Greece was inhabited as early as the Paleolithic period by 3000 BC had become home, in the Cycladic Islands, to a culture whose art remains one of the most evocative in world history. In the second millennium BC, the area of Crete nurtured the maritime empire of the Minoans, whose trade reached from Egypt to Sicily. The Minoans were supplanted by the Mycenaeans of the Greek mainland, who spoke a dialect of ancient Greek. During the Roman, Byzantine, and Ottoman Empires (1st-19th centuries), Greece’s ethnic composition became more diverse. The roots of Greek language and culture go as far back a minimum of 3,500 years, and modern Greek preserves many aspects of its classical predecessor.
Eastern Orthodox Christianity is the dominant religion in Greece and receives state funding. During centuries of Ottoman domination, the Greek Orthodox Church preserved the Greek language and cultural identity and was an essential rallying reason for the struggle for independence. There is a centuries-old Muslim religious minority concentrated in Thrace and an estimated 300,000 legal Muslim immigration living elsewhere in the nation. Smaller religious communities in Greece include Old Calendar Orthodox, Catholics, Protestants, Jews, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and Mormons.
Greek education is free and compulsory for kids between 6 and 15. Overall responsibility for education rests using the Ministry of National Education and Religious Affairs. Private colleges and universities (mostly foreign) have campuses in Greece despite the fact that their degrees aren’t recognized by the Greek state. Entrance to public universities is determined by state-administered exams.
The Greek War of Independence began in 1821 and concluded in 1830 when England, France, and Russia forced the Ottoman Empire to grant Greece its independence under a European monarch.
At independence, Greece had a place of 47,515 square kilometers (18,346 square mi.), and its northern boundary extended from the Gulf of Volos to the Gulf of Arta. Under the influence of the “Megali Idea,” which in the most broad interpretation meant the expansion from the Greek state to incorporate all areas where significant Greek communities existed, Greece acquired the Ionian islands in 1864; Thessaly and a part of Epirus in 1881; a part of Macedonia, Crete, Epirus, and also the Aegean islands in 1913; western Thrace in 1918; and the Dodecanese islands in 1947.
Greece entered World War I in 1917 on the side of the Allies. After the war, Greece took part in the Allied occupation of Turkey, where lots of Greeks still lived. In 1921, the Greek army marched toward Ankara, but was defeated by Turkish forces led by Kemal Mustapha Ataturk and was forced to withdraw. In an exchange of populations under the Treaty of Lausanne, more than 1.3 million refugees from Turkey poured into Greece, and nearly 800,000 Greek Turks were delivered to Turkey. This huge influx of individuals created enormous challenges for that Greek economy and society.
Greek politics, particularly between your two world wars, involved a struggle for power between monarchists and republicans. Greece was proclaimed a republic in 1924, but George II returned to the throne in 1935. A plebiscite in 1946 upheld the monarchy, which was finally abolished by referendum on December 8, 1974.
Greece’s entry into World War II was precipitated by the Italian invasion on October 28, 1940. Despite Italian superiority in numbers and equipment, determined Greek defenders drove the invaders back to Albania. Hitler was forced to divert German troops to safeguard his southern flank and overran Greece in 1941. Following a severely German occupation in which many Greeks died (including over 90% of Greece’s Jewish community) German forces withdrew in October 1944, and the government-in-exile returned to Athens.
After the German withdrawal, the principal Greek resistance movement, that was controlled by the communists, refused to disarm. A banned demonstration by resistance forces in Athens in December 1944 led to battles with Greek Government and British forces. Continuing tensions led to the outbreak of full-fledged civil war in 1946. First the United Kingdom and later the U.S. gave extensive military and economic aid to the Greek Government. In 1947, Secretary of State George C. Marshall implemented the Marshall Plan under President Truman, which focused on the financial recovery and the rebuilding of Europe. The U.S. led vast sums of dollars to rebuild Greece’s buildings, agriculture, and industry.
In August 1949, the Greek national army forced the remaining insurgents to surrender or flee to Greece’s communist neighbors. The insurgency resulted in 100,000 killed, 700,000 displaced persons inside the country, and catastrophic economic disruption. This civil war left Greek society deeply divided between leftists and rightists.
Greece became a member of NATO in 1952. From 1952 to late 1963, Greece was governed by conservative parties–the Greek Rally of Marshal Alexandros Papagos and its successor, the National Radical Union (ERE) of Konstantinos Karamanlis. In 1963, the Center Union Party of George Papandreou was elected and governed until July 1965. It was followed by a succession of unstable coalition governments.
On April 21, 1967, just before scheduled elections, a group of colonels led by Col. George Papadopoulos seized power in a coup d’état. The junta suppressed civil liberties, established special military courts, and dissolved political parties. Several thousand political opponents were imprisoned or exiled to remote Greek islands. In November 1973, following an uprising of students at the Athens Polytechnic University, General Dimitrios Ioannides replaced Papadopoulos and tried to continue the dictatorship.
Greece adopted the euro (€) as its currency in January 2002. The adoption of the euro provided Greece (formerly a high inflation risk country under the drachma) with use of competitive loan rates and also to reduced rates from the Eurobond market. This led to a dramatic increase in consumer spending, which gave a significant boost to economic growth. Between 1997-2007, Greece averaged 4% GDP growth, almost twice the European Union (EU) average. As with other European countries, the financial crisis and resulting slowdown of the real economy have taken their toll on Greece’s rate of growth, which slowed to 2.0% in 2008. The economy went into recession in 2009 and contracted by 2.0% due to the planet financial crisis and it is impact on access to credit, world trade, and domestic consumption–the engine of growth in Greece.
Greece and Turkey have unresolved disagreements regarding the Aegean maritime boundary, the treatment of the Orthodox Church and Greek minority in Istanbul, the Muslim (primarily ethnic Turkish) minority in western Thrace, and also the expanding flows of undocumented migrants, many from zones of conflict in South Asia and the Middle East, across the Aegean into Greece.
Sometimes in the last 3 decades, tensions between Greece and Turkey have almost reached the point of armed confrontation. In 1996, President Bill Clinton intervened to help avert a possible armed exchange after a dispute over ownership of a tiny, uninhabited Aegean islet called Imia (Kardak in Turkish). A significant breakthrough in relations took place when major earthquakes hit Turkey and Greece in 1999. Both countries and peoples responded generously to the other’s need, helping turn around official perceptions that rapprochement was too risky politically. Ever since then, Greek and Turkish foreign ministers have raised the quantity and excellence of bilateral exchanges, both official and unofficial.
Greece enjoys a geostrategic position for the transit of oil and gas from Caspian Basin and western Asia producers to the consumers of that energy in Europe. Greece is trying to become an energy hub for these resources and has undertaken policies to that particular end. Benefiting from its geographic position, Greece has identified four regional energy projects as top priorities. Greece, along with Turkey and Italy, is a partner of the ITGI (Interconnector Turkey-Greece-Italy) gas pipeline that, if fully realized, would transport up to 11 billion cubic meters of mostly Azerbaijani (and perhaps other) gas to southern Europe by 2012. The ITGI currently transmits about 0.75 billion cubic meters of gas from Turkey to Greece; however, Turkey and Azerbaijan need to conclude a gas transit and pricing agreement before the full potential of the project can be realized. An ancillary project to ITGI is the IGB (Interconnector Greece- Bulgaria), the industry gas pipeline spur, linking ITGI with the Bulgarian market. Greece has been discussing for several years the development of an oil pipeline to transport Russian oil between the Bulgarian Black Sea port of Burgas and the Greek port of Alexandroupolis on the Aegean coast. The purpose of the project is to reduce oil tanker ship traffic from the Black Sea through the crowded Bosporus strait, reducing the risk of environmental degradation and speeding the flow of oil to Western markets. The Burgas-Alexandroupolis pipeline currently is being held up by an incomplete environmental impact assessment for the Burgas terminal area. In 2007, Greece signed a contract with Russia to sign up in the proposed Russian South Stream gas pipeline, which would run along the Black Sea seabed and emerge in Bulgaria, eventually passing through Greece. This megaproject remains in the conceptual stages with challenges linked to the technical feasibility of transiting the Black Sea, and queries about the accessible sources and quantities of gas to fill the pipeline.
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Other important threads about Greece: