity.

The fourth and final part of Population Exchange in Greek Macedonia is dedicated to infrastructure and logistics. It shows how the rural settlement was planned by the state and how the former Turkish chifliks were populated. The health services, animal husbandry and land use were organized. The names of the villages and rivers were exchanged for Greek ones (p. 293).

Population Exchange in Greek Macedonia makes for a worthwhile read for those interested in Balkan history in general, as well as for specialists in migration studies and issues of nationalism. As the Conventions for the exchange of population have been largely considered from the point of view of political and diplomatic history, this book offers fresh insight from another perspective. It considers the consequences of a purely political inter-state agreement in the context of issues of land law, demography, nation-building and infrastructure development.

Readers of Balkan history accustomed to simple political accounts may find it somewhat bewildering to read about topics like the impact of the refugee resettlement on agriculture and animal husbandry. However, this embodies the main quality of the work, as it shows lesser-known aspects of the forced migration and its impact on the land where the refugees were settled.

Nevertheless, Population Exchange in Greek Macedonia would have been more complete if the author had dedicated more space to those who were obliged by the Greek government to leave the region. Despite its title, the work merely mentions the Neuilly Treaty and the Convention which arranged for the exchange of population between Greece and Bulgaria. Other exoduses are left unmentioned.

The demographic change which occurred in Greek Macedonia became possible due to the legally voluntary, but in practice obligatory removal of the Slavic population from that region. The author does not deal either with the complicated issue of the nationality of this population – merely calling it ‘Slavophone,’ in the best tradition of Greek nationalist historiography.

In short, this book draws a portrait of Macedonia, its sad history and the refugees who settled it. It is a book that studies an episode of unparalleled suffering, even measured by the standards of Balkan history. It shows how the landscape of Macedonia was allowed to change, with the League of Nations’s approval of the forced migrations, the determination of the Greek state to encompass the refugees in their own nation-building processes on the northern frontier, and the conduct of the political parties. The reader obtains a thorough insight into the problem, starting from the consideration of the diplomatic cabinets to the ordinary people’s struggle for daily survival.

……………………………………. guest reviewer Melina Grizo,  PhD, is an Assistant Professor at the Law Faculty Justinianus I in Skopje, Macedonia, and concentrates on diplomatic history and EU law. She also holds a  postgraduate degree in EU law from the University of Oxford.

Snow Descends on the Balkans, to the Relief of Ski Resorts

( Research Service)- The first New Year’s gift of 2009 to the citizens of many Balkan countries has come in the form of the season’s first significant snowfall, blanketing large areas in Macedonia, northern Greece, Serbia, Kosovo, Bulgaria and Albania.

In the Macedonian capital of Skopje, some 16cm of snow has accumulated in the past three days- posing a challenge for motorists as city officials, caught dozing by the holidays and an insufficiency of snowplows, have been unable to clear major central streets. In Sofia, Bulgaria, similar conditions have been encountered, but authorities have a more formidable fleet of snowplows (137, to be exact) at their disposal.

Despite a handful of minor accidents, however, Macedonian citizens have generally been enjoying this unusual chance to sled in the center and to see the giant faux Christmas tree in the square, distastefully topped by a giant pink T (a gesture to likely sponsor T-Mobile), adorned by actual snow. Forecasts call for snow to continue falling until Tuesday, and resume later in the week.

Snowfall has been enabled by freezing temperatures across the region. So far, the standard has been set in ever-chilly Erzurum, Turkey. This eastern Anatolian town recently recorded temperatures of minus 36 Celsius.

Snow has also made things interesting in northern Greece, where officials have called on drivers to use chains amidst freezing temperatures as low as minus 13 Celsius and snowfall of up to 25cm across Epiros and the province of Macedonia.

Aerial footage from northern Albania shown earlier this week showed the mountainous region completely snowed under. Already hard enough to navigate in the best of times, this sparsely populated area has become inaccessible in large parts due to snowfall of up to half a meter.

Nevertheless, the sudden snowfall has also meant relief for some ski areas that had until now been hit hard by the lack of snowfall. In Serbia, the snowfall has been a boon for ski areas such as Mt Kopaonik, currently full of skiers and with 45cm of snow coverage.

Macedonia’s main ski area, Mavrovo in the west, was bare until a few days ago, causing concern among company officials. One official stated last week that since snow-making equipment was too expensive, they have been left at the mercy of the elements- which had been proving uncooperative, until this week. Now, however, the center reports over 40cm of snow coverage, many visitors, and predicts that the snow will remain for the duration of the season.

Macedonia’s other major ski center, Ski Centar Kozuf on the Greek border, did not open earlier due to cold temperatures, a company representative stated on December 30, adding that the resort would be opening soon. This new operation claims to have the most modern equipment in the Balkans, including artificial snowmaking guns and a state-of-the-art, six-person German-made lift.

Still a work in progress, the resort which opened just last year has yet to finish paving the 30km-long access road from Gevgelija, let alone to finish construct all of the facilities (though all of the allocated space for ski lodges has long since sold out). Here, the goal is to make an environmentally- and aesthetically-friendly resort; for example, while there will be a movie theater, it will be built underground.

The previous lack of snow, coupled with the general global economic downturn, have meant ski resorts in the region have been late to open or are seeing lessened demand. In Bulgaria’s leading resort area of Bansko, for example, there were still plenty of reservations available during the usually packed holiday period. The reduced number of skiers thus far has also meant declining profits for travel agencies booking tours and local hoteliers. Other, smaller Bulgarian resorts include Chepelare in the Rodopi Mountains (set to open on Jan. 7), are less hectic and cheaper as well- good for bargain-seekers.

Indeed, with no end in sight to the economic recession, regional ski centers can only adjust prices and hope that the skies at least will cooperate for the remainder of the winter season. However, the strange weather patterns of the past few years, perhaps caused by global warming, mean that nothing can be taken for granted and skiers should enjoy the conditions while they have them.

Top Balkan Ski Resorts

Want to make use of the good weather? The following Balkan ski resorts can be found online here.


(See here)







Ski Centar Kozuf


(See here)

Greeks and Italians Developing Southeastern European Regional Electricity Trade

by Ioannis Michaletos in Athens

Perception of an emerging Southeastern European electricity market is providing impetus for the creation of new companies seeking to take advantage of regional trade, and especially an increase in demand. In this pursuit, Greek and Italian interests are proving especially active.

Already, the Italian energy company Edison has made the first step into this field. Edison has entered into a strategic partnership with the semi-state-owned Hellenic Petroleum Company. The partnership is aimed at developing a strong presence in the electricity sector.

Edison, and its Greek partners, are also interested in the ongoing liberalization of the domestic market. By 2014, the Greek Power Corporation will have to decrease its market share below 70% of the currently 90% it holds.

A Company in the Making

Currently, both companies have applied to the Greek regulatory authority on energy in order to change the production licenses for the ‘Thesaloniki energy’ unit that belongs to the Greek company, and the ‘Electroparagokiki Thisvi’ that belongs to Edison.

The first one is a facility that operates using gas in Northern Greece, with a power capacity of 390 MW; the latter is a unit (currently under construction) using gas in Southern Greece, which will have a 420 MW capacity.

The new business scheme will be as follows: 75% of both units will be transferred to the Edison Nederland BV, a joint venture between the Greeks and the Italians. Moreover, in the ‘Thesaloniki’ unit, another two Greek companies named HE&D and Halcor will have shares of 22.5% and 2.5% respectively. Regarding the ‘Thisvi’ unit, HE&D will also own 22.5% and the remaining 2.5% will be acquired by Halcor.

The EU has already decided that the new company conforms to the existing rules regarding competition and the commencement of its operation will take place around March 2009, as soon as the regulatory authority gives the green light for the changes requested, and the name of the company is publicly announced.

The agreement also contains future plans for the creation of a trade company owned 100% by the holding company, and the acquisition or construction of units with a capacity up to 2,000mw.

The Edison CEO, Mr. Umberto Quandrino recently stated in a press conference in Athens that “this cooperation creates the second largest electricity company in Greece and Edison firmly roots its presence in Greece aimed at expanding into neighboring countries.”

According to an independent source closely monitoring the proceedings, “Edison’s entrance into Greece [through] siding with state companies and major private ones clearly illustrates their success in penetrating the local market, which is characterized by frequent changes of plans. Moreover, they gain a serious advantage for expanding in the Balkan region.”

Electricity Trade

The electricity trade is an important factor influencing the aforementioned agreement. Ioannis Soukioroglou, a Greek energy consultant, tells that this trade “hasn’t been developed mainly due to the Greek regulations. It reaches a maximum of 500 MW a year. In case a 2,000mw production is established by the new company it may have the necessary export capacity, but it will have also to deal with the complex regulations of the Greek network management authority. The Greek electricity system is severely affected by the summer season due to the substantial increase in consumption, thus there are restrictions on sales.”

Presently, the export rates from Greece to Italy for August 2008 went from a minimum 84.25 euros/MWh (on 12 August) to a maximum of 107.56 euros/MWh (on 28 August), with a mean average of 97.514 euros/MWh. In some cases, significant earnings could be made, up to 100% net profit, but the auction prices fluctuate by hour; therefore, any attempt to establish an export electricity base in Greece to Italy has to be meticulously planned in advance.

On the other hand, there are significant earnings to be made in the mid-term if one takes into account the potential of the region. A World Bank report notes that the Southeastern European market in 2005 consumed 215TWh and that will increase to 315TWh by 2020. For the Greek market the values were 50TWh in 2005 and an estimated 80TWh in 12 years.

Furthermore, the electricity prices in the Greek market will increase by approximately 20% between 2008 and 2009, and this is a serious incentive for foreign firms to invest in electricity commerce for household clients and businesses alike.

Lastly, Albania is a neighboring state that is in need of electricity imports, and is experiencing a steady increase in consumption that can be met by Greek-based production facilities in the future.

For the moment, the Italians are the first to have established a production base in the country. But the likes of RWE, Gaz de France and Gazprom are lining up too.

Strengths and Weaknesses

A corporate presentation recently held in Athens provided interesting points regarding the potential of the electricity trade. First of all, present cross-border transmission capabilities are now deemed to be insufficient, due to national bottlenecks caused by regulations and seasonal load variations. Furthermore, there is a general estimation by industry professionals that security criteria are often not completely followed, and that there are insufficient monitoring, metering and communication facilities.

On the other hand, the available power capacity and service performance are both seen as satisfactory at present, comparable to the EU criteria.

The future projections are optimistic, since there are continuous deregulation efforts in the areas of generation and supply by all countries, but competition on internal markets has not been fully effective yet.

Further, this presentation revealed, there are growing net imports of electricity in the region, split between exporters such as Bulgaria and Romania, importers such as Albania, Montenegro and Bosnia, and countries more or less in between like Serbia, Greece and Italy.

One of the main obstacles is the political pressure exercised with a variety of methods on regulators, causing uncertainty for prospective investors in the regional electricity trade. There are plans for further infrastructure investments, although funding constraints have to be dealt with quickly.

Further, network manager authorities, as in the case of Greece, are often accused by businesses of hindering the electricity trade due to lack of perception of the availability of their own electricity networks. On the other hand, the organizations responsible for the operation of the networks point out that it is their task to make sure that the electricity keeps flowing, unconstrained by commercial dealings that may hinder market supply when most needed.

The bottom line, it can be said, is that there is still a long way to go before a “fully functional regional electricity network” can be created. However, for analysts such as Soukioroglou, the energy consultant, such a network “is a feasible target though.”

All industry experts in Greece agree that once regulation and infrastructure issues are dealt with in the next few years, the electricity trade will multiply within Southeastern Europe- a crucial aspect for the success of the new Greek-Italian business endeavor.

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Victor Friedman on Macedonia: the Interview

Professor Victor Friedman is one of the world’s foremost experts on Balkan languages, and has been studying them for almost four decades, since 1993 as a linguist at the University of Chicago. Professor Friedman has a special place in his heart for Macedonia, which he first visited in 1971. This year finds him back in the country, as the recipient of a Fulbright-Hays Grant from the US Department of Education and a research grant from the John Simon Guggenheim Foundation.(All opinions expressed herein are his own and do not necessarily represent those of the funding organizations.) Director Christopher Deliso caught up with Professor Friedman recently in Skopje for an interview. Their engrossing and wide-ranging conversation, covering everything from linguistic history, politics and lobbying to national identity and multiculturalism, is reproduced below for our readers.


Christopher Deliso: Victor, thanks for taking the time to discuss your ideas and your research, it’s a great privilege.

Victor Friedman: Thank you, I’m always happy to speak about the Balkans and Macedonia.


CD: Victor, the first time you visited Macedonia was in 1971. A lot must have changed since then.

VF: Indeed it has. When I first came here, during the height of Yugoslavia, many houses did not have telephones, and I recall you had to wait for 2 years to get one- even in 1994 when I was here for 3 months it was impossible for me to get one in the apartment where I was staying. Things have improved considerably since those days. And some of the damage from the 1963 earthquake damage was also still evident in Skopje.

CD: Even in the center?

VF: Even in the center. A lot of the new buildings were already completed, but there were still some piles of rubble near the Hotel Turist, today’s Best Western on the Ulica Makedonija pedestrian street. Sewer lines were being laid in the Stara Charsija (the bazaar quarter in the old part of town) so you had to cross some streets on boards. And there were an awful lot of buildings still housed in purpose-built ‘barracks.’

CD: Some of which still remain, for housing and offices.

VF: Probably so. And back then, the new main campus of University Ss Cyril & Methodius of Skopje hadn’t been built yet, and the new building for MANU (the Macedonian Academy of Sciences & Arts) hadn’t been rebuilt yet. It was housed in a mansion that I was told had once been owned by a Vlah merchant, and later served as the Italian embassy. There was one shopping center that just opened up in 1973.

CD: You mean the famous GTC (Gradski Trgovski Center)?

VF: Indeed, the GTC. And there were many ordinary consumer goods you couldn’t get here. People went to Thessaloniki or Belgrade to shop for many items.

CD: Interesting. Many Macedonians proudly claim to me that in Yugoslav times they were on a much higher social and economic level than the Greeks.

VF: Actually, the Greeks and Yugoslavs were about on the same level then. With hard currency, you could get a good rate on the drachma. But the difference was that Greece never had Communism, and in the 1970s Greece already had American style-supermarkets; one had to go to Thessaloniki or the US Embassy PX in Belgrade to get peanut butter.

Fewer consumer goods were available in Macedonia than in wealthier parts of Yugoslavia, of course. In 1973, for example, meat was hard to find. I was told that the price for meat was better in Serbia and all the meat went there. On the other hand, public sociability was more vibrant and relaxed. In mild weather all of Skopje went to what was then Marshal Tito Square for korzo (corso). In those days, Skopje wasn’t as big as it is now, and you could meet anyone you wanted to see there. It was also a great way to make new friends.

The Project of the Day

CD: So how about your project that brings you here this time. What is that about?

VF: My project investigates the continuing existence of multilingualism in Skopje.

CD: That’s an interesting topic. I suspect you are spending a lot of time in the Stara Charsija?

VF: Indeed. Among the craftsmen’s shops, tea houses, mosques, churches and open markets there, that is one of the best places in the city to find different social groups and languages rubbing elbows on a daily basis- Macedonian, Albanian, Turkish, Romani, even some Aromanian and Greek. My project studies the way that these languages are interacting today.

CD: And this idea was something you used to get funding for the project?

VF: Yes. As a linguist, I had to present my case, and the argument that won funding from the Fulbright-Hays (Department of Education) and Guggenheim is that Macedonia in general, and Skopje especially, represents the last place in the Balkans where the conditions that created the Balkan linguistic league are still present to some extent. So I wanted to study this and document its continuing existence today.

Grammatical Multilingualism

CD: ‘Balkan linguistics league’- what do you mean by this?

VF: Right. At the beginning of the 20th century, in the Balkans you had a range of diverse languages on the same territory- the Slavic languages, Greek, Albanian, local dialects of Turkish, three kinds of Romani, Romance languages like Romanian, Aromanian, and Megleno-Romanian and, before the Holocaust, Ladino (or Judezmo) – the language of the Sephardic Jews, a language derived from medieval Spanish with additions from Hebrew andlocal languages that too shape after the expulsion of the Jews from Spain in 1492.

In particular, the Slavic, Romance, Albanian and Greek languages share a lot of grammatical features that are the result of mutual multilingualism.

CD: Grammatical multilingualism? I can understand vocabulary, loan-words, shared by co-existing languages, but what examples are there of grammar influence in the Balkan languages?

VF: The replacement of infinitives by analytic subjunctive clauses using native material is an example of a shared grammatical feature among Balkan languages.

CD: Meaning the particle, like ‘na’ in Greek and ‘da’ in Macedonian?

VF: Yes. And what is really interesting is that even the Balkan dialects of Turkish, but only the Balkan ones, replace the infinitive with an optative- a verb form like a subjunctive but without a particle.

Linguistic Developments

CD: Wow- that’s fascinating.

VF: Yes, the Balkans are very interesting. We know what Ancient Greek, Latin, and Old Church Slavonic, and Sanskrit look liked, and we have Turkic texts going back to the 8th century. We know what these languages looked like in the early medieval period. For Albanian, our oldest significant texts are from the early modern period. We know these changes, these grammatical influences, were taking place in the late medieval and early Ottoman periods (although some are older in some languages). It was really in the Ottoman period that the Balkan languages as we know them today came to resemble one another.

CD: Was this line of investigation something that had been applied elsewhere, or received attention from linguists for a long time?

VF: Well there was some talk in the 19th century of that sort of thing, but in the 19th century, when modern linguistics first took shape with the discovery of the regularity of sound change, most linguists were spending their time trying to find out how languages genealogically resembled one another.

CD: Genealogically, meaning finding a common ancestor, yes? Was this a result of the influence of Darwinism, some sort of intellectual zeitgeist of the time?

VF: Well, some people might tell you that, but most accurately we can say that it coincided with Darwinism and similar trends. But what got people really interested in the genealogical approach to linguistics was the British conquest of India.

CD: Really! Very unusual.

VF: Well think about it: you had these cultured British gentlemen, who had been raised on the full classical education of Latin and ancient Greek, coming to this land of supposed primitives and savages- and getting completely blown away by the resemblances between Sanskrit, which they came across for the first time, and Latin and Greek.

The Balkans: A Special Place

CD: So then, to return to the former topic, can I ask whether this grammatical influence of different languages within a specific terrain is a rare thing? Do you find it in other parts of Europe like, say, Switzerland, with its four official languages (French, German, Italian, and Romansch) as well as the linguistically distinct Swiss German?

VF: Not to the same extent as in the Balkans. French, German and those languages had specific influences of different kinds on each other, but the ordinary populations were not necessarily multilingual until relatively recently, and even today each language in Switzerland is influenced significantly by the usage in the neighboring nation-states where they are standardized.

CD: So what was it about the Balkans that made it so amenable to multilingualism?

VF: Well, going back to Ottoman times, we could consider it partially an issue of pragmatism for city dwellers, traders and so on, for whom knowing other languages was directly beneficial to their livelihoods and businesses, with such diverse populations living together.

It’s also interesting to note that most linguistic studies of multilingualism today are being carried out in post-colonial areas of the world, or among immigrant communities living in wealthy countries. My research here in the Balkans is unusual in this context because this is a region with an endemic, long-existing, relatively stable and uninterrupted history of multilingualism.

Multilingualism as a Culture Value: A Telling Absence

VF: At the same time, multilingualism here was also a matter of a common cultural value, one shared by speakers of all the Balkan languages, except Greek. But we should also note that this language-ideological resistance on the part of Greek did not keep the language from being influenced by those with which it was in contact.

CD: Really! That’s unusual. How do we know Greek lacks this value?

VF: One telling aspect, from a linguist’s point of view, is that Greek is the only language in the Balkans that does not have a proverb to the effect that ‘languages are wealth’ or ‘the more languages you know, the more people you’re worth.’ All other Balkan languages have some such saying that indicates a value placed on multilingualism.

CD: Are we sure this is true, that Greek lacks such a value? Or could someone just invent one for the sake of it?

VF: To the best of my knowledge, there is no such expression. And over the years I have asked every Greek friend of mine for such a proverb and not one of them has come up with one. And I am talking about linguists, experts on the Balkans who are not subjective.

An example I recall comes from the introduction to a recently published book on the minority languages of Greece (which is, alas, still a highly political topic in that nation-state). The author was talking about Arvanitika, the Albanian dialect/language of speakers who migrated to Greece a millennium or so ago. The introduction was written by a respected Greek linguist- he wrote that among the Arvanites, and probably, emphasis mine, among the other Balkan peoples, there is this expression of languages as wealth. But he didn’t know of any such expression in Greek.

Confusion and Denial

CD: By the term ‘Arvanitika,’ you mean medieval Albanian?

VF: Most precisely, it refers to the Albanian dialects of Greece that separated from the main body of Tosk Albanian 600-1000 years ago. The dialects were spoken on many Greek islands, the Peloponnese, and in Attica and Central Greece. Greeks don’t like to admit it, but they have had large Albanian-speaking populations for a very long time, not just post-Communist economic migrants. While these dialects are now moribund owing to hegemonistic Greek language policies, they can still be encountered in places like Livadhia.

CD: An interesting detail-

VF: And I recall one vignette: many years ago at a conference, I met a woman who was Greek, but she knew Arvanitika. So we communicated, I in standard modern Albanian, she in Arvanitika. It was close enough to communicate.

I asked her, ‘how do you know you this language?’ As a linguist, it was an interesting detail. She replied, ‘well, I learned it from my grandmother.’

CD: Which would have meant she was of partial Arvanitika descent?

VF: Well, I asked innocently enough – I wasn’t really aware of the politics at the time – ‘why would a Greek learn Albanian if they weren’t Albanian?’ She was somewhat confused.

The next morning, however, when I saw this woman she said to me: ‘I couldn’st sleep all night thinking about what you said.’ She was a bit upset. ‘I thought about it,’ she said, ‘and no! I am Greek! I am Greek!’ It was the last time I tried to suggest to a Greek that if they learned another language at home, it was because that was the native language of the speaker.

The Nationalist Trap and State Policies

CD: (Laughing) on that note, let’s talk about the Macedonia issue now. Greece denies the Macedonian identity, referring to ancient history. What do you think about this?

VF: Unfortunately, with independence, some Macedonians fell into the nationalist trap set by Greece. The Greeks came up with a line claiming the Macedonians could not claim the name Macedonia unless they were descended from the Ancient Macedonians.

Well, no one can reasonably claim to be descended from the Ancient Macedonians, but this became part of the argument, instead of other more pertinent things. And so the issue has remained. But the Greeks have been denying the existence of Macedonia and the Macedonians all along.

CD: From your perspective, how far back does this go as a state policy? To the breakdown of Yugoslavia, or further?

VF: Oh, it’s been that way ever since modern Macedonians began to call themselves Macedonians. The Greeks have been denying the existence of its Macedonian minority since acquiring Greek Macedonia at the Treaty of Bucharest following the Second Balkan War (1913), except for a brief period in the 1920s. In 1957, an otherwise respectable Greek linguist named N. Andriotis published a polemical and, from an academic point of view, deeply flawed booklet entitled ‘The Confederate state of Skopje and Its Language’ – referring, of course, to Macedonia and Macedonian within Socialist Yugoslavia.

CD: This is very interesting to me, because as you know, many Greeks today refer to the whole country of Macedonia by the name of the capital, and the people as ‘Skopjeans.’ So they were using this reference even then?

VF: Of course. But already in the 19th century, Macedonian speakers were calling themselves Macedonians (Makedontsi), their language, ‘Makedonski.’ This is documented.

CD: But they were also calling themselves ‘Bulgarians’ then.

VF: Yes, some were, and speakers identified as Serbs or Greeks or Turks, depending on religious loyalties, but most of the time, speakers called themselves Christians or Turks (Muslims).

CD: Because the Ottoman system used religion as the main factor in classifying its subjects?

VF: Yes, but not just because of the Ottomans- religion was more important then as well. It was the late 18th/early19th century ideas, developed from the French Revolution that led to nation-state ideologies.

Organized Obliteration?

VF: But even well before this, some have made a case – and this refers again to the social resistance against other languages – that the Greeks have been trying to destroy Slavic culture in this area since the Middle Ages.

CD: ‘Greeks,’ meaning the Byzantines?

VF: Yes. For example, John Fine in his book The Early Medieval Balkans (p. 220) cites Vladimir Moshin, who published an article in1963 in a Russian academic journal in which he made the argument that the reason there are no Slavic language manuscripts from this region prior to 1180 is owing to their deliberate destruction by the Greeks/Byzantines.

CD: Really!

VF: Up until his article, people had been saying it was the Turks who destroyed everything. But there are Greek-language manuscripts from this period that survived in this region, whereas Slavic ones did not. And it is not as if the latter were not being composed in an organized way; the Ohrid literary school which began in the late 9th century is just one place where manuscripts were being written in large numbers. Which means that Greeks have been trying to destroy Slavic culture and literacy for a very long time.

CD: Many Bulgarian politicians and academics claim that Macedonian is just a dialect of Bulgarian. What do you say on this topic?

VF: The answer is of course Macedonian is a distinct language.It is similar to Bulgarian, but just as Swedish and Norwegian are similar languages, but separate, so, too, are Macedonian and Bulgarian.

CD: Why?

VF: Both sets of languages have different dialectal bases. And for this reason it is not at all like the case of Moldovan and Romanian. The Moldovan standard language is not based on Moldovan dialects; it is based on the same Wallachian dialects as standard Romanian.

In the case of Macedonian, however, the standard language is based on the dialects spoken in the west-central geographical area defined by Veles, Bitola, Prilep and Kichevo. It is not identical with any specific dialect, and has elements from the eastern ones as well. Standard Bulgarian is not based on a single dialect, but is based on eastern Bulgarian dialects, from Veliko Tarnovo to the Danube and further east.

CD: Why were these specific dialectal areas chosen, in both cases?

VF: What happened was that in the 19th century there were two major centers of literacy and prosperity- one in southwestern Macedonia, the other in northeastern Bulgaria. The Bulgarians decided to impose those eastern dialects from the area north of the Stara Planina range, east of the dialectal division called the yat line, and south of the Danube, on the whole state.

CD: What was the thinking? Was this an organized campaign for specific reasons?

VF: We’re talking about the phenomenon of intellectuals fighting over what’s going to happen when they get their own state- just like with the Congress of Manastir (Bitola) in 1908, when the Albanians were worrying about agreeing on a common Albanian alphabet before there was an Albanian state (in 1912). The Bulgarians didn’t have a state until the Russo-Turkish War of 1877-78.

CD: What about the situation in Greece at the time, where different propagandists were at work from different sides? Were these dialects considered Bulgarian or Macedonian, or both? What can linguists reconstruct today?

VF: There are a number of dialectal studies. Some speakers considered themselves Macedonians, some Bulgarians, and some Greeks, and some Turks, depending, in part, on religious affiliation (Exarchist, Patriarchist, and Muslim for the last three at that time). Firsthand accounts are available in some books published in, e.g., Australia and Poland, and Canada, but the Aegean Macedonians who were victims of Greek abuse at that time are mostly dead.

The generation that suffered during the Greek Civil War (1946-49) however, is still alive. The ones who are still alive often do not want to tell their stories because they are afraid or the memories are too painful. Even for curious foreigners, if you go to Greece to do research on Macedonian, you run the risk that the police will take your tapes, destroy them, and kick you out for expressing an interest in what is still a taboo topic for them.

CD: Really! Are there some examples?

VF: Yes, and it happened to a colleague of mine who was doing dissertation research in a village whose name I will omit to protect the inhabitants.

CD: aha, the village near Kastoria?

VF: Yes, and precisely for this reason it is one of the most interesting Macedonian dialects, because it is the most southwestern Macedonian dialect. It is transitional between eastern and western types of Macedonian. And the Greek police confiscated the tapes of this linguist and interfered with his research. However, he did finish his dissertation on this dialect. In fact, in his introduction, he made a point of thanking the Greek police for teaching him to always keep backup tapes!

CD: Ha! So with all of this intimidation, not to mention the journalist arrests we saw recently, what are the Greeks so afraid of?

VF: They’re incredibly insecure. No, they’re not just insecure. They have a linguistic ideology that insists on wiping out all other languages. This is an old ideology. It is the origins of the term barbarian. Think about it.

Why don’t we have any traces of other languages preserved? As a matter of fact we do. There are some ancient inscriptions in Thracian.

CD: I thought the Thracians had no written language?

VF: They did. The inscriptions are in Greek script, but the words are Thracian. And the inscriptions are sitting in Greece, gathering dust. They know they’re there, but no one’s going to work on them because the language is not Greek. So they’re not going to let anyone see them. I have this from a colleague of mine who is a classicist and interested in the subject.

CD: Your Greece vignette reminds me of being the village of Amyndaeo south of Florina last year. I came across these two old men speaking to each other in Macedonian. I said dobar den (‘good day’s). And you know what? This man was so alarmed that he reacted before he could think, instinctively, by blurting out ne razbiram Makedonski (‘I don’t understand Macedonian’). This was one of the most ironic examples of fear of speaking one’s language I could imagine.

VF: Indeed.

CD: So I guess my question for you is, we asked the local people in Florina what percent of the people there speak Macedonian, since public life is mostly in Greek it was an interesting question. And several people said, ‘oh, everyone speaks it.’s What is your experience?

VF: Well, as far as I was told everybody in the area around Florina, or Lerin in Macedonian, over the age of 40 speaks Macedonian, whether they’re Macedonian or not. This is according to a colleague of mine who has done recent research. However, the younger generation is not learning it. But it is a topic that requires further (unhindered) research.

CD: From what I understand from different stories, this is because it is not helpful to advancement in Greek society, and can even be a strongly negative factor-

VF: Yes. The Greek government is effectively carrying out ‘linguicide’ on the Macedonians of Greece. And it has been a long-running policy. For another example, I have a photo of a sign in Greek, from the 1950s, printed up in blue-on-white, urging people to forbid anyone from speaking in ‘Vlahika, Makedonika etc.’ There used to be many such signs in Greek Macedonia.

CD: Really! That is quite compelling. Do people know about this?

VF: I don’t know-a friend sent the photo to me, I am finally getting around to publishing it in a review article in the journal Balkanistika next year.

But the Greek policy was always trying to kill the language. It was especially horrible in the 1930s. Macedonian kids would go to school, and if they spoke their language, the language they learned at home, numerous ‘corrective’ methods were used: teachers beat them, or stuck their tongues with needles, or rubbed a hot pepper on their tongues; anything to make them stop speaking Macedonian.

CD: Really! That sounds very extreme.

VF: Oh, they were terrible. In the 1930s, people were put in jail just for speaking Macedonian. The Greek government had people skulking around the windows of people’s houses, listening to hear if they spoken Macedonian so that they could report them to the police. Mothers were thrown in jail for speaking Macedonian to their babies. They terrorized the Macedonians, and then, with the Greek Civil War, they drove many of them out.

CD: Never to return-

VF: And then there’s the infamous ‘race clause’ in the amnesty law of 1982; it stipulated that to return the country and reclaim one’s property, all those who had been banished had to declare they were Greek by genos, by race or birth. Macedonians who were expelled, many just children at the time, in 1949, were never allowed to reclaim their property. It was racism, pure and simple.

CD: Do you recall what was the reaction here in Macedonia, from the locals? And what about the European countries? Surely this would have been considered a great breach of European values?

VF: I was actually here at the time this was announced. The people were very upset, because they have been so badly mistreated all along. The ‘Great Powers,’ of course, said nothing.

CD: Well this is interesting, because here we have in America a new president, a black man who surely knows something about the meaning of racism, and indeed the issues of race and injustices resonated throughout Obama’s campaign.

And at the same time, Obama signed that anti-Macedonian senate resolution, and has been a big supporter of the Greek lobby, who are probably counting on a return on their investment. Has anyone, to the best of your knowledge, pointed out this blatant hypocrisy regarding his support for a country that has a history of racist policies against its own citizens?

VF: No, I haven’t heard anyone put this to his people. It would be nice if the message could be gotten out, but so far I haven’t seen this happen. The Macedonians don’t seem to know enough about public relations and American politics- they should be using lobby companies, getting their message out every day in Washington.

CD: Yes, I concur with that-

VF: And, at the same time, the Greeks get away with this ‘cradle of democracy’ image! Give me a break! Ancient Greece was a slave-owning society. And you know, some scholars argue that Modern Greece is a creation of the Western European romantic imagination- for example, Lord Byron’s romanticized view of Ancient Greece projected, on the modern population. This is persuasively argued in a book of academic Michael Herdzfeld, called Ours Once More.

CD: That is an interesting school of thought, I had not really conceived it as such but there is something to it. What was the reaction to this book?

VF: I do not think there was a huge reaction, but Herzfeld was involved with another book, Anastasia Karakasidou’s Fields of Wheat, Hills of Blood, which did generate a great deal of controversy. Published by the University of Chicago Press in 1997, this book was actually a very mild challenge to Greek hegemonistic notions. What it dared to do, based on fieldwork in Greek Macedonia, was to state that there were citizens of Greece who did not feel themselves to be ethnic Greeks and that they still spoke their own language.

Cambridge University Press had committed to publishing the book with minor revisions, and then they suddenly decided not to publish the book. They had committed to it and suddenly changed their minds. Prof Herzfeld was on the editorial board of CUP’s anthropology series at the time, and he resigned in protest, as did other members of the board.

CD: Yes, they cited ‘the safety of their staff in Greece’ as their reason, right?

VF: Well they said that. However, the way I heard it, CUP had a monopoly on English-language testing in the schools of Greece as well-

CD: Do you believe that the Greek government threatened that they would lose this privilege?

VF: I have no idea, but assuming that they had a monopoly- two plus two, what are you going to make of that, four or twenty-two?

CD: But then you guys saved it-

VF: Yes, the University of Chicago went ahead and published the book, to their credit. But the whole situation is just disgusting; it makes Europe look like what she was called at the beginning of the 20th century, as depicted in the Bulgarian film Mera spored Mera, made in the 1980s. It was somewhat provocative, and received criticism from some quarters of the Communist government, because it used Aegean Macedonian dialects, as it was about the post-Ilinden period just after 1903.

The memorable line from the film, which was part of a real folk song dating back to 1878, was something like this: ‘be thou cursed and thrice cursed Europe, O you whore of Babylon and murderer of Macedonia.’

CD: So, what do you think then of the international negotiations over the name issue, and the constant pressure for Macedonia to ‘compromise’ with Greece here?

VF: There is no real compromise. There can’t be. Think about it: if a thief comes up to and holds a gun to your head and says ‘give me your money,’ do you say, ‘I’ll give you half,’ and call that a compromise? That’s Greece. They are trying to destroy Macedonia’s identity, plain and simple.

Note that no one on the Macedonian side is saying that Greeks cannot call themselves Macedonians, or their province Macedonia. But they never call themselves as such out of this context- they are, to themselves, Greeks first and foremost. So nobody actually needs the name Macedonia, and no one needs to call themselves Macedonians for their primary identity, except for these people in this small country that is not a threat to anyone.

CD: On that note, to conclude, let me ask this: based on your research, do you think that Macedonia gets enough credit for preserving its multiculturalism? And does it reflect at all on the temperament of the people here that it has been able to do so?

VF: First of all, Macedonia doesn’t get any credit. And in fact the isolation that Greece has succeeded in imposing on Macedonia in the last 17 years has been a major factor in adding to inter-ethnic tension here, as we saw unfortunately in the 2001 conflict.

If the Greeks had just left the Macedonians alone to begin with, there would have been fewer such problems, or at least greater capacity to deal with the existing ones. But it was the Greek government (especially after 1991) and the Serbian government (especially after 1981) who exacerbated most of the problems, for their own purposes.

You know, the vast majority of normal people of all ethnicities in this country live together peacefully. There is a saying in Macedonian: nie sme krotok narod: ‘we are a mild people.’ A peaceful people. This is something that is constantly overlooked by the Great Powers- that, relative to the rest of the Balkans and much of the world, for all the very real problems that exist, Macedonians are still among the most peaceful and tolerant people you will find anywhere.

CD: Victor, thank you very much for your time and insightful comments. I appreciate it.

VF: And thank you.

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Greece Takes Measures against Fuel Smuggling

By Ioannis Michaletos in Athens

Editor’s note: the following exclusive repo, by longtime contributor Ioannis Michaletos, analyzes new Greek government initiatives in countering pervasive fuel smuggling- and how deeply entrenched this practice is with other kinds of organized crime in Greece and the Balkans.


The Greek government recently began a significant law enforcement operation, codenamed “Poseidon.” Meant to curb fuel smuggling, it employs a variety of methods based on new technologies. The plan may yet have political ramifications as well, due to the opposition of influential groups involved.

With annual revenues generated from illegal fuel smuggling in Greece reaching a staggering 3 billion euros, the trade has numerous ramifications, including the degradation of competition in the domestic market, the expansion of illegal activities in neighboring countries and the intrusion of organized crime syndicates in the energy sector.

Operation Poseidon

The action plan was developed by the Greek ministry of national economy, which is in dire need of capital. The plan involves techniques centered on the monitoring of the fuel trade in the country, so as to isolate instances of smuggling as they occur.

The financing of this project (further information, in Greek, can be found here) will be jointly shared by this Greek ministry and by the European Union. Further, according to information that is not yet verified, the Greek National Intelligence Service (NIS) will also provide know-how regarding the electronic monitoring of the smuggling networks.

According to Kathimerini, there are five key components that can be described as comprising the operation’s structure. The first is the creation of an online database accessible to the authorities, containing all individuals and organizations involved in the fuel trade in the country. The second is a provision envisioning that all small oil tankers docked at all Greek ports will acquire a unique code, whereby the authorities will be able to monitor their position via GPS-SMS/GPRS technology. The same will be obligatory for fuel trucks.

Third, the Greek customs will have access to scanners that will check special electronic ID’s installed in all fuel transport vehicles. Further, the customs service’s central directory will procure a new helicopter and two speedboats by early 2009, and another five over the coming years.

Finally, the important port of Piraeus near Athens will in the near future get a Command & Control Center, from where the movements of every ship carrying fuel within the port zone can be monitored 24 hours a day.

This center will also be able to merge all electronic information being gathered via sensors in all vessels and fuel transport vehicles across the entire Greek territory. Sensors will be also placed in the taps of every unit that either carries or stores fuel. Thus, every time a transaction takes place, the center will be able to verify the quantity of the commodity that was either extracted or pumped in.

A source within the Greek shipping community in Piraeus states for that “fuel smuggling is a well rooted activity that cannot be easily confronted and the corruption issue of the Greek public servants might well prove to be the strongest obstacle- [though] temporary results might be feasible.”

The Backlash

Fuel smuggling is an activity that spans a variety of sectors, like the ports communities, crime syndicates and of course, the legal energy sector. Therefore the recent measures by the Greek administration have already started to arouse certain backlashes from those with vested interests.

Information has been provided by industry and political experts that indicate concern from some in the political opposition- influential figures who have much to lose in case a crackdown begins on a wider scale. The fragile political climate in Athens, and the possibility of yet another general election by early spring tends to confirm the above assessments.

On the other hand, the determination of the government to gain considerable and much needed taxes in light of the world economic crisis, and the pressure by multinationals that are aghast by the present situation in Greece, are factors indicative of a likely vigorous execution of the law enforcement crackdown on smuggling.

Moreover, if one takes into consideration that fuel smuggling networks have already expanded into neighboring countries and are also interrelated with other criminal activities there, such a sustained prosecution of this illicit trade via ‘Operation Poseidon’ might well serve to diversify fuel smuggling into other commodities or into different geographical zones.

A Shadow Trade

Greece, being a major shipping country, is also one of the main markets for contraband shipping fuel. According to existing regulations, the oil for ships must cost one-third the price of home heating oil.

Now, what is actually happening is the fake transfer of oil to ships that in reality gets into the housing and automotive oil market, providing huge profit margins for the smugglers.

There several methods used by smugglers, who have developed a sophisticated criminal infrastructure to sustain their activities. First, they construct a series of illegal depots, near the main ports and metropolitan centers, where the shipping oil they purchase can be stored. Afterwards, they use chemical variants to destroy the substance that differentiate marine oil from housing oil. The final stage is the transfer of the product to the market, thus making a great profit by avoiding taxes.

A second popular method of smuggling fuel is the purchase of excess amount of oil by maritime companies, or by the owners of individual boats. The oil is then transferred on shore via small oil tankers, and placed in the illegal depots; from there it finds its way onto the legal market.

A source in the Greek merchant marine ministry reveals for that small ships and yachts that actually sunk long ago are still being claimed in forged documents as recipients of shipping oil. Thus, when the authorities disentangle the criminal web involved in such cases, “they often find a non-existing vessel and of course no crew or persons responsible.”

Further, “Greece has a long tradition of oil smuggling and breaking of embargoes in war zones such as the former Yugoslavia, certain African countries and the Middle East,” says this source.

Lastly, another aspect of smuggling is the actual theft of some 1-2 percent of oil reserved for legal sale to a vessel. This does not even require the knowledge or involvement of any of the crew officers, either; simply, a small amount of oil is not delivered and remains with the supplier, who then illegally sells that amount to other customers. This can be achieved due to the large amounts of oil being supplied daily throughout Greece, which allows for small ‘mismanagements’ on oil supply that at the end of the year, add up to great profits.

All in all, there are countless methods for clever smugglers to find to divert fuel resources for illicit profit. And they are apt students when it comes to innovation and evasion of the authorities. In this case, the involvement of state officials and energy managers is paramount.

Regional Ramifications

Corruption in the Greek fuel market is also entangled with the wider Southeastern European one, creating a web of shadowy interrelated crime groups in the region. In countries such as Albania, Montenegro, and others; the smugglers create front companies that officially import fuel from Greece- fuel that never actually reaches them, but which is instead kept in Greece to supply the domestic market.

According to reports created by the Greek ministry of national economy, such exports are non-existent and in many cases the fuel shipment is either changed with another commodity (i.e., from oil to water) or mixed heavily with other substances, and a significant quantity again remain in Greece. The involvement of customs official seems certain, since all export shipments are routinely checked, though very few smuggling cases have ever been revealed.

Another source, a fuel market expert, tells that “the fuels to be exported are being bought without duties in Greece. Then the smugglers provide paperwork for alleged exports to neighboring countries. Usually a customs official is being bribed in the process, and finally the front company provides an invoice that it has accepted the fuel from Greece.”

Since Southeastern Europe is characterized by a corrupted public sector and lax financial controls, the Greek smugglers have great interest to expand in these states. Further, Greek-owned front companies are being used to conduct illegal trade between Balkan states, and there are indications that they have expanded their activities in the Black Sea states as well.

The annual turnover of this activity has not been assessed by any organization, but it is estimated that it numbers hundreds of millions of euros per annum.

The Nexus of Energy Smuggling and Organized Crime

The existence of a business climate in the region that hinders lawful investments and competition means heavy costs for local economies, despite the huge earnings of the small number of people involved in smuggling.

Panos Kostakos, an analyst on international organized crime networks and academic at Bath University in England provides several clues on the overall situation regarding fuel smuggling and its wider impact.

In relation to oil smuggling as an international organized crime activity, Mr Kostakos states for that “all smuggling and all organized crime activities have global connections. Some are obvious, such as cocaine heroin, marijuana and prostitution; some are less obvious, like extortion, racketeering, economic crime and so on. Fuel smuggling has global connections and it’s also very much dependent on local connections.”

Fuel smuggling is considered a ‘white collar crime’ because “it is conducted by high society, businessmen, shipowners and other respectable individuals,” states Kostakos. “Society does not perceive them as criminals. They themselves have a non-criminal identity. In my interviews with smugglers/businessmen I often hear the excuse, ‘everybody does it,’ ‘it’s a common practice,’ and ‘it’s not risky.’

On a second front, the Greek expert contends, Greek smugglers operating beyond Greek borers have made “huge fortunes overnight” by breaking oil embargoes. At the same time, within Greece large multinational oil companies are believed to have their own internal investigators to identify how many barrels of oil get missing each year, when ‘freelancing’ employees siphon off the commodity of their own accord.

The port community in Athens, according to experts, is another important group that engages in numerous illegal activities due to the significance and role of shipping. Panos Kostakos notes that his research has found “cases of obvious links between cocaine distribution, oil smuggling, and extortion rackets.”

In general, he says, Athens-based criminal rings specializing in distribution activities “have access to various commodities, such as oil, prostitutes, drugs and protection services. If you look at the known ‘Godfathers’ on the Athenian night-life scene, you will find links between drugs, racketeering and oil. From my own field work, I can also say that they are also dealing with prostitution and trafficking,” states Kostakos.

“There is some overlap, especially in the lower levels,” he adds. “The closer one gets to the consumer, the more diversified is the product that the broker can get hold of and supply to the market.”

From the foregoing, it becomes clear that fuel smuggling is a little-mentioned but very lucrative part of the larger Greek, and Balkan organized crime sphere of activities, and that it has necessary relations with legitimate businessmen, politicians and state agencies. Further, though it is an illegal activity, fuel smuggling carries none of the social stigma with it that results in a public outcry- such as murder, arson, drugs or prostitution trafficking, etc. It is relatively easy for fuel smugglers to slip under the radar.

The Greek government’s implementation of the new “Operation Poseidon” may well have some effect on curbing the trade. However, it will also have potentially dangerous political ramifications, considering the developed relationships between smugglers, men of industry and politicians and public servants. It is unlikely that any police activity will ever fully defeat the smugglers, however, as human ingenuity means they will probably simply find other ways of transporting and selling their product to avoid detection.

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