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Greece

Capital Athens
Time Zone EET (GMT+2)
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Population 11.3 million
Language Greek
Major Religion Orthodox Christianity

The Renewal of Greek-Iranian Economic Relations: Interview with Patroklos Koudounis

Balkanalysis.com editor’s note: while the French Intelligence Online recently reported that Britain has “leapt ahead of other Western countries” in the race for business opportunities in post-sanctions Iran, other European nations are also stepping forward and forging new partnerships. A leader among them is Greece.

Following our recent analysis on prospective developments in post-sanctions Greek-Iranian relations by Ioannis Michaletos in Athens, we thus continue to explore this topic here, in the following exclusive interview with Patroklos Koudounis, President of the Business Initiative for the Hellenic-Iranian Chamber of Commerce. The only entity of its kind in the EU that was created during the sanctions period, this group is concentrating on developing bilateral economic relations between the two countries.

Mr Koudounis, who is also CEO of the Athens-based consulting firm Adequate Consulting, has 16 years of managerial and corporate experience in key positions with major organizations, such as the Athens International Airport, Alco Group and G4S International. He has also been an elected member of the Board of Directors of the Athens Chamber of Commerce and Industry since 2011.

Interview with Patroklos Koudounis Greece Iran economic relations- Balkanalysis

According to Mr Koudounis, “Greek companies are in a position to penetrate the Iranian market by selling quality and know-how” across a wide range of industries.

Ioannis Michaletos: Thank you very much for this interview. First of all, I would like to pose the question as to how you view in general terms the current state of affairs of bilateral economic relations between Greece and Iran. What are the pros and cons, and what things should any prospective investor or trader look out for?

Patroklos Koudounis: Mr. Michaletos, first of all I would like to thank you for your kind invitation and for the opportunity that you are giving me in order to present briefly the reasons for which Iran is a critical destination for Greek exporters.

The level of bilateral trade between the two countries is currently very low, and does not exceed $18m. This number – although it seems frustrating – clearly shows the upside potential of the business opportunities that both countries have to exploit.

The advantages of the Iranian market are plenty. With a population that exceeds 80 million people, Iran is in the geographical center of a world that pivots to the East. Hence, any local office can be used as the export base that would serve the needs of all neighboring countries, such as Turkmenistan, Tajikistan, Azerbaijan, Oman, etc.

While Iran holds the biggest oil and gas reserves globally, half of its population is under 34 years old. If you consider that Iran also enjoys the highest concentration of persons with PhDs, you might easily realize the dynamics of a country with cheap energy and millions of well educated young people who are ready to create and produce. In addition to that, keep in mind the rare element of political stability that makes Iran unique, in a part of the globe where multiple conflicts and political instability are always present.

On the other hand, a thorough risk analysis would definitely take into consideration the volatility of the local currency – i.e. the Iranian Rial- which might discourage any conservative investor.

Additionally, there are obvious cultural and religious differences, which may demand an extra dose of patience and tolerance in order to enter successfully the local market.

IM: How do you assess the short and mid term developments regarding business opportunities in Iran?

PK: At this juncture, the European Union process regulations implement the gradual de-escalation of sanctions against Iran, a process that will probably be completed and enter into force in the first quarter of 2016. Until then, the sanctions are theoretically valid, but nevertheless the period is considered to be favorable for the exploration of product placement perspectives, in the promising Iranian market.

According to the – rather optimistic – Iranian side, the Implementation Day of the lifting of the sanctions is placed in late November this year, while the International Atomic Energy Agency places it in early 2016. Due to the complexity of the provisions and schedules, the External Service of the European Union has committed to issue explanatory draft guidelines, with relevant questions and answers for entrepreneurs. This will be published in due course.

IM: Are there any specific corporate sectors which would be of particular relevance and interest for Greek businesses dealing with Iran? What are the basic products that would be in most demand on the Iranian market?

PK: According to our experience and analysis, Greek companies are in a position to penetrate the Iranian market by selling quality and know-how. We cannot easily export olive oil. Our product is good, but the marketing expertise of the Italian and Spanish competitors muscles us out.

On the contrary, there are other fields where we enjoy competitive advantages, mainly due to our know-how, i.e. Construction, Tourism, Education, Food , Animal Feed, Pharmaceuticals and Cosmetics, Restaurants, Apparel, Services (marketing, advertising, etc), as well as Software and building materials.

Needless to say, Shipping and Transportation services have always been our strong points.

IM: It would be very interesting to note any cultural differences or peculiarities that the Iranian market poses for a foreign investor. How different it is doing business there actually, in practical terms?

PK: The government offers multiple subsidies and tax relief, depending on the kind of investment. The bureaucracy is relatively limited in a way that the commencement of any business is very simple. Just imagine that in order to start running a new shop, there is no need to create a company first! The shop has a unique tax number – as an entity – and you are taxed according to the performance of the shop! A sufficient analysis of the tax system in Iran can be found on Wikipedia here.

Given the cultural differences – as you correctly mentioned – there are certain “rules” that must be followed by those who are targeting the Iranian market.

First, a physical presence is of great importance. I really have to discourage those who are under the impression that they can sell in Iran without a local partner or an established office with local employees.

Secondly, patience is a necessary skill for all newcomers. Third, a thorough study of the local business and negotiating habits is of the essence. It will save time and money.

IM: Could Greece become a hub for other Balkan corporations wishing to invest and develop ties with Iran? Is Athens up for this effort? In short, do other Balkan countries also have ambitions to enter the Iranian market?

PK: Starting from the last part of your question, I am pretty confident that all the Balkan countries have ambitions to penetrate the Iranian market. I am aware, though, that all our neighboring countries are preparing delegations in order to officially visit Iran.

During my recent trip to Tehran, I detected a vivid interest for a full exploitation of the European market by many Iranian companies. This is why we – as Adequate Consulting – decided to create a representation office in Tehran, in order to be able to facilitate Iranian companies which are trying to enhance their exports in Europe.

Talking about Ancient and Byzantine Coins: Interview with Yannis Stoyas

Balkanalysis.com editor’s note: money – or the lack of it – has kept Greece in the news for the last few years. But what about the currencies in use for centuries before the euro was ever imagined? This comprehensive new interview by Balkanalysis.com Director Chris Deliso with Greek numismatist Yannis Stoyas covers many aspects, from the role of gold coinage in the Late Roman and Byzantine Empires to the contemporary worlds of numismatics, auctions and governmental regulations on coin collecting. As such, this wide-ranging interview will be of interest to readers from many backgrounds.

Yannis Stoyas works as a Researcher Curator in the KIKPE Numismatic Collection, Athens. Since 2004 he has been teaching Numismatics and History of Money at the National Hellenic Research Foundation. He has participated in numismatic exhibits and conferences and has produced several publications. Among them, he is co-author (with Prof. Vasiliki Penna) of the Sylloge Nummorum Graecorum, Greece 7 (Academy of Athens, 2012). He is also a PhD candidate in Medieval History (University of the Peloponnese), working on a dissertation under the title ‘The Catalan-Aragonese presence in the Eastern Mediterranean, 1261-1460: An economic, military and political study.’

Background and Initial Inspirations

Chris Deliso: Thanks for speaking with us today, Yannis. I’d like to begin by asking firstly about yourself – how did you get interested in the study of coins in the first place, and how did you continue this interest to where you are today?

Yannis Stoyas: It is quite telling that my first and most profound love was history, rather more than archaeology, which I studied at the University of Ioannina, in my hometown. But with coinage you can combine both, at least from a certain point of view that deems necessary to employ in numismatics a historian’s mentality.

Yannis Stoyas- interview with Balkanalysis

Numismatist Yannis Stoyas is a leading expert on ancient and Byzantine coinage, and offers considerable insight into both historical and contemporary issues affecting coins.

Numismatics deals with several layers of history such as art history, economy, religion, political propaganda, etc. There are aspects of all these illustrated on coins or associated with them. The basic thing is to see what link can be discerned connecting a coin possibly with a historical event. This is my main scope.

CD: Very interesting, and an important point. So, if your main motive for pursuing a career with numismatics is academic, can you tell us a little more about how you became interested in it in the first place?

YS: After finishing my undergraduate studies, I started working in the Archaeological Service, for the Hellenic Ministry of Culture. Quite early on, I felt this inclination to deal with coins in particular, and so thereafter, from 1996 to 2007, I worked in the Numismatic Museum at Athens. In the beginning, I had the privilege to work under the guidance of Ioannis Touratsoglou, the Museum’s Director until 2002. My first numismatic work was actually in an EU-funded collaboration project with the British Museum, the realization of an internet exhibition; back then, this was a rather pioneering thing. That was between mid-1996 and early 1999.

CD: What was that exhibition about?

YS: It was called ‘Presveis – One Currency for Europe: Common Coinage from Antiquity to the Modern Age.’ Common coinage was divided into two major categories of case studies. One, in the coinages of ancient federal states and leagues; such an example is the Achaean League in the Hellenistic period. Two, in the common currencies more or less imposed, either by the success of their own prestige or by military/political force. Within this category, the coinage of ancient Athens was quite successful in an international level, used for trade or for mercenary payments. Another example would be the coinage of Alexander the Great, imposed by his military campaigns and then widely diffused. The focus of the project was to examine the idea of common currency, from its very beginnings, and present it online for the public. Collaborating with the Department of Coins and Medals of the British Museum, which has a really magnificent collection, was quite an experience.

The KIKPE Numismatic Collection and Its Scientific Purpose

CD: Very interesting. And since then? What brought you to your current position?

YS: I continued to be employed by the Hellenic Ministry of Culture until 2009; since that same year I started to work for the KIKPE (the Welfare Foundation for Social and Cultural Affairs/ Koinofeles Idryma Koinonikou kai Politistikou Ergou). This is a private foundation that conducts a wide variety of public-benefit nonprofit activities. These activities revolve around the two basic axes in the foundation’s name, social and cultural aspects. Within the foundation’s cultural/educational undertakings is also incorporated one of the most intriguing coin collections in Greece.

CD: This is a very interesting institute indeed. Can you tell us how large are the KIKPE’s numismatic holdings?

YS: At present, in the KIKPE Numismatic Collection there are kept about 4,500 coins. A main part is comprised of Ancient Greek coins, while the part of Byzantine coins is also large; in our acquisitions there are also included Roman Provincial, Western Medieval, Islamic, Ottoman, Modern Greek coins, etc. The Collection has some keynote features that make it rather unique. First of all, it is monometallic, containing almost exclusively copper and/or bronze coins. All were purchased from auction houses in the abroad.

CD: Interesting! But why only at foreign auctions, when there are so many local collectors and excavations? I would imagine foreign auction prices would be much higher as well. And why do you not buy the more ‘desirable’ silver and gold coins?

YS: Well, there are some legal complexities with buying from within Greece, so a policy has been assumed not to bother getting involved in such a fuss. On the other hand, it is safer to follow a standard procedure and bid in auctions abroad or buy from fixed price lists and then import the items, with the Greek state always being aware. If this is done according to a strategic plan, the goals of the collection can be achieved. Perhaps the Foundation could also buy gold coins if it wished, but this is not the adopted approach.

CD: What is determining your Collection, then?

YS: One point was to cover the whole ancient world, from Spain to India, and from Crimea to Morocco. That was more or less the known world then, where coinage was minted and used for trade (leaving aside the case of China). The initial idea was quite simple: to have at least one coin from each mint that functioned during the Classical and Hellenistic times, and then proceed with other periods.

CD: Still, it is not in the purview of the collection to have silver or gold coins from these mints?

YS: Technically speaking, there are in the Collection a few subaerate coins, plated coins with a copper core and silver coating; there are also very few coins of copper-silver alloy and of cupro-nickel alloy. Such cases are within our scope.

CD: If price was not the issue, why did you choose to focus on the copper and bronze coins?

YS: Because this Collection is intended to be used on a scientific level, mapping the ancient world through coins. Another essential concept was put forward by the head of the Collection, Dr Vasiliki Penna (also Associate Professor in the University of the Peloponnese), and this was to bring in the spotlight the everyday transactions in several ancient societies; dealing with copper and bronze is preferable, because these were the base metals most commonly used in the everyday life of the people. These are also found widely, across the whole geographic area we are researching. Furthermore, after a fashion, some coins are repatriated; it is more preferable to acquire them at foreign auctions, so they are brought back to Greece by making legal purchases.

CD: Interesting! Is that a difficult procedure, or with certain complex regulations?

YS: This is rather a quite simple procedure: one has to present the documents which indicate that the items were legally acquired in compliance with international rules.

Legal Issues Affecting Collectors of Coins and other Antiquities in Greece

CD: How does it work on the legal aspect within Greece, which has strict antiquities laws, for a private collection such as this to be developed?

YS: The KIKPE Numismatic Collection is a collection established with proper documentation and the according legal status, as far as the Ministry of Culture is concerned. It may be noted that it is quite a different thing to have a collection with the right to expand it.

CD: Meaning? Say someone finds a coin on the ground in some village. Or, there are many locals who have small collections at home, sometimes inherited within the family.

YS: Right. The process, if you find a coin or want to register a collection, is that first you go to the responsible agency of the Ministry of Culture and officially declare that you have these coins in your possession. However, though this might be approved, you can’t expand the registered antiquities in your possession. There is a certain classification, however, where a person or private foundation can be given this right from the Ministry of Culture. In Greece, most of the owners are known as simple possessors, and very few as collectors. The KIKPE foundation is counted among the collectors.

CD: So say you are a tourist, what do you do if you discover a coin? Do you get to keep it?

YS: One should go by the book and visit this agency of the Ministry of Culture, which used to be called the Ephorate for Antiquities Shops and Archaeological Private Collections, but which has now become a Department. Alternatively, one should contact the relevant local Ephorate. The main thing remains that you have to declare that you have the coin in your hands, whether it be one item or a hundred. On occasion a citizen may be allowed to keep some antiquities in his or her possession; these cannot be sold without the authorities knowing, as antiquities in general are considered property of the Greek state. It is quite different when one is given ownership for certain items.

CD: And what about if someone wants to take their newly-discovered coin out of the country? In regional countries, there are different laws, but every once in a while we hear a story about foreigners arrested while trying to make off with coins or other antiquities. In some countries, the law states that items less than 100 years old, for example, can be taken away.

YS: It is not allowed to take something out of Greece in accordance with the provisions of the UNESCO Convention concerning the protection of cultural heritage. Besides international regulations, there is also national legislation, of course. In Greece there was for many years a cut-off date of 1453, the fall of the Byzantine Empire. There is a distinction between movable and immovable objects as well. Movable objects, which consist of excavated archaeological finds, are under protection of law if they date from before 1830, the creation of the modern Greek state. Accordingly, the law on coins up to 1453 still stands.

There have also been some additions to the law, like the definition of a ‘coin hoard’ for example. This is by extension also protected by the state, because it is an ensemble, with an additional historical and archeological value. To give an example of how rules are enforced one could mention the case of the phoenix of Ioannis Kapodistrias, the first governor of the modern Greek state. This silver phoenix was the first modern Greek currency, issued in 1828, before the drachma.

Now, if you find one coin of 20 lepta (a copper fraction of the phoenix) minted in 1831, it is not protected. But if someone finds in a field, say, 10 or 12 such coins of the same date, this is considered a coin hoard and thereby as a group find falls under protection of the law.

International Law and Disputes over Antiquities

CD: This is a very interesting subject, as of course there are many in Greece who would like, for example, the Elgin Marbles back from the British. In recent years there have been more legal challenges from states where antiquities have been taken abroad, and they want them back based on the argument of provenance. How is international law involved here?

YS: This is of course the fundamental question of ‘who owns antiquity’ to use the title of a book by James Cuno, on this debate, which has been argued for a long time. A pivotal thing has to do with which countries have ratified the UNESCO Convention and when. There are several matters regarding the protection of cultural heritage that have to do with illegal trafficking. Some people would argue that coins are something of a mass-production product, as it is approximately estimated that a couple of dies could have produced up to 15,000 coins, which would be practically all the same. Note that this number depends on the metal and other relevant factors.

CD: But I imagine in that case, finding the original dies would be something quite exciting for collectors and important for scholars. Do you ever see these come up?

YS: Well, some pairs of ancient coin dies, mostly Roman, can be found in auctions. But these are very rare, so you are right, they have a certain value in themselves. But it is not as simple as that, as these are made of base metals, being important mainly as technological instruments.

CD: Regarding the provenance issue again and historical legacy, we know that Turkey often claims to be the Ottoman inheritor, and Greece feels like it upholds the Byzantine legacy. How does this affect coins and coin hoards from the periods in both countries?

YS: For coins, as for other ancient items, whether they are found in Turkey, Greece or elsewhere, there are some restrictions according to the UNESCO Convention concerning illegal movement from where they have been discovered. To cite a quite well-known example, such was the case of Turkey asking for the return of a great hoard of Athenian decadrachms. Back in the mid-1980s, there occurred the famous case of the Elmalı or Lycian Hoard of these rare ancient Greek coins found in Turkey and resold in the US, before being returned to Turkey following a legal challenge. This example was so studied that even a conference was held about it.

This was very important scientifically for numismatists, since we knew of only about a dozen Athenian decadrachms at that time. With the said hoard another fourteen surfaced. Later, in the mid-1990s, the Karkamış hoard of 3,000 coins was found near the Turkish-Syrian border, which brought the number of the Athenian decadrachms to about 40. A meticulous study undertaken by a German scholar, Dr Wolfgang Fischer-Bossert, in Vienna, refined this matter on several levels, taking into account these additions and some more, so that by now we know of approximately 45 specimens. So, in a way, these kinds of high-visibility discoveries and disputes sometimes can provide new knowledge about some rare coins. Of course, the importance of knowing the archaeological context of the items cannot be overlooked.

Dealing with the Illegal Trade in Rare Coins

CD: Since we are talking about auctions and re-sales, what about the internet? There are obviously millions of coins being sold on various websites all the time. Do the authorities monitor this trade for if any stolen items come up?

YS: There is a department in the Ministry of Culture that deals with such matters, and which has undertaken a truly Herculean task.

CD: What about the shady world of private auctions? We frequently hear stories about how the best treasures of antiquity are sold discreetly in such places as Switzerland, Germany and Austria to sophisticated millionaires. Is there anything to be done about this? And what about the initial transactions from say, poor farmers or collectors who provide the coins and middlemen who transport them out?

YS: That is a very difficult issue, if you were to try and track down the thousands or millions of coins, seeing what belongs to whom.

Illegal activities also take place, no doubt there, but we usually find out about these when they come to light. An interesting example, which happened ten years ago, at the Customs of the London Heathrow Airport involved one of the famous coins struck in the name of Brutus, produced at a traveling or military mint, ca. 43-42 BC. At that time Brutus was in the Roman province of Macedonia; the coins in his name could have been minted somewhere near his camp, possibly at Amphipolis or perhaps at Thessaloniki. The issue in question, to which the coin intercepted at the airport belonged, was the ‘Ides of March’ denarius, famous already in antiquity. It depicts the cap of liberty and two daggers, like the ones used to kill Julius Caesar, as well as the date of the deed: March 15 (44 BC).

So, getting back to the story, a crucial point was to pinpoint where these coins were minted and where they could have circulated. By establishing a provenance from the Greek territory, the said coin had to be returned to the Greek state.

By the way, the UNESCO Convention was created in 1970. It was ratified by Greece in 1980 and signed by the UK in the early 2000s; such technical details can be of importance regarding how things are accordingly handled.

More recently, a similar case emerged about a rare silver octadrachm of Mosses, a very obscure ruler, perhaps of the Bisaltai, which was brought illegally to Switzerland and then claimed by Greece.

The Science of Numismatics: How Coin Finds Can Change History

CD: These last examples show some of the interesting historical details associated with coins. Since of course your main interest is on the academic side of coins, rather than the business of coins, I would be curious to hear more about how the study of coins is today and some of the interesting details you come across while researching here.

YS: Numismatics is a science – they used to call it an auxiliary science, which is somehow inappropriate. In fact, it is an instrumentum studii and it can be used as a primary source in historical research in some cases. For example, there are some kings known only by coins. For example, a Celtic kingdom, existed in the 3rd century BC in what is now Bulgaria.

CD: In Bulgaria? That is earlier than I thought too.

YS: Well, we know that the eastern Celtic tribes had reached the Danube in the late 4th century BC. Later they launched an offensive on Macedon and they even reached Delphi in 279 BC in a failed attack; after they were repulsed, there were three detachments of these Gauls disengaging towards the north and east. One ended up in central Bulgaria, creating the Kingdom of Tylis, as it was known. It was a short-lived state in Thrace, lasting about 60 years.

Another contingent went to Asia Minor where they would become known as Galatae. One of their major centers was Ankyra (modern Ankara); subsequently the Galatian kingdom was often at war with Pergamon. The descendants of these Gauls became eventually Hellenized and then Christianized.

CD: So, from all this fascinating history, who is the king known only from coinage?

YS: We know that the last Celtic king in Thrace was Kavaros (known both from texts and coins). With him the Kingdom of Tylis perished, but before him there were at least two other kings, whose names are only attested from coins: Kersibaulos and Orsoaltios. No textual record survives for them.

It is supposed that they would have most probably been Gaulish. There was a coin hoard reportedly from the Banat area, or perhaps from the broader territory, even from Bulgaria. Some punch marks on the coins of this hoard are considered Celtic. Among the other coins found, there was one coin of Orsoaltios.

CD: Wow! That is a very interesting example about a group that I’m sure very few people have even heard of.

YS: Another case in point: Domitian II went unrecorded by ancient historians and until recently this second Domitian from the 3rd century AD was considered an imaginary emperor. There was of course the well-known Domitian from the Flavian dynasty (1st century AD). However, evidence on another Domitianus – one of the pretenders from the times of the 3rd-century crisis of the Roman Empire –was for many decades put aside.

However, there are now two extant coins of Domitian II: one, in a French museum, known since 1900, had been considered a fake; a second piece, however, found recently in 2003 in Oxfordshire, helped confirm that the first one was genuine. A fine study by Dr Richard Abdy of the British Museum made clear that the two coins matched, and that thus there was indeed a Domitian II after all. He was involved in the turmoil of the breakaway Gallo-Roman Empire and probably ruled briefly in AD 271.

CD: It’s amazing that only one or two coins can so dramatically affect our knowledge of the historical record, in the absence of textual sources. Are you personally working on coins with this kind of history-enhancing value?

YS: Well, there are still some very rare coins to study. Recently I went to a conference in Berlin on ancient Thracian coinage. It was the second time I had to deal with a rare coin issue with the legend Melsa on it; one such coin is in the holdings of the KIKPE collection. The legend could be referring to anything, as in “Melsa” (singular genitive, i.e. of Melsas) or “Melsan(i)on” (plural genitive, i.e. of the Melsans), for a city perhaps. A city with that name is not known, but such a scenario should be thoroughly examined in order to be disproven. The other hypothesis that came up as a proposal was that Melsas could have been an unknown king. The writing is in Greek, while several kings in the Thracian lands produced coins with Greek script.

I have proposed that the said coin has not to do with a historical person, but with a hero – probably Melsas, the heroic founder of Mesembria Pontica, modern Nesebar. However, this coin issue may have no direct connection with that city- there could be just a link with the hero. In brief, I would not consider after all an association with a thus-far unknown ruler, or with an obscure city. Specimens of this coinage come from a certain area near the Romanian-Bulgarian border; certain clues rather eliminate the possibility of an unattested city having been there. I would suppose it more likely to have been a sanctuary in the name of a legendary founder.

CD: The ancient Thracians have always been an intriguingly enigmatic people. Does numismatic research help in identifying them better?

YS: Yes. Another related rarity would be a coin issue of a Thracian tribe, the Danteletai, which is not well known from literary sources. This is why there have been some misconceptions about their territorial location in antiquity. This has been stated as having been near Kyustendil in Bulgaria, but from coins and literary evidence, it seems that their homeland was (at least initially) closer to Mt Haemos. Very few of these coins are known to have survived; in 2012 we knew only of five, and now some more have appeared. One of these is kept in the KIKPE Numismatic Collection.

CD: That’s a great detail, and congratulations for that. But when you are working with so many coins, or seeing records of them in other collections, is it possible to lose track of what is what? Are there possibly other similarly rare coins in collections that people just overlook?

YS: It happens. When something is rare, you can have trouble to identify it. When I first saw the KIKPE piece of the Danteletai, I managed to recall an old Bulgarian publication which I had come across a dozen years ago; there a claim had been made that such a coin was fake, but evidently research moves on. There is another thing to maybe ponder: after a coin is correctly identified and properly studied, it can become referenced by the auction companies. Such scholarly references cited in the auction catalogues tend to add more perceived value to the coins for sale.

Auctions, Scholarship and the Effect on Coin Value

CD: That is a very interesting point, and it raises a question I was thinking to ask. People like you, who have all this specialized knowledge that can make or break the value of a coin… do these kinds of companies contact you to do appraisals?

YS: Personally I don’t do this kind of work. There are some numismatists who are working for auction houses full time, and they do a fine job. It’s another matter that all parts of the numismatic community should cooperate in the name of comity and for the benefit of science and research.

CD: But they don’t pay for it? That doesn’t sound fair.

YS: The auction companies pay the people who work for them. When there is some connection between the academic community and auction houses, it should be understood as well-meaning conduct between civilized people. And, as a scholar, it is always good to see that your work is quoted, as one should quote the work of others.

CD: And what about the other way around, if you see something up for auction that piques your interest – can you examine it to use it in your research?

YS: Yes. An example that comes to mind is in relation with a recent study of mine on a Roman Provincial coin issue of Abydos at the Hellespont, struck in the name of Commodus as caesar. Note that during that period provincial mints, especially east of the Adriatic, were allowed to produce copper coins, in the name of the emperor or of a young caesar. Anyway, I wanted to take an opinion from an auction house, about a coin issued again in the name of Commodus as caesar, but from another mint in Asia Minor. For such a specimen I had noticed an intriguing remark made by someone in the personnel of the auction house, so I proceeded to make contact and ask for some elaboration.

The whole thing worked as a quite useful insight, even for a while though, as part of a working hypothesis. Eventually this remark outlived its usefulness, because my study became more thorough and more extensive, leading to a more precise chronological classification of certain issues minted both in Rome and in the eastern provinces.

CD: Since the coin value is so much determined by its history, auction houses must dread such situations – the possibility of being wrong and the customer being displeased. Does this happen often?

YS: There are always cases in which some mistakes are made, even by auctioneers; nobody is infallible, and numismatists are occasionally in error too. Probably when such mistakes are made it is rather a combination of partial lack of knowledge, time pressure, or even wishful thinking to inaccurately consider something as rare, when in fact it is not.

Besides proper documentation, usually the factors of known provenance or pedigree are employed to help determine rarity and value. There is something of an overvaluation tendency sometimes, especially when the market goes through a period of hype and, when possible, these kinds of mistakes should be corrected.

CD: Interesting indeed. But do you have time, and do they let you, to work with a coin before the sale?

YS: One can ask for permission, either before or after a sale, to publish a photo of a coin that is rare, but it is not guaranteed. There is a chance, if a coin is very rare and if the buyer cannot be known, that it could get out of reach for research for a very long time. So, one has to go and ask for an image, e.g. in order to use it in a scientific article.

CD: That sounds like a fair request – after all, you’re doing it to expand scientific knowledge.

YS: Well, usually it is not difficult to get an affirmative response. As noted this can become on occasion a decisive factor: sometimes a publication appearing about certain coins may after a fashion influence the value of the coins referred to. Matters of authenticity and rarity when dealt with by scientific research can obviously affect a coin’s value to some extent.

Historical Insights to the Late Roman Economy and the Byzantine Gold Coinage

CD: I think many of our readers will be interested in the Byzantine coinage in connection with the historical aspects you have mentioned. Is there anything you can add about this?

YS: Sure. Here let me quote the famous words of Robert Sabatino Lopez, a scholar born in Genoa in 1910, who immigrated to the US in 1939. In a 1951 paper, he coined for the Byzantine gold coinage the term “the dollar of the Middle Ages.”

CD: Why was it considered thus?

YS: The starting point for discussing this coinage is the establishment of the gold solidus (or nomisma) in AD 309/310 by Constantine the Great. The introduction of this new coinage marked a differentiation from the previous one in terms of value. The previous gold coin unit was the aureus, which had been introduced by Augustus; according to the Augustan standard, 60 gold aurei were equivalent to one libra or litra, i.e., one Roman pound of gold (ca. 328 grams).

The newly established equivalence was 72 solidi to one Roman litra. What was in effect done was to introduce a lighter coin, with a high intrinsic value (24 carats), but at about 4.5 grams of gold, lighter than its predecessor. By the way, the word ‘carat’, derives from the Greek term keration (alternatively, siliqua in Latin) and it became largely employed as a metric fraction from this time onwards.

CD: Interesting! Yes, as they say, all words come from the Greek. What led Constantine to make this reform, however?

YS: As already mentioned, the 3rd century AD saw a big tumult within the Roman state, a multifaceted crisis hitting almost all levels of society. So, anyway, the Tetrarchs re-consolidated the state to some degree. Then, a little later, Constantine started to eliminate all the other contenders; he obviously wanted to break away from the previous tradition even before he became sole emperor in 324.

His idea was to use lighter coins and spend less precious metal on coins in general. Inflation was there for sure, and rampant, as we can see in a famous edict of Diocletian issued in 301. The measures taken were insufficient to stop it. Obviously, you cannot easily check inflation or make it illegal.

CD: Sure. But does this mean Constantine invented the concept of a carat? What was used previously?

YS: The carat is an old metric idea, however it took physical form when it became a coin. Before Constantine it was never a coin, just a metric unit used to measure gold, dust or nuggets. A carat is like 0.189 grams of gold- practically it itself could never be a gold coin. But when under Constantine I a coin was issued with a carat designation, it was a silver one (this is the siliqua). The ratio is quite revealing: the equivalence between gold and silver was largely set at 1 to 12.

Since a very small gold piece was impractical to use, making a coin out of its silver equivalent was more preferable instead. Less gold would be spent also in coin production. Thus the carat became a monetary unit and accordingly, it became important.

CD: That is a really intriguing story. I never knew that detail. So, this is the origin of the Byzantine monetary system?

YS: Yes, the foundations had been laid. The important thing with the solidus was what it is implied by its name, a ‘solid’ coin that was fully intact and highly pure. A coin of 24 carats gold is very valuable and a formidable means for conducting transactions. That is why it dominated the Mediterranean commercial world and many medieval markets for centuries.

But the metal is just one aspect- the other is the imperial power. The only one who could produce this coinage was the one, until Charlemagne, emperor.

CD: Was this because of Byzantine access to gold, or simply the imperial authority?

YS: The Byzantine Empire was not very famous for its gold mines. The ones in Nubia (an area in southern Egypt) were probably the most known. Some celebrated ancient gold mines would have probably been exhausted by the Byzantine period. There were some known to be exploited in Armenia, Asia Minor, Montenegro, Serbia, and elsewhere; obviously, Byzantium had access to these mines for quite a while. The access to the Nubian mines lasted until the conquest of Egypt by the Arabs in 641.

CD: Did that cause a dramatic change?

YS: No, interestingly enough. The Byzantine gold solidus remained a powerful instrument for centuries as it was not based on mine production, but largely on import and taxation, taking reserves of gold and turning them into means of transactions. In fact, politically, it is more or less a powerful currency imposed. This is rather the case, by a combination of political and economic power- when your coinage is respected and coveted because it has been disseminated by force, diplomacy or other means. The Byzantines were thus adept at using their gold coinage as a weapon.

CD: A very interesting point, using money as a weapon, and this concept is obviously still alive and well with certain modern countries and currencies, as Greece has experienced these last few years. But I seem to recall part of the story of Byzantine coinage had to do with debasement at various points, like under Alexios I Komnenos, and other happenings related to the empire’s changing fortunes.

YS: Indeed. But, first, let us clarify a technical distinction regarding Byzantine coinage- when do we place the start of it? For a particular reason, it is with emperor Anastasios I (491-518). The turning point was actually his coin reform of 498; a second stage of this reform was performed by 513.

It involved only the copper coinage, bringing in a factor which has to do with economic developments of importance. For quite a while the inhabitants of the Empire were using small and impractical nummi– bronze coins, small like lentils. They were very debased, and a very unreliable form of currency. Then came Anastasios, who in 498 introduced the follis, a large copper coin. This was the first and more essential reform.

The follis was a reliable coin, and something of an innovation. Anastasios ordered the value of the coin to be placed on it with a letter, Μ. This was the Greek letter mu, that is the 12th letter of the Greek alphabet, also signifying as a numeral the number 40. It equaled 40 of the small nummi, which continued to circulate for a while, until the end of the 6th century. Similarly, on the other smaller denominations the coin’s value was also placed.

CD: What was the impact of this reform?

YS: There are two very important reasons why this reform was successful. First, if one would go to the market to make some transactions for everyday items, he or she should have been carrying a purse or a pouch, having great difficulty to do shopping with a bunch of the minute and unreliable old coins. With the folles in use, large coins with marks of value, things were simplified.

Reason two involved fiscal affairs- one thing is the public, the other is the state, which has to collect the taxes. Especially in Byzantium this had to do mostly with land, as it was largely an agrarian society. It may be said that trade was not equally significant to the larger tax base. For the emperor, it was profitable to develop a system for what the state would accept from tax collectors.

For example, one collector would take in 7,000 of the small and debased nummi, and would take one solidus for all of that. But, he had to add another 200 little nummi for this amount – it was like a surcharge. This regulation made one gold solidus the equivalent of 7,200 nummi, but this was only in connection to the revenues of the state, not for the other everyday transactions. If the tax collector wanted to exchange 7,000 of his small pieces with an individual person, he would accept one solidus back. When one dealt with the Byzantine state, he would end up giving more to the state, which made a profit of 200 nummi per solidus transaction.

CD: And this had a beneficial effect for the state for some time, I would suppose?

YS: At the end of the reign of Anastasios I, the imperial treasury was full of gold: its solidi equaled approximately 104,000 kilos of gold! Now, if you do the math, there is no doubt that you have a very successful gold coinage, alongside with the efficient economic policy followed. It could be argued that the state treasury became full of gold because of the reform of copper coinage and, significantly, the political power to impose it mainly through taxation and tight management.

CD: So in daily life in that time, were the gold coins really used by regular people?

YS: Through the centuries, gold coins would be used only for large transactions, like large-scale trade, tax payments, etc. With one gold coin, to give an example, one could buy ten cows, as attested on one occasion in the 12th century, or a common psalter book- a quite expensive item in the Middle Ages.

The Prestige of Byzantine Gold Coinage, its Regulations and Gradual Decline

YS: Stories abound also about the power of Byzantine gold coinage in textual references. Such a narrative is about a merchant who reached Taprobane, which was most probably modern-day Sri Lanka. It’s a well-known source, the former trader Kosmas Indikopleustes, who later became a monk. This is a mid-6th century text relating a story from the beginning of that century about Sopatros the merchant, who was brought before the Indian ruler of the island, together with a Persian ambassador.

The king was asking questions about the respective kingdoms. The Persian was boasting, and the king noticed that the Roman/Byzantine remained silent. So he asked what the man could say in favor of his own land. Sopatros told the Indian king that the coins could be compared rather than comparing accounts. They just had to juxtapose a gold solidus with a Persian silver coin.

When the Indian king compared the two coins, he decided that the greatest king was in fact the Byzantine emperor. This is a tale, and of course every such tale has elements of propaganda in it. But a valid point is that one coin is attested as having prestige over all the others for that period, the solidus, and that it lasted for several centuries.

An analogous point is also made by the historian Procopius. Such is the case with a reference in 536-7 to the Franks, a rising power that had occupied Marseille. He was irritated as the Franks had issued gold coins with their own images. This was viewed as trying to usurp the imperial right to coin solidi.

CD: So the Byzantine state tried to prevent others from minting gold? It is just a metal- how could they enforce this?

YS: The Byzantine state would not bother e.g. about tremisses (thirds of solidus) being produced by the Franks or the Visigoths, but they had serious objections about others seeking to mint solidi with an image other than the imperial portrait. Theodebert I, the Merovingian king of Metz in Lorraine at that time, did so, and this was more than frowned upon by Procopius.

This was a crime worse than counterfeiting: it was considered to be abuse of the imperial authority.

CD: Fascinating stuff! So the use of gold coinage and its inscriptions had an aspect of financial competition between states, even then.

YS: Another example will make it more evident. I have to quote Procopius once more. In 542, he recounts a case in which Justinian I did not allow the Persians to receive ransom for a certain captured Byzantine aristocrat, Ioannis from Edessa in Syria, who had been taken as a hostage.

His grandmother was willing to pay the ransom, the equivalent of about 10,500 solidi. So here comes the intervention of the emperor, who said “I will not allow this in order to not give to the barbarians the wealth of the Romans.” A very important element can be noticed, which is that in Byzantium there was a prohibition on the export of gold coinage.

CD: Indeed. This sounds like an interesting policy with some modern similarities…

YS: It was rather a mercantile policy of how coin circulation could be controlled. It is well known that the Byzantines were paying tributes to avoid invasions, or bribes to warlords who could be employed or used against other enemies. A significant amount of gold was leaving the state – that is true – but in the case mentioned previously Justinian declared actually that the emperor alone was responsible for regulating how much money was getting over the borders. It is also like making a statement, because the currency was interwoven with the name of the emperor, and thus his personal power.

CD: How did the state enforce attempts to export money? What about melting it down to evade detection?

YS: In Byzantium, generally speaking, there was capital punishment for counterfeiting, altering or defacing gold coinage; this parameter was tied up with imperial authority, continuing also the Roman legal tradition. During the period of Iconoclasm, the major topic was of course how to deal with the reverence or the misuse of the religious images. The Iconoclast emperors tried to oppose what they perceived as idolatry; inevitably, the matter of the religious and the imperial images on the coins came up.

There is this story about a certain St Stephen the Younger who was presented before the emperor Constantine V, in the 760s. According to the story, he takes out a gold coin in the emperor’s image and name, and they have a debate. Stephen asks what would be the consequences for him, were he to willingly step on this coin with the emperor’s face engraved on it. So the Iconophile saint then accuses the emperor of affronting the images of the divine by his policies, and he steps on the coin. For this offense, he was driven to prison charged with stepping illegally on the royal image, as the source relates.

CD: That’s great.

YS: Again, gold coinage and the imperial right to issue it were matters of very serious importance. Sometimes these matters involved some sort of financial war or even could lead to real war. A remarkable example was with the Arabs, around 692. At the time, caliph ‘Abd al-Malik was involved with Justinian II in a conflict about coinage. The Arabs had to pay tribute to Byzantium and they proposed to do this by issuing their own coins and paying the amount due with them. From Byzantine sources, two views on this episode are recorded: one, that is a contra-emperor source, says that Justinian II foolishly did not accept this and campaigned against the Arabs. Justinian can be called a fool in retrospect though, because he lost the war.

Another source, however, states something very interesting, that it was unacceptable for anybody to use a different kharakter – this Greek word means the stamp or imprint on the coin, which also includes the royal image – for the minting of gold coins.

CD: Very interesting. And as time progressed? What led to the decline and debasement of the Byzantine gold coinage?

YS: The Byzantine gold coinage was used as a weapon for centuries more. A later Western source, Liutprand of Cremona, was a bishop visiting Byzantium during the reign of Emperor Nikephoros II Phokas. There is a 968 episode where a person in the Byzantine court literally threatens the bishop with coinage: Byzantium was so powerful in terms of money, he said, that it could employ with it other nations against a certain opponent, in order to crush him like a clay pot, which cannot be glued together again. At that time this claim was far from bragging.

The swan song of the Byzantine nomisma was gradual at first. The gold coinage began to be debased during the second quarter of the 11th century. There is a theory that this was a time of creeping inflation, and that can be seen arguably as a means for economic growth. But it is just a claim for now, as we haven’t yet found the real causes to fully explain the collapse. Several reasons have been proposed, but this is a matter that merits further research. In any case, after 1071 debasement became rampant, leading to a ‘gold’ coin which was a pale shell of its former self (being below 6 or even below 3 carats in purity).

The numismatic reform of Alexios Komnenos, which you mentioned already, was based on the hyperpyron- introducing this gold coin which was now of about 21 carats pure, no longer 24 carats. Without going into further details, this 1092 reform was quite pivotal for a period of temporary recovery.

However, debasement started anew after 1204 and was gradually continued during the Palaiologan period; by ca. 1300 the hyperperon had dropped down to 14 carats and by 1310 the Byzantine gold coin’s worth was down to 12 carats, half of its original value. As the territory and the political power of Byzantium waned more and more, with dire consequences, the fate of the once powerful coinage was unavoidable. The hyperperon ceased to be minted altogether soon after the middle of the 14th century. As the scholar T. Reinach wittily remarked, the Empire perished in 1453, “when it had spent its last gold coin.”

Numismatic Exhibits ahead for KIKPE

CD: That is all very fascinating background on a very detailed study. So, finally, to return to your work at the KIKPE institute, can you give us some updates on your past and upcoming activities of interest?

YS: In the past, the KIKPE Numismatic Collection went public for the first time with two exhibits in Greece, at Athens in 2006 and then at Thessaloniki in 2007. The first exhibit was held in the Benaki Museum; this was part of an ongoing agreement as the material of the Collection has been given on loan to the Benaki Museum for safekeeping and for organizing cultural events with the participation of both institutions.

After the repeated success of the temporary exhibit at Thessaloniki, the KIKPE Foundation adopted an extroverted policy, in order to promote Greek culture abroad, through concepts mostly involving coins. The first such project to be realized in this direction took place at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, DC in 2008, an exhibition called ‘Classically Greek.’ It combined banknotes, coins and other objects. Later, in 2012, an exhibition was organized at Geneva; it was housed by the Fondation Martin Bodmer and was entitled ‘Words and Coins: from Ancient Greece to Byzantium,’ combining coins with manuscripts and old books, juxtaposed thematically.

At the moment, we are preparing for a periodical exhibition at the Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts in Moscow. It should be inaugurated hopefully by July 2016. The focus will be on the development of the human figure as showcased on coins, medals, gemstones, etc.

The KIKPE foundation is also in discussions with the American Numismatic Society in Manhattan, so that we may be able to proceed with a joint project. The possibility of organizing a numismatic exhibition in New York City is under consideration. Another venture to be attempted would be to co-produce a book on copper coinage through the ages- but anything would be very premature for the time being.

The proper organization of these activities is the responsibility of the Board of the KIKPE Foundation. At the same time, on our part, there are other tasks which should be taken care of, as very important work has to be continued also concerning the documentation and cataloging of the Numismatic Collection.

CD: That’s a great result and exciting program you have going on. I wish you good luck with it, and with your research in general. Thank you very much for taking the time to share these fascinating stories.

YS: Thank so much also for having such an interesting conversation.

Greek-Brazilian Trade Relations: Interview with Flavio Goldman, Embassy of Brazil in Greece

Balkanalysis.com editor’s note: From 2-5 June, the First Vice-Chairman of the the Brazil-Greece Chamber of Commerce, Industry and Tourism visited Athens. The visit, meant to further develop the bilateral trade initiatives between the two countries, provides fitting context for Balkanalysis.com director Chris Deliso’s exclusive interview with Flavio Goldman, head of the Trade Promotion Sector of the Brazilian Embassy in Athens. In this discussion of a rarely-analyzed trade relationship, we cover tourism trends, key exports, and possibilities for the future.

Chris Deliso: First of all, thank you very much for speaking with us today. There are a number of issues of interest to our readers, particularly in Greece. We might start with the question of the ‘human factor.’ As I understand, there is a well established Greek community in Sao Paulo, including major businessmen. At the same time, some Greeks complain that these descendents of émigrés have never invested in Greece.

Interview with Flavio Goldman Brazil Balkanalysis

According to Mr. Goldman, “in Brazil there is a very strong image of Greek hospitality. Brazilians know they will be welcome when they come to Greece.”

So, is there any attempt from either the Brazilian or Greek side to engage this community in improving trade and human capital, as a sort of bridge between both countries?

Flavio Goldman: Currently, as far as we know, there are no institutional initiatives to engage the Greek community in Brazil specifically in trade. We do see, however, that at the Brazil-Greek Chamber of Commerce, Industry and Tourism, created in 2011 and based in Rio de Janeiro, there are directors of Greek origin. We notice that the focus of the Greek community institutions in Brazil has been mostly in preserving their cultural heritage and also on raising awareness about the current situation of Greece.

Origins of the Greek Community in Brazil, and Trade Possibilities

CD: Interesting. Is this a matter for Brazil to get involved, or is it a Greek responsibility to entice these businessmen?

FG: We notice there are voices in Greece that advocate the strengthening of the links between Greece and its important diaspora. For instance, the newspaper Kathimerini has recently published an article calling on the government to increase connections with diaspora in general, proposing a creation of Deputy Minister for diaspora.

CD: By the way, how many Greeks or people of Greek ancestry live in Brazil anyway? Is it a significant community?

FG: We estimate there are 30,000 Brazilians of Greek origin. And they are very much integrated, as are all other communities of foreign origin in Brazil. Our country is a true melting pot. When people immigrate to Brazil, and when their children are born in Brazil, we usually don’t say that they are ‘Greek-Brazilians’ or ‘Italian-Brazilians’ or whatever. Take our president, Dilma Rousseff – nobody refers to her as ‘Bulgarian-Brazilian.’

CD: When did most of the Greeks come to Brazil? Was there a historical period of immigration, as we had in the US through the early 20th century?

FV: The major wave of immigration of Greeks to Brazil was in the first half of the 20th century, with important peaks in the 20s, after the catastrophe of Asia Minor, and in the 40s, during the period of the Greek Civil War. Brazil, and other countries in Latin America, were seen as major countries of opportunity. And not only for Greeks- for example, Brazil has today around 10 million people of Syrian and Lebanese origin. Sao Paulo is also the largest Japanese city outside of Japan. In Sao Paulo, there are no less than 70 foreign communities coexisting in harmony. This contributed largely to the multicultural aspects of Brazilian society.

CD: And what about their sense of identity? As we all know, Greeks in America, Canada and Australia particularly keep a very strong national affinity and are very active in business and political lobbying for the old country.

FG: Brazilians of Greek descent keep their specific cultural identity, as all other communities, and their affinities with Greece. There are some institutions, such as the Areté Cultural Center of São Paulo, that have been very active in promoting this sense of identity among members of the Greek community in the city. The organization was founded by a Brazilian editor of Greek origin, who publishes mostly Greek culture content.

Tourism Development between Greece and Brazil

CD: That is an interesting aspect, as the Greek cultural offering opens onto tourism visibility, and tourism is of course a major industry for Greece.

FG: Sure. And, according to the official Greek statistics, the number of Brazilian tourists to Greece rose 90 percent in 2014.

CD: Wow! That is a huge increase. How do you explain this?

FG: There is a major curiosity about Greece among Brazilians. For example, Globo, a major TV channel, has a weekly show called “Globo Reporter,” which consists of documentaries of about one hour about different issues. Last year they presented two documentaries about Greece. One was about the famous longevity of the islanders of Ikaria, the other about the Mediterranean diet. And the documentary on Ikaria was the most-watched “Globo Reporter” show of the year. This indicates how appealing Greece can be for Brazilians. There was a poll by Tripadvisor in Brazil, asking what countries people wish to visit, and the 13th place overall was Greece.

CD: Really! That is fascinating. And a stroke of good luck, for the Greek side. But who was behind the decision to make these films? Did the Greek government get involved, or it was an independent effort?

FG: Incidentally, the producer of the show was a Brazilian of Greek origin, but I understand this was not a key issue in the TV channel decision, since there is a solid interest about Greece in Brazil, about its cultural heritage and natural landscape, as proved by the success of the shows. I should add that the Greek government was very helpful in assisting the production in their different needs, especially in granting access to film at archeological sites.

Also, we should note that in Brazil there is a very strong image of Greek hospitality. Brazilians know they will be welcome when they come to Greece. Bear in mind, though, that, in spite of the important increase, the absolute numbers of visitors are still small: they rose from 27,000 to 52,000 in 2014. We account for 0.2% of Greek tourism overall. So there is still a lot of opportunity for growth.

CD: I am wondering what other factors might account for this low rate, considering how populous of a country Brazil is. What about connections between the two countries? Are there direct flights, otherwise how do people get between the two continents mot easily? Obviously, this is a major factor when it comes to tourism development.

FG: There are no direct flights between the two countries at the moment. Travelers come via other European capitals and Istanbul.

CD: What about the other way around? How many Greek tourists visit Brazil?

FG: The number of Greek tourists in Brazil currently visiting Brazil is relatively small- only 5,000 last year. We expect an increase that in 2016, as we will have the major incentive of the Olympics in Rio. We see the Games as an excellent opportunity to foster our connections with Greece. We will organize an event in Athens to promote tourism to Rio connected with the Olympics next year.

Sporting Events and Cultural Perceptions

CD: Ah yes, the Olympics. I imagine Brazil has learned from some of the mistakes Greece made and losses suffered due to hosting the Games in 2004. What do Brazilians think about the Greek connection with the Olympics?

FG: Brazil, and Rio in particular, have studied how all recent Olympic hosts handled their Games, and I’m sure learned a lot from this. But regarding the 2004 Athens Olympics, there is a nice story connecting Brazil and Greece. In the marathon run, we had a Brazilian runner who was leading the competition, until an Irish fan suddenly grabbed him! And then a Greek guy saw the Irish fan and interceded spontaneously, to help the runner. So this Greek guy became like a national hero in Brazil. This added to the existing Brazilian perception of Greek hospitality, and the image of Greek help to a person in distress… This man was invited to go to Brazil, as an expression of our gratitude, and was very well received there.

CD: That is really interesting. It seems to me a unique aspect that most people have never heard of, or at least no longer remember. The fact that an image like that could have a lasting opinion on cultural and social identifications is very interesting.

FG: And recently the UN rapporteur on racism, who is a Kenyan, visited Greece. He said that he met immigrants, and was impressed to see that on the islands that are affected by illegal migration, how local people go out of way to help, even though they are affected by the economic crisis.

In general in Brazil, Greeks have a very popular image, and I think the same is true vice-versa. There are many positive associations to Brazil in Greece, like our popular music and our history in soccer.

CD: Yeah, I’m sorry about the World Cup. We were pulling for you. Damn Germans.

FG: We even received messages of solidarity in the embassy here after the defeat. So, I suppose there were many Greeks supporting us too! We hope there will be a number of Greeks curious to see the Olympics in Brazil, and we hope that they will enjoy their experience there.

Other Trade Sectors

CD: So, to return to the economic and trade issues, can you tell me what were the major issues of interest for Mr Pereira on his visit to Greece?

FG: Mr Pereira’s visit had a major focus on tourism and maritime transport, which are two important sectors of our bilateral exchange. He also saw local importers of soya, sugar and coffee.

CD: Indeed. Speaking of coffee, we know that Greece is a major consumer of coffee, and Brazil has been a major export partner here. Since this is such an important export, it would be nice to know more about the specifics of the trade, how important Greece is to the general Brazilian coffee export market, whether you project the trade to increase or decrease, and so on.

FG: It is an important export, yes. We should note that Greece imports today green coffee from Brazil, not processed or roasted coffee. Brazil accounts for 60 percent of green Greek coffee imports, we are by far their main partner. Vietnam comes second, but with a much smaller percent. And Brazil is, as you know, the world leader in green coffee export.

Greece is a very important market for us: it ranks among the 20 top markets for this kind of coffee for Brazil. Usually, its position in the ranking varies between 14 and 19. We see our position in the Greek market as very stable, but, of course, there is always room to expand it, as well as to explore the possibility of exporting roasted coffee too.

CD: Has Brazil identified what are other products, in addition to coffee, that will be most important in future to traders? And what about the market for Greek producers in Brazil, is there anything they should be working on?

FG: We believe there is room to increase our exports of sugar to Greece. We have received positive signs of a few key players in Greece, highlighting their interest in importing more sugar from Brazil. And regarding Greece, I would say that the exports of Greek wines, honey and olive oil could be expanded, in view of their quality. If you go to Brazil, you will see the major imports of olive oil are from Portugal, Spain and Italy.

CD: Yeah, we make the same mistake in America. Very unfortunate.

FG: Because of our long cultural relations, obviously Portugal has a strong foothold in the Brazilian olive oil market. But we begin to notice an increasing interest in Greek olive oil, which is viewed as a very high quality product among experts in gastronomy. Yet the current volume is still very low considering the size of the Brazilian market.

The promotion of olive oil, dairy products and other Greek products was indeed part of a recent mission to Brazil organized by SEV and the Hellenic-Latin American Chamber of Commerce based in Athens. They went to Sao Paulo and then to Argentina and Mexico.

CD: Another possible issue is of Greek shipping companies, which transfer a lot of Brazil’s iron ore exports. Are there any estimates for the quantitative importance of Greek-owned shipping for total Brazilian export activities?

FG: It is a very important presence. We can say that shipping services account for the vast majority of our exchange in services. According to our most recent data, 70% of that exchange refers to shipping support services, and 24% corresponds to the services of oil transportation. We also noted a significant increase in the demand for Greek shipping personnel. The bulk of work visa requests we receive here at the Athens embassy are from our oil company Petrobras, requesting Greek personnel for temporary missions. There are also Greek ships performing services to Petrobras, for a number of years now.

I believe the acknowledged expertise of Greece in shipping services and the increasing needs of Petrobras, related to the sustainable exploration of our pre-salt layer, offer very good perspectives for our bilateral change in this field.

CD: Thank you very much then, I really appreciate you taking the time to share these fascinating insights. Best of luck with the work.

FG: Thank you also.

 

Safeguarding Europe’s Southern Borders: Interview with Klaus Roesler, Director of Operations Division, Frontex

Editor’s note: Illegal immigration is a major security issue for the EU, and one that is highly politicized in many European countries today. The European Union has 42,672km of external sea borders and 8,826km of external land borders (not counting Croatia, which is expected to join in 2013). The key agency tasked with coordinating cooperation at the EU’s external borders, while also helping member states improve their border policing capacities, is Frontex. Active since June 2005, this organization works with EU member states to provide operational coordination at external borders, while also overseeing border management standards of a uniform quality, in the process liaising with various international organizations and security structures involved with organized crime and migration issues.

Although it is based in Warsaw and has been active on several EU borders, Frontex has received the most media attention for its land and sea operations in the Mediterranean – from Spain’s Canary Islands to Lampedusa, between Italy and Libya, and above all at Greece’s land and sea borders with Turkey. In October 2010, for the first time in Frontex’s history, a Rapid Border Deployment Team (RABIT) was deployed, to Greece’s Evros border region with Turkey. This operation resulted in a 70 percent decline in illegal immigration over a four-month period.

In this exclusive new interview, Balkanalysis.com director Chris Deliso gets the insights of Klaus Roesler, the director of Frontex’s Operations Division regarding the general operations of the Agency and its present and future activities in Greece, allowing readers to get a better understanding of both the challenges faced and the criminal and human dimensions of illegal migration.

Planning Field Operations

Chris Deliso: Thanks for speaking with us today. First of all, can you give our readers a little background about what it is like being in your position, as the director of Operations Division?

Klaus Roesler: Frontex headquarters in Warsaw employs almost 300 staff members. Heading the Operations Division, my area of responsibility is to manage three units – the Frontex Situation Center, the Risk Analysis Unit (RAU), and the Joint Operations Unit which includes land, sea, air border and return operations.

According to Klaus Roesler, the working relationship between Frontex and Greece “has developed very well, and there have been mutual benefits for all involved.”

We plan and implement coordinated Joint Operations (JO) and operational projects, and evaluate those, based on and closely connected with the risk assessment. RAU provides analytical products on the strategic level, in particular the Annual Risk Assessment, as well as analytical support to the JOs, and tailor-made risk assessments.

CD: By tailor-made do you mean created for a specific region, or a particular phenomenon?

KR: Yes; the risk assessments are used by Frontex in planning operations – a tailor-made product constitutes the basis to identify needs, first of all, and to develop the adequate operational response in cooperation with the EU member states. Also the RAU issues quarterly reports on the migratory situation on EU external borders, which are also available to the public. Risk analysis on a daily basis supports operations. It can be concluded that Frontex is an intelligence-driven organization; our operations are based on risk assessment, and implemented in the most effective way in order to respond the migration situations in question.

Coordination Responsibilities of Frontex, as Compared to Those of the Hosting Member State (HMS)

CD: How is it done?

KR: For the implementation of a joint operation, we coordinate the deployment of experienced border guards from EU member states in agreement with the host member state. For example, in the JO ‘Poseidon Land’ in Greece, we have approximately 80 experts stationed along the Greek-Turkish border in the Evros region.

So, when a project is implemented, an International Coordination Center (ICC) is established to coordinate and monitor the operation. It brings together representatives of the member states involved in the operation, along with the competent authorities from the hosting member state, forming an international coordinating board. The board meets on a daily basis, and is chaired by host member state’s Head of ICC with the Frontex coordinating officer as co-chair. So the host member state (HMS) benefits from having the expertise provided by Frontex and the participating MS, brought to them at precisely the border areas where it is needed.

The Frontex coordinating mechanism of implementation ensures the cooperation of all participants with the HMS involved. While we are involved in the coordination, the host member state keeps the command-and-control of the operation. For whatever is done in performing the operational activities, the authorities of the HMS will be in charge. For example in Greece, this means the Hellenic Police, and regarding maritime surveillance, the Hellenic Coast Guard.

CD: So, this means that in the case of disputes, as there have been known to happen, with Turkey, you don’t have to be involved in directly dealing with them?

KR: I don’t confirm any situation that you call [a] ‘dispute’ with Turkey; as a general rule and very basic principle the competent authorities from the HMS, Greece, would be the ones carrying out contact and cooperation with the Turkish side. This is their responsibility; Frontex is just coordinating the operational activities of the member states on the Greek territory.

CD: So, in a high-profile case, like the Latvian-piloted aircraft that was accused by Turkey of violating its airspace-

KR: This incident happened more than one year ago; according to the findings made by the competent Hellenic authorities and the crew there was no violation of Turkish airspace.

CD: Fine, I ask this just as an example- in general, what I would like to know is what could hypothetically occur in such cases, i.e., could there ever be a military confrontation between the two bordering states and if so what would be the implications for the EU and Frontex.

KR: The border guards of the EU member states are operating as civil law enforcement authorities, not military.

CD: So, if there was any sort of altercation or misunderstanding between the two countries, Greece and Turkey, you would have no need to be involved?

KR: Yes, the Hellenic authorities have to deal with such incidents. Frontex understands its coordinating role focused on the border related operational cooperation with the EU MS, not expanding to bilateral issues with one MS and a non-EU-neighbor. But Frontex seeks for developing partnership also with non-EU-countries in line with the EU-Relex-policy and the EU concept for Integrated Border Management (IBM); with many countries – so with all Western Balkan countries – we have working arrangements covering general aspects and interests of cooperation in the field of border control, for example the exchange of information, or the invitation as observers during joint operations. Handling of specific incidents typically does not fall under the scope of such working arrangements. With Turkey, Frontex is expecting to conclude a working arrangement soon.

Frontex in Greece: Mutual Benefits and Successes

CD: Fine. I would like to continue from that to ask how would you characterize the quality of cooperation between Frontex and the Greek authorities over the past couple years. Have things been generally good during these missions? Does anything stand out in particular?

KR: We have achieved a very satisfying level of cooperation with the respective Greek authorities. Of course, sometimes there are issues to be discussed, and resolved. In the RABIT operation, the fact that officers from several different EU countries came together and worked together in Greece, and managed to have good cooperation with the national police, was very good. The relationship has developed very well, and there have been mutual benefits for all involved.

CD: Can you specify at all what these benefits have been? What has Frontex learned from the Greeks, and what have the Greeks learned from your experts?

KR: We have gained from them a better understanding of the situation in the area, and the geographical challenges of working in the area [of Evros], and as an example we have all gained more experience in operating thermal vision units there. We have brought related expertise from a wide range of all EU Member States; the first step for them was to have the local authorities get them familiarized with operational conditions, which was successful. And the local and regional authorities have in turn taken advantage of our experience and expertise in different fields.

Member States deploy, within the framework of joint operations, officers with high expertise to assist their colleague officers in the host country. A big advantage of our work is that we are implementing the Community Law–Schengen borders code, and good practices based on a harmonized system of professionalism and shared expertise. The RABIT operation in Greece demonstrated that this could provide benefits for the host member states as well.

CD: That’s an interesting point. Are there any specific examples however, of how this particular expertise has come into play and enhanced border security in the case of Greece?

KR: Yes, certainly. If you are a country like Greece, experiencing a major migration pressure, with people coming from countries such as the Horn of Africa or Middle East, what you need for improved effectiveness to deal with the situation is to have sufficient experts in conducting interviews. And also you need people with the right language skills. Without that, you cannot find out from where these people are, the route they are coming by, more circumstances and so on.

Besides the border surveillance and checks, two elements are important in addressing the border situation. One is screening and interviewing migrants to get the presumed nationalities of these persons, because this supports the host member states responsible authorities to carry out the appropriate migration management process.  Interviews in the native languages of the migrants is an important first step to identify their real nationality in order for the member state to take a decision whether a migrant is entitled to receive some form of international protection or not.

Secondly, another important element that Frontex considers when deploying experts is the need for specialized staff for debriefings, in addition to the screeners. These are experts who perform longer, more comprehensive interviews with migrants, and who have the special ability to build confidence. This is needed to gather crime intelligence.

The added value of Frontex is our ability to organize and coordinate deployment of such specialized staff quickly and effectively. For Greece, we have dispatched, for example, expert interviewers fluent in Farsi or Arabic from several Member States. And earlier this year, during the political changes in Tunisia, we were able for example to send from France the right people to interview migrants arriving in Italy, as most of the Tunisians speak French.

CD: These are all very interesting points. If we turn to further ways of effective border control, we can also point to another category of Frontex officers used – as far as I understand, those who are experts in document forgery. Can you expand on this?

KR: Yes, this is another related component. Experts in document forgery, officers who can detect false passports or the modus operandi of imposters are vital for effective joint operations. The host member state can thus use our expertise to gain criminal intelligence also on the trafficking networks.

CD: Where are these document forgery experts being deployed in Greece? Are they traveling along the Evros border with police patrols, or do they stay back in offices in the main towns?

KR: Well, our document experts are not used on patrols of the ‘green’ border; the persons illegally crossing that way usually don’t have any documents at all. Instead, Frontex experts in document forgery work closely with the Hellenic Police at the official border checkpoints such as Kipi, where we also deploy technical equipment, such as heartbeat detectors.

Defining Crime Networks and the Flow of Intelligence

CD: What new factors have you been able to discover through the work of such experts? Can you tell how sophisticated the trafficking groups are by the quality of their forgeries or other tactics? Frontex documentation states that 30 ‘facilitators’ have been detained on the Greek-Turkish border through joint operations. Has this brought any new important information on specific groups, where they come from, if some of these individuals have criminal or even terrorist affiliations, etc?

KR: We don’t have it [this intelligence]. Frontex is not the ‘owner’ of such data, and for the time being we don’t process any personal data. All the information goes to the host nation, in this case Greece, so we can’t cross-check names or telephone numbers for them, for example. We are just coordinating the operations by providing expertise and support, and it is the responsibility of the host member state’s security agencies to share it with the relevant EU and international agencies. From there they can work on dismantling the criminal networks, through sharing the data they accumulate through the operations coordinated by us.

CD: So, if you can’t give particulars about these “facilitators” arrested, can you provide at least some idea of the structure of how the whole trafficking network operates, in general?

KR: Well, we can say that these migrants are not arriving spontaneously. They are brought by organized facilitation groups, paying them for this illegitimate crossing to Greece, even 1000-1500 Euros per person. There they are also facilitated when transported further inland or to borders with the neighbors of Greece. This is a big business for the groups working in the background, which can at least be partly considered as organized crime groups.

And we know how it goes: people in their home country are given an offer to get into Europe, where they are told they will be able to work and make money for their families; they are provided a ride, but then the amount requested is not enough… the whole family or clan is ordered to contribute more money to the traffickers. And after they do, it is still not enough, and then when the migrants get to Europe, that is where often the true slavery starts. The trafficked persons have to keep making money for the trafficking organizations.

Future Estimates and Lessons Learned

CD: What can you say are the main challenges for Frontex in the years ahead? There have been reports, for example, that your success in decreasing the illegal crossings at the Greek-Turkey land border might encourage traffickers to move north, to the Turkey-Bulgaria border, since Bulgaria and Romania are hoping to join the Schengen zone. And of course the situation in North Africa remains fluid.

KR: We can’t predict particulars, simply because we don’t know exactly how the situation will develop. This is why there is a great need for more analysis, for the continued monitoring of emerging migration phenomena. The Turkey-Greece land border has been significant for the last 1.5 years, and Frontex is going to continue the coordinated MS’ presence there for effective control of the border.

Although we don’t know how the migratory flows and risks will develop, but we are prepared to assist MS whose external borders will be affected. This applies also for Bulgaria.

North Africa certainly remains very important to monitor – who knows where and how the situation affecting migration flows will develop next. But for the time being, the political and security developments in North Africa are pretty difficult to assess. There have been different patterns, owing to different causes in recent years of Frontex activities.

If we look at 2006, it was the Canary Islands that experienced a great migrant influx; in 2008 and 2009, the Central Mediterranean; in 2009, the center of migration pressure moved to the Aegean Sea and in 2010, to the Greek-Turkish land border. And now Italy with Lampedusa Island is again especially affected by the Tunisia and Libya crises.

CD: That said, what are the key challenges Frontex now faces in order to coordinate better and more effective operations in the future?

KR: Frontex continues to increase its flexibility. However, everything starts with awareness; therefore we have to strengthen the capacity to monitor information sources and to analyze the data. And we will further develop the efficiency to implement operations. This is mainly headquarters work.

Second, if we consider the huge amount of poor people who want to go to the EU, who are willing to risk everything for that, we cannot ignore the responsibility to respect the fundamental rights of those in need. This is a basic element in all joint operations coordinated by Frontex. It is a part of our ‘portfolio’ to liaise with human rights organizations such as the UNHCR, and to get their input and expertise. And again, in this respect we provided added value.

CD: So, if I may return to the case of Greece specifically, what have you been able to take away from the experience so far? Were there any particular ‘lessons learned’ from that field of operations?

KR: Certainly. We have had a lot of things that are useful to take away from our experience in Greece. Some of this will be made clearer soon- we intend to make a version of the evaluation report on the RABIT operation available to the public, and that will answer some of your questions.

There are two major lessons learned from the experience of Frontex in Greece, however. First is the need to work on further strengthening activities relating to screenings and debriefings, in order to better contribute to the migration management under national responsibility and to acquire criminal intelligence.

Second, the other major lesson learned is that we need to strengthen Frontex’s coordination role. We must do our utmost to promote good cooperation with local authorities and implement plans in the most effective way.

Also, I would like to underscore that Frontex’s mission should not be misunderstood – we are committed to facilitate the legal movements and to promote fundamental rights; we see borders as connecting people, but we [also] have to fight irregular activities and prevent cross -border criminality.

CD: That’s an interesting and important point. If I could ask a final question- some observers were concerned that the limited length of time for the operations in Greece last year meant that the problem with migration would get out of control again should Frontex leave. What is the situation now? Does Frontex plan to leave, and if so do you expect this sort of situation to reoccur?

KR: Our engagement in Greece since the RABIT operation ending in March 2011 has been replaced by the Poseidon Land and also Poseidon Sea joint operations. These are permanent operations.

CD: That is good to hear. Mr Roesler, I want to thank you again for taking the time to speak with us today.

KR: Thank you.

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International Maritime Security Today: Interview with Hellenic Navy Commander Ioannis Chapsos

By Chris Deliso in Thessaloniki

An international conference on the role of NATO, UN and the EU in meeting global security challenges, organized on 10-11 February in Thessaloniki by Strategy International, brought together a number of Greek military and naval officers, academic experts and diplomats from various countries, in addition to other expert speakers. Among the subjects discussed at the well-attended event were counter-terrorism methods, maritime security and the economic and social factors behind today’s pattern of instability. (Readers may also be interested in seeing NATO’s Somali Piracy Update page, which gives detailed accounts of pirate sightings and attacks, listed in reverse chronological order).

On 11 February, Balkanalysis.com Director Chris Deliso met Hellenic Navy Commander Ioannis Chapsos during the conference to get the latter’s views on these issues, and Greece’s vital role in meeting security needs in the Mediterranean and beyond. The following interview details that conversation.

Commander Chapsos, an instructor in the security and strategy department at the Hellenic Supreme Joint War College, has served in Greek national defense planning with the Hellenic General Staff, and the human resources/education department of the Hellenic Navy General Staff. He also holds a master’s degree in terrorism, international crime and global security from Coventry University in the UK, and is a 2007 graduate of the Marshall Center’s Executive Program in Advanced Security Studies.

Since graduating from the Hellenic Naval Academy in 1989, much of Commander Chapsos’s distinguished naval career has been on fast patrol boats, giving him unique experience and a comprehensive understanding of the operative conditions affecting small craft, such as are used by both pirates and naval special forces teams.

………………………..

Clear and Present Dangers

Chris Deliso: First of all, thank you for speaking with us today. I’d like to start by discussing what the current unrest in the Middle East and North Africa means for maritime security and global commerce, in terms of speculation that a future Egyptian government, or non-state maritime troublemakers, could in future close the Suez Canal or endanger commercial shipping there. What happens if they close this canal? And what would be result of this for Greece, with its important merchant fleet (as recently discussed by Balkanalysis.com)?

Ioannis Chapsos: Greeks owns the majority of merchant fleets globally, and so of course any closure of the Suez Canal would affect the Greek economy. What keeps Greece capable of performing [economically] at the current level is its merchant fleet, and it would thus have a catastrophic effect if the canal was closed for any length of time.

But if this were to happen, there would be a far greater impact globally. For example, we talked about the capture of the Greek-flagged tanker Irene– this generated headlines in the media, not because it was Greek-flagged, but because it was carrying oil bound for the US. If the Suez Canal was closed it would have a huge impact on the US as well.

CD: So, what would actually be done if the canal was closed, for ship traffic, at least in the short-term?

Commander Ioannis Chapsos (second from right) speaking at the Strategy International Thessaloniki conference. To his right is Marios Efthymiopoulos, President of Strategy International.

IC: We would probably go back to the pre-WWII days, when the ships went the long way to the Atlantic and Mediterranean, following the southern African coastline. There are international conventions regarding canals, but in the short term the solution would probably be to divert traffic to the old routes.

CD: Another, perhaps bigger concern for European security at least is that of a potential mass influx of illegal immigrants attempting to escape the turbulence in North African coastal cities. What about this issue? Is there a European policy or action plan to deal with this issue?

IC: There are bilateral agreements between Spain and Morocco, Italy and Libya, and Greece and Turkey. But since our agreement with Turkey is harder to enforce, we have more problems. And there are signs of an increase in illegal immigration, even before the current unrest began.

For example, here in Thessaloniki, we have witnessed an increase of 20% in the number of illegal Somali immigrants over the past year. This means they are utilizing a new route from East Africa via Turkey to reach Greece.

Illegal immigration from Africa is the result of human trafficking, a lucrative form of organized crime with broad international connections. For example, this last year we had a case here in Thessaloniki involving one Nigerian immigrant. He had paid $5,000 to bring his niece into Greece illegally via Turkey, which she reached using a forged passport. When she arrived here, this man forced her into prostitution- the police only discovered this when the criminals were planning to resell her to an organized crime group in Italy.

An Increase in Piracy- and the Escalation of Violence

CD: Organized crime and its maritime security links is an important topic to which we will return. But I would like to get your views about piracy first. It’s remarkable to me how the phenomenon of piracy, especially in Somalia, seems to just keep getting bigger. Is this so? If so, how do we explain it? Why can’t anyone stop it?

IC: It is true- piracy is on the increase. There are a number of factor behind this. Part of it is the sheer size of the area in question and the number of commercial vessels that regularly cross through it. If you see the numbers of ships out there, you see how hard it to cover the whole area.

CD: Is there anything that the commercial ships are doing wrong that makes them more vulnerable?

IC: Yes. This is a very important aspect. Most ship captains who are caught by pirates are found to be traveling outside the known ‘safe’ corridors. The shipping companies do not oblige captains to follow the determined safe routes, if it means they will save money by getting to the destination faster. So companies’ irresponsibility is part of the problem.

Also, the more pirate attacks that occur, the more resources they have at their disposal- it’s remarkable how far from the coast of Somalia occurred one hijacking on 11 January. We are seeing this more often now, because when the pirates capture certain ships, they can use them to get much further out, and offload their attack skiffs from there.

Further, pirates are broadening their reach. For example, the day before yesterday [9 February], the Greek-flagged, 333m-long vessel Irene, carrying 260,000 tons of oil worth $230 million, was hijacked- almost 400 miles south of Oman. This is a worrying new development.

CD: At the same time, international navies have started making tougher responses to pirate attacks and seem to be more present. Will this increase?

IC: There is certainly an escalation of violence in piracy. The 21 January commando raid by the South Koreans, leaving 8 pirates dead, signaled a new era of violence. In that case, none of the crew were harmed. But in other actions, this has not been the case, as with the case of the German-owned vessel Beluga Nomination– a disaster, in which one member of the crew died. A later attack on a pirate-controlled ship saw two Filipino crewmembers dead, one in the action and one who drowned.

Still, piracy is being seen as a new source of revenue by some. Private security companies like the former Blackwater, which provides armed guards and consulting, see fighting piracy as a new field of business on the high seas- but here there are several difficult legal, moral and international issues.

In the final assessment, it is clear that the escalation of violence is not going to stop piracy and will not provide a long-term solution, however.

Money and Piracy

CD: You have said that the pirates are not interested in goods or cargo, but in the crew. Why is this so, considering how financially valuable the cargo many times is, compared to the lives of a few unknown sailors?

IC: The pirates are not interested in the cargo, but in the hostages- this is so because the crewmembers are the ones who are going to bring the ships back. The pirates don’t know how to pilot the larger ships. In cases like the Irene, which carried a cargo worth $230 million, it only cost $50 million to ransom it. In the view of a shipping company, it is better to spend the lesser amount than to risk losing it all.

CD: In your presentation, you noted that about $150 million is being paid annually in ransoms to pirates. So where do these huge sums go? Do the pirates ‘reinvest’ to make their capacities more expansive?

IC: The pirates don’t need to reinvest because, as I mentioned, they use some of the ships they capture as the “mother ships.” In this sense the smaller commercial ships out there are more suitable as they are easier to navigate, and more vulnerable, as they have less crew.

So, what do they do with this money? Part of the answer concerns the state. Somalia is non-governed, it has not been a state entity for practical purposes since 1994. So no one controls it- we can be sure that the money doesn’t go to the government. Instead, it is circulated through organized crime networks.

CD: Does this money find its way back into the banking system, or else is it made ‘legitimate’ in some other way?

IC: If it does go [into the banking system], this is not clearly known. But money laundering is very popular in Africa, and in different ways. West African organized crime is very strong, and extends all over the world- from Europe to Africa and South Asia. And the Somalia pirates are closely interrelated with, and interdependent with, such organized crime rings.

We should consider that the hawala system of exchange in West Africa is very popular; with this, money from piracy is recycled in a number of ways, for example, as goods. Cash can be turned into items that have a fixed value and that are traded for one other, such as weapons, diamonds, oil, etc. It therefore becomes very difficult to follow the money after a certain point. But it is clear, additionally, that piracy raises the insurance premiums on all kinds of ships.

Intelligence, Terrorist Groups and Piracy: Connections Still Unknown

CD: This is a very interesting topic- we occasionally hear cloudy rumors about insurance fraud allegedly being perpetrated from within the big firms, say, an insurer in the City of London or Dubai. The idea goes that corrupt white-collar workers in maritime shipping are secretly colluding with international organized crime bosses by giving foreknowledge of ship locations so they can be captured, in exchange for cash. Is there any truth to this?

IC: It is very difficult to know. But it is also very hard to understand how the pirates get intelligence on the locations of specific ships.

It is very hard to answer this question with evidence, but it is also clear that the capture of the Saudi oil tanker Sirius Star in 2008, for example, was not accidental. In my presentation, I showed a picture from that event- it showed a pirate in a skiff, talking on a wireless satellite phone. This means you have also someone at the other end of the line…

CD: Could terrorist groups also be involved with providing information to pirates?

IC: There is no clear evidence of links between piracy and terrorism, but on the other hand it’s certainly very difficult to prove that there are definitively none. It’s possible a terrorist group could share information with them – it would not be difficult to do.

CD: So leading countries like the US are not concerned about a possible relation between the two?

IC: The US is very aware of the general situation in East Africa, but is reticent to intervene again as it did [in the 1993 Battle of Mogadishu disaster]. In the past couple of years there have been drone attacks against al Shabaab, the Islamist group controlling much of Somalia, but not against the pirates.

Basically, the US killed a few al Sabab leaders including homegrown US citizens, but did not target pirates specifically. They don’t seem to want to deploy additional forces on land. I don’t know if the US has the will to launch another state-building campaign, after having been so involved in Afghanistan and Iraq. In the case of US air attacks on al Shabaab, some have been launched from neighboring Ethiopia-

CD: From Ethiopia- why there specifically?

IC: Ethiopia is very hostile to Somalia. They also play a very important role in the overall situation there. I don’t know if Ethiopia can provide a solution, but for some they are a Western ally.

CD: You mentioned that the pirates are not interested in ships’ cargo, because they can’t drive the larger ones. In this light, I wonder why they don’t learn- after all, everyone knows about how the 9/11 plotters had previous gone to flight training schools to learn how to fly planes. Have security services detected any evidence of al Qaeda or other groups training potential terrorists in maritime activities, like how to pilot ships?

IC: There is not information about whether this is going on now with such groups. But the best known terrorist group in maritime affairs, the one who invented suicide bombings, in fact, was the Tamil Tigers in Sri Lanka. They created what was practically their own navy, and had an underwater demolition team. They started all this 50 years ago. They had armed forces, and for many scholars are considered freedom fighters. But they did use a female suicide bomber to kill [former Indian PM Rajiv] Gandhi in 1991. So they were fighting for rights, but using terroristic methods.

CD: Nevertheless, there are modern examples, such as with the Mumbai attacks of 2008- people sometimes forget that the armed terrorists entered the city from the sea- traveling by boat from Karachi, they first hijacked an unassuming Indian fishing boat, and when closer to shore sped into docks in inflatable speedboats, avoiding detection by the Indian Navy.

IC: Yes, this is a good example. And indeed there are other examples of maritime terrorist attacks in the modern era- in East Africa, most infamously with the al Qaeda attack on the USS Cole in October 2000, in Yemen’s port of Aden, by suicide bombers. It was executed from a fishing boat, killing 17 US sailors and injuring many more. But so far at least, the number of land-based attacks is much greater.

CD: Why is this so, in your opinion?

IC: I think in part it is because the sense of occupation, which causes local resentment, is more visible and obvious with the presence of land forces than it is with naval forces. So the reactions against them differ too.

For example, there have been plenty of roadside bombs and other methods of attacking US troops in Iraq, but we don’t hear of any maritime attacks on US ships near Iraq. Similarly, there are US fleets off of Southeast Asia, but you don’t see fighters going from Afghanistan to target them. You simply can’t see ships from Afghanistan, whereas the ground forces are present. As in almost any armed conflict, a foreign troop presence doesn’t give the feeling of winning hearts and minds… this is also why more civil-military initiatives should be launched.

CD: It was mentioned today that only 3 percent of the world’s active container ships are properly inspected. This means that all kinds of dangerous goods can be easily transported around the world. Considering the huge global increase in monitoring airports in the post-9/11 era, why are the same precautions not being taken with maritime ports?

IC: It would be impossible to search all container ships- there are simply too many of them. Even if you could, there are too many goods to be inspected. You can’t search in such detail as would be necessary to find, say, a small bomb hidden under a case of tomatoes.

And even if pirates and terrorists work together to, say, steal materials necessary for building a nuclear device, they would still need facilities in which to put it together, and this is only available in a functioning state. Therefore, if terrorists manage to steal an already-finished WMD, it is the fault of whichever state is supposed to be keeping watch over such weapons.

Final Thoughts: The Role of the Hellenic Navy and Ending Piracy

CD: Let us talk for a minute about your experience at home. Are you happy with the role that Greece’s naval forces are playing in safeguarding maritime commerce and security today? How important is it to the country?

IC: The Hellenic Navy is present in the Aegean and Mediterranean Seas, and wherever else it is needed, and has been ever since the time of Thucydides. Despite the difficult economic situation in Greece now, which affects everything, I believe that Greece is not only present but also effective. And in 2009, we had the honor of being given the first commanding officer position in the EU’s Atalanta mission, which began in 2008 to fight Somali piracy. This does say something.

This is not to mention the critical role the Hellenic Navy played in the evacuation of Lebanon, when hundreds of civilians were transferred safely to Cyprus.

Essentially, Greece is a maritime nation, and has always owed much of its independence and success to its navy. The Aegean is the soul of Greece, and the sea is a part of our mentality, our life and our soul. The sea is the biggest part of Greece, and our navy and commercial fleet will always be very important and prepared to assist.

CD: Finally, I know you are keen to discuss what you consider to be the root causes of piracy and how they can be addressed. You have argued that force alone will not end this problem. So what will?

IC: I have stressed, as Professor [Andrew] Lambert said in his presentation, that these people in Somalia are not pirates because they enjoy the lifestyle, but because it provides a living. Mostly poor fishermen, they see piracy as a means to survive, not to get rich.

The problem is largely caused by the illegal fishing of trawlers from wealthier countries, which abuse Somali territorial waters because there is no functioning state there to enforce this. This has greatly reduced the fish available to the local fishermen, thus turning them from their traditional livelihood to desperate measures like piracy.

Fish are also being killed there due to the illegal disposal of pollutants in Somali and other African waters. It is understood that to have one barrel of toxic chemicals illegally dumped, it costs only $4-

CD: Only $4! Why would the locals accept the risk to their fishing environment for so little return?

IC: With even such a small amount of money, they can live for two months. To understand all this, one has to be familiar with the living conditions in Africa- and especially in those parts of it such as Somalia, where people only care about surviving ‘til tomorrow.

CD: What could be done then, to address the problem overall?

IC: Human security is the biggest factor. The cost annually to shippers and insurance companies for Somalia alone is $530 million- imagine if this money was used to fight poverty and other root causes of piracy instead.

All in all, we spend $12 billion each year for maritime security, but it still does not provide the solutions we need. Piracy and similar security threats can only be eliminated once the root causes affecting human security in those populations are addressed.

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Outside Views on Life in Athens: An Interview with Female Expats in Greece’s Capital City

Interviews conducted by Ioannis Michaletos in Athens

Athens is often called the “New York of the Balkans.” It’s a large urban area, with a permanent population of over 5 million inhabitants, and culturally in the midst of three worlds- Western Europe, the Eastern Med and the Balkans.

There is plenty of action in the city- literally thousands of bars, clubs, restaurants, theaters, museums and exhibitions. Yet most of these positives go unnoticed by the so-called global mainstream media, which tends to take a closer glance at the Greek capital only when a demonstration takes place or when a bomb goes off (albeit with no victims, most of the time).

Athens is mostly known as a tourist destination, visited by some 4 million people annually, and as a place where good weather and the charms of the seaside contrast constantly with the traffic jams and heinous Greek bureaucracy that turns off any sensible expatriate seeking to establish a business or continue a professional career in the city.

Athens is definitely the quintessential Greek city, with a history spanning over 5,000 years. But at the same time, it can be one of Europe’s most frustrating urban centers in which to live.

An expatriate’s life in London may often revolve around his or her career, while Paris is known for a fashionable lifestyle, Berlin, a trendy one, or Rome with a laid-back one. Although it is not widely known, Athens currently hosts a large number of expatriate professionals from dozens of countries, with Germans, British, Americans and French numbering several thousands. Other nationalities represented are of a diverse nature, and include expats from places like Korea, New Zealand, Brazil and Finland in significant numbers.

But what is the real expat experience today? Is Athens the new hot spot for expatriate life in Europe, a gem yet to be discovered and promoted accordingly? Or is it a corner of the Balkans where all experience an idiosyncratic way of life, full of opportunities and hurdles alike?

Several up-and-coming female expats in Athens were more than happy to respond to all the above questions for Balkanalysis.com. Although they come from different backgrounds, have different motivations and interests, they all share in common a passion for life, culture and of course, for Athens! Here are their opinions of life in the Greek capital, at a time when the country is experiencing the worst economic crisis of the past 30 years along with a host of other issues.

Adrianna Cahova, Photographer

Adriana Cahova is a Czech art photographer, based in Athens. She is actually thrilled by the aforementioned contrasts of the city, which according to her have a lot to provide for any aspiring “Athenian expatriate.” She has traveled to various locations around the globe, such as India, Mexico, Morocco, China, and as such certainly has a taste for exploring and observing cultures and cities. She has exhibited her art work in Prague and Belgrade, and currently is preparing for Athens, having first been able to appreciate life in the city.

An elegant and highly professional photographer, Adriana took her time to answer a few questions on how she views life in this corner of the Balkans, and what makes her tick when living the daily Athenian life.

Ioannis Michaletos: First… why Athens?

Adriana Cahova: That’s a question easy to answer since the main reason for coming here was my relationship with a Greek man. I really love Greece in general, the weather is great, I love the sun and all the seasons here, which are much different than my hometown of Prague.

But there is more to it, and that made me decide ultimately to establish myself here and move my business interests here as well. In my line of work, noticing and examining the emotions of people, which are intense in Athens, is absolutely great! The people here are mostly temperamental, spontaneous, and in a sense it’s a very interesting experience to live in the city from all points of view.

IM: What about the cultural scene in Athens? Is there something interesting for someone from abroad in living here?

AC: That’s a good question, since there are many different things to speak about. For instance, although there is an extensive theatrical scene here in Athens and countless clubs with music, performances and so on, I kind of feel like there is a lot of talent wasted in the arts field.

I mean, there are many Greek art people who don’t really produce original art and culture, regardless of the great tradition this city has offered in the past. In some sort there is a decadent feeling. The arts should be a part of daily life; instead I feel that there is not a lot happening actually.

IM: What’s the biggest challenge in living here?

AC: There are quite a few actually! First of all a word of notice to all newcomers in Athens- it’s rather difficult to find one stable, well-paid job, taking into account the financial situation nowadays in Greece.

On a more mundane level, if you don’t speak Greek, like me, there are sometimes difficulties in the “little things in life,” such as going to your local market and ordering cooking items, vegetables or asking for directions in areas were people don’t speak English.

Also, you get the feeling that if you are not able to speak the language a lot of locals will not really try to hold a conversation with you and in some cases an expatriate may feel he is out of touch with the daily lives of the Greeks. I think these are the biggest challenges for anyone arriving here in the beginning.

IM: What’s fascinating to you about life in Athens, though?

AC: Many things! I would say first of all, the amazing scenery that includes the long sea coast and the balmy sea air, the old center of Athens, the Acropolis region in the city and countless other little corners of pure beauty that exist despite the urbanization and bad-taste architecture of many modern Athenian buildings. I would also say that Greek people are very handsome and look amazingly like their ancestors, something which I find very…fascinating!

The city has a lot to offer to expatriates if they are patient and well prepared before the come here, I believe.

IM: What are the clichés regarding Athens, if there are any?

AC: There are many from where I come! Greek people are thought to be lazy, chaotic, and they like to eat a lot- meaning they prefer actually to spend their time preparing and eating rather than working, and they like to relax. There is also the cliché that Greek men in particular are violent in the form of domestic violence, and there are many stories of an unverified nature that Greeks are violent towards women.

There’s a broader stereotype in my home country that includes the notion that Greek men are against emancipated women to a great extent. Other clichés include that Greeks like to dance (which they don’t, actually), and that they are continuously hot-blooded and looking for fights.

In a way all of the above are clichés that may have value in the particular experiences of some people, but I don’t think they hold a value to a great extent.

IM: What would you recommend to potential newcomers? What seems ‘worth it’ for you, so far?

AC: It is important to learn Greek! As soon as possible! That’s my first and basic advice. Also, I would say that foreign people arriving in Greece should not be afraid, and should try to get accustomed to the “Mediterranean way of life”- they should try to get in tune with society as a whole, and not to be isolated from what’s going on.

I have no regrets for being here, although I must say that I miss friends and family back in the Czech Republic and many other small things from the daily life I had there.

On the other hand, the distance from the homeland is short, just a few hours flight, and all can be combined- this means I can live here and keep in touch [with friends] back home. In short, living in Athens is definitely an experience to welcome and there are so many things to do here and learn. I especially like to listen and to observe old people sitting in cafes and talking about politics….its really amazing for me, and rather odd, but certainly something you can only get to see here.

Elisabeth Maragoula, Entrepreneur/communications consultant, Euro Editing

Elisabeth is an American entrepreneur and a specialized communications consultant based in Athens. She has worked for a number of leading publications in the city and has a wide range of experience in similar fields in New York and Rome. Elisabeth was born and raised in the state of California before moving to Europe in 2000 for studies in France.

This classy, dynamic and highly proficient communications specialist, took some time to reveal her experiences of living in Athens and establishing her business here, which strives to make use of Athens as a European hub for cross-border cultural communications- a difficult task which only a few dare to attempt. Elisabeth certainly deserves a closer look, judging by her determination to achieve her aims in that field on a global level.

Ioannis Michaletos: What are the best things about Athens compared to other cities..? Why Athens?

Elisabeth Maragoula: The sense of freedom, stark contrasts, distinct light, first of all!

Athens is a seductive city of stark contrasts – sea and mountains, urban density and greenery, chaos and calm, avant-garde and tradition, complexities and simplicity. The dichotomy of these seems to create an extraordinarily unique sense of freedom.

It makes sense, then, that people follow the concept of working to live, whereby passing their weekends in cafes with friends makes up for stressful, underpaid work-weeks.

The physical beauty of the city also plays a key role in making Athens stand apart. The white sunlight, perhaps Greece’s most outstanding attribute, allows Athenians to take advantage of the outdoors, whether it is in street cafes and restaurants, on the seaside or along mountain trails. Best of all, the sun shines year-round, making the lifestyle quite lively.

IM: Does Athens have a cultural scene worth exploring?

EM: Yes. Athens is no longer a part of Europe’s cultural/artistic periphery. Instead, it is making a name for itself in the contemporary arts scene.

Among others, the Acropolis Museum, Deste Foundation, Benaki Museum and Athens Biennale have put Athens on Europe’s arts map.

But there is also a refreshing cultural scene inspired by a grassroots movement led by Athens’ professional thirty-somethings. They are coming into the spotlight by organizing events, promoting friends’ artistic initiatives and creating forums to generate fresh concepts.

It’s interesting because although times are tough, especially for young Greeks who are facing an uphill battle in the next decade, their keffe (enthusiastic spirit), for many, is unwavering.

True, a lot of talent is pushed by the wayside in this country, but in times of crisis there is room for new blood and innovation – something of which these young Athenians seem to be taking full advantage.

IM: Are the clichés about Athens true, or does living here provide a whole new concept for someone from abroad?

EM: Again, contrasts play a major role in shaping Athenian lifestyle. There is a unique concept of living a free life within the parameters of ancient history, religious tradition and Greek culture. Locals may party ‘til 7AM, but they’re sure to arrive in top form later that day to work events or family functions.

Athens truly is a city at a crossroads, between modernity and antiquity – a fantastic “mess.” And out of this mess, a love-hate relationship is born… it’s not abnormal to hear an Athenian or expat rattle off an excessive list of complaints about the city’s traffic, inefficiency, high prices and poor service- as well as compliments about its weather, nightlife, food and history, all in one breath.

Logically, from afar, this makes little sense, but this inexplicable contrast is what  keeps many Greeks from leaving, many foreigners coming and a whole other group of people confused in balancing a “fight or flight” trade-off.

IM: What can an expatriate expect from Athens when trying to establish a business here? What are the pros and cons?

EM: Greeks are known for their entrepreneurial skills in turning ideas into goods and businesses. For Greek emigrants this innovation is not simply found through individualism, but much more so through networking and combining forces to gain a market share. Just take New York City’s restaurant scene as an example.

Working together and promoting each other is a necessity for foreign entrepreneurs to get ahead in Athens, especially now due to the current insecure economic environment.

Establishing a business here has additional challenges such as high costs for collateral materials, nearly incomprehensible legal guidelines, ingrained bureaucracy and a lackluster attitude towards unconventional business ideas.

These challenges combined with the city’s vastness make it even more important and difficult to find out who’s who. Greeks work significantly through friend and family referrals. Connections here are everything, and without them, just finding the right printer can seem an impossible task.

But again, in times of crisis, opportunity does exist through collaboration. Gaps can be filled and silos can be integrated when resources and skill sets are pooled. It is essential to know the right people, to find a niche that fills a void or creates a demand, and to allow negativity to roll off one’s back. With the right know-how, perseverance and networking skills, expat entrepreneurs stand a chance at finding their market here.

Sonja Mijailovic, Organization manager, Serbian Ministry for Diaspora

Sonja is the delegate for Greece, Cyprus and Bulgaria of the Serbian Diaspora Parliament, an organization established by the Serbian Ministry for the Diaspora.

She is based in Athens and manages the activities of the Serbian Diaspora members in the above countries, as well as informing the other Serbian community members on educational, business and social issues.

The energetic and dynamic Sonja answered a few questions about her “Athens experience” for Balkanalysis.com. Being from Serbia, which is rather close to Greece, it is interesting to note the range of differences between those two “Balkan countries” and how everyday life in Athens is indeed a special one, and distinct from any other city in the region.

Ioannis Michaletos: What is the best thing about living in Athens compared to other cities for an expatriate? What are the main differences between Athens and Belgrade?

Sonja Mijailovic Athens is a sun-soaked city with a long coastline. These factors, together with its rich history and archaeological sites at every corner, are the main attractions that leave no one indifferent.

Add to this the busy streets lined with cafés swarming with people and its famous night life, and one has the impression of good, easygoing life.

However, since it covers a large area, one can find Athens a frustrating city in which to commute. It can be as bad as needing one and a half hours to get from one place to another. If those two places are your home and a workplace, do the math…

Comparing Athens to Belgrade, one will love the weather, but hate the lack of natural shade, since Athens has very little green, very few parks, and a scarcity of big, prominent trees.

Athens is three times the size of Belgrade, and I would say that both its advantages and drawbacks similarly can be multiplied by three.

IM: Does Athens have a cultural scene worth exploring?

SM: Athens has a very rich cultural heritage which is appropriately nourished. There are globally significant historical sites and museums, both large and small private ones. There are numerous art galleries with ever-changing exhibitions.

Athens also has over 150 theatres with an array of types of plays. Knowledge of Greek is imperative though, because it is rarely performed in any other language.

Also, the music scene is well covered, especially classical and Greek. International rock and pop bands do visit, but rarely the biggest names.

Foreign newspapers and magazines can be found at bigger kiosks. In bookstores one can find sections of books in foreign languages, in a reasonable number of titles covering various subjects.

IM: Are the typical clichés or stereotypes about Athens true, or does living here provide a whole new concept for someone from abroad?

SM: I’m not quite sure about which you are referring to, and if there is any. I would say that this matter would depend on personal and subjective views on things.

IM: What can an expatriate expect from Athens when trying to establish a business or get in touch with the wider business organizations/state environment?

SM: A foreigner must be armed with infinite patience, since one will face an overwhelming bureaucratic apparatus which can not be dealt with successfully without hiring a competent lawyer and an accountant.

If this is what you considered by cliché in your previous question, then it is very true.

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Greek Domestic and Foreign Policy Challenges and Opportunities in 2011 and Beyond: Interview with John Sitilides

Editor’s note: With a new Congress recently sworn in in the U.S. capital, and Secretary of State Hilary Clinton setting off in early February for high-level meetings in Athens and in Ankara, issues involving Greece, Turkey and the Eastern Mediterranean are again returning to the US foreign policy agenda.

In this exclusive new interview, Balkanalysis.com Director Chris Deliso gets insights on the domestic and foreign policy issues facing Greece today from John Sitilides, a government relations and global public policy specialist with Trilogy Advisors LLC, a Washington, D.C. government affairs company.

Mr. Sitilides, who has 25 years of experience in the areas of federal strategies, political communications and international relations, also chairs the State Department’s professional development program for senior U.S. diplomats in Greece and Cyprus. In addition, he has testified before Congress on foreign policy, and delivered regional and global security analyses at the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College, the U.S. Joint Forces Command, the National Defense University, and related intelligence agencies. In 2003, he was appointed to the U.S. Commerce Department’s Initiative for Technology Cooperation in the Balkans.

In 2007, Mr. Sitilides received the “Greek Letters and Culture Award” from Archbishop Demetrios and the Three Hierarchs Church of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America for his contributions to the advancement of classical knowledge in modern American education, religion, and culture. Mr Sitilidis serves on the Board of Trustees of International Orthodox Christian Charities, a global humanitarian organization, as well as on the board of Leadership 100, a national Greek Orthodox endowment, and of the American Community Schools of Athens, the premier international school of Greece.

Mr. Sitilides also serves on the Board of Directors of the Wilson Council, the private sector advisory group of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, where he is Chairman, Board of Advisors of the Southeast Europe Project. Sitilides previously directed the Western Policy Center, an international relations organization focused on Southeastern Europe, and was responsible for strategic planning, policy analysis, political and corporate communications, and financial management. He also sits on the Board of Directors of Biovest International, a biopharmaceutical company, and is a member of the U.S.-Qatar Business Council.

…………………………………

Diplomacy and Perception: Greek-US Relations

Chris Deliso: Speaking from your perspective, being in Washington, what is your assessment regarding communication issues? How well is the Greek government managing to get its major foreign policy issues understood and addressed by its U.S. counterparts?

John Sitilides: The Greek government is very capably represented by a solid Embassy team led by Amb. Vassilis Kaskarelis, and including Defense Attaché Col. Taxiarchis Sardellis and DCM Ioannis Vrailas. Their primary responsibilities are to manage political and diplomatic communications with their counterparts in the State and Defense Departments, and they do so effectively. However, the Washington foreign policy and national security establishment is far greater than just those two departments.

John Sitilides: "a communication strategy limited to the government... is insufficent for Greece's needs"

There is an enormous policy-making, decision-influencing and opinion-shaping apparatus that includes leading Congressional committees, and their chairs and staff members. It includes the ever-growing think-tank industry, where many foreign policy ideas are first generated and developed in dozens of institutions and organizations before being given serious consideration in government.

Broadcast, print and new media, as well as social networks, also have power in shaping public opinion and private counsel on foreign policy matters. There is the complex structure of U.S. and multinational corporate interests affecting the decision-making process. And finally there is the day-to-day “salon society” in which powerful individuals of all walks of Washington professional life, without any specific interest in U.S.-Greece relations but with broader knowledge of the convergence of interests between U.S. foreign policy and domestic priorities, interact and develop close personal relationships that can greatly affect the balance of foreign policy debates.

The effective engagement of all these various components of the Washington establishment far exceed the capacity of any single embassy – Greek or otherwise – especially for a country such as Greece with many foreign policy issues in which the U.S. has an important role to play.

In the wake of Greece’s current fiscal crisis, the role of the U.S. government, especially with a divided Congress that is not certain to support continued IMF funding of the troika package, becomes more important than at any times in decades. Yet a communication strategy limited to the government, especially a handful of departments, and key establishment media at the expense of a multitude of other critical areas of engagement, is insufficient for Greece’s needs.

CD: Is Athens clear about its diplomatic goals? Are they aware of what Greece actually seeks from DC when they meet with State Department or administration officials?

JS: The portfolio of issues that date back nearly four decades, based on the Aegean sovereignty disputes and the Cyprus problem, as well as the Macedonia name dispute, are very likely at the heart of Greece’s diplomatic goals.

Continued IMF support within the troika is a major new issue for Greece to manage in Washington, especially given the pronounced reticence of many Republican lawmakers to increase government spending for the IMF – or other agencies and programs, for that matter – when the U.S. itself faces such dire fiscal challenges.

The regional and functional issues involving NATO/EU security coordination, the possibility that Turkey may turn away from its EU accession goals, the future status of Kosovo, the emerging petroleum and natural gas networks in the Eastern Mediterranean and Blacks Seas, the spread of radical Islam, illegal migration and the threat of international terrorism, and shared concerns about Iran’s nuclear weapons ambitions, long-term instability in the Middle East, Russia’s authoritarian trends, and broader European economic and demographic challenges, could well be part of the agenda when Secretary of State Clinton arrives in Greece in early February.

CD: What are the strengths and weaknesses of the typical Greek diplomat when dealing with US counterparts? Here we could include anything from body language and ways of interacting to world views and presuppositions.

JS: All diplomats use their finest skills to communicate instructions from their respective superiors, whether the U.S. State Department or the Greek Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The Greek Embassy in Washington is led by skilled diplomats with well-honed communication skills. Success in diplomacy will be based far more on the intelligent crafting of foreign policy priorities in the home countries, coupled with a well-developed and professionally implemented strategic communications plan, than on body language.

CD: It is often said that Greece has one of the more powerful and high-profile diaspora lobbies in Washington. Do you agree that this is the case? And, are there any specific areas or incidents in which the lobby is helping or harming Greek interests through their lobbying in DC?

JS: Greece does not have a lobby in Washington. That would require hiring a professional lobbying firm to advise and represent Greece in managing its relations in Washington and, if desired, the broader United States public-opinion apparatus. This is the way business is successfully done in Washington.

Greece had previously hired a company to help specifically on the visa waiver issue, but that matter was resolved in spring 2010. On its major foreign policy issues, Greece currently does not have a lobby.

Nevertheless, Greece is very fortunate that many Greek Americans volunteer their scarce time and energy to help Greece in ways they believe can be most effective. There are several Greek-American organizations that are professionally staffed, but woefully under-funded, to help communicate to Washington the issues those organizations believe are important to Greece.

There are also several Greek-American business leaders who leverage their top-level fundraising support for political campaigns in support of Presidential candidates, Senators and Congressmen to communicate on issues they believe are helpful to Greece.

Still, there does not seem to be any dedicated strategy on the part of the Greek government to manage issues, policies or communications and better coordinate among these disparate organizations and individuals. There is a tremendous amount of good intention among a small number of Greek Americans, but it’s difficult to state that it is being used to the extent of its enormous potential.

The other challenge is that most Greek Americans simply do not have the time or resources in their private lives to dedicate much to this effort. They are very busy raising their families, paying their bills, saving for college, vacations and retirement, and advancing their professional careers. I recall in November 2004 when many in Greece blamed Greek Americans for the failure to prevent the Bush Administration from recognizing the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia as the Republic of Macedonia.

The proper response should have been to focus on Greece’s own failure to retain professional lobbyists in Washington. They would have provided Greece with essential political intelligence about policy development, pending Executive Branch actions, and likely scenarios such as the recognition decision, to help Greece plan ahead and pro-actively prevent such a move through proper diplomatic channels.

Even in these difficult time in Greece, the cost of a lobbying contract, perhaps $1 million annually, should be viewed not as a static measure, but dynamically, with the potential to deliver returns on investment to Greece’s foreign policy and even to its economy at a value exponentially greater than the relatively modest price.

To succeed in advancing one’s agenda in Washington, to confront the sheer indifference with which many greet news or concerns about Greece or similar smaller economies, to stay on offense rather than reacting to U.S. policy decisions after they are implemented, governments require professional counsel and support for their embassies, not dependence on the sons, daughters and grandchildren of emigrants from years and decades past. Such complacency may be among the costliest strategic errors in diplomacy.

CD: Considering the efforts Greek diplomacy and diaspora may make to promote the country, how do you feel that Greece is understood by the American public in general? Is it all about the ancient legacy and tourism – Olympics, architecture and Aegean islands – or is there any deeper understanding of what the country is today, and what it values? Is there a potential role for the Orthodox Church in any of this?

JS: Most Americans had a highly favorable impression of Greece over the decades, based largely on cultural and historical considerations. American schools teach their students that ancient Greece was the cradle of democracy and Western civilization. Many Americans yearn to travel to Greece to enjoy its spectacular beauty. Most Americans have Greek-American friends or colleagues who exemplify the highest personal values and attributes of hard work, educational advancement, strong dedication to family and church, and the constant striving toward excellence in all endeavors.

The national news coverage of Greece since October 2009, when the fiscal crisis exploded, has transformed Greece’s reputation into that of a failed economic state with significant social unrest, an example of runaway government spending and reckless management of public resources that should caution American leaders on what not to do in the United States to avoid the nightmarish fate of Greece.

Greece is now thought of more negatively by opinion leaders and everyday Americans. And that will likely remain the case until Greece’s economy recovers, or until Greece develops a more effective political communications strategy.

In that context, there is little role for the Orthodox Church in all this. The Church’s focus must be on healing the souls of the faithful, sustaining its mission in the daily lives of its members, and upholding the dignity of every man, woman and child throughout the world, especially in those darkest recesses of poverty, dictatorship, and brutality. The Church should otherwise remove itself from day-to-day secular issues involving fiscal policy, Aegean and Cypriot sovereignty disputes, and related matters of geopolitical significance, and simply obey Christ, as described in Matthew 22:21: “Render unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s, and unto God the things that are God’s.”

CD: Countries in the region, as everywhere in the world, have been affected by the ongoing Wikileaks saga. In regards to Greece, particularly, do you feel that there will be any interference or alterations of the usual Greek-American political relationship because of this?

JS: That will be determined by the content of any cables yet to be released. I am confident the U.S.-Greece relationship is sufficiently strong and durable to withstand issues that may arise. The more important lesson here is the ability of the United States to learn from this international embarrassment to better protect its diplomatic secrets. Wikileaks will inspire many others to seek out such documents and release them to the public.

If the U.S. and other governments can develop a coordinated framework of disincentives for such actions, beginning with severe punishment for government officials who illegally leak information to media, then we will likely see a diminution of such disclosures. If officials believe there is no price to pay for illegal activities, then we should expect many more such episodes that will embarrass not only the United States, but Greece and other leading countries around the world.

Eastern Mediterranean Affairs: The Balance of Power Today

CD: The rise of Turkey as a major player on the foreign stage has elicited both admiration and concern in various world capitals. In your estimation, can it be said that Turkey is now definitively the major power in the Balkans and Eastern Mediterranean, with Greece as a distant second? Or is this too much?

JS: Greece’s foreign policy has historically been focused largely on its immediate border regions – that is, Turkey and the Balkans. On many other issues, Greece is perceived as following an EU line shaped largely by Berlin and Paris and implemented by Brussels.

Over the past decade, Turkey’s has burst out beyond its core issues to become a major factor in regional and global issues such as the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, Iranian nuclear aggression, Israeli-Palestinian relations, Russian energy expansion, consolidation of Caucasus democratization, foreign direct investment in African and Latin American economies, and even worldwide Islamic leadership.

As U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Phil Gordon said in September 2010, “there’s really not a country that (the United States has) much more extensive bilateral contacts with than Turkey, because Turkey is engaged on just about every issue that we’ve mentioned here: Iran, Afghanistan, European Union, NATO, missile defense, Middle East, Israel, Iraq.”

Even where the U.S. and Turkey diverge on many of these issues, the mere fact of Turkey’s high-level involvement compels Washington to seriously consider Ankara’s position as it seeks to manage many of these difficult foreign policy and national security challenges.

Greece is simply not involved at the same level of intensity or range on these high-level issues as is Turkey.

CD: In regards to Turkey’s rise, what were the vital steps and decisions that the Turkish government has made in the past few years to develop their influence? And, in what ways was the geopolitical environment conducive to Turkish aspirations?

JS: The emergence of Turkey in international relations dates back to the transformation of the economy by Prime Minister Turgut Özal in the 1980s from statism to free-market capitalism. After the demise of the Soviet Union in 1991, Turkey’s prior geo-strategic importance as the NATO partner was reconfigured to adapt to the emergence of Iraqi regional aggression as a major international security issue.

In the early 2000s, Turkey emerged from the grip of its IMF bankers with a far more dynamic growth-oriented economy that continues to expand at 7-8% annually. The political leadership of Prime Minister Erdoğan has also successfully marginalized the more militant elements of secular Kemalism while generating enormous new wealth – and therefore political power – for his Islamist constituencies in the Turkish heartland, outside of Istanbul, Ankara and Izmir.

Prime Minister Erdoğan, with the scholarly counsel of Foreign Minister Davutoğlu, has projected this fresh Turkish self-confidence in many high-level issues along and beyond its borders. It should come as little surprise in the years ahead if an increasingly Islamic Turkey anchors its future in more prosperous Asian and Middle Eastern economies and abandons its EU accession negotiations, especially if Europe continues to suffer under the weight of crushing government spending and public sector obligations that stunt any genuine prospect for growth and recovery.

CD: Greece’s economic crises of late forced EU fiscal intervention and in so doing diminished Greece’s stature politically, at least in the short-term. Do you see any scenarios in which Greece can more robustly assert its significance? Are there any policy shifts or areas of economic or business leverage that Athens can bring to bear in order to improve its stature abroad?

JS: The steps Greece takes to improve its own economic fortunes and implement a true growth-oriented agenda will in turn build political strength it can utilize to project influence and better achieve its diplomatic goals. The U.S. business community can help rebuild the Greek economy, but it will not do so as a matter of favor or courtesy. The business sector will more readily invest in Greece when it is reassured that the investment landscape provides for a secure return on investment.

That will involve significant regulatory reform, more accessible court enforcement of property and contractual rights, labor flexibility and the reduction of the Greek public sector from 40% down to a more sustainable level that improves Greece’s competitiveness.

Foreign business also seeks to avoid the corruption that has been endemic in Greece- ranked by Transparency International as the most corrupt economy in the European Union. If Prime Minister Papandreou succeeds in privatizing many Greek public utilities and companies, then foreign investors will take second and third looks at exceptional opportunities to inject capital, create wealth, and share in the prosperity of a reformed Greek economy.

Outside of government action, Greece’s business community has a huge role to play. Greece’s young men and women who have studied in science, engineering and technology offer a tremendous talent pool for both start-up and established companies. Greece’s tourism industry is still ripe for world-class development, especially if it continues with the great advances in golf infrastructure so important in luring multinational corporations and major business conferences and conventions to destination markets.

After all, nearly 90% of Fortune 500 CEOs play golf, described as the international sport of business. This is one of the most effective ways to build a thriving upscale tourism sector and provide greater incentives for leading business executives the world over to visit and potentially build new businesses in Greece.

As in any competitive free-market economy, the more the government gets out of the way, the more effectively the business community can generate growth, create jobs, and provide the needed tax revenues to develop the proper balance of public services and personal economic opportunity that is currently transforming once-backward countries not only in Asia, Africa and Latin America, but also in formerly Communist Europe. There is no reason Greece cannot aspire to – and share in – that newfound prosperity.

CD: Does Greece have an ability to play a serious role outside of its neighborhood? If so, in what ways? If not, what is restricting Greece from doing so?

JS: Greece absolutely has that ability – proportionately, it is already one of the world’s leading providers of peacekeeping troops, and it also boasts the world’s largest merchant marine fleet. As such, Greece can insist on a seat at the table when conflict resolution diplomacy is underway, especially where it has been successful in Albania, Bosnia and Kosovo in its immediate neighborhood, in Afghanistan, and even lesser-known conflicts such as Lebanon, Sudan, Georgia and Western Sahara.

As for its merchant marine, Greece has an overriding interest in working closely with the United States and other leading providers of security in assuring full access to international shipping lanes upon which the entire world depends for its economic well-being. Greece has taken several initiatives already in the fight against piracy, and can more assertively claim a leadership role in the global debate about how to most effectively contain the increasingly perilous threats to the world’s fleets, near Somalia but also at the Strait of Malacca, linking the Indian and Pacific Oceans and critical to world trade with the Pacific Rim economies.

The key question for Greek political leaders, therefore, is not ability. It is will, and the determination to project that will in Greece’s national interest.

CD: Speculation in the media in Skopje recently alleged that, for one reason or another, the resolution of the Macedonia “name issue” and the issue of a divided Cyprus are being considered, behind the scenes, as items to be solved at the same time- the thinking being that the Greek government cannot afford the possibility of being perceived as ‘losing’ on either issue, as it could affect their bargaining position and popular approval regarding the other. Is there any truth to this?

JS: The Macedonia name issue is bilateral and Cyprus international, though both issues do enjoy great institutional interest on the part of both NATO and the European Union.

Greece and Macedonia must come to terms on many difficult issues – not only political but also cultural, historical, and identity-based – that are important to both countries. Cyprus requires the withdrawal of Turkish troops from the country and the reunification of two political communities that have been persuaded by political and civic leaders over the decades that they cannot co-exist within a framework agreeable to both sides. Linkage of these two very complex issues will probably ensure that neither is resolved.

Separately, there is no reason for Greece to “lose” on either issue. To the degree that resolution of such issues necessarily involves compromise – unless there is intent to secure goals through war and absolute victory, which is not the case here – all parties in their respective disputes will secure several of their objectives while stepping back on others. Otherwise, there is no resolution, unless those who would accuse Greece of “losing” can provide a practical basis for sustaining maximalist positions on these and other decades-old issues.

CD: Balkanalysis.com recently reported on new efforts to drill for oil in the Sea of Thrace and elsewhere in maritime Greece. How would any major oil discovery in Greek waters affect the balance of power in the region? And would more offshore oil drilling have negative consequences for the environment and the crucial tourism industry?

JS: The quest for petroleum reserves in the Aegean is one of those decades old issues. Unless any reserves are vast enough to justify the enormous expense of the oil extraction and production supply chain, there is little likelihood of major new exploration activity in the Aegean.

The Aegean issues with Turkey transcend resource extraction. Instead, they lie at the heart of a series of profoundly important legal and technical disputes – at a level that can lead to war, as the 1996 Imia/Kardak crisis made clear – about continental shelf delimitation, but also control of exclusive economic zones, national waters and airspace, and the attendant freedom of navigation in international waters and airspace.

Even if there were to be some level of offshore drilling, Western technology has reached a very high level of overall safety. Drilling down then sideways has allowed for access to oil that would have required massive surface footprints decades ago. The radical environmental movement is hypocritical in its willingness to oppose Western oil production that is far safer and cleaner than operations in countries far less scrupulous in their oil extraction operations, thereby aggravating the polluted state of the global ecosystem.

Greek Relations with Israel, Iran and Extremist Threats

CD: One of the side effects of Turkey’s foreign policy under the AKP government has been a cooling of relations with Israel. Media have recently reported that Israel is concerned about Islamist stirrings within Turkey and is therefore reaching out to other allies in Southeastern Europe. Is this an opportunity for Greece to gain more influence? And, to what extent would improved cooperation with Israel allow Greece to play a constructive role in Balkan security? Is there anything that Greece can do for Israel in the region that Israel can’t do for itself?

JS: The strengthening of relations between Greece and Israel is a highly positive development for Greece and southeastern Europe. Israel is the only Western free-market democracy in the Middle East, with a dynamic and innovative economy, a powerful military, and significant political capital in the United States. With the discovery of the colossal Leviathan natural gas reserves, it is poised to become a major energy player in the next decade.

An undersea Israeli-Greece pipeline would allow Greece to diversify its supply sources beyond Russia and Azerbaijan. It would also strengthen Greece’ geostrategic position as an energy transit country to European markets, and generate significant transit fees for Greece.

Greece and Israel are natural allies that are just coming around to cooperating in pursuit of their common objectives: regional security, economic development, and the expansion of democratic values. In this regard, they can be expected to share intelligence, engage in strategic defense cooperation and joint military exercises, and even boost tourism. According to the Greek Tourism Ministry, Israeli tourism to Greece more than doubled in 2010.

To be sure, there will be pitfalls in the advancement of the relationship. Many Greeks will object to Israeli policies in the West Bank and Gaza, as well as to perceived threat exaggerations regarding Iran’s nuclear weapons energy program. There is also the “zero-sum” concern that better ties to Israel will result in worsening ties with Arab and Muslim countries. That is a false premise from the outset, evidenced clearly by good relations enjoyed by the U.S. and most European countries with Israel, its neighbors and even its enemies.

For Israel, Greece is a country of great geopolitical importance, given its political stature in NATO and the European Union, and its physical location in the heart of Southeastern Europe. Israel needs very much to break out of its diplomatic isolation, cultivate new relations in the European Union, and build a coalition that is – at the very least – sympathetic to Israel’s existential concerns about Iranian threats. But Israel should be expected to proceed with great caution here. Its leaders wonder whether Athens’ transformed perspectives are exclusive to Prime Minister Papandreou and his advisors, or whether this reflects a more structural reform of Greek foreign policy and national security.

If Israel fears that improved relations with Greece apply only to a Papandreou administration, and can be marginalized or discarded in a subsequent administration, it may be reluctant to exceed a cordial relationship. It will not risk developing strategic ties that can unravel as quickly as they did with Turkey. Establishing Greece’s long-term reliability as an Israeli partner will be a key test for Prime Minister Papandreou in the eyes of Israeli leaders.

CD: Greece has occasionally irked Israel in the past because of its relations with the Arab world and specifically its support for Palestinians. In this light, do you see that Greece’s relations with these states will undergo any changes in the case of increased cooperation with Israel?

JS: Again, I discount the “zero-sum” position here. If there are changes, it will not because of any new Greek actions, but perhaps at the initiative of Greece’s Arab and Islamic partners. There was a recent diplomatic row with Syria over its recognition of FYROM as Macedonia, but it was not seen as a warning shot at Greece over warming relations with Israel.

Given Muslim sensibilities about Israel, Greece’s policy reconfiguration will necessitate a careful calibration of what could become a strategic relationship with Israel with the continued cultivation of good relations with Middle Eastern countries, as well as Islamic countries in south Asia and northern Africa – especially those led by more radicalized regimes, such as Iran, and those implacably hostile to Israel, such as Pakistan.

CD: The issue of Iran, its alleged nuclear weapons program and its general relations with the West remains a popular issue in Washington. Is there any role that Greece has played, or could play, in greater world politics that might lead to a peaceful resolution of this issue?

JS: This is an area in which Greece has sought to play a more important role, only to be frustrated by Iranian duplicity. When Dora Bakoyannis was foreign minister in 2006, she successfully conveyed private diplomatic messages between the U.S. and Iran, meeting with Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator to persuade Teheran to halt its nuclear weapons program and avert UN sanctions. The Ahmadinejad regime exploited those good intentions, as well as those of the EU-3, to gain additional time to further develop its weapons capability.

If Greece could somehow succeed in persuading Iran to shift its policy away from aggression and sponsorship of terrorism, it could achieve a heroic status on the world stage. Unfortunately, the Iranian regime seems to have absolutely no interest in such entreaties, whether from Greece or any other country – European, Arab or otherwise. Ultimately, regime change from within, technological espionage or military power may ultimately be required to dismantle Iran’s nuclear weapons program before it becomes operational.

CD: German Chancellor Merkel recently pronounced that European attempts to integrate Muslim immigrants have failed; at the same time, German security officials stated with a new urgency the possibility of Islamic terrorist attacks there. One of the biggest differences between Greece and the major EU powers is that Islamist challenges to Greek culture have never been tolerated. Yet while “human rights” activists decry the lack of mosques in Athens, it is ironically the countries that have been most lenient towards extremists that are now facing a terrorist threat.

Obviously, the historic and cultural backgrounds are different: Greece was never a colonial power, and it has also a fairly recent memory of Muslim domination under the Ottomans. Still, in your opinion, is there any fundamental difference in interaction- is there a ‘Greek approach’ to the issue from which other EU countries can learn? Or does Greece share a similar threat from extremists?

JS: Greece has not yet faced an internal threat from radical Islamists, and that has been a welcome hallmark of Greek social and economic policies of the past two decades, during which the Muslim population of Greece has increased significantly. However, Greece would be misguided to be satisfied with current conditions.

As Greece’s economy worsens, economic opportunities for young male Muslim migrants will disappear, but the migrants may not. If this is the near-term demographic future for Greece, than thousands of restless, bored and frustrated migrants may be ripe for radicalization. This process requires no more than a handful of militant preachers, skilled at operating below the radar of authorities in Western countries, until the number of radicalized individuals begins to manifest itself in dangerous ways- either through increased criminality to fund such activities, or in the actual execution of terror attacks to strike out at a host country now viewed as hostile to Islam.

CD: Speaking of security issues, despite the dismantling of the leftist terrorist group November 17th, the chronic issue of anarchist groups with potentially violent aims lingers in Greece. Considering that in the past US officials were targeted by such groups, is this issue that you find US security planners discussing? If so do you find them making the correct assessment regarding the severity of the threat?

JS: Regrettably, the issue of counter-terrorism remains high on the U.S.-Greece agenda. It is not merely U.S. officials who have been targeted for decades, but also U.S. business interests and properties. The prevailing notion that bricks and mortar feel no pain and are therefore acceptable targets of violence must be rejected. It is vastly more difficult to persuade U.S. companies to invest in Greece if executives must fear constant threats against facilities, offices, and infrastructure, on top of the personal safety of their employees.

On a broader social level, the sense of impunity which many terrorists and anarchists enjoyed in years past must be brought to a decisive end. This will require strong law enforcement tools at the disposal of the government, to aggressively track down and apprehend those who would perpetrate violence against individuals, property and all of society in Greece.

Culturally, the idea that there is some abstract notion of justice to be achieved through such violence is decidedly anti-Western, placing those Greeks who are complacent in the face of violence at the margins, if not outside, of civil society.

Geopolitically, Greece’s proximity to centers of radical Islamist terror in the Middle East and northern Africa, coupled with a reputation for ineffective counter-terrorism, make it a useful transit point for terror planners and operatives en route to other European countries, or even as a potential target, with devastating impact on the country’s already troubled global reputation. These are issues of paramount interest for Greece to address, engage, confront and decisively defeat.

………………………….

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Greek Security Challenges and Opportunities: Interview with Dr. Athanassios Drougos

In this new interview for Balkanalysis.com. Greek correspondent Ioannis Michaletos gets the insight of Dr. Athanassios Drougos, a senior lecturer for the Hellenic Defense Colleges (Army, Navy, Air Force and Joint Command) and NATO, providing analysis on issues related to defense and counterterrorism.

Dr Drougos has published numerous articles and been cited frequently in Greek media on subjects including defense and security, international relations and geopolitics in the Eastern Mediterranean, Balkans, North Africa and Russia, as well as NATO issues, asymmetric warfare, weapons of mass destruction and more.

Ioannis Michaletos: What are the main security challenges facing Greece currently? Are the issues involved interlinked with domestic problems only, or also related with wider international issues?

Athanassios Drougos: Concerning the ongoing challenges and threats to Greece, I would personally consider that contemporary asymmetric issues (with global or regional ramifications) should receive more attention and prominence from the responsible state authorities.

For instance illegal migration, terrorist networks, the narcotics trade, maritime security threats, horizontal proliferation of ballistic missiles and illicit trade of weapons of mass destruction, energy threats, etc. For the time being, I certainly belong  to  a minority in my country [as I] consider of more significance the non-linear/unconventional threats compared to conventional one… frankly speaking, I see less danger (at least visible) coming from well known  and historic conventional threats.

Some of these are related to the current globalized nature of threats and moving instabilities, for instance, the various regional and Mediterranean ‘open issues’. But beyond any doubt the deep and chaotic situation in Greece (due to extreme financial and social problems) has led to an upgrading of domestic instabilities and has enhanced existing vulnerable spots (social grievances and other parameters led, to a certain extent, to the re-emergence of urban terrorists in Athens, for example.

IM: More specifically, as far as international Islamic terrorism is concerned, what is the [official] Greek stance on confronting these networks? Moreover, is there a possible threat to Greek security from organizations, such as al Qaeda or individual terror cells?

AD: The jihadist movements are extremely provocative and dangerous, too. Unfortunately in Greece (with few exceptions from certain analysts) there is no well-constructed coverage and analysis of the various violent extremist groups. The authorities have not produced any substantial and comprehensive reports on the home-grown or any other Islamic threat.

I would daresay that they have marginal knowledge of such a serious topic and, compared with other countries, they are unfamiliar with the multidimensionality and tactics of [Islamist] groups, and the existing or future threats emanating from them.

There is no clear-cut [state-security] policy, and there have been deep and undeniable gaps in the field of intelligence.

Although Greece is not the main target of violent Islamic fighters, in the coming years I would say that on an incremental basis there will be some connections to extremist circles and violent groups in the broader Middle East region (especially to rejectionist Palestinian fronts and to Lebanese groups). The scale of the problem is related to the forthcoming developments in the Middle East, and to the existence of illegal groups (not visible and overt for the moment) on Greek soil. During the coming years, I expect the gradual radicalization of some individuals in my country, with unhealthy implications on domestic security.

IM: In your opinion, which [specific] security authority in the country has assumed the bulk of responsibilities for Greece’s security, in light of these developing threats?

AD: Under normal conditions, [it should be] the Ministry of Public Order (now renamed as the Ministry of Citizen Protection). But over the last few years we have experienced dramatic insufficiencies in handling domestic terrorism cases… an untold [number of] mistakes. So, I would suggest the creation of a dynamic, constructive and reliable reorganization of certain departments of the Ministry/police, especially in the fields of counterterrorism, intelligence and counter-narcotics.

The new wave of terrorism in Greece is deeply linked to criminal gangs, violent groups and merchants of small arms/light weapons. More remains to be done. Particularly, the better evaluation of people’s backgrounds, more penetrating and active intelligence-gathering, and a broader professionalism of police and judicial  authorities, in order to challenge the current and future terrorist and criminal profiles, tactics and strategies for low-intensity warfare in the cities.

IM: Can it be estimated that due to the multitude of issues developing in international counter-terrorism policy, Greece will have to either alter or shift its present-day priorities, so that its services can maximize their potential and be able to counteract asymmetrical threats such as terrorism and organized crime?

AD: As a lecturer to almost all the Hellenic military and police Colleges, during the last few years I have [undertaken] a personal fight to change minds here, and to transform them to be more efficient and upright, in order to deal with the 21st century threats. Of course, we have made some progress, due to the fact of getting some experiences and know-how in preparation for the Olympic Games of 2004.

However, it is necessary, and remains very urgent, to share ideas, theories and practical experiences with more developed and professional people, people who have specialization in the areas of asymmetric warfare and unconventional threats, from other countries such as the USA, UK, Israel, France, Germany and so on.

I would say that we should be concentrated about maritime security, protecting energy lines, cyber-security, and to reinforce our intelligence training institutes and schools. From another angle, I would suggest more inter-connectivity and joint training/education between the police forces and the Special Forces of the Hellenic Armed forces. For sharing lessons learned… now is the right time for [enhancement] in the area of counterterrorism.

IM: Since the end of the Olympic Games back in 2004, there has been a lot of talk about whether the Greek security authorities would be able to maintain their high level of alertness against security perils [in the future]. Do you think that Greece is as prepared as it was a few years ago, and has the cooperation between the country and other agencies from abroad been productive?

AD: We got substantial and useful lessons and expertise during the years before the 2004 Summer Olympics. But unfortunately we did not continue to elevate our lessons learned to higher standards. We did not embolden further analysis for the emerging asymmetric fields. Explicitly speaking, we lost time and capable human resources, due to politicization/party links, at the expense of professionalism.

I fully encourage and support the reestablishment of any connections in all the relevant areas with the intelligence/counterterrorism departments of our allies and friends in the EU and especially in the Atlantic Alliance. The recent upgrading of contacts at any level and upgrading of our cooperative partnership with Israel is a promising development. We have the opportunity to learn a lot in the areas of counterterrorism/asymmetric battlefields and intelligence [from them].

IM: Regarding the issue of illegal immigration into the country, and more specifically the flow of individuals from Islamic states, do you assess that this will further pressure the Greek authorities to implement stricter security measures and to upgrade their capabilities?

AD: Under normal conditions I would answer you positively. But the country is in a deep mess (social-economic-corruption etc), and I am afraid [we are] not following the broader events and developments accordingly. We have decided – and I fully disagree with this decision – to cut a lot of positions abroad, [positions previously used] for training, education and special studies.

There is no clear understanding of the dangerous and unpredictable ramifications of Islamic terrorism and extremism. We lack serious and professional channels of communications and intelligence. I am convinced that the jihadis are preparing themselves in the Middle East and North Africa to penetrate [European] societies, and to use Southeastern European countries not only for support and logistical activities, but for active operations too. We have a broad spectrum of vulnerabilities. And we have to accelerate our steps to reduce or minimize them.

IM: Do you estimate that the Greek police and intelligence authorities should pay more attention to the asymmetrical threats developing in the Balkan region?

AD: Yes, of course; we have to keep a vigilant eye on contemporary developments along our northern borders, especially on the criminal and terrorist activities of fundamentalist groups, Islamic charities, illegal migration, and links to other groups- for example, in Afghanistan, Russia and the Northern Caucasus, and even Africa.

The police forces and other homeland security agencies should work more on studying and collecting information about these networks, groups and organizations. It would be interesting to see more Greek military personnel contributing with specialized materials and knowledge to improve the coverage, analysis and penetration of events in Greece’s near abroad.

IM: Has the cooperation between Greece’s security agencies and those of its neighboring states been successful so far?

AD: There is some level of cooperation with all neighboring countries, but more remains to be done (bilaterally and multilaterally), among the Southeast European states [themselves]. Additionally I believe that we should expand our interests and intelligence-gathering materials to African countries- there is a creeping radicalization in some groups there with links to their affiliates in Greece, especially the Somalis.

[For example] the NATO Center for Maritime Interdiction in the area of Souda Bay in Crete could become a magnetic pole for conceptualizing and materializing cooperative projects to counter asymmetric threats.

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