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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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Confronted with Greek Obstructionism, Macedonia Appeals for International Justice

( Research Service)- At a special press conference at 4pm today in Skopje, Macedonian Minister of Foreign Affairs Antonio Milososki announced that the government has opened a case against Greece at the International Court of Justice in the Hague. At issue is Greece’s blocking of Macedonian NATO membership at the alliance’s April summit, which occurred due to the unresolved name dispute between the two countries.

According to the foreign minister, this act of obstructionism violated the September 13, 1995 Interim Accord, in which Greece pledged not to block its smaller and weaker northern neighbor from joining international organizations under the name it had forced the country to adopt for UN usage (Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia).

There was no immediate Greek reaction to the announcement, which occurred just as Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski and President Branko Crvenkovski, frequently critical of each other’s diplomatic acumen, were supposed to meet to hammer out a common position on the name issue.

Indeed, at least as harmful as Greek intransigence for Macedonia’s predicament has been the chronic disunity of its political leadership- a situation that Athens has been skillfully manipulating for years. Predictably enough, the president reacted to the government’s announcement by claiming he had not been consulted on the issue, and declared that “the Prime Minister (Nikola Gruevski) and his government are completely taking over the responsibility for the UN talks as well as for our European Union and NATO integration,” reported Balkan Insight.

Crvenkovski, whose approval ratings domestically are so low that he has assured the citizenry of his desire to abdicate (in the form of not running again in the March 2009 elections), recently raised eyebrows when he fired the long-time negotiator on the name issue, Nikola Dimitrov. The president and his yes-men in the media, politics and academia are frequently depicted in pro-government and independent media, including satirical spots, as being exceptionally eager to satisfy Greece.

As if on cue, Left-wing ally Ljubomir Frckovski, a professor and former interior minister, reacted by condemning the government’s action on Kanal 5, claiming it would lead to Macedonia’s ‘international isolation’- the favored threatening vocabulary of the Karamanlis regime. On the other hand, pro-government experts surveyed were quick to call the action a ‘historic decision’ that had been delayed far too long.

In fact, one of the first questions Minister Milososki received in his press conference was that of timing, or, why Macedonia had not raised this case in April, immediately after the Bucharest rejection. He replied by stating that even organizing the case was a process that took months, and required consulting numerous foreign legal advisors.

However, the verdict of the court case, which is expected to take from 2-3 years to be known, will not necessarily have any great effect. While a Macedonian victory at the Hague would certainly shame the Greeks, “the country’s decision on whether to comply with the court’s rulings or not is a political question,” stated Balkan Insight, quoting a court spokesman. If recent history is any indicator, few in Greece will lose sleep over the outside world’s opinion of them.

Further, Macedonia could not expect automatic NATO membership either, since there are any number of criteria which could be raised – rightly or wrongly – to keep it barred indefinitely.

In fact, there is growing talk in diplomatic circles in Skopje these days about some form of extra requirements being envisioned, or even sanctions that will be levied on Macedonia, should the name issue remain unresolved. Vexed about the chronic failure to resolve the dispute, the thinking goes, international diplomats are likely to take out their frustrations on the weakest party available- Macedonia.

If there are indeed any such extra reform stipulations raised, they will likely refer to an alleged lack of political maturity stemming from last June’s violence-plagued elections.

Considering that presidential and local elections are coming up – on the Ides of March, of all days – it is likely that any repeat of election-related violence will be immediately cited as a reason to keep Macedonia out of NATO, despite its major contributions to NATO missions and completed military reforms.

Scandal over Vatopedi: International Capital and Aristocracy, Mixed with Greek Politics

By Ioannis Michaletos and Christopher Deliso

Over the past few weeks, Greece has been engrossed by an unfolding scandal involving a prominent monastery situated on isolated Mt Athos, the monastic community that makes up the third leg of the Halkidiki peninsula in northern Greece.

The monastery in question, Vatopedi, is possibly the richest and most prestigious and such institution on the “Holy Mountain,” which clings to Byzantine edicts and rituals that were introduced more than 1,000 years ago. The Athonite monks thus preserve some of the world’s most significant religious art and medieval manuscripts, in huge quantities built up in part by the generous endowments of Greek, Georgian, Bulgarian, Serbian, Romanian and Russian patrons in centuries past.

The Vatopedi story involves numerous powerful actors and financial interests. Since the story erupted some six weeks ago, a flood of information surpassing the ability of even the most attentive of readers has deluged the Greek media. Numerous media, and especially Alpha TV in Athens, have played a role in exposing the deals and creating a heavily politicized atmosphere around the case. Rather than exacerbate this proliferation of data, we will simply present a concise account here.

As one of the largest and wealthiest Athonite monasteries, Vatopedi commands a certain power within the hierarchy of monasteries here, and in the Orthodox world in general (see also Vatopedi’s official website). Also, being situated on the northeastern shore of the Athonite peninsula, near a sheltered harbor; it enjoys easy access by water, lying within close proximity to the nearest ports in the non-monastic portion of the peninsula.

This factor has made Vatopedi, in comparison to nearby inland monasteries or ones further down the coast, convenient and accessible for celebrities and the wealthy. Thus Vatopedi has acquired a reputation among a wide range of analysts, echoed by events, as becoming in recent years a communications and networking hub for British royalty, rich Greek ship-owners in London and Cyprus and, reportedly, now for Russian oligarchs as well.

The Holy Mountain’s strict procedures for entry (four-day maximum permits are issued for a limited number of pilgrims per day), and unique rules (women, for example, are not allowed to enter at all, due to an 11th-century Byzantine edict) have lent goings-on there an air of mystery- ideal for fueling rumors and speculation. When Prince Charles pulled up by yacht at the monastery in 2004, for example, the British media noted that “‘the frequency of the prince’s visits had fuelled speculation among clerics in Greece that he is interested in converting to the religion.”

Although certain details about the latest saga have surfaced in the mainstream media, the question of how it was all made possible in the first place has still not been answered. One theory is that the convergence of powerful individuals around this monastery has relations to efforts being made by a small group of Orthodox high priests and officials in several countries, who aim to create a sort of ‘Orthodox Vatican,’ as will be discussed further below.

The essence of the alleged scandal is that some of Vatopedi’s monks deviously mishandled the real estate holdings of the monastery. As is well known, the Orthodox Church is the largest single landowner in Greece, and the Athonite monasteries are especially well endowed.

Vatopedi Monastery has traditionally held great estates all over Greece. Over the past decade, however, it has managed to swap some of these locations for other land – in high-value places like Athens – and then resell these acquisitions, making a tidy profit in the process.

Those accusing the monastery of illegitimate behavior are now arguing that the swaps, although made lawfully, constitute a scandal because the real estate value was calculated wrongly by the accountants and realtors involved. According to the New York Times, “the land deals began in 1999, under a Socialist government, but about 260 swaps were finalized after [Costas] Karamanlis’s center-right New Democracy Party took power in 2004.”

An unusual but important issue inherent to this case stems from the nebulous legal character of the semi-autonomous ‘monastic republic.’ On the one hand, it is a part of the Greek state and the monks, regardless of their country of origin, must become Greek citizens. On the other hand, within the Orthodox hierarchy it is subordinate not to the archbishop of Athens (who commands the flock in the rest of Greece) but to the Ecumenical Patriarchy of Constantinople (Istanbul).

Much of the Athonite monasteries’ extensive landholdings and monastic dependencies long predate the modern borders of the Greek state. The Ottoman Turks let the monks preserve their traditions and their rites, but property was not guaranteed. And several wars and redrawn borders over the past 200 years have further confused the situation.

In this context it is remarkable – though not very surprising – to note that Vatopedi’s monks were able to acquire land, such as an area near the Vistonida Lake in Thrace, simply by presenting a Byzantine chrysovoulos (chrysobull), the mark of any specific emperor’s final judgment or endowment of authority. Medieval Western rulers were entranced by such displays of status that they famously adopted them on rare occasions, but today it is only in Greece, apparently, that people are still citing medieval Golden Bulls in any legally binding context.

In the Balkans, realty titles from historically distant times are sometimes recognized by the state, in acknowledgement of the turbulence of preceding periods. The issue remains, as elsewhere in the former Ottoman Balkans, one of legitimacy and legal right. In Greece, where the Orthodox Church has far greater influence than the church in any Western country, the Eastern Roman or Byzantine Empire is still considered by some the benchmark of prior stability and, importantly, cultural legitimacy, an edifice upon which the foundation of the modern order has been established.

Of course, the current scandal does not only involve churchmen. Leading political figures in Greece have maintained strong contacts with some Vatopedi monks, and there is speculation that they played a part in securing these suspicious real estate deals benefits for the monastery. Already a judicial inquiry has been ordered by the general prosecutor in Athens for this, but it is speculated that it will take years – if ever – for a decision to be reached.

The current imbroglio has been enlivened by the political brinkmanship witnessed between the recently resigned Press Minister and known ‘friend of Vatopedi,’ Theodoros Roussopoulos, and certain leading Athenian journalists. Roussopoulos himself was originally a journalist, and became a very powerful figure in the space of just a few years of course, in the process he also alienated other powerful people, and allegedly displayed favoritism for his own group of friends, thus causing resentment among a wide range of interests in Greece.

Roussopolis was the second Greek minister in a month to resign over the scandal; he was preceded by Merchant Marine Minister George Voulgarakis, who also insists he has done nothing illegal. Mr Voulgarakis’s wife, a lawyer, is accused of serving as a legal witness to the Thracian transactions.

In particular, Roussopolis’s friendship with the head monk at Vatopedi, the Greek Cypriot Archimandrite Ephraim, has provided a perfect opportunity for his enemies to attack, as they have done for the past few weeks in the press. The implication has been raised that Ephraim of Vatopedi seemed to have the ambition of becoming an important behind-the-scenes figure in an emerging ‘Orthodox Vatican’ centered around his own monastery. Its bank accounts were recently found to be in excess of 200 million euros, and the real estate fortune, possibly much more. According to the BBC, the Thracian deal alone drained the state of around 100 million euros.

Clearly, the monastery and its leader also have strong international ties that potentially mean the real estate saga is just a detail, relatively speaking. As the New York Times notes, Vatopedi “is the legal proprietor of a number of houses, hotels and mines and the owner of large pieces of land in Greece, Cyprus, the Balkans and Turkey.” And, as the Turkish Daily News noted:

“certainly the charismatic chief monk was capable enough to have created a rich network of valuable connections among politicians and business circles both in Greece and abroad; he even managed to attract enough international celebrities to the beautiful surrounding of Vatopedi, like Prince Charles of Wales, and the Russian president, Vladimir Putin.”

A final tantalizing thought arises from all this. By piecing together a variety of off-the-record diplomatic sources and anecdotal material, one can create a patchwork of activities for which the monastery, and the Holy Mountain in general, seem ideally suited.

These activities include major international business deals, high-level, third-party communications linkages, meetings of minds, political intriguing and even espionage. Indeed, rumors of intelligence agencies’ protected ‘safe houses’ on the isolated shores of Athos persist and it would seem that the remote, well-regulated and controlled nature of the place would by nature make it ideal for any kind of activity requiring discretion and silence.

Of course, these very factors are probably part of the reason why ‘scandals’ involving the monasteries and the church in general seem to dependably spring forth every few months. There is much that will never be known. One-thousand-year-old walls, especially, don’t tend to talk.

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Turkish Intelligence Activities under Increased Public Scrutiny in Turkey and Greece

By Ioannis Michaletos and Christopher Deliso

A number of high-impact incidents over the past few months have revealed that the historic feuding of Turkey and Greece is not a thing of the past. Some of these have been well-known, and overtly demonstrated in political events. Others have however received little mention, leaving the public curious to know what is going on behind the scenes.

At the same time, procedural issues concerning the Turkish intelligence service’s jurisdiction and allowed methods have also been the subject of intense scrutiny among the Turkish public and media in recent weeks, raising dark memories of past indiscretions such as mass wiretapping scandals from an aggressive intelligence apparatus.

Most recently, Turkey has demonstrated political gamesmanship by blocking the direct cooperation of NATO with the EU’s justice and security advisory mission in Kosovo, EULEX, which hopes to take a larger role in the self-declared Balkan country since the enactment of a Kosovo constitution on June 15. The EU’s gain has come to the detriment of UNMIK, the UN’s nine-year-old mission in Kosovo, which has been restricted further in its mandate by these ‘facts on the ground.’

The Turkish move comes as opposition to Cyprus, an EU but not NATO member: Turkey had already blocked the Greek Cypriots from sending peacekeepers to Kosovo. According to Deutsche Welle, “The move makes it unclear how the KFOR-EULEX relationship can now function on an official level.”

There are clear interrelations with other regional issues as well. France, notably, has supported Greece on the Macedonia name issue, with President Sarkozy’s avowed Hellenism perhaps bolstered by his country’s sale of billions in arms to Greece. The two countries held a joint military exercise in May

As reported last year, France has also been keenly interested in reported oil deposits off the coast of Cyprus, which the country opened to foreign exploration last year- despite vociferous Turkish protests. At the same time, Israel is threatening war with Iran, something that would not fail to impact on both Turkey and Greece in different ways. It is abundantly clear that the present moment is a very complex and volatile one in the Balkans and East Mediterranean.

Turkey‘s modern intelligence service, Milli İstihbarat Teşkilatı (National Intelligence Organization,’ abbreviated MIT) was established by parliament on July 22, 1965, with Law no. 644. It was envisioned as being run by an undersecretary reporting to the prime minister. The body specifically replaced the Milli Emniyet Hizmeti (MAH). Earlier intelligence organizations dated back to the time of Ataturk, and before him, the Ottoman Empire. However, whereas Ataturk’s era led his developing country to emulate the leading European countries’s intelligence services, the Cold War reality of the 1960’s inspired key NATO ally Turkey to follow the American and NATO models especially. MIT headquarters today consists of a gardened compound in the suburbs of Ankara with a total surface area of more than 300 hectares, of course, very well secured.

The murky activities of the organization have fascinated the Turkish public for decades. On the domestic front, Turks in early June became transfixed by a legal battle over the MIT’s wiretapping rights and simultaneous claims from a political party, the Republican People’s Party (CHP), that claimed a wiretapping operation had been carried out against it by the government. This claim appeared following the publication, in late May, of a transcript was published in the newspaper Vakit of a private meeting held between Secretary-General Önder Sav and a guest in his office.

According to pro-government Turkish newspaper Today’s Zaman, the incident “struck a chord in the recent memory of the nation, which has seen many a wiretapping scandal in years past.” However, it was soon proven to be a false allegation, Vakit reported, as it turned out that Sav had simply forgotten to turn off his phone after speaking with a journalist. The intrepid reporter then simply proceeded to transcribe what he heard over the following 42 minutes of Sav’s meeting.

Former Interior Minister Sadettin Tantan, who ironically was involved in earlier similar scandals, lamented that continual rumors of bugging will continue indefinitely, so long as the country continues to lack a proper legal apparatus. Tantan pointed out other cases, including one in Greece, in which the authorities were able to control indiscretions through the kind of proper legislation enforcement he believes is missing in Turkey. According to the article in Today’s Zaman, he stated:

“Intelligence services, institutions and even ordinary people have access to the possibilities of high-tech products. It is really difficult to struggle with these people under the article that defines the crimes committed through the overstepping of legal powers. There is no infrastructure in Turkey regarding this matter. The Turkish legal system has no security department. And this gap can be filled by national and foreign forces. We even don’t know what foreign [intelligence] services have been wiretapping. When similar scandals broke out in Germany, Austria, England, France, Switzerland and Denmark, these countries took very serious steps with regard to communications security. It is evident that some officials in Turkey have been engaging in professional misconduct.”

After the exposure of a wiretapping scandal in 1996, parliamentarian Sabri Ergül and 19 other deputies from his CHP party deputies submitted a resolution demanding a parliamentary investigation. According to Today’s Zaman, Ergül recently stated that a “famous intelligence official” told the commission that “everybody was being wiretapped.” According to this officer’s secret testimony, “there were bugs in the houses of prime ministers, ministers, opposition leaders and that even opposition leaders had one another wiretapped.”

Ergül continued, noting the officer’s claims that “there was such fierce competition between intelligence services [in 1996]. That’s why they sometimes exposed their weak sides. For instance, a fight between the Police Department, the Gendarmerie Intelligence Organization [JITEM] and MIT came to light in those days. Those wiretapped before started having others wiretapped when they came to power. We even found out that directors of state institutions were wiretapping ministers. All of the bidding processes going on for public properties used to be wiretapped.”

Nevertheless, significant legal challenges have indeed been raised in recent weeks on the issue of wiretapping. On June 5, Hurriyet reported that Turkey’s Supreme Court overturned on appeals a decision of the High Criminal Court that had authorized the Turkish police (gendarmerie) with country-wide monitoring, “saying no institutions can be given an authority that covers monitoring in the entire country.”

According to Justice Minister Mehmet Ali Sahin “the decision by the Supreme Court was quite extensive. My personal view is that the decision will cover the National Intelligence Organization and police, too.”The issue arose when the Justice Ministry objected to the criminal court’s authorization of the MIT and the gendarmerie to tap all phone, SMS and email traffic, citing potential abuse of authority and international human rights conventions.

Naturally, given a turbulent common history, the issue of Turkish intelligence methods and practices is also of interest to many Greeks, and the subject is the subject of periodic discussion in the Greek media. However, as is inevitable in such scenarios the testimony of genuine experts is often confounded by uninformed speculation and conjecture. As in Turkey, where the public has reacted at various levels of hysteria regarding the most recent wiretapping charges- which turned out to be false – so it is in Greece that the public is prepared to expect the worst from its historic neighbor.

The role of Turkish intelligence in large-scale human trafficking has also captivated the Greek public in recent months. In the early morning hours of Friday, April 25, a Greek coast guard vessel in the Eastern Aegean captured a Turkish craft which was carrying illegal Asian immigrants, some 3.5 nautical miles off the island of Lesvos. Also in the boat was a 38-year-old Turkish Army officer, Serkan Kaya.

According to EmprosNet and other Greek news reports citing Greek intelligence sources, Kaya is a special unit operator who was also involved with the Turkish MIT. These reports claimed that Kaya was involved in the human trafficking partially in order to launch an intelligence gathering activity in the Greek islands. Moreover the Turkish officer was carrying with him Army credentials and a special weapon “used only by secret services,” that identified him with the security apparatus of Turkey.

An interesting aspect of the role of the Turkish secret services in trafficking via the Aegean is illustrated by American demands, first made in 2006, to establish a customs control facility in Turkish port cities, beginning with Izmir.

The request, so far stonewalled, is part of a program, the Customs Container Security Initiative, envisioned for over 30 foreign countries. In these countries, the US would like the ability to inspect all maritime traffic bound for American shores, to secure against nuclear components and other possible terrorist weapons.

While several other countries have gone along with the American initiative, Turket has not. In fact, it has been the MIT in particular that has refused the US demands, reports Zaman, “over concerns of the ramifications for Turkey’s sovereignty rights. In a letter sent to the Undersecretariat for Customs and Foreign Trade, MIT enumerated its concerns, saying such a system could turn into an environment for espionage activity.

Although the number of containers shipped from Istanbul to the US is three times the number of containers shipped from Izmir, it is not known why the US wanted Izmir to be the first port for such a system.” Whether Greek lobbying or concerns raised by the Greek intelligence services in Washington had anything to do with this choice would be an interesting question for researchers to explore.

One recent claim that got attention in Athens was made by Greek journalist Aris Spinos, a well-known specialist in security matters. He spoke about the subject of Turkish intelligence practices in the first week of May 2008, on the late show of Greek nationwide television network, Extra Channel.

Spinos claimed that certain private clinics in Ankara are actually owned by MIT, which uses them to perform plastic surgery on its best spies who are then sent ‘in disguise’ for missions abroad, something in line with the Soviet KGB model.

Greeks have also claimed in recent years that MIT agents persuaded tourists from other countries to spy for Turkey. Usually, cases were reported during tourist season, when tourists come back and forth between places such as Bodrum-Kos (2 miles apart), or between islands like Lesvos, Chios and Samos and their respective Turkish port destinations, to try to capture videos and photos with Greek military bases, in order to sell them to the Turks and receive payments- sometimes, allegedly, in the form of paid vacations. However, this sort of speculation is the least likely to be corroborated and the most prone to exaggeration and misuse.

Greek experts have also disclosed other aspects of the MIT’s believed operating habits. According to several articles in the Greek journal Stratigiki, the MIT has a special psy-ops unit, named TIB that has an extensive network in Europe and especially in Germany, where the largest Turkish diaspora in Europe resides.

It is a large sector that employs academics, journalists and Turkish diaspora professionals, functioning broadly along the lines of Israel’s MOSSAD. Similarly, it is widely assumed that domestically the MIT maintains a very large network of civilian informants that span all levels of society and professional life in Turkey- something that goes back to the Cold War and likely even earlier.

Following the collapse of the Soviet bloc and the resulting anxiety for both Turkey and Greece, a ‘hot’ period ensued between 1989-1996, when a ‘secret war’ erupted between Greek and Turkish intelligence services, that involved assassinations, arson, high-level psychological attacks, and heavy espionage activity.

The Turks accused Greece on supporting the Kurdish PKK fighters (PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan was later protected in Greece and Greek diplomatic installations until being kidnapped by the Turks in Kenya in 1998). The tensions escalated to the point of potential armed conflict over the contested islet of Imia near Kalymnos in early 1996.

Today, numerous unfolding events indicate that Greek and Turkish machinations are going to be amplified by the actions of larger powers. For example, Israel recently conducted a robust air force exercise over Greek waters, which American and other analysts interpreted as a warning of an impending strike against Iran.

Turkey, on the other hand, has had to develop closer ties with Iranian security services, as both countries share the problem of Kurdish separatists.

How the fortunes of Greece and Turkey would wax or wane in the event of an Israeli (and, potentially, American) war with Iran is just one of the many fascinating questions to emerge from this. Given the complexity and high stakes of international relations in the Balkans and Middle East today, it appears likely that the traditional war of one-upsmanship between Greece and Turkey will continue into the foreseeable future, and that their intelligence services will, as always, be at the forefront of this battle.

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Greek Military Acquisitions on the Rise

By Ioannis Michaletos in Athens

Greece and Turkey are historically known as traditional foes that accumulate vast military arsenals, preserving a delicate balance of power that breaks out occasionally with ‘hot’ incidents, inevitably involving the air force and the navy in the Eastern Aegean.

Over the recent period, Greece has proceeded in acquiring new weaponry from international producers, while Turkey continues to pressure Greece on a variety of issues. One item of note is the heightened role being played by France as an arms-producing nation in equipping the Greek armed forces for their next-generation needs.

The most recent reports out of Athens indicate that the incumbent government is going to procure some 40 4th generation fighter jets, with the Eurofighter Typhoon topping the list, and the French Rafale, manufactured by Dassault, also being looked at. Moreover, after 2012 Greece will order some 60 American Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) planes.

The total cost for the above is difficult to estimate due to the changing currency index and the variety of missiles and auxiliary systems that can be added; in total, however, costs should exceed 10 billion euro, a substantial amount that is more than the total defense budget of Greece for 2008.

Turkey, for its part, has already planned their procurement of 100 units of the superb F-35 Lighting II fighter jet from the US. This is in keeping with the strategic aim of the Turkish Air Force of becoming the strongest in the East Mediterranean region by 2020.

On the maritime front, the Greek Navy has ordered six frigates by autumn 2008, at a total cost of 2.8 billion euro. The French, according to all estimations, have gained the upper hand in offering the FREMM type vessel. The French are also likely to be commissioned for the modernization scheme of the Mirage-2000 fighter jets, costing probably in excess of 500 million euro, along with new weaponry such as precision guidance munitions and air-to-air missiles.

Greece already ordered 415 BMP-3 combat armored vehicles in early December 2007; they will be accompanied by another 81 as an offset, amounting to 1.3 billion euro. Most of these vehicles will arrive in Greece by early 2010. Moscow is also actively pursuing the sale to Greece of the BUK middle-range anti-aircraft system, at a cost of around 700 million euro. A decision on that is likely to be delayed until mid-2009, however.

An interesting aspect here is the willingness of the French to offer Greece the new Scalp-Naval surface-to-surface missiles with a maximum range of 1,000 kilometers, essentially a strategic weapon that will be deployed aboard the FREMM ships. In reality, this means that a Greek vessel could hit an enemy target in mainland Turkey while safely withdrawn in Southern Crete or even the Ionian Sea, far away from a potential theater of battle.

This particular weapon essentially replicates the abilities of the American-made Tomahawk missile, presently used only by the armed forces of the USA, UK and Israel. Already the Greek Air Force operates the Scalp Storm Shadow version with a 350km radius, which is classified as a sub-strategic weapon.

The main reason Paris is seeking to open up this export market, it seems, is the fierce antagonism between multiple high-tech weapons producers that have caused great losses to the French defense industry over the past decade. Greece, as a major European market, could assist the French into re-entering the market.

The French are also heavily promoting the Rafale fighter plane for export. Between the 12th and 16th of May, Greek and French pilots trained together with these fighters during the “Aegean Gust” exercise held in Greece. Five French planes faced five Greek F-16’s, engaging in battle simulation. The total French team sent to Greece numbered 45 personnel.

Officially, the exercise was a bilateral one conducted in order to further build bonds between the two nations; in reality, this was a high-level and high-cost marketing endeavor during which the Greek pilots and officers viewed under realistic conditions the real capabilities of the Rafale planes, and how they would operate under difficult circumstances against the American F-16’s, the main type of jet used by both Greeks and Turks at present.

In this light, it is not beyond the realm of speculation to conclude that, among other recent overtures, the French support for Greece during the controversial NATO Summit in April was meant to increase the likelihood of a sale that would be very lucrative for France.

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China’s Security Concerns Reach Europe, as Greece Prepares to Light Olympic Flame

By Ioannis Michaletos in Athens

The Chinese government recently announced that it has eliminated an Islamist terrorist cell composed of Uyghur Turks from Xinjiang Province in the west of the country. With security for the Olympics, which start in Beijing on August 8 at an all-time-high,

China’s concerns have reverberated as far as southeastern Europe, where on March 24 the Greek government will conduct the traditional lighting of the Olympic flame. Greece’s security precautions for the event involve new techniques and technology in practice since Athens hosted the last Olympics, in 2004, and are being executed with an eye to possible threats from political opponents of the Chinese regime, including left-wing terrorist groups, the Uyghur Diaspora, Tibet activists and other potential troublemakers.

The most visible dissidents to China’s political program, which are seeking to use the world spotlight cast on the world’s most populous country that the Games provide, are now the Tibetans. Following recent riots and continuing protests against Chinese rule in Tibet, and an outcry from Tibet activist groups outside the country, China is taking a great interest in identifying those involved. This interest has spread as far as the Peloponnesian home of the original Olympics, where on March 10 Chinese Embassy officials in Olympia filmed a group of Tibet activists concluding their own “Olympic flame” relay, a counter-action meant as a symbolic protest. This data will most certainly be shared with the Greek police, busy executing their final preparations for the March 24th event.

Greek-Chinese Relations: Smooth Sailing

Bilateral relations between the two countries have greatly expanded over the past few years, facilitated by the expanding role of China in world markets and by the role of the Greek merchant marine, which now transfers the bulk of China’s energy needs, especially its oil.

Diplomatic relations were formally established in 1972, during the time when Western policy formally opened up to Beijing as a counterweight to the then-Soviet Empire. According to information relayed by the Greek Foreign Ministry, “Greek-Chinese relations are excellentˆšÂ¢Â¬Ã„¦ China has a positive stance on the Cyprus issue and Greece supports the principle of One China.”

In the economic sphere, there is strong bilateral collaboration as well, especially in the shipping sector. The COSCO Group is willing to invest in Greek ports by buying controlling stakes, while the shipyards of China are filled with hundreds of orders from Greek ship owners rushing to take advantage of low-cost Chinese labor. In the tourism sector, Greece expects to accommodate some 300,000 Chinese visitors, a market recently making its entrance in Greece but with high potential due to explosive annual growth and high spending per capita.

Chinese Security Concerns

The Olympic Games 2008 will provide a unique opportunity for China to present its heightened role on the world stage. The security concerns of Beijing are mainly concentrated in the existence of minority groups, as now seen in Tibet, with communities scattered across the world that along with political demonstrations may attempt sabotage and even terrorist attacks on the Games themselves. Bloomberg reports that China is spending approximately $300 million on Olympic security (whereas the Greek government spent $1.5 billion to safeguard the 2004 Olympics). According to security expert and an official advisor to the Olympic Games, Dr. Darko Trifunovic, “China is paying considerable attention to terrorism assessment for the Olympic Games. It does not want the event to be associated with anything that can damage its reputation as a safe destination.”

Among the Chinese counterterrorist efforts is the participation of America nuclear experts in removing radioactive materials from the vicinity of Olympic sites, “part of a security sweep focusing on highly radioactive devices in hospitals and research labs” reported The Canadian Press. “The fear is they could be detonated using conventional explosives – effectively becoming a “dirty bomb’ that would spew radiation and sow panic at the global sporting spectacle set for August.” Charles Ferguson of the U.S. Council on Foreign Relations described for the Canadian media the security operation as being “precautionary,” adding that “if terrorists were able to take explosives, let’s say, and target a radioactive source that’s located at or near an Olympic site venue and blow up that facility, then that could be a huge international event.”

Chinese Minister of Public Security Zhou Yongkang has stated that “we face the challenges of terrorism, separatism and extremism.” Attesting to this concern, Beijing recently announced that it had foiled a plot devised by terrorists seeking to take over a passenger plane and crash it in a major city. According to Wang Lequan, the top Communist Party official in the western region of Xinjiang, there were plans “to sabotage the staging of the Beijing Olympics.” CNN reported that “two people were killed and 15 captured in the raid, along with weapons and extremist religious literature.”

Xinjiang province is home to the Uyghurs (also spelled Uighurs), a Turkic minority that has often clashed with the Chinese minority, motivated by dreams of independence, for a region it calls East Turkistan. During the 1990’s it collaborated with Islamic networks and Al Qaeda, and even with the Turkish state, which at the time was trying to expand its influence among the Turkic countries of Central Asia. Should the allegations prove to be correct, an initial serious security threat may have now been found. However, Western observers have also expressed skepticism over the veracity of the allegations, suspecting that China would like to voice security concerns to intimidate its restive minorities.

However, there are demonstrated links between a small number of Chinese Turks and international terrorist outfits. Dr. Trifunovic points out that “Uyghur trainers of Al Qaeda ended up in Guantanamo Bay [prison] in 2001. Six of them were released and they are presently in Albania.” The small Balkan country was the only one that would do the US a favor by accepting the men. A significant Uyghur community also resides in Munich, Germany, which would mean relatively easy access for any troublemakers looking to disrupt the Olympic flame lighting ceremony in Greece.

Another Chinese security concern which has implications for events in Greece next week is the Falun Gong religious sect, which has been in conflict with the Chinese government for years. Via its European representation, the group has made numerous connections in Greece, and developed a network of local supporters and collaborators, materializing in the past in the form of demonstrations in Athens. This activity has occasionally created slight strains in Athens-Beijing bilateral relations.

It is possible that the cult groups may try to hold demonstrations just before the lighting ceremony, in order to voice their public disapproval for the Chinese Olympic Games.It is notable to mention that in 2004 three members of that sect sued the Chinese government in a Greek court, claiming that it practices “genocide and torture” against minority members. Even though it cannot be estimated how many members of the sect reside in Greece, unofficial tallies suggest a community of approximately 1,000 members.

Lastly the ever-pressing issue of Tibet, one which has received much more popular support from Westerners, means another headache for Greek security tasked with safeguarding the lighting ceremony. On the 10th of March, a group of 10 Tibetans tried to enter the archeological site of Olympia in order to symbolically light up their own fire, using benzine, but were prohibited by the police, though no arrests were made. The arrival of a wave of tourists from China and various European countries for the ceremony has kept local authorities on alert, as they fear similar incidents might be attempted.

Greek Security Preparations for the Olympic Lighting Ceremony

The lighting ceremony will begin at noon on Monday, the 24th of March, at the home of the original Games, Olympia in the Peloponnese. As before every modern Olympics, the torch will then travel throughout Greece — some 1,528 km in all — passing through 43 cities and finally arriving at Panatheneum Stadium in central Athens on the 30th of March at 3PM. On the following day it will be flown to China. During the week-long ceremony, 605 people in all will be involved in handling the torch.

Dr. Trifunovic who has wide experience in security planning, notes that “preparation for mega-events such as the Olympics begins years in advance. All plans have to be flexible enough to accommodate changes and always be characterized by situational awareness. It requires continuous planning, from day one up until the end.”

Best practices as gleaned from the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens are going to be implemented in the torch ceremony, which the Greek Olympic Committee president Minos Kyriakou promises will be carried out in “immaculate” fashion. Using its accumulated experience, Greece will have an advantage in covering all the angles of this significant international event.

Numerous facets of the security operation are in place. An unspecified number of alert groups spread out across much of Greece’s territory will be ready to respond immediately in the case of any problems, with a group of 10 helicopters at their disposal. Further, a total of 2,700 police officers will be on alert, covering the designated range of the torch’s path across the country; 600 of them will be deployed during the ceremony itself.

Further, all of the VIP guests participating in the ceremony and on the week-long travels of the torch will be monitored round the clock. Pedestrians, vehicles, machinery and buildings near the ceremony will be checked, and people will be prohibited from coming within close range of the event. Secure zones will thus be established.

Also, an unspecified number of plain-clothed screeners will monitor the crowd and look out for any suspicious movement. During the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens, such personnel appeared as athletes, journalists, volunteers and so on. Finally, the general security operation also depends on a smooth information flow between Interpol-Europol and Greek police, especially concerning border movements.

The above measures present a schematic array of best practices that were used in the field during the 2004 Games, and which were considered to have been successful, since no incidents occurred. Moreover, the security infrastructure has since then been upgraded, judging by the fact that according to the Greek press, the security services have procured high-tech equipment from Germany capable of monitoring thousands of phone calls and e-mails. Also, a law that was recently voted in the Parliament providing further powers to the Greek intelligence services, ostensibly for combating terrorism and asymmetrical threats, can also be applied in the case of Olympic events.

Other concerns for the Greek government which do not involve China-related troublemakers regarding the high-visibility torch ceremony include the existence of certain radical leftist groups, such as the Revolutionary Struggle. The latter was reportedly involved with staging an attack against the American Embassy in January 2007, and is considered to have a considerable arsenal of illegal weaponry, as well as relations with the contraband arms trade in the Balkans, and possibly even with organized crime networks operating in Kosovo; in 2007, Kathimerini reported that the missile launched against the American Embassy had been imported from Albania via the largely Albanian-populated secessionist province of Serbia.

Finally, the generally fragile situation in the Balkans may now be affected as the Greek police are forced to temporarily expend their efforts on the lighting ceremony, rather than on other regional security issues.

Controlling the Path of the Torch, and the Holiday

The path upon which the Olympic flame will pass is considered generally safe. It will follow national roads, which are easily monitored and secured. Nevertheless, the country will be on a heightened state of alert for other reasons as well. The 25th of March is also the national Day of Independence in Greece, traditionally marked by a military parade in Athens. This simultaneous event also means the activation of Greek military units, as Turkey by tradition honors the holiday by violating Greek airspace, as a form of minor psychological warfare. Thus the Greek air force, and the army and navy as well, will have to be on standby.

Route and Itinerary of the Olympic Torch, March 24-30, 2008

March 24: Ancient Olympia-Patra-Messologi (Stay overnight)

March 25: Agrinio-Arta-Ioannina (Stay overnight)

March 26: Metsovo-Grevena-Kozani-Veroia (Stay overnight)

March 27: Naoussa-Edessa-Ginniatsa-Ancient Pella-Thessaloniki (Stay overnight)

March 28: Larissa-Volos-Lamia (Stay overnight)

March 29: Kalamos-Marathonas-Rafina- Panellinios Stadium (2 km from the final destination) in central Athens (Stay overnight)

March 30: Delivery of the torch to Chinese Olympic officials at 3PM in Panatheneum stadium (close to the presidential palace, and the most secure area of Athens). The torch will be flown the same night or early the next morning for China.

Related Links

The world route of the Olympic flame, 2008

Greek Ministry of Public Order/ Directory for 2004 Olympic Games Security

Exclusive presentation of security standards for the 2004 Games from Athenian newspaper To Vima

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New Security Threats, Trends in Global Intelligence Influence Greek Reforms

By Ioannis Michaletos and Christopher Deliso

The Greek parliament is currently debating a significant new law covering intelligence reform and modernization. The legislation, which would have applicability for both the Greek military intelligence service and the civilian National Intelligence Service (NIS), may be voted on as early as February 18. It is the first such law to be considered since the original 1986 act that provided the agency with its legal status.

The main points of the far-reaching new law concern both procedural reform and structural realignment, in light of new realizations of the strategic threats facing Greece from decentralized terrorist cells and organized crime groups, including cyber-crime rings.

While most of the proposed modifications have relatively little to inspire political controversy, a couple of them do have political overtones. One would be the addition of accountability safeguards, deemed to be lacking under the old law. A further departure from the past would give the agency the ability to screen and ask for information from the entire public sector; the original law specified the need for a series of requests, including judicial approval. The new law envisions a simplified procedure in which even low-ranking officials will be entitled to make such requests.

The proposed legislation was initially developed in 2005 by the conservative Nea Dimokratia government of sitting Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis, which cited problems in the functioning of the agency, including a prevailing mentality deemed outdated and out of touch with modern intelligence-gathering practices. The governing party and its ally, the far right-wing LAOS party, will vote in favor of the new law. However, the leftist parties are expected to vote against the law, which is nevertheless likely to pass.

These liberal opponents include Synaspismos and the Communist Party, which claim that the intelligence agency’s new powers will be used against those who voice criticism of government policy, while also increasing the likelihood of unwanted electronic surveillance of the public. The main left-wing opposition party, PASOK, is also expected to largely vote against the law, even though some PASOK parliamentarians may well abstain, mostly due to their opposition to party President Giorgos Papandreou. While PASOK complains that the law is inadequate, they also do not trust the government in general, and this is a tacit reason for opposition.

The fact that it has taken so long for this law to get to its final stages owes to scandals, intelligence-related and otherwise, that have plagued officials associated with it. The legislation was first prepared by the Public Order Ministry in 2005, but the resignations of its leading authors, Giorgos Voulgarakis (now Maritime Minister) and a current MP, Vyronas Polydoras, resulted in a lengthy delay.

The former was blamed in the infamous “Pakistani abduction case,” in which 28 Pakistani immigrants were allegedly kidnapped by intelligence agents in Athens. He claimed ignorance, attesting that the government did not engage in “James Bond’-style tactics. Voulgarakis’ involvement was revealed by the newspaper Proto Thema, which actually cited sources behind the revelations from within the intelligence agency. Proto Thema also disclosed the names of 15 alleged Greek agents and an MI6 spy chief allegedly involved with kidnapping and torturing the Pakistanis eight days after the London bombings of July 7, 2005.

Complicating things further, the newspaper’s owner is now entangled in an investigation. Themos Anastasiades, who owns 40 percent of the paper, is accused of receiving a sum of 5.5 million euros from an identified individual without reporting it to the tax service. He was also stopped on the Swiss-French border in October 2007 carrying unreported checks worth one million euros, which were then confiscated by the French customs. Nevertheless, it is widely believed that the main reason for the “Pakistani abductions” disclosure was the close ties that certain Greek politicians have cultivated with British officials (to the displeasure of the formers’ rivals). Moreover, the potential of a strong cooperation between NIS and MI6 might have alarmed other services in the murky world of international security and espionage. At the time, then-Minister Voulgarakis complained that the newspaper’s revelation had forced Greece to evacuate two agents from turbulent Kosovo- the very place where, in May of the same year, allegedly, the NIS station chief had been assassinated by members of an Albanian militant group.

Emerging Threats

Over the past two years, the Karamanlis administration has made great steps towards modernizing and refocusing the Greek intelligence apparatus, in light of changing security factors. Until now, the Greek intelligence community has in most respects remained focused on Cold War methods of operation, mainly orienting its operations towards traditional foe Turkey. While the transformation of the landscape by new asymmetrical threats, not the old state-centered ones, has forced a rethink, some officers still complain about an inability to get “official” Athens to implement more robust activity in the areas of Islamic terrorism and Balkan militancy.

Nevertheless, while it is coming slowly, change is coming to the Greek intelligence community. The continuingly unstable situation in the Balkans and the international war on terrorism constitute the major considerations for Greek security specialists today. In summer 2007, the enormously destructive wildfires that decimated large swathes of countryside emerged as a new menace- and one that may yet be repeated with even more brutal effect in the years ahead. Although arid, sun-baked Greece is a natural victim of forest fires, what happened last summer was without precedent and became for a time the chief priority for the intelligence services, in a country essentially under attack. Further, deliberate arson aimed at a country increasingly vulnerable to desertification and lacking sufficient water resources can have devastating long-term effects for actors with political or economic objectives in mind.

While everyone from rogue property developers and organized crime syndicates to anarchists and leftists have been blamed at one time or another for the many and widespread fires that gripped the country during the summer, another and even more disturbing possibility is that least some of the fires that occurred, and that are likely to occur in the future, can be attributed to Islamist networks. A recent report, citing US intelligence channels, claims that an Arabic-language jihad website has urged Muslims in Europe, America and Australia to use arson as a tool of terror. The website apparently cited imprisoned Al Qaeda “theorist” Abu Musab Al-Suri as the ideological progenitor of this plan. While Greece is not specified among the countries to be attacked, and while it is not a contributor of troops to the US-led coalition in Iraq, it has been vital to the war effort by allowing the Americans access to its island bases, transport and other logistical services.

Further evidence attests to a possible connection between Islamists and the forest fires in Greece. A type of improvised explosive device used in setting off the fires was ignited with a mobile phone. By calling the phone’s number, the device exploded, sparking a blaze that soon grew out of control. The advantage for the perpetrators is that this result can be achieved from a safe distance- even from abroad. Significantly, it is similar to one of the methods used in the Madrid bombing in March 2003.

Further, a ranking Greek intelligence officer, speaking on the condition of anonymity, states that during the height of the summer fires a Saudi national equipped with such a device was arrested by Greek border police in the north of Greece, in the company of several Kosovo Albanians. It is no secret that the latter consider Greeks to be an enemy, in light of the latter’s historic support for the Serbian point of view regarding the Kosovo issue. However, there is no way of confirming this claim, so it must remain a mystery, at least for now. Nevertheless, there is evidence, some of it gathered in an August 2007 Jamestown Foundation report, of Greece being used as a transit zone and even potential target for al Qaeda and related groups.

Further, the spread of organized crime originating from the Balkans, and Greece’s delicate geopolitical placement between the Balkans, Turkey and the Middle East, all add increased urgency to the need for a significant upgrade and redirection of the country’s intelligence services in a rapidly changing and insecure era. Although the proposed law is not as extensive or complete as it could be, it is an improvement over the current situation of relative inertia and inefficiency. The major points of the bill will be discussed below, following mention of some reforms that have already started to come into practice.

Military Intelligence Modernization: the Move to Open Source

Greece‘s Military Intelligence service (DDSP) has developed a new focus on OSINT (Open Source Intelligence), just as its American counterparts are calling for increased exploitation of global Islamist websites, webcasts and other forms of easily acquired media. The Greek army’s global OSINT center  is meant to monitor all news, analysis, briefings, reports and information in general about global military affairs on a 24-hour basis. This includes a constant examination of information from the media, websites, web logs, think-tanks, public comments and other OSINT based information. The Center is headquartered in the Army’s J2 Staff Office.

According to the monthly defense journal Stratigiki (1), the OSINT center started operating on a pilot basis in October 2006 and became fully operational in May of 2007. It is composed of a group of men and women (officers and NCOs) selected on the basis of their knowledge of foreign languages, internet management and education on issues relevant to OSINT management and intelligence gathering. Moreover, most of the members of this unit underwent training in Greece and other NATO countries on the aforementioned subjects. Some of them also hold degrees in international relations, diplomatic studies and journalism. Another similar directorate, in existence since 2003, is subordinate to the Hellenic Joint Chief of Staff Headquarters. It is directed by a brigadier general on a rotating basis, taken in turn from the army, navy and air force. This sector is called the Military Intelligence Chiefs of Staff Directorate.

The weekly Greek newspaper Investors World (2) commented that this new army unit is the first of its kind in Southeastern Europe, and will play a decisive role in collecting the vital pieces of open-source intelligence that the military might need. Whether it is a flattering remark on Greece’s field intelligence efforts or not, at least 90 percent of all information collected from the intelligence or security services currently comes from OSINT. This information is vital for discerning the “big picture” from the mass of seemingly insignificant data that comes in on a daily basis.

Further, the new OSINT center will also include a specialized team of officers tasked with monitoring the internet for potential attacks on the military’s networks and servers, and intentional or unintentional leak of sensitive documents and classified information (3). The team enacted its operation a few months ago and, according to several reports published in the Greek media, it has already uncovered six cases of leakages by military personnel who shared files or posted documents of sensitive nature onto the internet. In two instances, it was revealed that ex-military personnel exchanged files of a sensitive or even classified nature with foreigners via popular internet file-sharing systems.

This specialized team is also tasked with conducting inspections all along the spectrum of the military’s critical information infrastructure, in order to make sure safety rules are followed and that necessary adjustments can be proposed. The team members were selected due to their computer and high-tech skills and use advanced software platforms that operate constantly. They also cooperate closely with the Greek Special Police Unit on Electronic Crime that has functioned over the past decade (in this regard, it should be noted that the future authority and division of labor between these cooperating bodies is another controversial issue regarding the proposed intelligence reform bill).

In late July 2007, the Greek government resolved to form a platform of cooperation and interconnection between all organizations concerned with internet security, surveillance and telecommunications, even though no other details have surfaced in the press as to how this will affect the military infrastructure of the country in that field. Moreover, the Greek army’s OSINT center will have access to the Command Control and Information facilities of the army, navy and air force. Thus it will be capable of conducting wide range research across the country, and to speed up the “intelligence cycle” considerably.

Over the coming years, the Greek military aims to create an information structure that includes the use of satellites, AWACKS, OSINT centers, CCTV’s and electronic surveillance planes and ships, so as to reduce the costs of intelligence gathering- while also upgrading considerably its abilities to conduct intelligence management in the 21st century (4). Further, the Center closely cooperates with the Greek police’s Electronic Crime Directory that is being supervised by the Security Command of the Attica Prefecture (5).

The importance of OSINT management has gained wide recognition all over the world. US intelligence figures have recently announced that they will increasingly monitor web logs and even YouTube videos as a mean of gaining a wide-angle view on societal developments internationally. In Greece, the new OSINT center has the potential and the legal framework, according to the Greek political review Diplomacy, even to recruit HUMINT assets, as well as to explore new means of acquiring essential intelligence by consulting specialized institutions, research centers, universities and the mass media (6).

To a large extent, however, the possibility of success depends on the ability of the Joint Chief of Staff’s intelligence center to develop a successful working relationship with the already existing J2 branches in the army, navy and air force; the latter tend to view the newest development from a conservative point of view, fearing that their role will be downgraded in the future as a result of “competition.’ The creation of a similar army OSINT Center has further indicated the continuing role of internal antagonisms, and in the future Greece may well have three OSINT centers, along with an overarching joint one.

Finally, on the more purely military side of things, a crucial addition to the Greek Air Force, in relation to the dynamics of the OSINT Center, is the 4 EMB-145H AWACS that are being constructed by a French-Brazilian-Swedish consortium for the military. For the first time in its air force’s history, Greece will acquire air radar capabilities with an average detection range of 350 km for enemy planes and 150 km for incoming cruise missiles. It is assumed that these four aircraft could fully meet the needs for defending the Northern Aegean archipelagos up to the central portion of the Eastern Mediterranean Sea. The Greek army has already procured the French made Sprewer type UAV’s that will assist for real-time information, and which are expected to be deployed mostly on the eastern border with Turkey (7).

Civilian Intelligence Modernization and Restructuring

Greece‘s National Intelligence Service (NIS) is a part of the Ministry of Public Order, except for during times of war or national emergency, when it should answer to the Ministry of Defense. In mid-September 2007, right after the Greek general elections, however, a reshuffling and merger occurred between the Home Affairs Ministry and the Ministry of Public Order. Thereafter, the NIS became subject to the minister of the interior, who is also responsible for public administration.

The new law being debated now by the Greek parliament will transform the NIS’ operability, reach and responsibilities, with an eye towards implementing more efficient administration and countering emerging security threats. The main points discussed that are applicable to this civilian agency include: the designation of an “in house” special judicial overview function, represented by the Greek equivalent of a District Attorney; the creation of a joint ministerial intelligence committee composed of officials from the eight most important ministries, and chaired by the interior minister; and the NIS’ heading of the national CERT (Computer Emergency Response Team), giving it the overruling authority for the security of critical networks and non-military state servers in the country.

Under the proposed law, the NIS would also be given the authority to ask any kind of information from public services and organizations in Greece about any individual, when dealing with a case. This controversial aspect of the law would oblige state bodies to hand out information whenever requested. However, as a sort of concession to the liberal critics of this practice, the new law proposes a check on the agency in the form of an annual review of the NIS’s operations provided by the appropriate parliamentary committee.


(1) ” Army’s Information Unit”, News Briefs, Stratigiki, (Greece), Vol. 150, p. 33, March 2007

(2) Manos Iliades, “Army Creates Intelligence Center”, Investor’s World Newspaper (Greece), March 31, 2007

(3) “Army’s Intelligence Center”, News Briefs, Defense & Diplomacy Journal (Greece), Vol. 192, p. 184, April 2007

(4) “Greek Army Enacts OSINT Center”, Greek Information Section, Greek Defense & Security Journal (Greece) Vol. 14, p. 25, April 2007

(5) Ioannis Michaletos, “Greek Defense Developments”, Greek Studies Section, Research Institute on European & American Studies,, March 18, 2007

(6) “Army’s Intelligence Center”, op cit

(7) Makis Pollatos, “The Military Intelligence”, Diplomacy Journal (Greece), Vol. 27, February 2006

(8) Ioannis Michaletos, “Greek Defense Developments”, op cit

Relevant official websites

Greek Ministry of Defense:

Greek Ministry of Public Order:

Greek Ministry of Interior :

National Intelligence Service:

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By Christopher Deliso

Greece’s most striking landscapes, it may well be argued, are to be found in the mountain fastnesses of Epiros, far in the country’s northwest; here is the fabled Zagorohoria, a group of 46 mountain hamlets attesting to the legacy of a spirited people determined to remain free and cling to their customs over the long centuries of Ottoman rule in Greece.

Although most of the villages are sparsely populated now, with the few lingering locals making a living from tourism, they hold onto their magic and their secrets well; since the traditional Zagori architecture is hewn of stone, the centuries-old bridges, mansion houses and churches have all been built to last.

The Zagorohoria’s unique name comes from the fusion of the old Slavonic za Gora (‘behind the mountain’), and the Greek word for villages (horia). The sprawling area lies in the north of the province of Epiros. The mixed tradition of the region also means that a notable part of the population has Vlach roots; indeed, you can still find the occasional nomadic Vlach shepherd bringing his sheep up and down from the mountains’ high places and meadows in time with the changing seasons.

Most visitors to Zagorohoria, foreigners especially, are firstly looking to ‘get away from it all,’ amidst the tranquility and astonishingly fresh air of the Pindos Mountains’ Vikos-Aoos National Park.

Many of these travelers also come to test their trekking mettle, tramping along steep hiking trails and traversing the 12km length of the Vikos Gorge- said to be the world’s deepest.


The Zagorohoria is marked by its distinctive stone architecture (photo: Christopher Deliso)

The view into the gorge is particularly awesome from above. The whole area is rich in wild things (endemic fish, foxes, hawks, otters and bears, to name a few) and wildflowers, most abundant in spring, which bathe the inner valleys in a kaleidoscope of color. After a hot summer’s day of hiking, the hardiest visitors might seek the ultimate cathartic refreshment- a dip in one of the park’s two glacial ‘Dragon Lakes.’

The Zagorohoria is undeniably photogenic. Constantly shifting light plays across starkly variegated terrain, and the seasons, from blossoming summer to a long whitewashed winter, pass abruptly and always with a sense of loss. But through it all the stone houses with their long slate roofs remain, as do the gracefully arching bridges that dot the interior, both nearby civilization and sometimes, it would seem, precisely in the middle of nowhere, under a craggy cliff or off over a stream in a thicket.

Until the relatively recent creation of modern roads, these bridges were indispensable means of connection between the isolated villages. Even after wave upon wave of Ottoman invaders settled across Greece and the Balkans, the Sultan was never able to take real control of the Zagorohoria and its proud inhabitants. The Pindos range preserved them in a sort of natural fortress, and it was usually too much trouble (and too dangerous) for Turkish troops to make the ascent. And so, during times of trouble elsewhere, the Zagorohoria became a sanctuary for Greeks; in 1204, when the Latin Crusaders sacked Constantinople, and again in 1453, when the forces of Sultan Mehmet II overran the imperial city and destroyed the Byzantine Empire, wealthy Byzantine families undertook the long and dangerous journey to the safety of Epiros, where they could find shelter from the turbulence gripping their own homeland.

As a result, the Zagori villages came to be endowed with the largesse of wealthy arrivals, most evident in the lavish and sumptuously decorated stone churches they endowed. This patronage was considerably enhanced in later Ottoman centuries, when villagers left to make their fortunes abroad, usually in cities with sizable Greek emigrant populations such as Bucharest, Odessaor Alexandriain Egypt.balkanalysisvikosgorge600.jpg

The dizzying view from above: Vikos Gorge at dusk (photo: Christopher Deliso)

The names and gifts of these patrons can still be found intact in the churches of Zagorohoria, whose vivid wall-to-wall frescoes and hand-carved wood iconostases have fared far better, thanks to their mountainous isolation, than have many churches in low-lying parts of Greece and other former Ottoman possessions.

What to see, where to stay

The Zagori villages are spread along the west and east of the Vikos Gorge, many being easily accessible by car. To give proper treatment to each one would mean a lengthy article indeed; here, therefore, are just a few of the most popular, which stretch along the west side of the gorge.

Long-haul hikers in the park have an assortment of mountain huts spread along the well-marked trail system to choose from. Even if you’sre not planning to go on extensive hikes, however, nothing beats the Zagorohoria for its utter tranquility (especially out of high season), wildlife and sense of being lost in another time. And there are an increasing number of places to stay. Over the past few years, numerous residents and former residents who’sve hung on to their ancestral homes in Zagori have gone into the B&B business, opening up guesthouses (xenones) full of charm and centuries-old character. The most impressive of these, the mansions (in Greek, arhontika), stand as the epic reminders to the wealthiest of the Zagorohorian families of yesteryear.

One of the best such places for serene escapism and marveling at old arhontika is the village of Dilofo, 32km from Epiros’s capital city of Ioannina. Located just before the entrance to the Vikos Gorge, Dilofo has taken much longer to get into the tourism game than the larger villages, meaning that it still has less than a handful of guest houses and restaurants concealed amidst its jumbled, slate-roofed houses, now mostly empty, though some former residents and their families do come back for summer idylls.

As in many other wisely situated Greek villages, an enormous, 400-year-old plane tree – for town planners of old, always the most dependable sign that a water source could be found nearby – stands in the middle of the village’s small central square, which also has a card telephone and taverna. In the upper part of town stands the Church of Koimisis Theotokou (Church of the Dormition of the Virgin) a thick stone structure with impressive icons and a hand-carved wooden iconostasis.

balkanalysiszagorohoriarooftops600.jpg Slate rooftops predominate in the Zagorohoria (photo: Christopher Deliso)

The best place to stay here is the Arhontiko Dilofo, tucked unassumingly into a laneway leading up to the church. A double room including breakfast here will set you back 65 euros. This 475-year-old mansion, lovingly restored by owner Giorgos Kontaxis, features unique rooms, all traditional but all slightly different, including one with a glass floor, under which can be seen original implements discovered during renovation. Other rooms are marked out by their traditional bedspreads, lovely rows of windows with painted shutters, and rustic furnishings. Giorgos is a mine of information on the house, its secrets and on Dilofo in and Epiros in general. If you stay, be sure to see his vast collection of nature photographs he’s taken in Zagorohoria over the years.

Further to the northwest are the most famous Zagori villages: Monodendri, Megalo Papingo and Mikro Papingo. The former is fairly heavily visited, thanks to its identity as the most popular starting point for the Vikos Gorge hike, and thus has more services for those needing slightly more civilization. The village lies 38km north of Ioannina, accessible from the main south-north Ioannina-Konitsa road. It boasts two churches worth seeing: the Monastery of Agias Paraskevis, a 15th-century structure built to celebrate a divine miracle, and the Church of Agiou Minas, near the square. From the former church there are awe-inspiring views down into the Vikos Gorge.

The ascent to Megalo Papingo and Mikro Papingo, further north, is one of most travelers’s most memorable Zagorohoria experiences: it involves navigating a succession of fifteen hairpin turns up and up, towards stark Mt Astraka, which looms over the Papingo villages. Excellent views of the Vikos Gorge down below can be had along the way. Megalo (‘Big,’ in Greek) Papingo is a larger-than-life sort of place, backed by the ‘towers’- grand, almost anthropomorphic stone formations. Off of the short road connecting Megalo Papingo to Mikro (‘Small’) Papingo, you will find several rock pools ideal for taking a quick swim on a hot day. In the latter village, which gets fewer visitors than its big brother, you will also find, in the former schoolhouse, a WWF information center that presents the park’s unique wildlife and fauna.


Rustic guest houses, such as the Arhontiko in Dilofo, pictured here, have driven and distinguished the area’s appeal for travelers (photo: Christopher Deliso)

Monodendri and the Papingo villages have a wider offering of places to stay. In Monodendri, the best budget accommodation can be found at the Archontiko Zarkada, where single rooms go for 25 euros, and doubles for 35 euros. Rooms have balconies with views overlooking the gorge, and some even have rejuvenating spa baths.

Slightly more expensive, but with a central location near the lower village square and only 400m from the Vikos Gorge is the Xenos Vikos(+30 26530 71370), a well-kept guesthouse with a relaxing, leafy courtyard. Here, double rooms go from 45-60 euros.

In Megalo Papingo, the Hotel Agriogido is set in a well-restored old Zagori family mansion, and maintains its atmospheric quality. Even more rustic is the recently opened Xenonas Mikro Papingo 1700 (+30 26530 41179) a small (only five rooms), but very appealing place loaded with traditional character. Rooms here range from 45 euros for a single to 60 euros for a double.

There are many other guesthouses to choose from which you will find in these villages and nearby ones such as Aristi and Ano Pedina; a useful website which contains listings of numerous places with photos and prices, as well as general Zagori information, is the official website’s Zagorohoria page.

Travelers also seeking to head out to Greece this spring and summer, and looking to tackle the Zagorohoria, can order Lonely Planet’s guide to Greece to get all the necessary info on the best places to go and best things to see, with all of the usual logistical and historical detail that goes with it.

balkanalysiszagorohoriafrescoesnegades600.jpg Rare frescoes and a gilded iconostasis greet the visitor at the Church of Agios Giorgos in Negades (photo: Christopher Deliso)

Getting to the Zagorohoria

As with other places offering Europe’s most scenic drives, going by car through Zagorohoria is the best way to see the huge area, offering freedom of movement and a chance to see places well off the beaten track. Visiting most of the area is not difficult, as all of the main roads are paved; however, if you want to get out into nature and visit some of the more outlying areas, it makes sense to rent a Jeep, Land Rover or other dependable four-wheel drive car.

Most travelers will at least be passing through Ioannina to get to the Zagori villages, as its the major city in Epiros and lies on the soon-to-be-called Egnatia Odos (liking Turkey with the Ionian Sea port of Igoumenitsa). However, Ioannina is an evocative and lively town in its own right, with a large student population and plenty of history, and well worth a few days’ sojourn.

If you will have to rely on public transport to reach the Zagorohoria, fear not, as buses are, if not frequent, at least regular, and the journey from Ioannina is not difficult. From Ioannina, buses ply the 1.5 hour route to Dilofo at 5.30am and 3.15pm on Monday, Wednesday and Friday.

Buses from Ioannina serve Megalo and Mikro Papingo twice daily on the same days, leaving at 6am and 3pm; the cost is 4.90 euros, and the trip takes about two hours. All buses return to Ioannina immediately. Alternatively, you can take a taxi: the trip from Ioannina to Monodendri, for example, costs approximately 25-30 euros.

balkanalysiszagorohoriabridge600.jpg One of the Zagorohoria’s celebrated stone bridges peeks through spring foliage (photo: Christopher Deliso)

Useful Links

Greek National Tourist Organization

The GNTO website- first stop for travelers looking for official tourism info in Greece

Pindos Trek

The best website for those interested in serious hikes, run by experienced guide Alex Danelas

Trekking Hellas

Another of the several companies offering tours and information for hikers


This leading Greek mapmaker’s Zagori 1:50,000 is the map you’ll want for the trip

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The Greek Energy Sector: Developments and Opportunities

By Ioannis Michaletos in Athens

Greece‘s unique geo-economic location between the energy producers of the Middle East, North Africa and the Caspian, as well as the vital transport routes of the Aegean Sea and Eastern Mediterranean, define it as an expanding energy hub between East and West. Several ongoing or new projects in the energy sphere attest to Athens’s commitment to developing the energy sector as something vital to both economic growth and national security. On the three major fronts of alternative energy, oil and gas Greece has made several initiatives, projects and proposed projects; the outcome of these efforts will determine Greece’s stature as an international energy power well into the 21st century.

Alternative Energy

Currently Greece imports more than 70 percent of its energy needs. The only reliable domestic source is lignite, which accounts for some 85 percent of internal electricity production. Over the past few years, the incumbent administration has relayed plans for exploiting renewable energy sources such as solar and wind power, as the sunny, maritime country could excel in exploiting these abundant energy sources. The former is expected to draw investments worth 5 billion euros by 2020, according to information provided by the Ministry of Development. Foreign companies specialized in this field – mostly from Germany – have already set up offices in order to take advantage of the new market to be created.

On average, it is estimated that seven percent of the country’s electricity needs could be sustained over the next decade by this form of energy, though looking further into the future this percentage might exceed 30 percent eventually, due to Greece’s ample sunshine throughout the year. Wind energy can fulfill another 15 percent, and wind parks are already being constructed in various suitable location. If one adds biofuel, geothermic and wave energy to the equation, it becomes clear that Greece has the ability to become a fully independent energy producer by the mid-21st century and relieve itself from the strain of energy imports.

Still, the oil factor is a very important one, since it represents in Greece some 60 percent of yearly energy consumption and it is imported, bar some minimum amounts being produced in the Kavala offshore oil field in Northern Greece. Natural gas is a fast expanding commodity, albeit for the time being its contribution is a mere seven percent.


Currently, Greek oil production is just 6,500 barrels per day and consumption, some 450,000. It is thus impossible, regardless of any level of investment, to form a strategy that is going to be related with domestic production. Thus Greece has reached the point at which it needs to rely on ventures with foreign corporations and states so as to use its territory as a transit route for the emerging energy networks of the 21st century. The Burgas-Alexandroupoli pipeline agreement on the 15th of March was a first crucial step towards that aim. With a transport capacity of 30 million tons per annum (initially) reaching 50 million, this particular pipeline greatly elevates Greece’s natural geoeconomic role in the wider Southeastern European region. Firstly, it effectively bypasses the Turkish Bosporus Straits and eases the exports of Eurasian oil to Western Europe. Therefore, through it Greece becomes an important country for European energy security, a factor that would seem to translate into some degree of political clout in the modern world. The Russian side, which owns 51 percent of pipeline shares through Lukoil, is interested in investing in refinery capabilities in Greece. Already it operates a similar facility in the Bulgarian port city of Burgas and, according to reports in the Greek press, has an interest in similar construction in the Greek northeastern Aegean port of Alexandroupoli, or buying a share in the Motor Oil industry which functions the second-largest refinery in Greece. In any case, the pipeline seems to ignite wider commercial interest in the Greek energy market, and consequently transforms the role of Greece from that of a sole importer to a regional energy point.

Recent developments regarding the B-A pipeline and its reception around European capitals show both progress and tension, however. The final agreement of the shareholders, signed by the trilateral committee of Russia-Bulgaria and Greece during Vladimir Putin’s visit to Sofia on the 18th of January 2008, stipulates the creation of a company to be based in the Netherlands that will seek funds from the international banking system. It is estimated that all technical and feasibility studies will be completed by the end of 2008, and the pipeline will begin its operations by late 2011.

It should be noted, however, that the EU seems to have different priorities in relation to the energy corridors of the Balkans region. According to recent report by the Bulgarian daily Standard, “among the EU priority energy projects are the Nabucco gas pipeline and the oil pipelines Constanta-Trieste and AMBO [Albania-Macedonia-Bulgaria], but not Burgas-Alexandroupolis.” The Bulgarian information service Focus added to this that “analysts say this means that Bulgaria, although a member of the EU, is still highly dependent on the Kremlin when it comes to energy supply and Burgas-Alexandroupolis project is a noose Russia tightens around the neck of the EU.” Indeed, a project as large and as complex as the B-A pipeline naturally stirs up tensions regarding the geopolitical balance in Europe, and it is likely that quite a few politically-charged comments will be made over the coming months by officials from both the supporting and opposing sides.

Another, smaller pipeline which is operational is the one transferring oil from Thessaloniki to the OKTA oil refinery in Skopje. The industry has been Greek-owned since a controversial privatization in 1999, and means the needs of the energy market in the country are largely met by Greece, which continues to view the proposed AMBO (Albania-Macedonia-Bulgaria Oil) pipeline as competitive with Burgas-Alexandroupoli and harmful to its geo-strategic interests.

Finally, and most recently, a Swiss corporation named EGL has drafted a plan for providing Iranian oil to Albania and Italy through Greece, with the Trans-Adriatic pipeline as it is termed. For the time being discussions are being held between all interested sides.

Natural Gas

Natural gas is another vital resource by which Greece is seeking to enhance its energy-supplier reputation. Currently, Greece import 80 percent of its natural gas from Russia and the rest from Algeria, through a series of bilateral agreements. Currently the Russian gas is being imported by Bulgaria, and the Algerian via LNG vessels. A recent development in that field was the beginning of operations of the Greek-Turkish gas pipeline that was inaugurated in late November 2007. It transports Turkish-owned gas with an initial capacity of 124 billion cubic feet, and has a total capability of some 406 billion cubic feet. A quarter of this amount will be available for the Greek market, whilst the rest will be exported to Italy via another underwater pipeline. The gas flowing through the pipeline will be bought by the Turkish BOTAS company and it is assumed that it will be a mixture of Azeri, Iranian and Russian gas. With this project, Greece will extend its geo-economic influence, albeit indirectly, across a wider geographical spectrum.

The South Stream agreement, signed in late June 2007, signals the culmination of a major political and economic process. The Russian Gazprom and the Italian ENI agreed to invest $15 billion in order to construct a pipeline stretching from the Russian Black Sea coast to Bulgaria, Greece and ending in Otranto, Italy. The pipeline should be constructed by 2011; however, as it will bypass certain countries leaning towards America, such as Ukraine, it may exacerbate the rift between American and Russian geopolitical interests. From a financial point of view, this investment seems very ambitious, in order to provide satisfactory returns to the investors. As far as Greece is concerned, a pipeline transferring gas that will meet Italian and European needs is another beneficial development since it will secure for decades to come a steady flow of gas to Greece, and it will add to the expanding energy prominence of the country.

Finally, a scheme which is under consideration by corporations and is supported by the Russian side is the connection between the Greek natural gas network and the exportation to Albania. The latter faces a severe energy deficiency, since no real investments have taken place over the past generation and it seems probable that it will confirm its objective of joining Greece’s gas network over the coming year.

High Hopes

The optimism for Greece’s energy-related future endeavors is surely being justified by the latest developments. Nevertheless, as has been noted, quite a few of these projects are inexorably related to wider geopolitical moves, and in particular are concentrated between the tripartite relations, and conflicts, between Russia, the USA and the Islamic world. The Greek Karamanlis administration has ample choices in exercising its influence between these major players, in order to extract benefits and at the same time assist towards ending Greece’s foreign energy dependency.

While the future seems bright, ensuring success through political initiatives that will secure the deals signed are seen as the uttermost priority for Greek diplomats. Their successes or failures will determine the country’s future role as a player in the Southeast European energy game.

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