US Media on Greece
© Copyright Embassy of Greece 1996-2005. All Rights Reserved.
PRESS & COMMUNICATIONS OFFICE
September 2007; Vol. 13 No. 9
(also available in PDF)
1. GREECE: THE DAY AFTER
2. NATIONAL ELECTIONS CALLED FOR SEPTEMBER 16
3. GREEN RESORT IN CRETE
4. A REVIEW OF GREECE'S INTERNATIONAL STANDING
5. TRIPARTITE NATURAL GAS AGREEMENT SIGNED
6. ECONOMY CONTINUES TO PROSPER
7. BRIEFLY . . .
GREECE: THE DAY AFTER
In the past few weeks, Greece faced an unprecedented challenge brought by dozens of devastating wildfires in many areas of the country. There was a collusion of some very unfavorable factors: the longest and hottest summer in Greece for over one hundred years, a very dry winter leading to prolonged drought, and gale-force winds blowing in the regions where the fires started. The fact that many fires started at the same time at various spots has led to an ongoing criminal investigation and persons suspected of arson, whether unintentional or deliberate, have been arrested.
Overwhelmed by the intensity of the fires, more than sixty people lost their lives during the first days, while thousands became homeless or lost their means of livelihood. Hundreds of thousands of acres of forests and scrubland as well as cultivated areas, including olive groves and vineyards, were scorched, with most of the fires concentrated in parts of the Peloponnese and in the southern part of the island of Euboea. Estimates of the damage range between 1.6 and 5.4 billion dollars.
Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis declared a nationwide state of emergency on August 25 and called for resolve and national unity. The government established a special fund, headed by former Minister for Foreign Affairs Petros Molyviatis, to support fire victims and afflicted areas. Tens of thousands of people received, without any bureaucratic delays, direct cash assistance to overcome the first difficulties, with further assistance, tax breaks, debt relief, and many other immediate and mid-term measures being swiftly implemented. The government pledged the complete re-planting of destroyed forests and announced special support and development programs.
Greece’s European Union partners and many other countries, including Balkan neighbors, China, Israel, the Russian Federation, and the United States sent fire-fighters or technical and other assistance, while individuals, churches, and organizations overseas, including many in the US and especially in the Greek-American community, mobilized in solidarity with the fire victims and for the long-term reconstruction of the country. His Eminence Archbishop Demetrios of America, the American Hellenic Educational Progressive Association (AHEPA), the World Council of Hellenes Abroad (SAE), and Greek diaspora media are leading these efforts.
The European Commission pledged to activate the EU Solidarity Fund, while Greece brought forward a proposal discussed on July 30, before the disastrous wildfires, by Premier Karamanlis and French President Nicolas Sarkozy involving enhanced EU cooperation in response to natural disasters and, in particular, joint Euro-Mediterranean fire-fighting operations in view of climate changes and global warming.
The loss of human lives, the environmental disaster, and the major damage to houses and infrastructure that have caused great suffering have also heightened Greek determination to heal the wounds and promptly and effectively plan for the future.
As life in the affected areas returns to normalcy, Greece remains a safe country. The Museum of Ancient Olympia has reopened its doors to visitors. In the midst of tragedy, tourist industry infrastructure remains intact and facilities throughout the country offer visitors the internationally renowned Greek hospitality. In 2008, the ancient site of Olympia will once again host the Ceremony for the Lighting of the Olympic Flame which will travel to Beijing for the 2008 Olympic Games. For the people of Greece, hope is here.
“A friend in need is a friend indeed,” Ambassador Alexandros P. Mallias was quoted in The Washington Times on September 5 in praising the Bush administration, Congressional leaders, and Greek-Americans for their support of relief efforts following the wildfires. “There is hope. Greece is a strong country. There is a kind of new patriotism,” Mr. Mallias said, adding that Greeks showed “strong social cohesion” by making substantial contributions to reconstruction efforts. In Washington, the ambassador worked closely with Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte and Undersecretary of State Henrietta Fore, acting director of US foreign assistance, in relation to relief efforts.
The House of Representatives unanimously passed HR 629 extending its sympathy to the Greek people for the grave loss of life and vast destruction caused by the recent forest fires. Sponsored by Rep. John Sarbanes and co-sponsored, among others, by majority and minority leaders of the House Foreign Affairs Committee and the Hellenic Caucus, the resolution vows the full support of the House to a strategic partner and longstanding ally; fully supports the Administration’s initiatives to provide assistance and relief; and encourages public institutions as well as private citizens to offer their resources to efforts to overcome this tragedy.
Assistance to Fire Victims
Those interested in providing assistance for the relief of victims of wildfires may contribute to the following solidarity account:
Account Number: 2341103053 (Bank of Greece or any other Greek bank)
Account Name: Logariasmos Arogis Pyropathon (Fire Victims Solidarity Account)
BENEFICIARY: the Hellenic Republic
Funds can be transferred in any currency.
To help contributors avoid fees for wire transfers overseas, the Embassy of Greece has also opened the following U.S. account:
Account Number: 15378608 (Citibank)
Account Name: Embassy of Greece. Special account for the relief of the victims of wildfires
Beneficiary: Embassy of Greece
ABA Number/Routing Number: 254070116 (for wire transfers)
Contributions to either account are transferred to the special relief fund set up in Greece.
NATIONAL ELECTIONS CALLED FOR SEPTEMBER 16
Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis, having met with President Papoulias to request the holding of national elections on September 16, spoke on national television of the need for early elections to provide his government with a mandate for further reforms, and especially an important state budget for 2008 and revisions of the Constitution. The next budget, he said, will have the importance of a “national priority.”
Mr. Karamanlis also said that several reforms recently outlined by his government will be brought before the new Parliament for ratification. “Three and a half years ago,” he said, “you gave us the mandate to extricate the country from economic deadlocks and to create conditions for a better life. Together, we have made a significant effort, but not everything was corrected.” As positive progress, Mr. Karamanlis cited Greece’s recent rapid economic growth, the decline in unemployment, the increase in exports, and improved competitive ability in the global market.
The premier spoke also of the importance of revising the Constitution, especially to reinforce the provisions for clean government, to strengthen an independent judicial system, and to upgrade the educational system.
The calling of early elections was welcomed by George Papandreou, leader of the main opposition party. “Greece will turn the page and the new government of PASOK will get to work on the day after the elections,” he said.
The electoral body eligible to vote in the September 16 elections totals 9,824,223 based on the latest review (May-June, 2007) of the voter lists. Of the total, 4,746,516 are men, and 5,077,707 are women. There will be nearly 430,000 first-time voters in the coming elections.
From the U.S. Press
GREEN RESORT IN CRETE
The New York Times of August 19 published a feature on “sustainable Mediterranean resorts” which, as the headline stresses, are “Trying to be Green, With Very Little Water.” Prominence is given in the article to the operations of an Athens-based company which is developing resorts in Greece, Cyprus, and Croatia which will have “on-site desalination and wastewater treatment plants.” One of these is to be built at the Cavo Sidero site on Sitia Bay on the island of Crete after an environmental study costing $2.6 million. Its golf courses will be planted with “seashore paspalum, a salt-tolerant grass, and with local flora instead of grasses that require a lot of water.” The project, which “the Greek government strongly supports . . . includes six villages with traditional homes, villas and apartments as well as sports facilities, restaurants and shops on about one percent of the site,” with the rest “set aside for trails, nature areas and three golf courses.” Tourism Minister Fani Palli-Petralia is quoted as calling it “one of the greatest projects ever carried out in Greece.”
Lessons of the Ancients
*Under the title “The Zeus Trip” the New York Times of July 29 published a two-page feature describing a “lesson plan” for British school-age children on “a visit with the ancients” in Greece. The article describes a tour which, beginning and ending in Athens, included visits to the antiquities of Olympia, Kalamata, Nafplion, Pylos, Epidaurus, and other outstanding sites of ancient Greece. “Although,” writes the teacher who led the tour, “when we returned to London no one signed up for Greek lessons or wrote a paper on Pericles, the kids now know that Hermes, the messenger god, is not just a maker of luxury goods, and that Nike is not only a sporting brand but the winged Greek goddess of victory. Which, to me, felt like victory indeed.”
*Washington’s prestigious Cosmos Club has added several Greek wines to its restaurant and bar wine list. It describes as a “best buy” the 2005 Nasiakos Moschofilero with “aromas resembling fragrant flowers and a peach orchard”; the 2005 Gerovassiliou Malagousia with its “full floral nose and aftertaste with crisp lime acidity and crushed peaches”; the 2005 Biblia Chora Sauvignon Blanc with its “full rich nose” and “woody fruity taste”; the 2005 Kir Yianni Akakies rosé with its “complex full-bodied strawberry quality”; the 2005 Notios Peloponnesos, “rich and fruity with the barest touch of tannin”; and the 2003 Gerovassiliou Syrah for its “full-bodied nose, concentrated taste and aftertaste that is nicely balanced.”
“A Reliable and Dynamic Country”
A REVIEW OF GREECE'S INTERNATIONAL STANDING
A seminar on Greece’s foreign policy was held in Athens, July 30-31. It was attended by Greece’s ambassadors abroad and aimed to improve coordination between embassies and the foreign ministry.
After a comprehensive review of foreign policy issues in an opening address by Deputy Foreign Minister Yannis Valinakis and contributions from Development Minister Dimitris Sioufas and Defense Minister Evangelos Meimarakis, the seminar closed with an in-depth analysis by Foreign Minister Dora Bakoyannis of Greece’s foreign policy which, she said, is based on the “principle of mutuality, promoting the mutual interests of Greece and its international interlocutors.” Greece, she said, is now “a regional force of power and influence . . . Despite its small population, Greece is a key factor for stability in its surrounding region and is treated as a serious, reliable, and dynamic country.”
Relations with Turkey
Reviewing relations with Turkey, the minister said that Greece favors a stable and strong Turkish government “with a broad democratic legitimation, committed to the European idea.” This remains the guiding principle of Greece’s overall relations with Turkey, reflecting also Athens’ “clear strategic choice” favoring a European choice for the entire Balkan region, promoting peace, stability, and economic prosperity.
Adaptation to European standards, Ms. Bakoyannis said, confronts Turkey with a long road ahead. “Full adaptation will equal full accession.” Required reforms include democratization of institutions and human rights legislation. She was emphatic in particular regarding the rights of the Ecumenical Patriarch, spiritual leader of some 300 million Orthodox Christians worldwide.
On a bilateral level, the foreign minister said, Greece is committed to improved relations with Turkey while fully protecting its national interests. “We are bound to coexist and live together . . . It is my deepest conviction that we have an obligation to future generations to rid our countries of this burden. But this requires more than good intentions. It requires strong political will, plain speaking and plain solutions . . .We extend a hand of friendship. It is time for Turkey to respond.”
Full Cooperation with Cyprus Government
Turning to the problem of Cyprus, Ms. Bakoyannis noted the “continuing and fully harmonious” cooperation with its government in the effort to achieve “a just, viable, and functional” solution. The Republic of Cyprus, she observed, is now also Greece’s partner as a sovereign country in the European Union. Unfortunately, she said, the Turkish-Cypriot side, encouraged by Ankara, is resorting to delaying tactics. Greece, she said, will actively assist every effort for progress.
On the unresolved issue of an agreed name for the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM), the foreign minister affirmed a policy aimed at defending national interests. Greece, she said, has proved its willingness to engage in an effort to find a mutually agreed name for the country. It is now up to the neighboring country, she said, to “cross the corresponding distance,” abandoning irredentist propaganda and actively engaging in a good-neighbor policy.
Ms. Bakoyannis referred also to the efforts to determine the future status of Serbia’s Kosovo province, with its 90 percent Albanian population. Critical of any attempt at unilateral action as a threat to long-term peace and stability, she said that the future of Kosovo is “an international problem requiring an international solution” backed by a decision of the UN Security Council. Athens, she said, believes that Belgrade and Pristina should have another opportunity to reach consensus on a solution acceptable to both sides. Greece, the foreign minister said, is aware of the “exceptional difficulty” of the task, since the two sides have “entirely different starting points and completely different aims.” The solution of the issue, she said, should be compatible with European principles within the framework of the European prospects of the Balkan region.
Senator Barack Obama joined Senators Bob Menendez and Olympia Snowe in introducing on August 3 legislation which calls for the cessation of state-sponsored propaganda by FYROM. The bill also urges the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia to work with Greece within the UN framework process to achieve longstanding United States and United Nations policy goals by reaching a mutually acceptable name for FYROM. Similar legislation, backed by more than 75 members, has been introduced in the House of Representatives.
A “Historic Event” Says Prime Minister Karamanlis
TRIPARTITE NATURAL GAS AGREEMENT SIGNED
The creation of a Southern European Natural Gas Corridor was achieved by the signature in Rome on July 26 of an agreement which provides for the transportation of natural gas from the East to the West. The agreement, signed between Greece, Italy and Turkey, was described by Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis as “a historic event for all concerned”—not just for the three signing countries, but also for the countries of the Caspian Sea and the Middle East. It is, he said, also “an equally important project for Europe, since it ensures, via Turkey and Greece, the transport of gas from Asia to the major European markets . . . Our country is becoming a major and powerful international conduit for oil, natural gas and electricity, upgrading its geopolitical position.”
The tripartite agreement, which complements the earlier bilateral Greece-Italy and Greece-Turkey agreements, was signed by Development Minister Dimitris Sioufas, who referred to the construction, due to begin in June next year, of the Interconnector Greece-Italy (IGI) which supplements the natural gas line between Greece and Turkey. The IGI will have a land-based sector of 590 kilometers and an underwater section of 217 kilometers involving a total investment of some one billion euros, partly funded by the EU’s 4th Community Support Framework.
ECONOMY CONTINUES TO PROSPER
The National Statistical Service reported a growth rate of over 4.1 percent in the Greek economy in the second quarter of 2007 compared with that period of last year. The improvement was attributed to:
A 2.8 percent increase in spending on end consumption, contributing by 1.8 percent to the increase in final demand.
A 4.9 percent increase in investments, contributing 1.1 percent to increased final demand.
A 9.9 percent increase in exports, compared with only a 2.9 percent increase in the same period of 2006, accounting for 1.4 percent of increased final demand.
An increase of only 4.4 percent in imports, compared with a 13.1 percent increase last year.
Inflation in July was running at a rate of only 2.5 percent—the lowest in the past eight years; and unemployment, according to official figures for May 2007, was recorded at 7.7 percent, which was a nine-year low.
BRIEFLY . . .
Attending a memorial service in Nicosia marking the 30th anniversary of the death of Archbishop Makarios, first President of the Cyprus Republic, Greek President Karolos Papoulias called on Turkey to join in resolving the issue of a divided Cyprus. Turkey’s desire to become a member of the European Union, he said, is an important conjuncture for a solution of the Cyprus issue on the principles of the United Nations and the European Union as they concern the human rights of Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots.
*With a six percent increase of tourist arrivals in May and June over last year’s total for that period, it is expected that, for the year as a whole, the increase will approach the 10 percent forecast by Greece’s tourism ministry. Some 15.5 million tourists visited Greece last year. Foreign exchange spent by tourists in the first half of the year increased by 9 percent.
*Aspects of life on Crete, “the island of warmth and hospitality,” were explored by National Public Radio’s Joseph Shapiro in a series of broadcasts initiated in “All Things Considered” on July 30, with a second segment, on August 7, on how contemporary life and work are curbing Greece’s healthy napping custom, and a third story, on August 13, on the intense heat wave suffered by the Greek island of Crete this year.
*The Greek National Theater company will stage six performances of Sophocles’ “Electra” at New York’s City Center on October 10-14, directed by award-winning director Peter Stein.
*Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis inaugurated, at the Athens Archeological Museum, an exhibition of 75 works by the 4th century BC Athenian sculptor Praxiteles. Mr. Karamanlis said that the exhibition, previously mounted at the Louvre in Paris, “has a particular importance for all those who consider the Hellenic classical civilization to be a fundamental component of their identity.”
*A select group of Greek-American college students from top United States schools traveled to Athens this summer as part of the Next Generation Initiative’s new Athens Fellowship program in partnership with Greece’s Secretariat General of Information. Accompanied by former US Assistant Secretary of State Barbara Spyridon Pope, this inaugural group met with government, business, and media leaders and visited cultural sites. Athens Fellow Valerie Caras said it was an amazing opportunity for students like her to see for themselves the dramatic political and economic transformations that characterize the new Greece. More information at www.hellenext.org
Source: Press Office of the Embassy of Greece