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In London, Greece Promotes New Offshore Hydrocarbons Investment Potential

By Chris Deliso 

As it tries to promote economic growth following an extended economic depression, the Greek government is looking to the country’s untapped offshore hydrocarbons reserves to attract foreign multinational energy companies, and other relevant industries. A high-profile and well-attended event at London’s Hellenic Centre on July 1-2 most recently gave the government an opportunity to highlight the new opportunities in this sector.

A comprehensive report on the relevant offshore and onshore potential hydrocarbons reserves in Epiros, the Ionian Sea and the Libyan Sea south of Crete appeared in May on In the analysis, author Ioannis Michaletos presented anticipated figures, locations and potential investors involved, as well as the schedule of bid announcements, along with notes on political and social factors affecting further oil exploitation. The report built on previous predictions now verified from, in an article published in December 2010.

Event Proceedings

The July gathering in London constituted an official pre-launch event for the upcoming Offshore Licensing Round 2014 for new hydrocarbon blocks in the Ionian Sea and the Libyan Sea, south of Crete.  Sponsored by Norway’s Petroleum Geo-Services (PGS), which has conducted undersea surveying of the blocks in question for the past two years, the event brought together more than 180 people from oil companies, service companies, law firms and funds. Among these were 34 international oil companies (seven of them majors).

In addition to presentations by PGS on the geology, and an oil potential report by Beicip Franlab, the event allowed for numerous private meetings between representatives of these companies, interested attendees and Greek energy officials. The Greek ministry has confirmed that it will submit a call for tenders to the EU Gazette in the next few days. The next step in the bidding process should then take place in mid-September.

The pre-launch event, organized by the Greek Ministry of Environment, Energy and Climate Change, and the Greek Embassy in London, also featured prominent Greek officials and experts. Constantinos Bikas, the Greek ambassador in London, provided opening remarks and was followed by the minister, Yiannis Maniatis. The legal and regulatory issues regarding the offshore blocks and licensing was next discussed in a presentation by Dr Sofia Stamataki, the president of the Hellenic Hydrocarbons Resources Management SA (HHRM) and also the director of the Laboratory of Applied Geophysics at the National Technical University of Athens.

Following these presentations, potential investors were treated to in-depth presentations that got to the heart of the issue – the results of offshore block surveying and geological factors – from PGS’ Sales and Marketing Manager Øystein Lie and Beicip-Franlab’s Veronique Carayon and Bernard Colletta, respectively.

Mr Lie’s presentation disclosed the general results of PGS’ two-year survey, which includes over 32,000 sq km of 2D data (12,500 sq km of new data, plus 9,000 sq km of reprocessed data and 9,000 sq km of reconstituted data), data which “showed characteristic lines with their corresponding geological cross sections in areas such as west of Corfu and south of Crete,” according to a ministry press release. The French experts meanwhile presented the results of the interpretation of the survey, plays, oil potential and the methodology followed.

Greek National Energy Strategy- Matching EU Energy Strategy on Diversification

In his keynote speech, Minister Maniatis deemed the pre-launch event “a historic day” for Greece’s hydrocarbons development. With the anticipated projects,Greece is upgrading “its geopolitical role in the wider region of the Eastern Mediterranean and South-East Europe,” said the minister, noting that this will benefit energy security in the European Union.

Indeed, said Minister Maniatis, “this national effort is at the heart of European strategy for developing indigenous resources, diversifying resources and their routes and upgrading the energy infrastructure. With perseverance, transparency, efficiency and consistency in time schedules, the Government has claimed and won an important vote of confidence today for Greece. In this national effort we should be and we are all united,” he concluded.

A large part of the government’s goal is, like any government in the same situation, to play up the potential undersea oil reserves to gain attention. However, considering the as-yet-unproven nature of the finds and difficult geological conditions of at least some of the blocks, could they be too optimistic?

“In general, geologists over-estimate reserves/resources with a view to engage investments,” says Slav Slavov, Regional Manager for Europe & Central Asia at the UN-accredited World Energy Council, an organization based in Geneva. Geologists also tend to hope “that with the energy price increases, a great share of today`s resources will become exploitable reserves tomorrow,” says Mr Slavov for

At the same time, the WEC expert agrees with Minister Maniatis’ stated objective here, telling that “there is no doubt that any potential exploitation will provide not only diversification of routes but also diversification of supply sources.” Generally, but particularly since the Russian annexation of Crimea this spring, the word ‘diversification’ has been repeated by EU officials, not to mention the US government. Greece, which is strategically located in the Eastern Mediterranean between Italy, the Balkans, Turkey and the MENA, hopes that it can play a leading role in the EU’s diversification strategy. With the east-west TAP pipeline projected to open by 2019, and north-south interconnectors to Bulgaria and Albania, Greece sees offshore hydrocarbon development as an addition to its existing energy policy as both a producer and energy corridor.

A New Focus on Epiros

The offshore hydrocarbon potential targets spread through an area of over 225,000 sq km, ranging from north of Corfu in the Ionian Sea to the Libyan Sea south of Crete. Incidentally, along with the Ionian Sea’s offshore deposits (and some potential onshore areas inland) the ‘Epiros Riviera’ looks set for further tourism development, as Russian and Arab investors are tipped to open new hotels in years ahead. The Emir of Qatar famously purchased several private islands off the Epiros coast in recent years, and maintains logistics support for his enterprises from the expanding Epiros port of Preveza, which has also sought to attract more foreign yachtsmen by making the central one of its several ports free to dock in.

The cumulative result is hoped to be an economic boost for what has historically been one of the poorer regions of Greece. The Greek government, with heavy support from the EU, took the first major step towards integrating this mountainous and relatively isolated region with the creation of the Egnatia Odos highway several years ago, an engineering marvel that connects the Ionian Sea with Turkey across the provinces of Epiros, Macedonia and Thrace, substantially reducing driving times and access to the former.

There is another factor potentially playing a role in oil deposits in northern Epiros and the northern Ionian; their proximity to a foreign border, in this case, Albania. Oil deposits straddling borders have led and continue to lead to disputes between nations, and some politics experts point to nationalist anger among some political actors in Albania over this specific issue as a harbinger of possible bilateral disputes. In recent years, oil majors have brought in ‘consultants’ with perceived political clout, such as former British officials, to extend their influence in Tirana, though the results of such overtures are rarely publicized.

Nevertheless, energy experts like Mr. Slavov do not see cross-border energy disputes in the Ionian Sea and Epiros as a major area for concern. “I do not believe that there would be any dispute problems with neighbors,” he says for “Albania is very cooperative and involved in common projects with Greece, for example TAP,” the World Energy Council official notes, adding that elsewhere in the region “Greece has gas interconnections with Bulgaria, and Bulgaria wants to import (potentially) gas through Greece.”

Future Potential and Analytical Guidelines

All of the foregoing attests that Greece does have untapped potential in the offshore hydrocarbons field, though only time will tell to what extent the country can woo foreign investors. Numerous factors beyond the perceived difficulty of exploration, exist that will affect decision-making, such as market conditions, politics and policy-making, and the security concerns companies and governments are currently facing in a wide swath of territory – from the Black Sea to Iraq and the Middle East – where volatile and fluid security situations are altering conditions in the energy game.

Thus while the hard work of undersea research and creation of a legal framework has been done, Greek officials will also have to monitor and evaluate a whole range of other, rapidly-changing factors that affect the decision-making of corporate executives and feasibility of exploration projects. In this light, analysts will want to keep a close eye over the next few months on the relative volume of data acquisition and interest of companies in bidding. From September, the picture will become somewhat clearer, but the process will still be a long-term one.

Analysts and other interested parties will be watching keenly in coming months to see the tenor of progress on the Greek bids. Timur Topalgoekceli, an energy analyst at the Directorate of Global Energy Economics at the International Energy Agency, indicates what kind of corporate behavior analysts should look out for.

“Companies are expected to submit bids already (before the set deadline), but before that time they will start analyzing geological data and make an assessment of the business environment (regulation, taxes, upfront commitments, local content requirements),” he says for

But how will observers be able to tell just how much interest potential investors have? “An indication about how serious they are would be to see if they are putting a team together (technical experts and business development) in order to assess the opportunities, in which case you would see an increase in visits to regulators or license issuers,” notes Mr Topalgoekceli. “Also, sometimes it is required to register interest to participate in the licensing round, and get access to the data (purchasing,” adds the analysts. “The data comes at a small cost but gives an indication about whether or not companies are considering it at all.”

All things considered, therefore, it seems clear that government and corporate interests alike will be watching the situation closely, as Greece attempts to diversify and increase its energy supply and get back on the road to economic recovery.

After Two Years of Undersea Surveying, Greece Readies for Marathon of Hydrocarbons Exploration

By Ioannis Michaletos

In a December 2010 article that was widely read by energy professionals worldwide, a glimpse into what lays ahead in terms of potential hydrocarbon explorations in the country was offered. The article concluded by noting that:

“certainly, in the financially dire straits that the Greek economy finds itself nowadays, the energy sector in the country, and specifically hydrocarbons research, may well provide an exciting source of investment activity, since it may provide a great boost for the troubled Greek economy.”

It seems that after almost four years, the exploration and research projects in that energy sector are about to become a reality, clearly validating both the article and the necessities for such actions. More specifically, the Greek energy ministry has recently announced that 10 ‘sea blocks’ are about to be handed out in a licensing round to prospective investors in July 2014. The extracted hydrocarbons from these blocks can potentially deliver to $150 billion into the Greek state’s coffers.

Norwegian Maritime Seismic Surveys Completed

Almost two years of two-dimensional seismic surveys have now been conducted by the Norwegian PGS company. The maritime zone the company investigated is a vast one, stretching from Corfu to Southern Crete, including Ionian Sea areas along the western mainland and Peloponnese. The scene has thus been set for research drilling to commence. Nevertheless no practical results should be expected before late 2016, due to the technical difficulties, Greek bureaucrats and corporate presentations state.

By mid-June 2014, the energy ministry, headed by Ioannis Maniatis, an engineer by training, will receive the final results of the survey from PGS, a survey which encompassed 31,000 km in total of offshore seismic researched lines. This constitutes the largest research project of its kind ever conducted in Greek waters.

By the end of June the environmental viability research findings ordered by the Greek state should have been concluded in order to specifically mention several offshore locations that should not be drilled due to eventual harm to the aquatic ecosystem; most of these are expected to be located close to the shores of western Greece.

Concurrently the exact positions of the sea blocks will be announced to the public, and a week later international and domestic investors will be called to submit their proposals. This does not give the public much time to react to the results, and it is certain that whatever the government announces, pro-environment NGOs and political parties will protest any new drilling plans.

By mid-September 2014, three onshore blocks in Aitoloakarnania and Preveza should also be receiving submissions of interest. Here, the Italian ENEL has already declared its willingness to commit to such research. If all goes smoothly, exploration drilling could commence by spring 2015, depending on which barges are ready to be shipped to Greece, along with recruitment of mostly international professional personnel specialized in such projects.

Magic Numbers, Leaked Locations

The Greek government often repeats its ‘magic number’ of $150 billion, a figure based on the assumptions that the aforementioned blocks contain three billion barrels of oil. At today’s world price index, these blocks are estimated to produce $330 billion.

Already, Greek scientists have been providing, through Op-Eds in popular Greek newspapers, the exact locations where mass amounts of oil are believed to be located. These include the region of northwestern Ileia in the Peloponnese and the area north of Corfu-Paxoi islands. This is significant for international affairs because this reaches the maritime borders with Albania, while at the same time just inland a geological formation stretches up through Epiros, and close to the Albania land border. Further, the so-called ‘Epirot Riviera’ is also the location of coming Russian- and Arab-sponsored resort ventures. Further, the emir of Qatar, Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani paid €8.5 million for six private islands in the Ionian Sea opposite, in 2013.

Energean in Action

In previous handouts of exploration licenses the Greek Energean company (which currently produces around 2,000 barrels per day in the Prinos reserve in Kavala offshore region in Northern Greece) has teamed up with the UK’s Trajan Oil and Gas for the Katakolo area. Back in the early 1980’s the then-state Greek oil company had estimated that around three million barrels of oil could be found in the exact same spot which was deemed as too little to be involved with. Energean executives are confident of finding large amounts of oil, however, as they are using techniques which were not available in the 1980s.

Energean has also appeared with the Canadian Petra Petroleum, carrying out onshore research in the aforementioned Epiros region close to Albania, where from time to time estimations of even 80 million barrels have been claimed. However, the area is rough and mountainous, partly comprised of an important national park, and this geology makes drilling here difficult.

Furthermore, in the Patra Gulf, close to one of Greece’s largest ports, the Greek semi-state company ELPE, along with the Italian Edison and the Irish Petro Celtic, are betting on a 200-million barrel reserve, which if validated will be the largest ever found in Greece. (The Prinos discovery was 150 million barrels, and extraction here has been going on since the mid-1970’s). Energean is betting on a $250 million short-term investment project to recover more offshore reserves near Prinos, with reliable estimations indicating that an additional 100 million barrels is to be recovered.

At the same time, the company seeks a license in the upcoming Montenegro offshore licensing round, collaborating with the British company Mediterranean Oil & Gas. Montenegro, like Greece, is betting a lot on its future economic development in finding any hydrocarbons reserves.

Possible Problems and Technical Issues

Offshore explorations have very significant hurdles, a detail that has been overlooked for purely political reasons by Greek policy makers, electoral satisfaction notwithstanding. They require high capital expenditure, highly-specialized and costly scientific and technical personnel, stringent environmental protection procedures and expensive logistics facilities.

In that respect even if oil is found it will not be extracted unless the quantities are sufficient to enable a serious endeavor. There are plenty of other offshore locations around the world where oil has been definitely found – or at least estimated – but where plans have not been carried out due to these reasons.

With today’s prices (Brent-priced oil is at $110 per barrel), offshore drilling in Greece could be just feasible and viable in economic terms. However, a business plan in such projects requires at least a decade of either stable or even upward price indexing in order to remain on track. The quality of oil is another factor to be assessed. Enough oil that is high on sulfur or contains unwanted extra ingredients is priced much cheaper than sweet or light oil.

Furthermore, tax issues, state paperwork and legal framework have to be addressed neatly well before any serious investment project is accomplished. Also to be assessed are political or currency risks involved, although one can speculate that if Greece is indeed a major oil power, the international energy interests would surely like the country to drop the ‘hard’ Euro and revert to the ‘cheap”\’ Drachma so as to make extraction cheap, whilst reaping the benefits of selling it on the world market in dollars. In that sense taxes and dues to the Greek states, as well as, worker’s wages would be paid in a depreciated Greek currency, while export profits would be received in international currencies. On the other hand, in such a case Greece would be able to overcome the unpleasant aspects of an exit from the Euro in having a steady demand for its currency, backed by powerful corporate interests. Certainly, Greece leaving the Euro now is an unlikely scenario, but the possible ramifications of currency on oil investment are still important factors for the larger analysis.

Lastly, the psychological factor has to be assessed. The public’s likely uplifted sentiment over the coming months could boost somewhat the shaky governmental coalition of the ND-PASOK parties, which is being battered by strong challenges from both Right-wing and Left-wing parties, Golden Dawn and SYRIZA, respectively. In that sense, the longer the exploration process drags on, the better it is for the governing politicians, who can continue to present an optimistic storyline to the electorate, depicting hydrocarbons investment as the likely way to triumph over years of austerity measures still being implemented. The influx of necessary capital for the research drilling stage would certainly boost local economies in the Ionian islands and the nearby regions, which are relatively poor outside of tourist season, while foreign funders will likely inject much needed capital into infrastructure work or buy up shares of the companies involved.

However, as previously said, another psychological factor to keep in mind is public association of foreign companies and oil exploration with a kind of social and environmental exploitation, brought on by the bailout. Depending on the success of leftist parties in communicating their message, this factor may continue to spark a debate in the country. Greeks are fiercely proud of their country and its natural beauty, which is a key factor in preserving the all-important tourism industry, and any industrial activities that threaten to endanger this existence will arouse public ire. Indeed, it is interesting to note that among the splintering and new prominence of the Leftist parties in Greece today, more and more of them have the environment as one of their fundamental party issues.

Finally, the upcoming exploration rounds will also be the focus of finance professionals who deal with the Greek economy, since they represent a parameter of both economic and political value and play a part in the overall dynamics of the Greek economy.


The Greek Economy, Privatizations and Foreign Investment: an Update

By Ioannis Michaletos

The Greek economy nowadays appears to indicate a distinct “Janus-type” future. On the one hand, the rising unemployment index of 27% (a figure even higher regarding youth unemployment, at 57%), as well as an approximate 23% drop in GDP since 2009 appear to show a negative trend at work. This is amplified by blows to specific economic sectors such as construction (an 80% decline), retail commerce (a 40% decline), and the fuel trade (down 45%) that were particularly hit by the recession and the concurrent debt crisis.

On the other hand, a set of developments, mostly associated with direct “cash injections” into particular Greek companies, presents another, and positive facet. Below are listed the most important examples. They may prove to be useful in developing an all-around analysis of the Greek economy, focusing on corporate entities that have seemed to somehow evade the crisis; they in fact are being backed by international capital funds. The latter are betting on their future performance, either on the domestic market, or more importantly on the regional ones.

Taking a Gamble

In late 2013 the Greek semi-state betting company OPAP was privatized. The state earned 712 million euros by selling off its 33% share to a consortium of investors that included the Netherlands-based fund PPF Group, the Greek-Czech fund Emma Delta and the Italian Lottomatica company. OPAP has maintained steady profits despite the worsening economic outlook, but most importantly has a business plan prepared for expansion in the South East European markets, including a desire to expand into online betting, lotto and retail-based gaming services. However, it should also be noted that in February 2014, reports emerged that the privatization is being investigated by the Greek state on possible transparency and conflict-of-interest issues.

During the course of 2013 the Azeri state oil company SOCAR bought 66% of the Greek DESFA state company, the national gas transmission operator. The cost of the deal was 400 million euros, and is inexorably related to the Trans-Adriatic pipeline (TAP), a route that will link the Azeri-Turkish backed Trans-Anatolian Pipeline (TANAP) with the Albanian and Italian gas markets through Greece. Socar’s executives also stated that they aim to further expand into the Balkan market and also use DESFA’s access to the Greek Revythousa LNG terminal, which currently imports Algerian gas, but is on the verge of being upgraded due to a 150-million-euro project, so as to expand its customer base and be able to export gas using the country as a trading hub.

Banking on Tourism

Further, the battered Greek banking sector managed, through the National Bank of Greece (NBG), to receive 653 million euros from the Invel real estate company, by selling off its 66% share of its Pangaea real estate holding entity. According to local market experts, the freefall of Greek real estate, which has seen its value by up to 50% over the past five years, has aroused the interests of a number of well-capitalized funds and individuals betting on a mid-term recovery of value, and an increased return on capital for those who invest now.

Furthermore, the NBG sold off its 90% share in the Astera hotel complex in the Vouliagmeni district of Athens, for 400 million euros. Interestingly, the buyers were a consortium of the Turkish magnate Ferit Shahenk the chairman of the Doğuş Group, along with a fund from the United Arab Emirates. The project of this group is to invest in creating a 7-star hotel, which would be the only one in Southeastern Europe of its sort, catering to the needs of the ultra-rich, in one of the most scenic places in the Eastern Mediterranean.

Additional Foreign Investment: Construction, Real Estate, Energy, Retail and Agriculture

Another prominent investment was the 26-million euro buyout of 4% of the Mytilineos industrial holding group by the Canadian fund Fairfax, owned by a Vancouver-based Indian, Prem Watsa. Mytilineos has managed over the years to secure contracts for energy and engineering projects in a diverse set of countries such as Algeria, Romania, Pakistan, Russia, Iraq, Germany and others, while maintaining a dominant position in the local market.

Further, the interests of Fairfax expanded with its 220-million euro capital injection into the real estate company Eurobank Properties. With this investment, it gained 42% of shares in a corporation which holds mainly an office-space portfolio in Greece, Bulgaria and Romania. Moreover, Fairfax is gearing up to invest a substantial 1.2 billion euros in order to gain the majority of shares in Eurobank– one of Greece’s main banks, with outlets across the Balkans and Cyprus.

A Greek company named GEK-TERNA, active in construction, energy, motorway concessions and real estate was also on the list of incoming capital from York Capital Management, which provided 100 million euros for a five-year convertible corporate bond. And, the Greek Energean Oil & Gas Company also received 60 million euros of investment from the US hedge fund Third Point; this amount will be used to cover its 150-million-euro investment plan to extract more oil from the Kavala-Prinos oil field located off the Northern Greece mainland near the island of Thasos. Energean also managed to pre-sell (for around 400 million euros) its next six years’ worth of production to the BP Company, and it aims now to expand abroad for exploration and research attempts in oil and gas.

It is also interesting to mention that the Greek Folli Follie jeweler and retail group sold off its 100% share of the Greek Duty Free chain to the Swiss Dufry international travel retailer, for a reported 528 million Euros in successive parts since 2013 and up to date. At the same time, Follie Follie is accelerating its investments in China, Japan and the booming Asia-Pacific markets.

Lastly, one of the oldest Greek companies (established in the 18th century, even before the establishment of the Greek state) the Loulis flour mills sold off 20% of its shares to the UAE’s Al Dahra fund, for around 14 million euros, and secured long-term contracts with that Gulf country. Al Dahra also invested $400 million in Serbian agriculture last year.

Reasons for Optimism

Overall, since early 2013 and up to the present date, there seems to be optimism regarding the prospects for the Greek economy, as certain capital gains by the aforementioned companies were achieved. Tourism revenues are also increasing steadily with an additional 7% estimated for 2014, after a similar rise in the previous years, boosted by incoming cruise line visitors and the opening up of the source markets of Russia and China. If we take into account that the merchant shipping sector, which is vital for the Greek economy is also progressing steadily, then an end to the financial depression may be on the horizon.

A Divergence of Fortunes

Nevertheless, the key structural problem in Greece remains the sheer burden of the state’s external accumulated debt, which is around 175% of its GDP as of April 2014, and the heavily constrained internal consumer market due to a rapid increase of taxes on property, consumption and income over the past three years.

Thus it can be said that at least several Greek internationalized companies will enjoy smooth sailing in years ahead, while the rest of the economy will hardly get by, unless a dramatic yet positive upturn is noticed in the debt issue and regarding the overall overhaul of bureaucracy, taxation and market conditions for the domestic market. Certainly there seem to be plenty of thrills and surprises ahead for investors in the country, which is characterized by disappointment and opportunity alike.

Southeast Europe 2014: Emerging Security Threats

By Ioannis Michaletos

2013 has been a year of global “transition.” It represents a later stage in the post-recession and upheaval era since 2008, in which major geostrategic shifts of power took place, in the midst of revolutions, destabilization and economic downturn nearby.

Southeast Europe was a relatively stable region during that period when compared to the neighboring Middle East and North Africa (MENA). Nevertheless, a set of emerging security threats looms across the Balkans and mainly derive from the aftermath of the aforementioned global developments.

Below is a brief summary of emerging security threats in and involving the region. The threats described are hypothetical examples of how situation could unfold in the Balkans based on several present day indicators. The summaries are provided for forward planning only, but are based on a large and complex set of analyzed data.

In addition to the three threats discussed below could be added the lingering threat of ethnic nationalism and its effects on politics in most Balkan states, the rise of cyber-crime, cyber-espionage and challenges to states by tech-savvy young generation of commercially and sometimes politically-minded activists, with anonymous internet commerce and cryptocurrencies usage increasing, in line with global trends that rapidly developed in 2013; there will be an increasing divide between the technological ‘haves’ and ‘have-nots’ which crosses generational and establishment lines, and represents a more pronounced gap than in Western countries where educational levels are higher (at least in the focus on technology).

1.)    The Syrian Connection

“European jihadists” who traveled from Western and Northern Europe, generally via Turkey, to fight in Syria on the side of the Al-Nusra Front and other Islamist militias will eventually leave the area, in larger and larger numbers. Many are likely to get “trapped” in the Balkans on their way back from the Syrian battlefront, as they make illegal crossings via land and sea as they will be wary of flying home.

French, British, Belgian, Dutch and similar authorities will likely not permit them back and/or revoke their passports. Thus they will be forced to remain in limbo on their transit routes. Yet, whatever their ethnic origin, those jihadis who hail from Western Europe do not fit the description of typical illegal immigrants- hence, they will not want to work manual labor or settle down in areas where large numbers of immigrants currently settle, such as Athens.

In this state, and given their socio-religious orientation, we might find such persons utilizing the same networks of sympathetic jihad supporters from the Balkans, some of whom they have met in the field. Indeed, over the past two years Western security agencies have become increasingly concerned as the number of Balkan Muslims from all EU candidate countries in Syria has risen.

Following the established routes, we can expect these persons to find shelter in Bosnia, as well as Albania and Kosovo, and perhaps the Sandzak region of Serbia and Montenegro. Here they could certainly stir up trouble. Already well-established Salafi-Wahhabi infrastructure in the Western Balkans has been in place for years and links have been maintained with Western-based “brethren” through joint links in cities such as Vienna and Milano.

Since 2011, more than 2,000 EU citizens ventured into Syria and security agencies estimate that 400-700 Balkan Islamists joined them as well.

In general, the number of Jihadists fighting presently (December 2013) in Syria is estimated at 100,000 people, out of which 30,000 is the “hardcore nucleus.” This is going to be increasingly supplemented by “leftover” jihadists from Libya and perhaps radicalized individuals from Egypt.

Fighters have come from at least 75 different countries across the five inhabited continents in the largest and most diverse congregation of mujahideen the world has experienced.

2.)    The long Eastern caravan

More traditional forms of illegal immigration into Greece and other Balkan transit routes will continue to rise as Syria’s humanitarian worsens. Already more than 1 million Syrian citizens are in transit through Turkey to the EU, moving across the Balkans. Border controls are not able to withstand such pressure which comes both via land routes and sea routes. At the same time and in conjunction with the previous threat, an unknown number of jihadists from the Middle East enter the Balkans “hidden” within the refugee caravans.

In general, there are at least 400,000 Syrian refugees presently (December 2013) in transit in Turkey from Syria without access to housing, jobs or medical insurance. Furthermore another 1 million of internally displaced Syrian citizens is close to the borders with Turkey and may become refugees seeking an entrance to Europe.

3.)    Cheap weapons, anyone?

The Libyan black market in second-hand small arms will see massive sales to the Balkan organized crime syndicates, due to the ending of fighting in Syria. A rapid decrease in wholesale prices of weapons such as automatic weapons, anti-aircraft missiles and plastic explosives will expedite this.

These shipments will enter the Western Balkans and assist in fuelling a resurgence of paramilitary groups, hyper-nationalistic networks, criminal enterprises, and terrorist groups. Arms profits will also result in more official corruption as organized crime gains more leverage. In the face of this, and with the continuation of existing pressures, ordinary citizens will also be more likely to arm themselves and be ready to protect themselves from perceived threats in countries like Greece.

In general, more than 70 state armament warehouses have been looted since the ousting of Libya’s Col. Gadhafi from power at the end of 2011. The weapons missing could arm a regular force of more than 20,000 men, according to some estimates. On top of that are the large amounts of weaponry donated by Qatar to Islamist militias in Libya, which no longer needed are finding their way to hotspots in Africa, Yemen and (by sea) to Greece and Italy.

At sea, it is estimated that at least 100 maritime vessels have been engaged for years in cross-Mediterranean arms contraband along with at least 1,000 intermediate companies and individuals. Intelligence indicates that a complex network of front companies expedites this illegal trade, with international and local networks also involving Southeast Europe. The world’s illicit arms market is estimated at 32 billion USD per annum.

Greek Minerals Sector Potential in 2013 and Beyond: an Overview editor’s note: as Greece’s economy remains moribund amidst the aftershocks of ‘austerity measures,’ the drive to privatize state assets and develop new industries is gripping the country. One such industry, mining, seems to have promise but is very controversial among locals due to environmental and other concerns. In this new study, we take a look at the sector, the international players involved, and the issues that could affect the development of this industry in Greece.

By Ioannis Michaletos

The Greek mineral sector is an overlooked, but developing industry in the country. Greece’s varied soil and geomorphic layers host a variety of minerals and metals. Some are rare, others are not, but all still have different industrial uses and financial value.

However, looming not far in the background of the public and political discussion of the mineral sector is the issue of how the perceived profitability of mineral exploitation is being affected by possible currency changes in years ahead. Although this aspect deserves a study of its own, it is interesting to keep in mind when considering why certain investments have or have not been made in the minerals sector at this time.

Strong Public Reaction to Mining Plans

The strong degree of public opposition to mining resurfaced recently, in the form of protests against ongoing gold investment by a Canadian company, Eldorado Gold. The company’s operations are in the Halkidiki region of northern Greece, an area noteworthy as a summer-tourism destination on the beaches of Kassandra and Sithonia peninsulas, and as host of the secluded monastic community of Mt Athos on the eponymous peninsula. The latter is the closest to the recent mining protest scene, in Ierissos village.

There, a fierce political battle ensued last month between protesters against the gold extraction project, including environmentalist groups, Leftist parties and supporters, as well as local residents protesting the potential destruction of the local tourist industry, which would be severely affected by mining in their view.

On the other hand, employees of the companies, the incumbent Greek government and most business associations supported the Canadian investment, and similarly are calling for a general boost in investments in the Greek mineral sector.

Still, the opposition has developed to a point where “commando-style” attacks by opposition activists occur against the premises of the companies, while the whole affair has divided the country between two sides, each having its own set of arguments and ferociously backing its claims in the national media. Thus the sectoral overview below will shed light not only on future investment opportunities, but also on other potential opportunities for political brinkmanship, as was the case recently at Ierissos.

Great Potential: Gold, Betonite, Lignite, Copper, Magnesium and More

The Greek state Institute for Geology and Mineral Exploration (IGME) has recently estimated the monetary value of the mineral reserves in the country as around $200 billion, with a distinct concentration of highly sought-after industrial minerals such as nickel, bauxite and gold.

The Eldorado Gold Corporation mentioned above is already developing a $1.8 billion project through 2016. Apart from gold extraction, it includes the exploitation of 700,000 tons of copper from its field. Also the Thrace region, and especially the Evros prefecture in the east near Turkey is estimated to contain another 420 tons of gold. However, public opposition is growing strong in this largely agricultural area as well.

Lignite is another mineral used mainly for consumption in electricity power stations of the DEI public power company, with Greece being both one of the largest producers and depositors of that type of coal in Europe, with around 55 million tons of annual production, and more than 7 billion tons of reserves.

Betonite and perlite are another two minerals used for the production of cement, and a Greek company named “A& B Argyrometalavmata Varytini”, is the global leader in their production. This is mostly from its sites on the islands of Milos and Kimolos. This mineral, a by-product of volcano geological formations, is mainly exported to the Asian markets. Another similar mineral is the “light stone,” with similar physical features. The island of Nisyros and the nearby island of Gyali have estimated reserves of 150 million tons (being entirely volcanically-formed islands). There production is carried out by the LAVA Metal Company.

Moreover, as of 2013 around 70 regions in Greece produce marble and other stone-based products, with an annual production (2012) of 28 million tons. In 2008, when the country’s construction sector was booming local extraction exceeded 90 million tons; however, the current 75% drop in housing investment has shifted the product towards foreign markets.

Regarding metal production and more specifically bauxite, magnesium, nickel, zinc and similar products, the 2012 output was at 5.5 million tons, the vast majority of this being exported. Further, betonite, perlite, asbestos and other similar minerals had a production volume of 6 million tons during the same period.

New Discoveries in Evros: Zeolite and Gold

Apart from the established production units, new discoveries have attracted interest. One of these, zeolite, is again in the Evros region. There are estimated reserves of 100 million tons of this aluminosilicate mineral, used for industrial processes including water purification, detergent manufacturing and even nuclear reprocessing.

Here, a company named Geo-Vetis is in the process of investing, though various local interests – including a Greek competitor – have managed to stall the project. It is of interest to note that up until now Greece has been importing approximately 50-70,000 tons of the mineral, while it could by now have become one of the largest producers of it worldwide. If that particular project now envisioned does move on, this might occur. The tentacles of bureaucracy and the intermixture of influential political figures with opposing business interests have for the moment been in favor of imports instead of production.

In the same region, the company Hellenic Gold is vying to invest $250 million for gold production, although public opposition is already on a high level, presumably obstructing the implementation of at least the major part of the company’s business plan in Evros

Thinking Outside of the Vault

Greece’s gold reserves, in the state vault and in the central bank, are estimated at around $7 billion, according to today’s prices. This is a substantial amount, but barely enough to make a serious difference when it comes to issues like the national debt.

On the other hand, if the gold reserves in the country were fully exploited, this could produce 500,000 ounces per year for the next 30 years. At today’s prices, that equals around $800 million USD- or, $24 billion in 30 years. In fact, should Greece leave the eurozone, either voluntarily or if forced, these mineral resources would be of great importance regarding the capability of importing foreign exchange, mostly US dollars or euros from the international companies trading in them.

Nickel production is currently under the control of state company LARCO, which constitutes an illustrative example. LARCO is currently on the brink of financial collapse and is ready to be sold, probably for less than 300 million euros. The company produces around 300,000 tons of nickel per year. Further, its actual reserves are around 100 million tons, which at today’s prices equals 20 billion euros. The company also owns a private port that can accommodate vessels up to 150,000 tons in size, and has tens of thousands of hectares of land in its portfolio, including a small town where the majority of its workers reside.

Yet with the euro being the official currency of Greece, production cannot be increased, due to rising costs of all sorts. In contrast a return to the drachma will make Greek nickel especially cheap, creating a huge incentive for the boosting of production volumes, with a subsequent increase in jobs, foreign investments and much-needed foreign exchange.

The Real Deal

In reality, despite the country nominally having considerable amounts of minerals, Greece has two serious obstacles for their exploitation. One is public opposition, which seems to be only getting stronger and which has already led to a convergence of worried local residents with radical anarchists. Another perhaps greater obstacle is the euro itself, since the profits to be made by any company are seriously hindered by the appreciation of the euro against the dollar, with the latter being the value of transaction for all minerals in the international markets.

In fact, apart from investments in gold, there has been relatively little interest in other minerals. This is due partly to gold’s historical high price, and rising demand for it by countries such as China and India. With today’s prices at $1,600 per ounce and a production cost in Greece of $1,000, a substantial profit could be made with new investment.

Still, little is to be expected in terms of any mass introduction of capital into the country that would also ease the debt burden and create jobs, so long as Greece remains in a zone of countries (that is, the eurozone) that are consumers of minerals. Such a group thus needs an appreciated currency versus the dollar. On the other hand, while the re-introduction of the drachma will lead the banking-financial system into collapse and nationalization, minerals, agriculture shipping and tourism will boom.

This interesting observation raises the topic for a potential study that will examine the hardening of the battle lines in the country: between the local finance and import-related world (the pro-euro faction) and the production and export interests (generally anti-euro).

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

By Ioannis Michaletos

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

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

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

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

Numerical Personnel Estimates and Linkages

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

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

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

Operational Capacities and Arms Sources

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

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

Data on Left-wing Groups and Activity

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

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

Leader: Unknown; non-hierarchical group

Structure: Autonomous cells

Active from: 2008

Ideology: Radical Anarchism, Neo-Nihilism

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

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

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

Leader: Nikos Maziotis (suspected)

Structure: Close-knit group

Active from: 2003

Ideology: Anti-Capitalist; Radical Anarchism

Number of attacks carried out 2008-2012: 10

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

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

Leader: Unknown

Structure: Paramilitary combat structure

Active from: 2009

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

Number of attacks carried out 2008-2012: 4

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

General Notes

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Images of Turks in the Greek Press during the 1996 Imia (Kardak) Crisis editor’s note: readers who enjoy this insightful analysis of Greek media representation of the Imia crisis are strongly recommended to also read our review of Greek Military Intelligence and the Crescent, a book which concentrates on the military and political aspects of the 1996 crisis.

By Oana-Camelia Stroescu*

Stereotyping the Turks and Turkey has been an enduring and unfortunate feature of the Greek press since the Cyprus conflict of 1974. This article analyzes the media discourse that contributed to the development of Turkish typification in the Greek daily political newspapers during the Greek-Turkish crisis of 1996.

The article also takes into consideration the position of the Greek dailies on the Aegean crisis, in order to assess to what extent Greek print media used ethnic stereotyping to exaggerate the conflict and the crisis. It becomes clear that during the crisis the Greek daily press produced and perpetuated stereotypes about Turks, conveying such messages via front page articles of the major Greek dailies.

The relevant articles are analyzed here according to their concentration, frequency and omissions. The methodology applied for this particular research is the qualitative analysis of the content of the major Greek newspapers’ front pages, for the first three months of 1996.

Note on Methodology and Limitations

This article examines the construction of Greek ethnocentric discourse during the 1996 Imia/Kardak crisis in the Greek press coverage of events, through textual analysis. Included are news stories and features from several high-circulation daily Greek newspapers.

The selection of these newspapers relied entirely and or partially on circulation figures and representation of the political spectrum. The Greek newspapers that were selected for examination, therefore, are Ta Nea, Eleftherotypia, Eleftheros Typos and Kathimerini. As of February 2013, all of these remain active. It should also be remembered that in the mid-1990s the internet was still in its infancy and therefore print media had a much greater impact on public opinion than might be the case today.


The view from the placid Turkish coastal getaway of Gümüşlük: tiny but troublesome Imia/Kardak peeks from behind two large rocks. Photo: Chris Deliso

These publications were selected according to certain criteria that will be mentioned below. For the present article newspaper articles in the pre-crisis period, during the crisis itself, and during the post-crisis period were all examined, in order to increase the validity of the results.

The selection criteria also took into account the national circulation of the newspapers by time of release, thus morning (Kathimerini) and evening circulation (Eleftherotypia, Eleftheros Typos, Ta Nea). Content analysis units (front-page headlines and leads) are discussed categorically as are linguistic elements such as wording, sentence structure and phrasing.

At the same time, while the article identifies and analyzes elements of stereotyping (words, expressions and other language constructions), it does not aim to strictly use the basic elements of content analysis, whether qualitative or quantitative. It does not explore how the Greek public perceived the crisis or how Greek-Turkish relations were at that particular moment in time. Still, it is possible to argue that the discourse displayed on the front pages of these selected newspapers may have had an important role in shaping the reader’s perceptions about the ‘Other,’ in this case, the Turks.

This particular dispute created an excellent instrument to create stereotypes with ‘negative’ features. So while the present article does not concentrate on Greek-Turkish relations broadly, but on the reactions of the Greek press regarding the events in the spring of 1996, statements on the external policy of the two states are not made. Nor is it claimed that the stereotypes about the Turks are reasonable or truthful. They simply expressed the views that were chosen (for whatever reason or under whatever influence) by the editors during the event in question.

Readers should also note that the article employs the historical present of verbs to report and narrate the events. Although few similar studies have been found (see Giallouridis, Kourkoulas, Panagiotou), the present article attempts to identify and record typification aspects on the front pages of the Greek newspapers during the 1996 Imia crisis. The connection between the mass media and the foreign policy and the role of the first in the construction and rebirth of ethnocentric discourses are well known and of high importance.

A Topical Rationale

One may ask: is this issue worth researching at all? Why should people around the world be concerned about a small local conflict in the Aegean? It is because Greece and Turkey are NATO’s strategic pillars in the Eastern Mediterranean, and a worsening of the Aegean dispute could have had a negative impact on the stability of the region.

Relevant questions thus emerge from the conduct of media in crisis time. Is ethnocentric and nationalistic discourse a means of displaying patriotism and national pride? Does this type of discourse use stereotypes and negative images of the ‘Other’? Do Greek editors need these stereotyping phenomena as a supplementary element in reporting an incident or a bilateral conflict?

If patriotism means attachment to a set of national values and symbols which are particular to every state or nation, the question arises as to what happens when this set of national values comes into conflict with the values of a neighboring country, and the struggle to impose one’s patriotism on the others occurs. As a political instrument, patriotism functions on the dichotomy of ‘Us’ versus ‘Others’; history shows many cases wherein someone who is not like the ‘Other’ must be brought onto the ‘right road.’ Thus, patriotism is not a flexible feeling, but a rigid concept: it may degenerate into nationalism, intolerance, chauvinism and xenophobia.

The alterity in this study refers to the Turks as they are described by the Greek daily newspapers during the diplomatic episode in 1996. In times of bilateral tensions during the second half of the 20th century, one may observe the revival of this categorization of the Turks in the Greek newspapers. The language influences the collective perception of alterity by creating simplified and negative images of the ‘Other.’ This perception may be induced to the public and may perpetuate negative feelings regarding the neighbors.

Historical Context

Greece and Turkey are two neighboring states with lengthy Aegean Sea coastlines. Their history reveals periods of occupation, conflict and peace. After World War II, the stability of the region was weakened several times because of the uneasy relationship between Greece and Turkey and negative intercommunal episodes in Cyprus, which affected this relationship. This led to the crucial moment: the 1974 Cypriot coup d’état that overthrow Archbishop Makarios, the democratically elected leader of the country. The coup had been organized by the Greek military junta in Athens. This in turn provided a convenient pretext for the Turkish military to launch its own invasion of Cyprus. The island remains divided to this day.

Since 1974, Greece and Turkey have passed through one crisis or another almost every decade; most prevalent in this regard have been disputes related to oil exploration and exploitation rights in the Aegean Sea, and thus to the issue of national sovereignty over certain areas in the Aegean. In 1976, 1987 and 1996, Greece and Turkey reached the threshold of an armed conflict that could have destabilized the already fragile Eastern Mediterranean region. The tensions were directly related to sovereignty issues in specific areas of the Aegean Sea, which Turkey considered to be under uncertain sovereignty. The dispute over the Aegean Sea encompasses five distinct, yet interrelated, issues:

1. Sovereign rights over the Aegean continental shelf;

2. Territorial waters limits within the Aegean Sea claimed by both sides;

3. Jurisdiction over airspace zones;

4. Demilitarization of the Greek islands in the Eastern Aegean;

5. Sovereignty over certain or unspecified Aegean islands/islets.

After 1974, the dispute took on the shape of an energy dispute, centering on a disagreement over the interpretation and application of international law. On the one hand, Turkey’s position was that the Greek islands in the Eastern Aegean were not entitled to a continental shelf region and therefore that the delimitation line of the continental shelf should pass, from north to south, through the middle of the Aegean. The Turkish government has always maintained that the Aegean should be shared in equal parts between the two states, in order to have equal economic and defense opportunities in the area.

On the other hand, Greece’s position has favored delimiting the continental shelf by using the median line between the Greek islands in the Eastern Aegean and the western shores of Turkey, which of course is not a straight line but follows the varying contours of this highly elliptical area. At some points, distances between islands and mainland are substantial but in others – like the uninhabited islet of Imia (Kardak in Turkish) – they are barely a couple of kilometers apart.

In 1976, two years after international mediation created a frozen conflict in Cyprus (and democracy was restored to Greece), the tensions took on renewed crisis proportions when the Turkish research vessel Sismik I was sent out in the Aegean to conduct oil research in the disputed continental shelf – considered by the authorities in Athens to be Greek.

Consequently, Greece and Turkey appealed to the United Nation Security Council and to the International Court of Justice at The Hague. By the end of the year, both international bodies had urged the two states not to make use of violence in solving the Aegean issues, and to continue bilateral negotiations in order to achieve a solution in the best interest of both countries. Yet, in 1987 and 1996, after years of failed bilateral negotiations (or simple inactivity at some points), the Aegean dispute rapidly caused new diplomatic tensions, which could have had a negative impact on the peace and security in the wider region of the Eastern Mediterranean.

The 1987 crisis occurred in March, after the Greek government announced its intention to nationalize North Aegean Petroleum, a company that was preparing drilling operations in the most-contested Aegean continental shelf area. The authorities in Ankara announced their intention to drill in the same region, east of the Greek island of Thasos; being within the continental shelf considered to be Greek, this announcement thus stirred up old animosities.

Such disputes have caused the unnecessary buildup of armed forces over the years. In some incidents the two countries came to the brink of war. Indeed, a former ambassador, Dimitris Kosmadopoulos, made the wry comment that “in the Mediterranean, people easily get their blood up,” in his Greek-language memoir Odiporiko enos Presvi stin Ankira (‘The Journey of an Ambassador in Ankara’).  The chronic disputes thus not only hold the potential for disastrous wars between the two countries, which also are allies and members of NATO, but also have the potential to pull other countries into this conflict, destabilizing the whole region.

Politically, perspectives have always differed regarding the distribution of blame for the tensions in the Aegean. Leaders and policy-makers refer to a “just and lasting solution” which rarely accommodates any understanding of what represents a fair outcome according to the other side.

As a matter of policy, Greece has consistently claimed that a legal settlement at the International Court of Justice is the proper way to come to a solution, as it does not want political negotiations for such an important issue as Greece’s sovereign rights. Contrary to Greece, Turkey prefers a negotiated settlement achieved through dialogue between the two neighboring states. Turkey prefers negotiations because it believes a decision by a third party (such as the International Court of Justice) would not fully appreciate its interests. Today, Greece and Turkey remain far from agreement on a solution to the dispute.

Background to the Imia/Kardak Episode

The Imia episode arose due to a naval accident in December 1995, when a Turkish vessel, Figen Akat, ran ashore on a small rock that is part of the Imia islets complex, located near the Greek island of Kalymnos in the Eastern Aegean. The captain of the ship refused to be rescued by the Greek coast guard, claiming that he was on Turkish territory. The incident was hardly reported by the Greek press and it was not known until January 1996, when a Greek magazine ran a story, leading to the escalation of events.

As said before, the Imia issue is related to territorial claims in the Aegean, which were first made public by Turkey in early 1974. The problem of the continental shelf was brought into discussion by the Turkish government in a diplomatic note sent to the Hellenic Embassy in Ankara and dated February 27, 1974. The Turkish position refers to the alleged non-existence of the continental shelf of the Greek islands in the Eastern Aegean, close to the Turkish coastline; Ankara claims these islands are protuberances of the Anatolian Peninsula. (Further information regarding these details is available online at the International Court of Justice website, and on the US State Department website).

After two decades of uneasy relations and negotiations, the question of the sovereignty of the Aegean islands, islets and rock outcroppings emerged in 1996. In the days following the Figen Akat boat accident, the Turkish Ministry of Foreign Affairs contacted the Greek Embassy, stressing that the rocks of Imia/Kardak were part of Turkish territory.

The Greek Embassy in Ankara rejected the claims, reminding them that Turkey had recognized the islets as belonging to Italy by virtue of a bilateral agreement concluded in 1932; they were subsequently ceded by Italy to Greece, along with the rest of the Dodecanese islands, by the Paris Peace Treaty of 1947. (For more information, see The Foundation of the Modern Greek State: Major Treaties and Conventions, 1830-1947). To this, Turkey asserted that with respect to the Aegean, it would abide only by those international agreements that it considered valid, and then only by those that both Turkey and Greece signed.

Turkey has traditionally suspected that Greece would like to transform the Aegean Sea into a Greek ‘lake’ and that Greek claims to Imia/Kardak are thus due to the proximity of these rocks to the Turkish mainland; many Turkish leaders have maintained that the more land Greece ‘owns’ near the Turkish coastline, the more easily Greece could act militarily against it, and the more difficult it would be for Turkey to economically exploit the Aegean, because of territorial restrictions. Greeks have voiced precisely the same fears about Turkish designs on taking islands to win military and economic advantages against Greece.

Media Involvement and Escalation of Events

When the Greek press discovered the story, they raised the controversial question of sovereignty over the Imia chain. In January 1996, the mayor of nearby Kalymnos island raised a Greek flag in order to stress that the rocks were in fact Greek territory. A few days later, a team of journalists from the Turkish newspaper Hurriyet were flown (it is believed, by the military) to Imia and replaced the Greek flag with the Turkish one. On the next day, the Greek flag was raised again, by Greek commandos deployed to the larger of the two islets, in order to protect the national symbol.

Tensions boiled over when Turkish commandos landed on the smaller of the two islets in a stealth operation leading to the death of a Greek pilot. Fortunately, the crisis was eventually defused – as earlier similar ones had – through US pressure, by ‘telephone diplomacy’ between Washington, Athens and Ankara. The status-quo ante was thus restored.

The Greek government depicted the withdrawal as a victory, as sovereignty was maintained, but it was criticized by the political opposition, which considered the situation as a ‘national humiliation’ because Greek sovereignty was not in fact defended.

Stereotyping Phenomena: Eleftherotypia and Eleftheros Typos

Eleftherotypia in its contemporary coverage seems preoccupied with whether the Turkish flag on Imia/Kardak “would be removed or not during the Turkish withdrawal.” The flag seems to be a strong symbol of national pride and sovereignty for both neighboring states. The editors often refer to the Turks as “claiming new frontiers in the Aegean,” and as fomenting a “rebel uprising,” intimidating the Greeks with the threat of war. On its February 6 edition, the same newspaper emphasizes: “[Turkish Prime Minister Tansu] Ciller now wants 3000 islands. This has raised her appetite.”

The center-right Eleftheros Typos expressed rage at the raising of the Turkish flag and wrote: “undisturbed, they raised the Turkish flag in Imia. Shame! The Turks humiliated us.” The editors blamed the Greek government for submitting to Richard Holbrooke’s orders: ‘they pulled the national guard out of 25 rocks!’”

The word ‘humiliation’ is again brought into the discussion in the paper’s February 14 edition, when the editors use a pun in the front page headline ‘Ξεβράχωμα στο Αιγαίο’ (‘getting off the rocks in the Aegean’): the Greek word ξεβράχωμα (ksebrahoma), meaning ‘to get off a rock’, usually is used in reference to fishing. It refers to getting a fish out of its hiding place. Here, employed in place of it is the similar-sounding word ξεβράκωμα (ksevrakoma) which stands for somebody’s public humiliation.

In its March 27 edition, Eleftheros Typos invoked heroes of the 1821 Greek Revolution by writing that “[…] the bones of Kolokotronis, Diakos, Karaiskakis, Papaflessas and Makrigiannis would crack now if they’d know we answered with such defeatism to the Turks,” trying to underline that the government’s moves towards defending national sovereignty were weak. In its March 30 edition, the same newspaper added that the status of the Dodecanese islands, which had been assigned to Greece by the above-cited 1947 agreement, was the subject of discussion between Clinton and Demirel at the White House: “Clinton-Demirel: Bazaar for our islands.”

Depiction of Events in Ta Nea and in Kathimerini

Both Greek centre-right and centre-left newspapers present the Imia/Kardak crisis as an attack on Greek national sovereignty. However, Ta Nea is the only paper to present the whole chronicle of the crisis, starting with the incident in December 1995. Ta Nea specifies in its March 18 edition that the Turks permanently contest Greek sovereignty over the Imia rocks, trying to create a fait accompli in the area: “the question of Greek sovereignty is permanent. The Turks set up a second Imia (i.e. incident).”

The February 16 edition leads by declaring: “double Turkish provocation on Imia,” and writes that Turkey is continuing the war of nerves by asking a Greek vessel near Imia to leave Greek territorial waters.

Further, the February 23 edition headline states: “as Ankara recalls its ambassador, the CIA sees war in the Aegean.” The editors state that Turkey is escalating the tension and threatens Greece if it takes actions against Turkey’s interests, but Greek PM Kostas Simitis, threatens back that there will be consequences for Ankara in terms of its path to the European Economic Community.

At that moment in time, the situation in Greece was difficult due to farmers’ strikes and other domestic and external problems. The Simitis government had also only been recently created. It is worth mentioning Ta Nea’s political cartoons that illustrated the particularities of the economic situation. The main cartoon of the March 21 edition depicts a Greek couple in their living room; while reading the newspaper, the man says to his wife that ‘the farmers thresh Athens, the Turks plow all over the Aegean and the tax evaders reap the VAT!’ The women, who seems quite shocked, answers: ‘is there anyone sowing?’

Both the newspaper’s February 3 and February 10 editions carry concerning headlines: “worries about a second episode” because of “a great concentration of naval forces in the Aegean and military movement in Turkey.”

In its March 22 edition, Ta Nea also publishes a political cartoon showing how Greeks perceived the Turkish-EU relation. The cartoon depicted Süleyman Demirel and a waiter (representing the European Commission) at the European Union’s waiting room for Turkey. The waiter asks Demirel what he would like to order, and Demirel answers: ‘a rock.’

Both cartoons and the technique to display violent front page headlines to demonstrate the diachronic threat coming from Turkey lead to stereotypes, because, in time of crisis, Turkey is perceived as a state that raise claims and is ready for conflict and war.

While most of the Greek daily newspapers with national distribution were passionate about Imia and ethnic stereotypes on Turks, Kathimerini, a center-right oriented newspaper promoted a cooler, yet firm attitude regarding the Greek national rights: “no step back to pressures!” In its January 30 edition, a very neutral headline states: “the case of the islets is getting complicated.”

However, the next day’s headline synthesizes the difficult moment in the bilateral relations thus: “[we are] small during huge moments. No one felt the need to quit after the national defeat to which they led us recklessly.”

The editors of Kathimerini seem unwilling to reinforce the victimization mentality, the overdose of the ‘threat from the East’ and the populist content characteristic to the other publications analyzed.

Cumulative Assessment of Media Depictions

Interestingly, in the case of Imia/Kardak, the Greek press was not as passionate about this crisis as it had been with others in the past. The writing is in general more balanced and tempered than during the crises of 1976 and 1987 (not to mention Cyprus in 1974). Yet, the national feeling of pride is still present on the front pages of most of the publications analyzed here.

This seems to indicate that when it comes to questions of national sovereignty, the Greek press cannot be fully tempered, though it must be said that it did not go so far as to respond to the actions of the Turkish journalists by raising the Greek flag on Imia.

Overall, the writing is reminiscent of populist political discourse, simplistic though rigid, ethnocentric, very reactionary and defensive- the sort of writing that leads to inflexible decisions and opinions.

A strong typification aspect is related to the comparison used to evoke great men and glorious national moments, and to minimize or downgrade the image and the position and role of the ‘Other.’ The employment of war vocabulary (assault, invasion, aggressive, landing) transforms the press into a conflict zone: ‘Us’ versus the ‘Other’ in a militaristic sense.

Conclusion: Prospect for Resolution

The Imia/Kardak issue is related to other issues of the Aegean dispute with potentially great geopolitical and strategic impact in the region. The owner of these islets could extend territorial waters around them to 12 miles, as provided by Maritime Law, restricting travel through the straits in which they are located and bringing areas of international waters under national control. This could then bring into play claims of ownership over the continental shelf under these territorial waters and the airspace above.

Moreover, ownership of Imia/Kardak and its ties to the continental shelf and territorial waters could have great impact on each country’s sense of national prestige, honor and pride and on the inherent mistrust of the neighboring state and population. Ownership of the rocks themselves would not yield much economically, but symbolically they could and would mean more sovereignty over the Aegean. And concepts like patriotism and nationalism provide that more sovereignty a country has over an area, in this case the Aegean, the more national prestige and honor that country gets.

In modern history, these two neighboring states have been on the verge of conflict at least two other times (in 1974 and 1987), but always stopped short. Greece is and has been considered a weaker power militarily and it is believed that in the aftermath of a war, its government would have to negotiate from a disadvantageous position with Turkey. Further, Greece and Turkey do not want war, because war would hurt them both, though both feel obliged to claim they are ready to fight, and it seems that if became absolutely necessary they would.

Defusing the 1996 crisis was favorable to Turkey, a country that needed Greece’s vote to accede to the European Community forum. A peaceful resolution to their dispute would bring more political and military stability and security to the region and, therefore, to NATO and the European Union. After all, war between Greece and Turkey would also harm the credibility of these bodies. In the end, both countries would gain more political respectability internationally by keeping the peace.

An interesting and perhaps fruitful avenue for future research would be to compare the Greek newspaper coverage of the Imia/Kardak case with that found in the Turkish print media during the period in question. This would indicate to what extent patterns of coverage and mentality were similar or distinct, and why. It could lead to lessons for both parties for the future.

In any case, given the likelihood of future crises, media editors wishing to prevent nationalistic approaches on different issues should seek to avoid stereotypes and prejudices, while giving the facts or drawing conclusions and to give resolution-oriented coverage. Indeed, avoiding stereotyping and ethnic categorization could eliminate sources of conflict and pave the way for reconciliation.

During the period covered by this study, the newspapers emphasize the positive self-presentation of ‘us’ and the negative representation of the ‘Other.’ The misrepresentation of the latter may be considered to be a hidden obstacle in the reconciliation process. Media discourse must be built as to overcome stereotyping phenomena and create good attitudes towards other nations.

Negative images of the ‘Other’ create negative public perception. Instead of promoting stereotypes and widespread but antiquated views, media must work in favor of eliminating the obsolete stereotyping phenomena from its discourse. The local media coverage of the Imia/Kardak crisis indicates that media professionals and educators should seek to avoid forms of ethnocentric discourse, propaganda, prejudice and stereotype. Rather, the should present the events as they are or draw conclusions in order to prevent nationalistic approaches to different topics, and to contribute to rediscovering the identity of ‘us’ and ‘the others’ through culture and education.


*Oana-Camelia Stroescu is a researcher at Alexandru Ioan Cuza University in Iaşi, Romania. This article is a result of the project Transnational Network for Integrated Management of Postdoctoral Research in Communicating Sciences. Institutional building (postdoctoral school), and fellowships program (CommScie)- POSDRU/89/1.5/S/63663, financed under the Sectoral Operational Programme Human Resources Development 2007-2013.



Unpublished Archives: Diplomatic and Historical Archives of the Hellenic Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Hellenic Embassy in London Collection: 21, 1.


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Brad, Ion. Avatarurile democraţiei. Bucharest: Viitorul Românesc, 2002.

Constantopoulou, Fotini. The Foundation of the Modern Greek State; Major Treaties and Conventions, 1830-1947. Athens: Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Greece, Service of Historical Archives/Kastaniotis, 1999.

Dogan, T. (2000), Journalism in Greece and Turkey, (in Greek), Athens: Papazisi.

Foreign Relations of the United States, XXX- Greece, Turkey, Cyprus, 1973-1976. Washington: US Government Printing Office, 2007.

Giddens, A. (2000). Sociologie. Bucharest: BIC ALL.

Goffman, E. (1963). Stigma: Notes on the management of spoiled identity. New York: Simon & Schuster.

Kosmadopoulos, D. (1984). Odiporiko enos presvi stin Agkira, 1974-1976. Athens: Elliniki Evroekdotiki.

Articles and Online Resources

Hogg, A. M., Terry, D. J. & White, K.M.  (1995). “A Tale of Two Theories: A Critical Comparison of Identity Theory with Social Identity Theory.” Social Psychology Quarterly, 58, 255-269.

Stephan, S.G., S.J., Ybarra, O. & Rios Morrison, K. (2009). “Intergroup Threat Theory.” In T. D. Nelson (Ed.), Handbook of prejudice, stereotyping and discrimination (pp.43-59). New York: Psychology Press.

International Court of Justice at The Hague, ‘Aegean Sea Continental Shelf Case’, (accessed April 2012)

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In Uncertain Times, Greek Security Agencies Boost Monitoring Capabilities

By Ioannis Michaletos

Despite budgeting restrictions due to Greece’s ongoing financial crisis, the country’s major state security agencies responsible for monitoring and surveillance operations are continuing to upgrade their technological capabilities, ostensibly for the fight against terrorism, organized crime and corruption. This trend started around a decade ago and has primarily benefited the National Intelligence Service (NIS), Police State Security Directorate (DIKA) and Police-Anti-terrorist Directorate (DAEEB), boosting the real-time monitoring capacities of each.

These upgrades are coming at a time of increasing volatility and violence attributed to both far-right and far-left elements dissatisfied with the government and its foreign-ordered austerity measures. In an article on yesterday’s bomb blast at an Athens shopping mall, Reuters reported that the incident signified a “worrying escalation in political violence” that also included a recent Kalashnikov attack on the party headquarters of the ruling Nea Dimokratia party. According to the wire service, Greek police have turned first to surveillance video to try and identify any suspect in the bombing.

Although some Greeks regard the increase in security monitoring as excessive, it is apparent that the country could not sustain itself in terms of domestic security without a monitoring apparatus of significant size and capacity. In addition to keeping tabs on occasionally hostile neighbors, there are a plethora of visiting persons and groups of interest, including foreign diplomats, members of Eastern European criminal gangs, a huge illegal immigrant population which includes radical Islamist figures, left- and right-wing extremists and so on to be monitored. In addition, the deteriorating economic and social situation has led also to widespread monitoring of a wider spectrum of Greek society due to governmental anxiety over protests and potentially deadly attacks- as was witnessed in yesterday’s bomb attack.

Note on Sources and Limitations

The present article draws on a combination of recent interviews with Greek police officers, intelligence officers, political figures, attorneys in criminal cases, Greek journalists and academics who are specialized in the field, as well as reliable open sources including certain media reports and transcripts from Greek court trials regarding terrorism and organized crime cases.

Still, it has to be said that in the murky world of intelligence-gathering, nobody can be really sure of what exactly is going on. Indeed, while certain persons in Greece claim to be ‘intelligence experts,’ and even open quasi-institutions on this theme, in reality nobody can speak with certainty on the inner workings of the Greek intelligence system.

Although Greece is a medium-sized European country, it has over time amassed a plethora of intelligence-gathering authorities, which can be considered Byzantine in both their practices and excessive bureaucracy. The vagaries of political influence, the combination of a sizeable number of lingering ‘old guard’ officials and the imperative for utilization of cutting-edge technology makes any kind of assessment vague and somewhat subjective. It takes decades of careful observation, along with a distinct knowledge of Greek culture and history, for one to understand how the whole system works and, most importantly, to comprehend the underlying motives behind the associated intelligence organizations.

For the time being, the classic paradox remains: the real specialists will not comment publicly, while those who do are most certainly not real experts. Nevertheless, this article strives to present the most credible information currently available on the current state of affairs.

Operational Capabilities

Like other people in the region, Greeks are prone to suspicion and even paranoia about police activities, so they will no doubt be disturbed to know that according to estimates approximately 3,000 persons in Greece are being wiretapped on an hourly basis by the security authorities. Among other things, the intelligence services have identified and target specific ‘red alert’ geographical zones. These are areas (mostly in Athens, but also elsewhere) in which criminal activity often occurs.

When a suspected criminal is traveling through or staying in these zones, the system may notify Humint assets in the vicinity to start shadowing the target. A known software system provider used by Greek authorities is the American company i2, now owned and managed by IBM.

“Systems like i2 and lots of other software can identify not just the social network of any suspect, but combined with telephone wiretapping they can also map out their activity in real-time,” a Greek security official attests for “At least 20 high-profile criminal cases have been uncovered using such methods over the past few years.”

The i2 system and similar ones operate by inputting into the software any data available about the targets being monitored. Names, locations, travels, contacts, communications and so on are all combined to produce unique profiles. Profiling work that once would have taken dozens of police detectives days or even weeks to compile is now thus being done in an instant.

According to this and other sources, the Greek telecom wiring systems have the capacity to simultaneously tap approximately 1000 landlines, 1000 mobile phone numbers and 1000 internet connections. What is also interesting is that each target is monitored almost round-the-clock. The system informs mobile HUMINT teams located across the country and they can decide to take action if necessary.

The Greek weekly newspaper To Vima recently published an overview of the Greek security agencies’ operational capabilities and estimated that these bodies process an average of 10 GB of digital information per day on such activities. This amount can increase tenfold in case of emergencies.

The technological architecture could be described as “Echelon type one” since it is backed by a glossary of key words and phrases and with a steady upload of voice recognition capabilities. The risk of counter-surveillance by the targets themselves is non-existent, since all of the telecom companies operating in Greece are required to have a ‘back door’ for lawful interception of traffic. Once judicial authorization is provided, monitoring starts automatically, leaving no trace. This was required by a law voted on in 2008, but was also being applied unofficially even before the 2004 Olympic Games.

In addition, specially outfitted vans and other vehicles throughout the country (and especially Athens), carry out smaller-scale surveillance operations, with the capability to cover a few hundred meters and a dozen or so telecom lines, according to the report.

Further Background on Upgrade Process and System Threats

A list of the types of systems used by Greek authorities, and companies who make them, was given in a previous article back in September 2011. All equipment mentioned therein was procured in batches. Items purchased between 2002-2004 came due to the need to safeguard the Olympic Games, and were overseen by then-Minister of Public Order Michalis Chryssohoidis and then-NIS Head Pavlos Apostolidis). Equipment ordered for 2007-2008 (when the new legislation came into force) was overseen by then-Minister of Interior Prokopis Pavlopoulos and then-NIS Head Yiannis Korantis. Finally, during 2010-2011 new equipment was ordered to modernize the system by then-Minister for Public Order Chryssohoidis and the then-NIS Head Konstandinos Bikas.

One should also keep in mind that looming behind the whole initiative are several major related potential threats. First is the possibility that sensitive information regarding individuals being monitored could be leaked. Similarly there is the possibility of blackmail through illegal dissemination of such information or illegal use of equipment by a group of corrupted officers, for example. Another issue is the length-of-storage period, according to law, two years at a maximum. In reality, however, no one can guarantee that digitalized information could not be stored indefinitely.

Finally, the cyber-warfare element is important because if there is an attack against the servers where information is being continuously saved, then a huge load of data could easily be stolen remotely, and used as a commodity or intelligence tool by hostile parties. NIS is “CERT Classified” by NATO, meaning that it has cyber-defense capabilities. Still, in today’s world, hackers have successfully attacked some of the most secure business and governmental sites in the world, so safety of NIS data is hardly guaranteed.

Day-to-Day Work

The surveillance agent’s job does not have the glamour of a James-Bond style movie. In the modern Greek security structure, as in most European countries, such an officer sits at a specially designed desktop, which is outfitted with hardware connected to various servers, and stays there for the usual eight-hour shift.

After being briefed on qualitative terms regarding the target involved (who, what, how, why) he might then sit back sipping his Nescafe frappe, waiting for a potential conversation to pop up. Once it does, the most interesting bits are immediately saved. In cases that take priority, a last-minute report might be written and dispatched, if the information suggests immediate criminal action is expected.

Telephone Registration Law Aids Security Agencies

Here it is essential to note that since 2008, all mobile phones in Greece have to be registered to an owner, and that owner must provide a physical address. Previously it had been fine to buy a SIM card with no registration, which was also the case in other regional countries like Bulgaria (which now requires a passport number for foreigners, though not an address, in order to buy a SIM card).

This prohibitive Greek legislation has thus made the work rather easier for surveillance officers who have a much better chance of ascertaining in real time who’s talking to whom. Of course, criminals and others with reasons to evade the law are not naïve and have adapted their communications strategies. For example, they may speak through code words/names, use phones registered to different persons, register SIM cards to ‘dummy’ addresses and so on. Nevertheless, the registration restriction has benefited the police in general.

Traveling with a ‘Suitcase’

A common surveillance tool used by Greek authorities is the so-called ‘Suitcase’ portable monitoring device (the nickname derives from its being concealed, in fact, in a suitcase). This device is capable of monitoring a smaller number of suspects in an inconspicuous manner. However, it must be noted that equipment like this is increasingly found in the hands of individuals across the world- making monitoring a sport useful to anyone with a big wallet and vested interests. It is also very useful for the training of ‘rookies’ in the espionage world since it requires moving around and learning to be more adaptive, before taking up a desk position.

Division of Labor

The NIS chiefly uses its monitoring capabilities in pursuing the actions of foreign agents on Greek soil, while placing its own assets abroad, particularly, in the region between the Danube River and the Levantine Basin, and the Black Sea and Adriatic Sea. Thus its monitoring actions have a greater depth and are associated with a strategic vision, not solely concentrated on police-type work.

Profiling of foreign leaders or VIP’s is considered crucial by the NIS. So too are long-term research projects developed in order to profile opposing organizations and their structures. Unlike the case in many other countries, the NIS has responsibilities for both foreign intelligence and domestic counterintelligence, making the agency very powerful. The people responsible and vetted for monitoring are estimated to be few, perhaps not more than three percent of the entire workforce. This compartmentalization is done in order to diminish leaks, even within the agency itself.

The Greek Police’s State Security Division is most famous for its highly detailed and analytical surveillance work based on HUMINT assets- it has historically not been oriented so much towards relying on technological capabilities. In most respects it adheres to the ‘Old School’ type of monitoring, with a particular focus on groups of people suspected of anti-state action such as hard-line and far-left and far-right groups and criminals associated with political figures.

However, it also has a mandate for the oversight of the other agencies in case of infiltration by enemy interests, so in this respect it has a counterintelligence dimension, having some aspects in common with the UK’s Special Branch. Estimating the percentage of officers associated with technological monitoring is difficult in this case; however, it is widely believed that a majority of involved personnel in the Division are occupied day-to-day with ‘tailing suspects.’

The Police Anti-terrorist Division has traditionally received the greatest attention from Greek politicians, due to its critical role in combating domestic terrorism. In the past, as with the infamous November 17 terrorist group, well-organized plots have cost the lives of politicians, foreign diplomats, businesspeople and other notable figures.

Therefore, the Anti-terrorist Division has always enjoyed access to high-end technological means and a substantial budget, estimated at several million euros annually. It has by far the largest percentage of officers capable of using the kinds of complex software described previously. The vast majority of its officers have passed specialized seminars abroad, mostly in EU countries, the US and Israel. In fact, court transcripts and media reports indicate that all of the domestic terrorism cases solved over the past five years (which led to the arrests of some 40 people) had a distinct technological ‘flavor’ to the investigations in question.

Mobile Command Units

Mobile Command Units (MCUs) are specially designed and outfitted minivans or similar automobiles used to tail a suspect, both through physical shadowing and with a software monitoring unit intercepting the target’s telephone calls and contacts. Inside the vehicle are also kept additional items such as micro-sensors, micro-cameras, long-range cameras, satellite links, night vision goggles, weapons and even medical supplies.

When active, MCUs are staffed by a small group of agents who are prepared even for combat in case of emergency. A Greek intelligence insider states for that there are up to 10 vehicles of this type roaming around Athens and other major cities in Greece, especially during significant events such as political rallies, elections, global conferences, visits of foreign leaders, protests and other signs of domestic political crisis and so on. The purpose is to add flexibility to the technological security architecture and assist the police in case of emergency situations.

In most cases, activated MCUs are accompanied by two other unmarked vehicles or motorbikes, which stay at a close distance in order to protect the team involved. MCUs offer real-time situational awareness to the headquarters of the Police and the NIS in Athens, through coded satellite transmissions with a range of up to 500 km- in effect, covering much of Greek territory.

Another interesting aspect of MCU capabilities is that through long-range cameras they can safely monitor and film at distances of up to 10 km away, depending on weather conditions. This means that in a geographical environment such as Greece’s, dotted by numerous islands and islets, an MCU can safely monitor suspicious activity taking place for example, on a ship out at sea.

Open Source Intelligence Center

One of the first priorities back in the late 1990’s, when Greece’s security and intelligence forces were preparing for the 2004 Olympic Games, was to create an OSINT surveillance center that would continuously gather a full stream of information from TV, the press, radio, and internet broadcasting. Since then the progress of technology has made it possible to literally monitor and distil in real time millions of media outlets in hundreds of languages across the planet and create alerts for attention.

For instance, comments made by foreign leaders and officials about a particular subject of interest, when increasing in level (though unnoticed to many) alerts the service that an initiative is moving towards implementation by a foreign entity, and a report is thus sent to the political leadership alerting them of this. On a police level, this aspect of OSINT software combined with surveillance, could perhaps pinpoint the future intentions of a criminal or terrorist group, based on reversed crowd sourcing techniques.

An Overabundance of Information

These significant technological upgrades by the Greek intelligence and security agencies have also generated an ever-increasing mass of data to be analyzed. This incurs the need to invest yet more manpower and capital to follow the emerging trends. It has also increased the expectations of Greek executive and governmental figures who already consider it normal that a tremendous workload involving targets and their contacts has to be monitored on a daily basis, regardless of the possibility that this may limit a more qualitative approach.

Moreover, the need is increasingly being voiced in Greek intelligence circles to create ‘stove pipes’ within the system, and to proliferate agencies dealing with technological surveillance in the Greek intelligence community (as described above), as well as in the military and the rest of the state apparatus, such as the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Prime Minister’s office, the Coast Guard and the rest of the police forces. Last but not least (considering the government’s newfound interest in taxation) this also applies to the special state tax service.

Another dimension of all this is that, as everywhere else, Greece’s tradition of HUMINT is being contested by tech-wiz officials who prefer to target all information available from the tip of their mouse pad. The contrast and change has been noted around the world’s intelligence agencies. (A fictionalized but accurate representation of this came with the latest Bond film, Skyfall, in which the classic Q, an elderly gadget-maker, is replaced by a cocky young computer expert cracking codes and remotely guiding 007, played by Daniel Craig, while gazing at big-screen images of London’s Underground).

Mid-Level Capacities, ‘Black Funds’ and other Balkan Countries

The NIS (and other Greek agencies) have mid-level capabilities, compared to those of the leading countries. All Balkan countries (with the exception being perhaps Montenegro) have upgraded lately also their tech infrastructure like Greece- Turkey perhaps even more so.

Although these countries primarily purchase technology from Western companies, in some cases domestic production exists, as with Greece’s MILTECH, Intracom Defense and I.S.I, which have sold monitoring equipment since the mid-1990’s, reportedly even to the CIA.

In regards to SIGINT-ELINT capabilities, compared to countries such as the US or even China, Balkan-Mediterranean countries have much less capabilities, but are believed to still have enough to track a number of people with ease in a specific area. The difference between the US and a country like Greece is that the former strives for ‘total situational awareness’ – the ability to track everything, everywhere and all the time, on land, air, sea and space – whereas Greece has more modest ambitions, generally, to control its own territory and (in specific cases) the so-called ‘Near Abroad,’ the area between roughly Bosnia and Cyprus.

It is also known that Greece spends a lot of money on undisclosed intelligence operations. According to a Greek Parliament fiscal assessment, during the period 2007-2008 the Greek Police (the intelligence service was not specified) commandeered 120 million euros in “black funds.” That is substantial money for the Balkans. And the Greek Foreign Ministry – which some observers consider to have foreign intelligence ambitions comparable to the NIS – was allotted 152 million euros in “black funds” in 2010-2011.

It is also believed that the countries providing Greece (and others) with specialized monitoring equipment also benefit when they ask for favors (for example, to track specific nationals or radical figures). Some American services, for instance, have asked for such favors often from their Greek colleagues, who in turn can use the equipment provided by them. As with weapons systems, the country supplying them will ultimately ask for favors that are essentially in assistance of their foreign policy. If favors are not done, then upgraded models are not provided. The problem with software is that it has to be renewed because a newer version comes out every few years.

Conclusion: Part of a Global Trend

The developments in Greece are nothing particularly shocking, but they are indicative of a global trend in the acquisition of not only monitoring and tracking equipment but of all sorts of hacking and remote infiltration software, by states, companies, terrorist groups, organized crime rackets and wealthy individuals.

These transactions are increasingly being done not only between companies to governments in friendly states, but from Western companies to hostile or repressive states, both directly, or via middleman companies or on the black market. And states with advanced technology also use it domestically. Reporting on this trend has become popularized by the Wikileaks ‘Spy Files’ project of 2011, which released data about numerous companies involved in this multi-billion-dollar industry.

Despite the work of such investigative journalism entities and privacy advocates, the industry is simply too lucrative to be derailed and there is always a way for anyone with cash to find the equipment he seeks.

However, for the essential goal of state security, there will always be a role for human intelligence. Given the dangers of data loss/compromise and information overload leading to a lack of qualitative analysis specified above, it would be remiss for Greek security planners to do away with tried but true methods altogether in their quest for technological supremacy, in what is becoming a more and more level playing field globally.

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Book Reviews: The Cyprus Crisis, and The Making of the Greek Crisis Editor’s note: These two new books, reviewed by Director Chris Deliso, shed new light on two of the most important events in Modern Greek history- the Cyprus crisis and end of the military junta in 1974, and the ongoing financial crisis that continues to bedevil the country heading into 2013. While the Republic of Cyprus has wrapped up its successful term as temporary EU president, the island remains divided. The books presently reviewed provide, if not solutions to these two problems, at least new ways of looking at them that will certainly help interested parties seeking solutions. They also provide useful background context for readers with a general interest in contemporary Greek affairs.

The Cyprus Crisis: Examining the Role of the British and American Governments during 1974

By Andreas Constandinos

University of Plymouth Press (2012), 407 pp. (Click here to buy from publisher)

This is a formidable book. Not only because it is thick enough and heavy enough to crush a small mammal, but also because it succeeds in demolishing some lingering conspiracy theories surrounding the role of US and British diplomacy and intelligence in the period up to, during and after the Turkish invasion of Cyprus in July 1974.

Based on recently declassified archival governmental sources as well as interviews with some of the figures involved, The Cyprus Crisis is required reading for scholars and anyone interested in this tragic period in Cypriot history, one that remains disputed and unresolved almost 40 years later. Having spent five years researching it, author Constandinos concludes with a plea for a renewed and more responsible take on these controversial events: “until both [Greek and Turkish] Cypriot communities are able to take responsibility for the events of 1974 and accept the roles played by their respective motherlands,” he writes, “the prospect of the two communities peacefully co-existing in a unified Cypriot state will continue to look bleak.”

More specifically, the conspiracy theories the author challenges in the The Cyprus Crisis, which have survived among some Greek and Greek Cypriot circles, hold that Britain, the former colonial controller of Cyprus, and the US assisted the military junta in Athens in its overthrow of Cypriot President and Archbishop Makarios, and then assisted a Turkish invasion of the island. The intensity of these feelings registered not only in protests but in the assassinations and threatened assassinations of officials from both countries in the days and years after the events, and in a legacy of anti-Americanism in Greek politics that had a negative impact on Greece’s diplomatic clout for many years.

In some ways, the truth is even worse than the theory. For rather than a malevolent and cunning master plan that would have at least required a certain amount of evil genius, the actions of the UK and US exemplified a range of less flattering attributes- cowardice, cynical disinterest, incompetence, arrogance and poor intelligence assessment, to name a few. Occurring as it did during a time of considerable external distractions (most conspicuous being the ignominious end of the Nixon presidency), this situation created the ideal conditions for both the Greek and Turkish governments to vie for control of the island.

The British come off as timid but righteous arbiters with a certain moral sympathy for the island they were legally obliged to protect, but little military capacity to do so, embarrassingly reliant on the Americans to influence the relevant parties. The US – dominated by the towering presence of Henry Kissinger – comes off as perceiving the conflict only within the grand geo-strategic parameters of the Cold War. The author proves how Kissinger’s ‘one-man show’ approach to diplomacy left him tone-dear to the views of more informed diplomats and led him to ignore important local intelligence from what he disparaged as a “third-rate island.”

Still, the voluminous amount of official transcripts cited indicate that both British and American officials followed events closely, but did not find sufficient ‘national interest’ to carry out measures that could have stopped the coup against Makarios, first of all, or the first and second Turkish invasions of the island thereafter.

As the author concludes, these allied governments were guilty only for sins of omission, not commission. Actually, the bulk of the blame is reserved for the recklessness and stupidity of the colonels in Athens, who incredibly did not believe that a coup in Cyprus would hand Ankara a golden opportunity for an invasion- one it had been planning in detail for over a decade.

According to the author, the US was apparently unaware that the previously existing direct communications channel between Athens and Ankara, which had successfully defused crises in the past, had been severed by de facto ruler Ioannidis. The exposition provided in The Cyprus Crisis is too complex to be summarized here, but in this and subsequent events, it seems that individuals (possibly, overeager Greek-Americans in the CIA supportive of the junta) rather than the Agency as a whole, were responsible for a communication breakdown that led Ioannidis to think that he had US support for overthrowing Makarios. (Indeed, as the author points out in further refutation of the ‘CIA vs. Makarios’ theory, on two earlier occasions the Agency had given Makarios specific warnings of assassination plots against him being planned by Greek Cypriot hard-liners).

Indeed, as much of the context-setting first half of The Cyprus Crisis emphasizes, it was the chronic internecine struggle between Greek Cypriots more than anything else that created the conditions for the Turkish invasion. The quixotic goal of enosis (unity with Greece) captivated and connected right-wing Cypriots and the junta in Athens, leading to bitter and bloody internal struggle. Whereas Turkey then and now has argued that it invaded the island to safeguard the Turkish minority, the author finds zero evidence for this (intriguingly, he notes that it was impossible to get any comments from a prior author who had supported the Turkish theory based on a document of dubious authenticity).

Rather, the sad truth that is reaffirmed time and again in The Cyprus Crisis is that none of the external protagonists – Turkey, Greece, the US or Britain – cared at all about the well-being of the Cypriot people of either ethnicity. The first two countries saw the island as a strategic element of their own power projection and as a symbolic element (with political application) for internal nationalist sentiment, whereas the latter two understood Cyprus as a host of strategic bases. And in dealing with the unfolding crisis, they understood the strategic role of Greece (and especially Turkey) as paramount in their policy-planning, which again had to do with other strategic bases and containing the Soviets.

At the time, it was deemed strategically unwise to use either diplomatic or peace-keeping means to prevent the junta from deposing Makarios, and/or to stop the Turkish armada from making landfall, and subsequently carrying out its orchestrated ethnic cleansing campaign against the Greek Cypriots of the north. In retrospect, Kissinger’s fear that an angered junta would ‘kick out’ the US 6th Fleet from Greek waters seems a paranoid fantasy, while the British reluctance to enforce a naval blockade when it had ships and soldiers on the spot unless the US join them comes across as pure cowardice (one could not imagine a leader like Margaret Thatcher having given up so easily).

And this is the great tragedy that The Cyprus Crisis reveals: that the unwarranted bloodshed in Cyprus could easily have been avoided. In hindsight, it does not appear that whatever temporary diplomatic hiccups would have occurred at any stage of the game could possibly have been worse than everything that has happened since, right up to the present day. Of course, there is ‘a reason for everything,’ and the author does admirably provide a very wide context that gives readers a broad view into what current events, past historical precedents, and future concerns influenced the decision-making of diplomats at the time, in a day-by-day treatment of the unfolding crisis.

The only question that does not seem to have been posed in interviews with diplomats active in 1974 for The Cyprus Crisis is that of cultural intelligence. A large part of the tragedy seems to have had to do with accidental or even willful ignorance of local realities. Transcripts of discussions between Kissinger and CIA Director William Colby, among other sources, indicate that the former had very little knowledge of the island (to the point of mispronouncing names of key towns) and very little interest in the mentality of the cultures involved. It does not take a genius in the art of diplomacy to know the precise ways in which Turks and Greeks will behave under certain conditions. It just takes the input of persons who know and understand these cultures. Unfortunately, the powers-that-were chose more often than not to ignore such sources of information, even when they were in their own employ. For future policy planners, this may well be one of the important unstated lessons of The Cyprus Crisis.



The Making of the Greek Crisis

By James Pettifer

Penguin Shorts (May 2012)

Appearing in a unique new series format from Penguin, this e-book by British scholar James Pettifer discusses the causes of Greece’ current financial crisis, placing it within the broader context of past Greek history. The author informs the work with observations made from his four decades of research and travels in Greece, as well as from secondary sources in the contemporary press, and older scholarly works.

It is important to note that this Penguin Short is not meant to be a searching academic study. Rather, it is a useful, and at times entertaining read that summarizes in informal and quick-flowing prose the major issues and particularly the context in which the Greek financial crisis should be understood- perfect reading for, say, an Athens-bound EU financial enforcer to read while on the plane.

Throughout the book Pettifer resolutely throws in his lot with the common man and woman of Greece, sympathizing with their current plight and reminding that throughout history foreigners with little local knowledge have often played disproportionate roles in running the country. Foreign interference has been a chronic factor in the history of Greece since its independence from the Ottomans, as Pettifer notes. “The European Union and International Monetary Fund negotiators who sit in authority in Athens in 2012 have many antecedents,” he writes. “Men and women completely ignorant of the Greek language have played their parts in the making of modern Greece, with varying degrees of success.”

The author begins by pointing out the interesting contradiction between the current gloom and the optimism of just a decade ago, when things seemed to be going so right for the Greek economy. Yet while the Greeks should have been aware of what was to come for them, they were hardly the only ones who failed to imagine or anticipate their and other financial crises that have occurred over the past five years around the world. As the author humorously notes, “modern social-democratic European politics has little room for the imaginary, in any shape or form; it is a terrain of flipcharts, number crunching, endless economic forecasting, and mass production of technocrats.”

Thus, the Greek crisis “was made within capitalism as the illusions of political elites in both Brussels and Athens fed on each other. A hopeless over optimism about what the European Union was or could ever be dominated their judgements and a sweeping belief in their own propaganda overtook them.” This amusing aside manifests the typically British take on the EU and its often excessive ambitions. In an interesting detail, the author points out that a continent-wide monetary union has been dreamt up and even attempted several times going back to Napoleon, and never worked. At the same time, “recurring debt crises had punctuated political life in nineteenth and early twentieth century Greece.” The past does seem to be repeating itself in many ways today.

Indeed, as Pettifer describes it, the much-publicized concealment of Greek debt for which the country has been so criticized is endemic, not something that recent governments invented. “In the post-Civil War period, debt was contained within the New Deal and Marshall Plan framework, but was an ever-present problem in the background,” recounts Pettifer. “Many infrastructure bills, for instance those that involved strategic roads of military interest in northern Greece, or port and airport modernisation, were effectively paid for by the United States or NATO. With the end of the Cold War and the Warsaw Pact, this funding role was taken over by the European Economic Community and then the European Union. Ever since the Greek state was established in the nineteenth century, infusions of foreign capital have been required at regular intervals to support state economic viability.”

In the modern case, the author traces the year 1996, and the ascendancy of German-experienced technocrat Costas Simitis as the turning point. It was at this time that “the genuine, if sometimes eccentric internationalism of [the late Andreas] Papandreou was replaced by the ever increasing commitment of the government to a federal European future. Greek nationalism was to be subsumed within the new Euro nationalism of the European Union. At the heart of this major policy change was the forging of a new Greek-German relationship.”

At the time of Euro-entry, in 2001, “the fact that Greek budget data was significantly ‘massaged’ to meet the Maastricht criteria [for joining the Euro] did not seem to be a major issue for those involved,” Pettifer recounts. “The German Foreign Minister Hans Dietrich Genscher had recently acquired a holiday home in Greece and relations seemed to be excellent.” Interestingly, he also posits that there were those around Simitis who saw the subsumption of Greek debt within the Euro as Germany’s tacit means of giving Greece WWII war reparations that had never been paid.

Along with general trends such as greed, consumerism and the effect of new Common Agricultural Policy marketing rules on small farmers, Pettifer notes the often unacknowledged effect of single events in exacerbating the crisis. The biggest of these was the 2004 Athens Olympics. Economists disagree on the impact Olympics spending would have on the later debt crisis, he notes, while adding that “normal government financial controls began to collapse in the 2003-2004 period as international pressure on Greece rose for Olympic work to be completed on time.” All in all, the price tag of the Games was billions of Euros beyond estimate, and debt repayment was not properly managed (Pettifer contrasts this with the case of Montreal, which is apparently still making incremental payments on debts incurred for the Olympic Games it held back in 1976).

While the author acknowledges the well-publicized role of tax evasion in Greece, he does not see it as a primary cause of the crisis, and suggests that the EU did not either: “not much tax was paid between 2001 and 2004,” he notes, “but no one in Brussels was concerned about it then when growth numbers looked good.” Rather, he sees this sort of discourse as a means for making the country “a scapegoat for the failures that were always inherent in the Euro project from its foundation. The Euro project was doomed because it is impossible to chain together 27 different economies to one currency and one central financial institution without any tax or revenue raising capacity. The fact that it is doomed to fail was not the fault of the Greeks. Their fault was to believe in it more than most European nations did.”

After laying the groundwork for his recounting of the crisis, the author outlines a concentrated presentation of events in the second half of the book. This narration of events starts with the media fixation over big financial crashes in 2009 (like Lehman Brothers and Northern Rock), which however distracted attention for a time from smaller countries like Greece. However, by year’s end the Greek budget deficit stood at 15.4% of GDP, with debt at 127% of GDP, along with “rapidly rising borrowing costs.”

By that time, the Papandreou government’s promised ‘opening of the books’ revealed for the first time the scale of statistical manipulation that had hidden Greek debt over the previous decade; “vast sums of international funds had been ploughed into Euro-denominated Greek government bonds in previous years, ever since Greek entry to the Euro zone in 2001. Yet it seemed to have vanished.” Internationally-enforced ‘austerity measures’ began, and the crisis worsened. Pettifer continues with a blow-by-blow account of credit agency downgradings starting in 2009, mass protests the following year, briefly touching on the evolution of bailout plans, ideas and negotiations in Brussels.

Following a short mention of the governmental crisis of 2011, he concludes with some general thoughts and speculations for the elections (which have since happened). However, regarding the latter he does not mention the growing power of the neo-fascist Hrysi Avgi, or what this might indicate for society though he does note that earlier periods of financial hardship resulted in periods of authoritarian military rule (this is precluded, he says, since the EU does not allow for such kinds of regimes). Still, considering that the author takes time to discuss the effects of the crisis on the Communist Party, the family, women, emigrants, the church and so on, the omission of an examination of the Hrysi Avgi is regrettable, considering its unprecedented success at the ballot box. Politically speaking, Pettier simply wrote that he foresees “a period of marked political instability and jockeying for position as old leaders retire and others try to take their place,” which would seem fairly obvious.

According to the author, there was in fact one solution that would have caused less suffering for the nation, but would never have been accepted by the international financiers and their political backers. “A Greek Euro exit in 2009 followed by a generous European aid and reconstruction programme could have done much for the real economy and confined the crisis,” he opines, “but it would have meant major losses for the banks and bankers.”

It is clear that the author is an unabashed fan of traditional Greece, and in the end, he seems to envision a brighter future as being possible due to the “extraordinary resilience” of the Greek people. The crisis, he points out, is already increasing self-sufficiency and sparking a return to traditional agricultural practices. He sees an enhanced role for the Orthodox Church as shepherd of the people, and even for a possible return to family values. Whether or not the Greeks will in fact come out of the crisis stronger remains to be seen, but it is for certain that there will be plenty more drama and uncertainty in the months ahead. This short survey provides a handy introduction for anyone seeking a basic understanding of the context and conditions that will inform coming events.


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Perceptions of the Greek Crisis: Dialogue with Greeks in the Czech Republic and in Greece

By Ludmila Kopecka and Ekaterina Batueva*

The financial and economic crisis in Greece has led to a variety of negative consequences in the economic and social spheres of life: the rate of unemployment is estimated to be 20 percent (even higher among the youth), the amount of homeless people on the street has risen dramatically, public spending cuts are increasing, and the pressing absence of hope and security for the future is damaging public confidence in government and society.

The current socio-economic situation in Greece thus reflects on Greeks themselves. And views of the crisis can differ between Greeks living in Greece and in Greek community in the diaspora- in the case of the present article, those in the Czech Republic. The Greek community in this country should be assessed in terms of its specific historical and cultural background. Against this context, contemporary interviews with Greeks – living both in Greece and in the Czech Republic – provide insight into the current perception of the crisis and how it is affecting the public.

Significantly, this evidence indicates that there is a discrepancy between what the world media tends to present as the infamous ‘Greek crisis,’ and the actual opinions of Greeks regarding the situation in their country in 2012.

The Greek Financial Crisis and its Impacts on the Population

Throughout 2012 the Greek crisis, and what it allegedly says about Greeks and the Greek political class, have been a major topic of discussion in world media and in everyday public life (particularly, in Europe). Greeks have generally been depicted as lazy workers, tax evaders, as expecting to retire earlier than other Europeans do, and finally as interested in working primarily in the public sector. This perception has influenced the proposals for action among European governments and banks to “rescue Greece”- namely, that terms should be severe.

Among the main causes of the Greek crisis are internal, connected with poor management and economical imbalances, and external (in regards to the lack of response while the crisis was escalating), as Georgios Kouretas and Prodromos Vlamis argued back in 2010 (.PDF). While talking about the internal causes one should mention populism, parallel economy, patronage and ethnocentrism which have contributed greatly to the socioeconomic state of Greece these days.

Impacts on the Population: Unemployment and Health Issues

While the economic impacts of the crisis (like state debt and austerity measures) have been discussed frequently by media and in the public discourse, the social impacts of the crisis have not been sufficiently highlighted. These social impacts should not be underestimated, as they can lead to dangerous and unpredictable consequences for communities and the nation in general.

One of Greece’s biggest problems has been unemployment, with all of its consequences. According to the Hellenic Statistics Authority earlier this year, the unemployment rate for the 15-24 age group is estimated at around 43 percent, and 23 percents for those between 25-34. If a large percentage of the youth is unable to enter the job market in the next few years, a choice will arise between staying in a Greece beset by long-term unemployment, or else going abroad to find a better future. Experts state that seven of 10 young people are considering leaving the country to work abroad. Robolis believes (.PDF) that this period probably will be remembered someday for an emigration wave, as was the case in the 1960s, when the unemployment rate was around 25 percent.

The situation with unemployment is worsened by the absence of any “support system” for the unemployed, in terms of skills trainings, requalifications, and psychological assistance.

Also with the crisis, many people have lost their jobs and with them, money, homes and hope for a better future for themselves and their children. Society has seen an increase in suicide levels and even traffic accidents; access to the health care services is limited, and the number of medical personnel insufficient to solve these issues and to respond efficiently.

Illegal Immigration, Segregation, Marginalization, and Shop Closures

The poor economic state of Greece nowadays is being influenced as well by the chronic flow of undocumented migrants through the Greek-Turkish border and by sea. Greece, together with the other Mediterranean countries is considered the “perfect transit country” for people searching for a better future somewhere in Europe. More than one million immigrants are currently living in the country, out of which 400,000 immigrants are estimated to be undocumented. With the crisis making jobs hard to find for everyone, immigrants are affected to the greatest extent. Joblessness has a tendency to lead to poverty, homelessness, depression and absence of legal ways to improve the situation, and in the end an increase in the crime rate.

In an interview with a local NGO in Thessaloniki that works with immigrants, the statement was made that the majority of immigrants from Albania, who are known for their hard work and integration skills, are trying to return to Albania if they do not have family in Greece. Immigrants from the other countries are trying to leave as well as soon as they have a chance.

The population in Greece is in a state of anger, absence of hope and insecurity. Nobody can be sure where the limit of the austerity measures lies, and with them the salary and pension cuts. Many people are living by limiting their food and other needs to a minimum. Segregation and marginalization have become the new faces of the Greek society: vulnerable groups are living below minimum standards, such as drug addicts, the unemployed and migrants. During a crisis such as the present one, such a situation can have serious consequence for a community in terms of creating parallel societies, absence of interactions, growing disparities and increasing dissatisfaction with the state, all of which can lead to large-scale depression and radical tendencies.

One more particularity of the socioeconomic situation in Greece today is the increasing number of homeless people on the city streets. Due to family networks and community connections, Greeks were long able to avoid this situation. With the modern era and its developing individualism, the bonds among people, their families and communities are becoming less important. The crisis has left a lot of people unemployed, and incapable of paying back outstanding loans for goods and properties; some can still sell and live from this, while others just find themselves on the outskirts of life, facing a new reality of homelessness.

Finally, all around Greece numerous businesses have been shut down or are at the edge of their capacity to survive. A capital city long known for its antique monuments and luxury shopping streets, Athens has changed dramatically. The flourishing trade and shopping centers are closed, and more and more often one can see the “for sale” tables on different assets. The ghettoisation of the city that began more or less 15 years ago is now acute, with an ethnically divided Athens now home to districts populated distinctly by Nigerians, Egyptians, Poles, Romanians and Pakistanis, and so on.

Volunteerism Makes a Comeback

At the same time, one surprisingly positive trend during the crisis can be seen, and that is a new spirit of volunteerism. This has become more visible and widespread, as suffering has led to compassion and a desire to help others. Some of the organizations are trying to promote volunteerism for people while they are unemployed, while other are trying to deliver assistance, food and shelter for those who are in need.

So, How Do Greeks See the Crisis?

To arrive at a clearer picture of the Greek perception of today’s crisis, the views of Greeks residing in the Czech Republic and in Greece will be presented below. These views derive from unique interviews taken by the authors during 2012.

First of all, however, it is necessary to give a brief overview of the Greek heritage in the Czech Republic, before moving on to an assessment of data gathered from new interviews with representative individuals.

The Greek Community in the Czech Republic: Historical and Cultural Background

The initial reason for emigration from Greece in the 20th century was the 1946-49 Civil War. By mid-1946 the Greek Communist Party (KKE), which had operated openly as a legal political party, came under heavy pressure from Greek right-wing elements, leading to an armed rebellion. Its underground activities intensified, and in those areas under KKE control, local administrations were established with quasi-governmental fiscal, security, and judicial functions. In December 1947, the KKE set up a Provisional Democratic Government of Free Greece in the mountains of northwestern Greece for the purpose of administering the Greek territory under Communist control. This “shadow government” collapsed with the failure of the Communist-led military campaign against the Greek national government in August 1949.

From these destroyed areas of Greece, citizens were expelled to different states like Poland, Hungary, Romania, Yugoslavia, Albania, Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia and the USSR, often without the possibility of choice. Emigration was chaotic and in the majority of cases members of the same families were resettled in different countries.

Greek citizens arrived in Czechoslovakia through Yugoslavia; they had been settled at the beginning in Bulkes village, in Serbia’s Vojvodina region. But, after the split between Yugoslavia and Stalin, Tito decided to expel the refugees- considered potential opponents of the regime.  Czechoslovakia decided to take in the deported Greeks, who in total amounted to approximately 14,000 people. First came children up to 15 years; they had been transferred in freight trains to Sturov and then to Mikulov, where the Red Cross had established a receiving centre (Otčenašek, 1998). After a temporary stay in this centre, children were sent into different camps in Czechoslovakia. In the years 1948-1949, more than 100 ‘Greek children’s homes’ were established.

Through 1948, approximately 3,500 children had come to Czechoslovakia. By 1952, 2,719 children were living in children’s camps. Children were provided with assistance in regards to psychological problems and the general adaptation process.

For better adaptation, the staff was of both Czech and Greek nationalities. Usually, the latter were Greek women who had come as an accompanying escort and who tried to replace a mother’s care for these children.

A major part of these immigrants was originally from agrarian mountain regions of Northern Greece, where education and literacy were at a low level (Sloboda, 2002). Furthermore, during the Civil War it had not been possible to go to school in Greece, and thus many children began their studies only in Czechoslovakia (Otčenašek, 1998). After one year, adults from different countries started to come and finally the group of Greek immigrants had included all age categories; there were children, youth, adults and old people. In regards to social background, the group was homogenous, coming from the agricultural areas.

In the beginning, emigration from Greece to Czechoslovakia was considered a temporary measure. That was the reason why the government of Czechoslovakia was trying to isolate immigrants away from general Czechoslovak society. When the main part of immigrants had come to Czechoslovakia, Greeks were settled in the Northern Moravia region. It is interesting to point out here that Greeks were settled in places where Germans had previously been living- areas like Jesenik, Sumperk, Bruntal, Opava, Vsetin, Karvina, Ostrava and Novy Jicin. Greek refugees were employed mainly in the engineering, metallurgical and textile industries.

Greek migration can be understood in terms of forced migration of a political and military nature (Otčenašek, 1998). The completely new way of life which the exiles had to face challenged their political and ideological beliefs, their national consciousness and their social and family roles (Apostolidou, 2009). According to Sloboda, Greeks kept a very strong ethnic identity, which was based on the consciousness of common origin, language, emigration destiny, Greek dance and food (Liolios, 2002, Otčenašek, 1998) and strong relationship with Greece, even though due to alleged political and ideological reasons they would not be allowed to return to their state for a long time. Only with a 1982 law passed in Greece (that specified those who were Greek by ethnicity) did they get the right to return to Greece. Thousands of Greeks then used this chance because of the strong attitude to their country of origin.

Present Demographic

However, after 1990, in a totally new political climate, Greek businessmen and students had started to arrive to the Czech Republic and settled. The end of Communism meant new opportunities for Greeks in central and eastern European countries now ‘open for business’ to foreign investors.

According to the Czech Statistical Office, the Greek community in the Czech Republic stood at 3,219 people as of 2001. However, according to non-official data the size of the Greek community is estimated to be over 7,000.  This represented community is social diverse and according to Liolios (2002) intellectuals and businessmen are very actively engaged in minority issues.

The most significant organization which unites the Greek community is the Association of Greek communities in the Czech Republic (AGCCCR). This is a non-profit organization, which includes 11 Greek communities. Among the significant activities of this organization are intensive language courses, regular meetings of seniors from the whole country in Šumperk, visits to relevant monuments, courses in Greek dance, exhibitions and so on.

Compilation of Opinions on the Greek Crisis among Greeks in the Czech Republic and in Greece

The following information derives from interviews with the Greek community in Prague and with Greeks in Greece (five persons from each category). Respondents were chosen according to the snowball sampling methodology, and therefore factors such as age and gender of respondents were not necessary. Within the general framework of the research on this topic, it was however relevant that the respondents freely identify themselves as Greeks, and have the wish to express their opinion about the contemporary socio-cultural situation in Greece.

All of the respondents who live in the Czech Republic travel to Greece quite often (a minimum of 2-3 times per year) and are well informed about the situation there. Even in the cases of those born in the Czech Republic, the sense of belonging to Greece could still be seen in their answers: the crisis and bad socio-economic conditions seemed to be taken by respondents as a personal tragedy. Moreover, many of them have relatives and friends presently in Greece, from whom they often get the latest information about the current situation.

For all respondents, without exception, the current socio-economic situation seems catastrophically bad, hopeless and horrible. One of the respondents compared the situation to a war: “No doubt, we are at war here, maybe a ‘pacifistic’ one, a psychological one, a financial one, but for sure a war.”

Some blamed the politicians, others the banks (or both) for the bad things that have happened. Nevertheless, no one specific general opinion was voiced by Greeks living in the Czech Republic, nor those in Greece. Interestingly, one respondent saw the reason for the crisis as lying in the modern Greek mentality:

“The reason for this (crisis) is corruption and the ‘bonds mentality’ [i.e., an entrenched patronage system]: let’s say I have an uncle, who is working somewhere in a public sector on a senior position; therefore, I’m expecting from this guy that he’ll take care of all the family. This ‘theory’ applies to political parties as well- candidates promise potential voters things which would satisfy their private interests, not the common interests of the nation.”

One of the respondents living in the Czech Republic claimed that there is actually no crisis in Greece, and that it is just a political game designed to help Germany amass more exports through a devalued euro; nevertheless, this respondent accepted also that it is necessary to make changes, especially in the sector of state employment.

Perceptions of the Media

Other means of getting information about the current situation in Greece include the media, Czech and Greek alike. But what emerged from the respondents’ answers was that there is a big difference between the Czech and Greek media in regards to the presentation of the situation in Greece. One of the respondents stated: “in the Greek media you can get reliable information, but in the Czech, only what suits the whole ‘European concept about the Greek crisis.’”

Another respondent had a similar point of view: “the Czech media follows orders from the German media and gives ‘wrong’ information about the situation in Greece.” One of these respondents even claimed that the Czech media is on the side of the banks, Germany and France against the Greek side. Another respondent even didn’t want to compare these two resources because it made him ‘sad’ to think about it.

Respondents who live in Greece tended to usually get information only from Greek TV and newspapers because of the language barrier, but always remain curious about what’s written in the international mass media about the situation in Greece too. As mentioned, the common feature among our respondents is that they take the current situation as a personal tragedy and are very sensitive about their country’s image in the rest of the world. A few of the respondents who live in Greece constantly asked whether “bad things” were written and said about them in the rest of Europe.

It is important to mention that none of our respondents living in Greece believe in what their local media reports. One of the respondents even mentioned that the local Greek media is full of propaganda: “the TV media channels have used propaganda in favor of all the Greek governments of the past 40 or so years. The former government (PASOK) which was rather tyrannical and not even close to being socialistic as a political party, has controlled for decades at least one major Greek channel (MEGA).”

Quality of Life: Negative Assessments

All of the respondents compared the situation before the crisis and today, highlighting the huge deterioration of socio-economical conditions of the population. As one of the respondents noted:

“Before the crisis the quality of life was on a very good level, but all of the people were living at the expense of the future… and now it’s horrible, especially for the young people and for the future generations.”

The opinion that many people were living in a way they really could not afford was expressed by one more respondent. This respondent even compared Greeks with Americans in that lifestyle: “before we were like Americans; we put our dreams and hopes in money we didn’t have. And now most of the people realized how stupid it was to have five or 10 credit cards from every bank, to make the new cards pay off [the debt on] the old ones.”

Some of the respondents who live in Greece also noticed that the lifestyle has changed dramatically, not only in the connection to consumption, but also in relation to how people have started to act and spend their free time. Smiling, dancing, family gatherings and sustaining a general good mood are parts of Greek culture, which have been almost destroyed by crisis and poor socio-economic conditions, according to some of these respondents from Greece.

“Living under the Greek sun makes you think positive,” said one respondent from Greece. “Automatically the Greek climate boosts anyone’s mood. But now we’re not the same as we used to be four or five years ago. There’s no need to prolong what I am stating here, for it’s obvious that when people of a nation need to live in search of work and money in order to pay taxes and their current loan obligations, they have no life…. how can you be creative when you don’t have anything on the table to eat? How can you have a genuinely good time when you know that your neighbor is suffering?”

One of the most important parts of life for Greeks is the connection with the whole extended family. But according to the answers of respondents, especially those living in Greece that sphere of life has been affected by the crisis too. People who have at least a slight chance to emigrate or move to bigger cities within Greece seem to be trying to do so; therefore, family bonds have started to weaken. According to one respondent, “people start to vanish into the big cities, and when something goes wrong and they are lost or die, nobody cares or knows about it.”

Respondents also have mentioned how the bad economic situation influences the psychological condition of people living in Greece. Some of their relatives started to get ill more often, and to fall into depression due to instability and permanent money shortage.

Future Expectations

When we were talking about the future of Greece, most of the respondents were quite skeptical and pessimistic; however, they also offered few ways, from their perspectives, for the country to get out of the crisis and for the improvement of the socio-economical conditions of people living there. One of the solutions suggested was to find a strong leader who will not be afraid of the banks and who can lead the country in the right direction. Another solution was to get rid of debts and to change the government. One other idea was to change the Greek mentality in regards to corruption. And one family (living in Greece) did not see “any future,” but only predicted that the things would become worse and worse.

All of the respondents without exception agreed that the way things are going now is not leading the country anywhere and, even though respondents came up with a number of solutions, they were quite skeptical that changes could really happen. The majority of respondents see these ideas as unrealistically utopian. It is thus not a surprise that after desperate attempts to escape the crisis, some people seem to have lost faith. But not all of them: a few respondents from Greece were confident about a bright future for their country, stating that it just needs time and strong courage.

Only one respondent living in the Czech Republic stated that he believes in a bright future for Greece and that the Greek people can handle the situation, noting that similar challenges had already happened many times in history.


According to the available research data, around 87 percents of the sample Greek population understands the real situation together with the pre-conditions of the crisis. Moreover it disagrees with the government measures and does not see the solution to the crisis as being achievable in an easy way.

Further, it was expressed that the media’s image of Greeks, Greece and the Greek crisis have given birth to a new trend in stereotypes, which were mentioned above. However, manipulating such stereotypes in the political discourse or as a common general assessment of the population makes it almost impossible to talk about the Greek crisis from any other point of view than the majority has, due to media and official discourse.

Rather, politicians, media and officials would be better off using reliable data, such as statistics and knowledge of the Greek reality when talking about the sensitive issue of the crisis.

For the Greek population, whether in Greece or abroad, the crisis is broadly considered to be a great personal tragedy on an individual level, even though they do understand that their politics and behavioral models had to some extent led the country to such a state. The current mood of public anger, hopelessness and insecurity continues for the majority of the population. Segregation and marginalization may continue, as the current trends in Greek society can lead to dramatic and unpredictable consequences for a whole generation; therefore, while public discourse and media are largely devoted to talking about the financial and political crisis, the social impact of the crisis should also be a topic of primary focus.


*Ludmila Kopecka is a researcher from Russia in the Social Anthropology Department at Charles University in Prague. Her PhD thesis is concerned with the topic of student migration from Russia to the Czech Republic. She also conducts research on other national minorities and migrant communities in the country, and works as a freelance journalist.

Also based in Prague, Ekaterina Batueva is a researcher and lecturer in the Regional Studies Department at the University of Economics. Her PhD research examines the impact of migration flows on the regional development of Northern Greece. Ekaterina also teaches seminars on development assistance, cultural anthropology, migration and minorities’ studies, regional sociology and management of non-governmental organizations. She is the co-founder and project coordinator at a Prague-based NGO that works on the social inclusion process and peace-building.


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