Greece, known formally as the Hellenic Republic, and historically as Hellas, is a country located in south-eastern Europe. The population of Greece is approximately 10.955 million (as of 2015). Athens is the capital and largest city of the country, followed by Thessaloniki.
It is strategically situated on the crossroads of Asia, Europe and Africa. The country is situated on the southern part of the Balkan Peninsula, and borders with Albania to the north-west, with the Macedonia and Bulgaria in the north and with Turkey to the north-east. There are 9 regions in Greece: Macedonia, Central Greece, Peloponnese, Thessaly, Epirus, Aegean Islands , Thrace, Crete and the Ionian Islands. The Aegean Sea lies to the east of the continent, the Ionian Sea to the west and the Sea of Crete and the Mediterranean Sea to the south. Greece possesses the longest coastline on the Mediterranean and the 11th longest coastline of the world with a total length of 13,676 km (8,498 miles), which includes a large number of islands, with a total of 227 inhabited islands. 80% of Greece are mountainous, and Mount Olympus being the highest mountain with 2,918 meters (9,573 feet).
Ancient Greece has been considered to be the cradle of Western civilization as well as the birthplace of democracy, Olympic Games, Western philosophy, history, political science, most important scientific and mathematical principles as well as Western drama. Since the 8th century BC, Greeks have been organised in various so-called polis, independent city-states which stretched along the Mediterranean and the Black Sea. Philip of Macedonia united most of mainland Greece in the fourth century BC, and his son Alexander the Great quickly conquered much of the ancient world, spreading Greek culture and science all the way from the East Mediterranean to the Indus River. In the 2nd century BC, Greece has been annexed by Rome and became integrated into the Roman Empire and his successor, the Byzantine Empire, in which the Greek language and culture had been dominant. The establishment of the Greek Orthodox Church in the first century AD shaped modern Greek identity and transferred Greek traditions to the wider Orthodox world. After falling under Ottoman rule in the mid-nineteenth century, the modern nation-state of Greece emerged in 1830 following a war of independence. Greece’s abundant historical heritage is reflected with 18 UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
A founding member of the United Nations, Greece was the tenth member to join the European Communities (forerunner of the European Union) and has been part of the Eurozone since 2001. It is also a member of numerous other international institutions, including the Council of Europe, the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO), the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), (WTO), (OSCE) and (OIF). Greece’s unique cultural heritage, major tourist industry, significant shipping and geostrategic importance classify it as a middle class country. It is one of the most visited countries in Europe and the largest economy in the Balkans, where it is a major regional investor.
Tourism in Greece
A significant percentage of Greece’s national income comes from tourism. Tourism finances 16% of the gross domestic product, which also includes the Tourism Board and London-based World Travel. According to Eurostat statistics, Greece received more than 19.5 million tourists in 2009, up from 17.7 million in 2007.
In 2007, most visitors to Greece arrived from the European continent with 12.7 million, while most visitors, regardless of nationality, came from the United Kingdom (2.6 million), closely followed by Germany (2.3 million). The most visited region in Greece in 2010 was Central Macedonia with 18% of the total number of tourists in the country (3.6 million), followed by Attica with 2.6 million and the Peloponnese with 1.8 million. With 6.5 million tourists, the north of Greece is the most visited region of the country, and central Greece ranks 2nd with 6.3 million tourists.
In 2015, Greece has drawn 26 million visitors, making it one of the most visited destinations in Europe and the world.
Geography of Greece
Greece, being located in southern Europe, is a trans-continental country composed of a mountainous, peninsular land that juts into the sea on the southern end of the Balkans ending in the Peloponnese peninsula (separated from the mainland by the channel of the Isthmus of Corinth) which is strategically situated on the crossroads of Asia, Europe and Africa. Because of its highly indented coastline with numerous islands, Greece possesses the 11th longest coastline in the world with 13,676 km, and its land border is 1,160 km. The country lies roughly between latitudes 34°and 42°N, and longitudes 19°and 30°E.
80 % of Greece is made up of mountains or hills, making it one of the most mountainous countries in Europe. The mythical abode of the Greek gods, Mount Olympus, culminates in the Mytikas peak, which is the highest in the country at 2,918 metres. A number of lakes and wetlands are located in western Greece, which is dominated by the Pindus mountain range. A continuation of the Dinaric Alps, the Pindus reaches a maximum height of 2,637 metres at Smolikas (the second highest mountain in Greece) and has historically been a major barrier to east-west travel.
The Pindus Mountains continue through the central Peloponnese, crossing the islands of Kythera and Antikythera, and find their way into the southwestern Aegean, to the island of Crete, where they finally end. Islands in the Aegean are peaks of underwater mountains which were once an extension for the mainland. Pindus is characterised by its high, steep peaks, often cut by numerous canyons and a variety of other karst landscapes. The spectacular Vikos Gorge, part of the Vikos-Aoos National Park in the Pindus Mountains, is listed by the Guinness Book of Records as the deepest gorge in the world. Another remarkable formation is the Meteora rock pillars, on which medieval Greek Orthodox monasteries were built.
In the north-east of Greece is another high mountain range, the Rhodope Mountains, which cover the region of Eastern Macedonia and Thrace; this area is covered with vast, dense, ancient forests, among them is the famous Dadia Forest in the Evros in the far north-east of the country.
Extensive plains are found mainly in the regions of Thessaly, Central Macedonia and Thrace. They are key economic regions, as they are among the few arable areas in the country. The seas surrounding the Greek mainland are home to rare marine species such as the spiny mackerel and the loggerhead turtle, while the dense forests are home to the endangered brown bear, Eurasian lynx, roe deer and wild goat.
Islands in Greece
Greece has a large number of islands, between 1,200 and 6,000 depending on the definition, of which 227 are inhabited. Crete is the largest and most populated island; Evia, separated from the mainland by the 60 m wide Strait of Euripus, is the second largest, followed by Lesvos and Rhodes.
The Greek islands are traditionally divided into several groups : The Argo-Saronic Islands, in the Saronic Gulf near Athens; the Cyclades, a large but dense group occupying the central part of the Aegean Sea; the North Aegean Islands, a loose group off the west coast of Turkey; the Dodecanese, another loose group in the southeast between Crete and Turkey; the Sporades, a small but narrow group off the northeast coast of Evia; and the Ionian Islands, located west of the continent in the Ionian Sea.
Demographics of Greece
In 2011, according to the official Greek statistics,, the country’s total population had a total of 10,816,286 inhabitants. The birth rate in 2003 was 9.5 per 1,000 inhabitants, which is significantly lower than the rate of 14.5 per 1,000 in 1981. At the same time, the death rate increased slightly from 8.9 per 1 000 inhabitants in 1981 to 9.6 per 1 000 inhabitants in 2003.
Greek society has changed rapidly in recent decades. The falling birth rate has led to an increase in the median age, which coincides with the general ageing of Europe. According to the 2001 census, the population was 16.71% aged 65 years or older, 68.12% was aged between 15 and 64 years while 15.18% was aged 14 years or younger.
The marriage rate started to decline from almost 71 per thousand inhabitants in 1981 to 2002, then increased slightly to 61 per thousand in 2003 and fell back to 51 in 2004. In addition, the divorce rate rose from 191.2 per 1,000 marriages in 1991 to 239.5 per 1,000 marriages in 2004. As a consequence of these trends, today an average Greek family is both smaller and older compared to previous generations.
Millions of Greeks immigrated to the US, UK, Australia, Canada and Germany throughout the 20th century, establishing a significant Greek diaspora.
A study by the Mediterranean Migration Observatory states that, at the time of the 2001 census, 762,191 persons without Greek citizenship were living in Greece, representing about 7% of the total population. There were 48,560 EU or European Free Trade Association citizens among the residents who did not have citizenship, while 17,426 where Cypriots who had privileged status. The majority of them are from Eastern European countries: Albania (56%), Bulgaria (5%) and Romania (3%), while migrants from the former Soviet Union (Georgia, Russia, Ukraine, Moldova, etc.) account for 10% of the total. A part of the immigrants from Albania come from the Greek minority in Albania, concentrated in the region of Northern Epirus. In addition, the total Albanian population, which includes temporary migrants and undocumented persons, is about 600,000.
The 2011 census recorded 9,903,268 Greek nationals (91.56%), 480,824 Albanian nationals (4.44%), 75,915 Bulgarian nationals (0.7%), 46,523 Romanian nationals (0.43%), 34,177 Pakistani nationals (0.32%), 27,400 Georgian nationals (0.25%) and 247,090 persons with another nationality or unidentified (2.3%).
The largest accumulation of non-European immigrants can be found in the major urban centres, particularly in the city of Athens with 132,000 immigrants representing 17% of the local population, followed by Thessaloniki with 27,000 immigrants representing 7% of the local population. There is also a significant number of co-ethnics from the Greek communities in Albania and the former Soviet Union.
Greece, together with Italy and Spain, is a major destination for illegal immigrants trying to enter the EU. Illegal immigrants entering Greece do so mainly through the border with Turkey, at the Evros River, and through the islands of the Eastern Aegean Sea opposite Turkey (mainly Lesvos, Chios, Kos and Samos). In 2012, most of the illegal immigrants in Greece came from Afghanistan, followed by Pakistanis and Bangladeshis. In 2015, refugee arrivals by sea increased dramatically, mainly due to the ongoing Syrian civil war. There were 856,723 arrivals by sea in Greece, almost five times more than in the same period in 2014, with Syrians accounting for almost 45%. It is estimated that 8% of the arrivals applied for asylum in Greece.
Religion in Greece
The Greek Constitution recognizes Eastern Orthodoxy as the country’s “predominant” faith while guaranteeing freedom of religious belief for all. The Greek government does not keep statistics on religious groups and censuses do not ask questions on religious affiliation. An estimated 97% of Greek citizens describe themselves as Eastern Orthodox who belong to the Greek Orthodox Church, based on the U.S. Department of State report.
In a 2010 Eurostat – Eurobarometer survey, 79% of Greek citizens answered that they “believe in God”. 15.8% of Greeks describe themselves as “very religious” according to other sources, which is the highest rate of all European countries. The survey also revealed that only 3.5% of respondents never go to church, compared to 4.9% in Poland and 59.1% in the Czech Republic.
Estimates for the recognized Greek Muslim minority, mainly in Thrace, range from 98,000 to 140,000 (around 1%), while the immigrant Muslim community is estimated to number between 200,000 and 300,000. Albanian immigrants in Greece are generally associated with the Muslim religion, although most are secular in orientation. Under the 1919-1922 Treaties of Greece and Lausanne, Greece and Turkey agreed on a transfer of population-based on cultural and religious identity. About 500,000 Muslims from Greece, mainly those defined as Turks, but also Greek Muslims such as the Vallahades of Western Macedonia, were exchanged with about 1,500,000 Greeks from Turkey. Many refugees who have settled in formerly predominantly Ottoman Muslim villages across Central Macedonia and who were identified as Caucasian Orthodox Greeks, came from the Russian province of Transcaucasia Kars oblast after its transfer to Turkey, but in the few years before the official population exchange.
In Greece, Judaism have been present more than 2,000 years ago. Sephardic Jews were once a significant community in the city of Thessaloniki, numbering about 80,000 in 1900, more than half the population. However, after the German occupation of Greece and the Holocaust during the Second World War, the number of Jews is estimated at around 5,500.
The Roman Catholic community is estimated at about 250,000, of whom 50,000 are Greek citizens. There are 500,000 adherents of the Old Calendar. Protestants, among them the Greek Evangelical Church as well as the Free Evangelical Churches, are approximately 30,000. Other Christian minorities, such as the Assemblies of God, the International Foursquare Gospel Church and various Pentecostal churches of the Greek Synod of the Apostolic Church, have a total membership of about 12,000. The Independent Free Apostolic Church of Pentecost is the largest Protestant denomination in Greece with 120 congregations. There are no official statistics on the Free Apostolic Pentecostal Church, but the Orthodox Church estimates its membership at 20,000. Jehovah’s Witnesses claim 28,874 active members.
In recent years, the ancient Greek religion has undergone a slight revival, with about 2,000 active followers and 100,000 “sympathisers”.
Economy of Greece
According to World Bank statistics for 2013, the Greek economy is the 43rd largest in terms of nominal GDP, with $242 billion, and the 52nd largest in terms of purchasing power parity (PPP), with $284 billion. Greece is also the 15th largest economy in the EU-27. Greece ranks 40th in the world in terms of per capita income.
Greece has a high standard of living as well as a high Human Development Index. Its economy is mainly composed of services (85.0%) and industry (12.0%), while agriculture accounts for 3.0% of national economic output. The main sectors of the Greek economy are tourism (with 14.9 million international tourists in 2009, the country is the 7th most visited country in the European Union and ranked 16th in the world according to the UN WTO) and the merchant navy (with 16.2% of the world total, the Greek merchant navy is the largest in the world), while the country is also an important agricultural producer (including fishing) within the Union.
The Greek economy is bigger than all Balkan economies combined, which makes Greece the most significant economy in the Balkans as well as a major regional investor. Greece is the second largest investor of foreign capital in Albania, the third largest foreign investor in Bulgaria, the top three foreign investors in Romania and Serbia, and the largest trading partner and foreign investor in the Republic of Macedonia. Almost every week, Greek banks open a new branch somewhere in the Balkans. The Greek telecommunications company OTE has become an important investor in Yugoslavia and other Balkan countries.
The Greek economy is considered advanced and high-income. Greece was admitted to the Economic and Monetary Union of the European Union on 19 June 2000 and adopted the euro as its currency in January 2001, replacing the Greek drachma at an exchange rate of 340.75 drachmas to the euro.
Financial crisis (2010–present)
At the end of 2009, due to a combination of international and local factors, the Greek economy faced its most serious crisis since the restoration of democracy in 1974, after the Greek authorities had revised its deficit estimates from 6% to 12.7% of (GDP).
In early 2010, it was revealed that financial products had been developed with the help of Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan Chase and many other banks that allowed the governments of Greece, Italy and many other European countries to hide their debt. Dozens of similar agreements were concluded across Europe, in which banks delivered cash in advance in exchange for future payments from the governments concerned.
According to Spiegel, the loans granted to European governments were disguised as “swaps” and were therefore not recorded as debt. As Eurostat did not know the statistics on financial derivatives at the time, a German derivatives trader told Der Spiegel: “The Maastricht rules can be circumvented quite legally through swaps”, and, “Italy has used a similar trick in recent years to conceal its real debt with the help of another US bank”. These conditions had allowed Greek governments, as well as many other European governments, to manage beyond their means while meeting EU deficit targets.
In May 2010, Greece’s government deficit was again revised to 13.6%, the second highest in the world as a percentage of GDP, with Iceland first at 15.7% and the UK third at 12.6%. Government debt is expected to reach 120% of GDP in 2010, according to some estimates.
As a result, there has been an international crisis of confidence in Greece’s ability to repay its sovereign debt. To avoid such a default, the other eurozone countries and the IMF agreed in May 2010 on a rescue plan which provides for the immediate granting of 45 billion euros in loans to Greece, with additional financing of 110 billion euros to follow. To obtain this financing, Greece had to adopt severe austerity measures to control its deficit.
On 15 November 2010, the EU statistical agency Eurostat revised Greece’s public finance and debt figures following a methodological mission to Athens on the excessive deficit procedure and estimated Greece’s government deficit at 15.4% of GDP in 2009 and its government debt at 126.8% of GDP, making it the largest deficit (as a percentage of GDP) among EU Member States.
In 2011 it became clear that the rescue package would not be enough and in 2012 a second rescue package of €130bn ($173bn) was agreed, with strict conditions including financial reforms and further austerity measures. As part of this agreement, the burden of Greek debt to private creditors was to be reduced by 53% and all profits made by eurozone central banks on their holdings of Greek debt were to be repatriated to Greece. Greece recorded a primary budget surplus in 2013. In April 2014, Greece returned to the global bond market by selling €3bn worth of five-year government bonds with a yield of 4.95%. After six years of economic decline, Greece returned to growth in the second quarter of 2014 and was the fastest growing economy in the eurozone in the third quarter.