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Page Updated 05/05/2018 14:51

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Greek News Roundup:  By Dr John Phillips

 


John Phillips

 

 

Greek News – April 2018

 

Turkey, the FYROM name issue and Yanis Varoufakis have been the main news items this month. I will start with the tragic death of a Greek pilot returning from a mission to intercept Turkish jets which had violated Greek air space.

With the ever-deteriorating relations between Greece and Turkey, there is fear that an accidental incident could spark a conflict.  Last Thursday, a Greek pilot was killed when his single-seat Mirage fighter jet crashed into the sea north of the island of Skyros after returning from a mission to intercept Turkish jets.  The jet piloted by 34-year-old Captain Giorgos Baltadoros was one of two Mirages that had departed from Skyros to intercept a pair of Turkish F-16s which had violated Greek air space in the area between the eastern Aegean islands of Lesvos and Chios.

By the time the Mirages arrived in the area the Turkish jets had already left and the pilots sent out a signal that the F-16s were beyond visual range. On their return to Skyros, both jets were flying at a low altitude due to poor visibility on account of cloudy weather and the African dust in the atmosphere. An alert was sounded after the pilot of the other Mirage saw Baltadoros’s jet suddenly “dip,” 9 nautical miles northeast of Skyros.

The death of a Greek fighter jet is a grim reminder of the deadly tally incurred by the Hellenic Air Force in the last few decades. The Greek Air Force has mourned the loss of 125 of its people in 81 plane crashes that occurred for various reasons in the line of duty during the period from 1990 to 2018.  Although only two military aircraft have fallen during actual dogfights with Turkish fighter jets, many more of these air force deaths have resulted from accidents associated with Greek planes being sent out, often in poor weather to intercept Turkish planes violating Greek airspace.

The Hellenic Armed forces declared three days of national mourning. The Greek parliament has announced it will support financially the family of the deceased Air Force pilot. The measure is a standard practise followed by the Greek parliament for the children of pilots who perish in the line of duty and means they will receive a yearly stipend until they reach.

Greece and its air force have now mourned the death of yet another pilot.  With the vitriolic rhetoric which follows such accidents, this incident could easily have escalated into conflict.  With US -Turkish relations also at an all-time low, who is left to mediate between Athens and Ankara when the next clash in the Aegean inevitably occurs.

FYROM

Despite optimism earlier in the year that a deal over the name of the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) was within reach, the momentum after the more recent talks between the foreign ministers of both countries appears to have slowed down.   Although foreign ministers Nikos Kotzias and Nikola Dimitrov have agreed on almost all peripheral matters, there still remains a gaping gap on core issues such as FYROM’s constitution and the scope of use of its new name.  Greece wants Skopje to rid its constitution of anything that can lead to irredentist claims over its own northern province of Macedonia. Skopje does not want to change references in its constitution to a “Macedonian” language and identity, which Greece does not recognize.

Yanis Varoufakis

Yanis Varoufakis is back. He, of course, would say he never went away, but in Greece’s hurly-burly world of politics his is a name prone to trigger an intensely toxic reaction.  The maverick former finance minister is in fighting mood as he launches his new party, MeRA25 or Μέρα25 as it is commonly known as. Μέρα25 is a campaign against the terms of the bailout agreements, which, in his view, will saddle Greece with economic burdens for several generations to come.

Political parties come and go in Greece.  The once-mighty PASOK is now just an insignificant partner in a minor coalition party, which commands about 10% of the poll. The centrist party, Potami, which started with such high hopes just a couple of years ago now musters the support of less than 3% of the population.  Will Varoufakis’ Μέρα25 do any better? Varoufakis is still a controversial figure in Greece, where many blame his handling of negotiations with the EU for the severe price the country has had to pay for its third, €86bn bailout. It must however be remembered that at the last election – the first Varoufakis contested as an MP – he won more votes than any other candidate on SYRIZA’s ticket, Varoufakis still has a following worthy of a rock star in Europe.  His call for Greeks to re-engage in active politics may appeal to many Greeks disaffected by both SYRIZA and Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras’ abandonment of his once fiercely anti-austerity politics.

Although Varoufakis’ resignation now seems a long time ago, the launching his own party in Greece has unleashed emotions that have run the gamut from enthusiasm to anger and disdain. Media reaction so far has been cool; so too has that of politicians. None of which seems to bother Varoufakis in the least.  He is still all swagger and but whether he can capitalise on SYRIZA’s losses is far from certain. These days, Greeks may have less appetite for Varoufakis’ style of confrontation.

Other News

The American entrepreneur, Elon Musk, may have plans to colonise Mars but back on planet Earth he is extending his reach to Athens, by opening an engineering facility called Tesla Greece.

Tesla, Musk’s electric car business, is an unsung success story for the Greek diaspora, with three of Tesla’s top designers boasting degrees from the National Technical University of Athens. Outside the UK, the Netherlands and Germany, the electric car manufacturer has no presence in Europe and opening a Greek office is a “vote of confidence” in Greece and in the quality of its technical education.

It is expected that Tesla Greece will run a research and development centre from the state-run Demokritos Centre for Scientific Research. The centre will act as Tesla’s base for southeast Europe. It is understood that Tesla’s three Greek principal designers will move back to Athens and Tesla Greece will employ at least a further 50 engineers at the centre. Greece Universities are particularly strong in the field of electric motor engineering and its technical universities offer tailored programmes and specialised skills for electric motor technology.

Travel

A new ferry route that will link all the Ionian islands for the first time will be inaugurated on May 1st; it will run until October 31st.  It will now be now possible to island-hop through the Ionian islands without returning to the mainland.  The new sea routes will be plied by High Speed Azimut Joy Cruises and its 30-metre vessel can carry up to 260 passengers. The new ferry journey will link Corfu with Paxi, Lefkada, Ithaca, Kefalonia and Zakynthos every Monday, Wednesday and Friday, and vice versa on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday.


 

The Irish budget airline Ryanair is closing its base in Chania, Crete and is reducing its domestic flights within Greece. According to the airline’s announcement last Thursday, from June 1 the airline will cut back its domestic flights in Greece and transfer one aircraft from Athens and another from Chania to Germany, where it is expanding its services. A quick check on Ryanair’s web site suggests that its Bristol-to-Chania service is unaffected

Ioannis Phokas

Not many people have heard of the Greek explorer Ioannis Phokas (Ἰωάννης Φωκᾶς).  Born in 1536 on the Greek Ionian island of Kefalonia, and dying there in 1602, Phokas was a maritime pilot who served King Philip II of Spain. He was usually known by his Spanish name, Juan de Fuca and is best known for having explored the Strait of Anian, located between Vancouver Island in Canada and the Olympic Peninsula which is located in the north-west part of the US state of Washington, which is now known as the Juan de Fuca Strait.

In the past there has been a lot of controversy surrounding Juan de Fuca’s voyages since researchers were unable to find any records of his expedition in the Spanish colonial archives. This cast doubt not only on his discovery, but whether he even existed.  Some scholars, along with Captain Cook, the 18th century British explorer, believed that Juan de Fuca, was entirely fictitious.

 However, in 1787, when English explorer Captain Charles William Barkley re-discovered the Strait of Anian, exactly as the Greek had described and promptly renamed it the Strait of Juan de Fuca. In 1859, the U.S. Consul in the Ionian Islands found that Juan de Fuca was not only a real person, but that his family and history were well known throughout the Greek islands of the Ionian Sea.

Now despite previous claims he never existed at all, Juan de Fuca or Ioannis Phokas using his proper name, is being jointly honoured in both Kefalonia and Vancouver. Recently the port in Argostoli, Kefalonia has been renamed his honour and statues of Phokas are being erected in both cities. Perhaps now this Greek explorer will now receive his due recognition.

And finally…….Many of you will probably remember the old blue and white KTEL country buses of Greece in the 1950’s and ‘60s.  They are nostalgically described as “atmospheric” which meant full of tobacco smoke with driver’s cigarettes and lighter tucked strategically behind the "No Smoking” sign.

In Athens and Piraeus, things were slightly better with smarter dark blue white buses and garishly-painted bright orange trolley buses, which lasted into the 1980’s.  In those days, you had to enter the bus from the rear, buy a ticket and hope you could force your way to the front before you had to get off. Nowadays things have much improved, the new buses are cleaner, air-conditioned and the seats, if you can find one, are more comfortable.

Not all the old buses have been scrapped and recently the citizens of Piraeus were given the rare opportunity to take a ride on one of the now antique buses or trollies, which once upon a time roamed the streets of Greece’s largest port connecting it with nearby Athens.  Two orange trolley buses and one blue bus were brought out of retirement to run the Kastella-Pasalimani line for a day over Easter. At Pasalimani, lots of curious onlookers gathered to take a glimpse of these vehicles from a bygone era. Many went inside to gaze at the large steering wheels, the hard iron seats and the different types of windows that you could actually open if you only knew how to operate the complicated arrangements of catches and handles.

Would the present-day citizens of Athens and Piraeus choose now choose ride on these old buses for just a few drachma?  No is the answer, Today’s Athenians would never contemplate travelling on public transport without air-con.

 

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Greek News – March 2018

 

With Greece quietly negotiating a comprehensive deal for the post-bailout era, the main news this

month has been about Turkey and Greek football. I had planned to start with the deteriorating

relations with Turkey but there is “hot-off-the press” news regarding an important step in resolving

the FYROM name issue; we will deal with this first.

FYROM (Updated 22/3/18)

As negotiations between Greece and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia on the Balkan

state’s official name gather pace, Foreign Minister Nikos Kotzias has made a landmark visit to

Skopje travelling on the first direct flight between Athens and Skopje in nearly 12 years. Apart from

the significant symbolism of his visit, Kotzias’ discussions with FYROM government officials has

focused the seven-point proposal sent to Skopje by Athens. There appears to be convergence on

three of those points: on the name Republika Gorna Makedonija (Republic of Upper Macedonia),

on the acronym that will be used, and on Greece’s demand for FYROM to demonstrate its rejection

of irredentism.

Turkey

The tension with Turkey fuelled by the arrest of two Greek soldiers almost three weeks ago and the

incendiary rhetoric coming out of Ankara has raised concerns in the Greek government that the two

countries are heading for a protracted crisis in which Washington and Brussels can only do so much

to intervene. Despite keeping lines of communication with Ankara open through correspondence

between the heads of the two countries’ militaries, Athens fears that Ankara is intent on escalating

tensions further.

At the beginning of March, 2 Greek border guards, a lieutenant and a sergeant had accidentally

become lost in bad weather whilst on patrol and had strayed across the heavily defended Turkish

frontier. The soldiers were arrested, charged with entering a prohibited military zone and held on

suspicion of espionage. Cross-border infractions of this nature are common and would ordinarily

be a routine affair resolved at officer level. There are fears the soldiers were detained in a tit-for-tat

move by Turkish authorities eager to secure the extradition of eight Turkish military personnel who

fled to Greece after an attempted coup against Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s government in July 2016.

At present, there is a total lack of information regarding the fate of the two soldiers. Greece fears

that Turkey is deliberately slowing the pace of the legal procedure so that it can use their release as

a bargaining chip and force the government into negotiations over other issues as well.

Turkey’s conduct has convinced Athens, Washington, Brussels and other EU capitals, that Turkey

is resorting to a strategy that includes the arrest of people as a means of blackmail, especially of

Western countries. The US has been dealing with a similar issue after the arrest in Turkey in

October 2016 of an American pastor, Andrew Brunson, and his life conviction by a Turkish court

last week.

Diplomats in Europe have become increasingly alarmed as tensions have risen markedly not only

along the land border between Greece and Turkey but in the Aegean Sea and off the coast of

Cyprus, where Ankara has threatened to use military force in a dispute over the ethnically divided

island’s right to explore for oil and gas reserves. Last month, Turkey’s hostility in the region led to

the suspension of Italian energy company Eni’s drilling operations in Block 3 of Cyprus’s exclusive

economic zone (EEZ). The incident with the Italian drillship was condemned by the governments

of Cyprus, Italy and the US and the European Commission. As a result, the United States has

increased its naval presence in the Eastern Mediterranean, Although the American naval presence is

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officially to support to a planned naval exercise by the US and Israel, it almost coincides with

scheduled hydrocarbon drilling in Block 10 of Cyprus’s EEZ by American energy giant

ExxonMobil.

In the last few days, the situation has deteriorated even further. Protesters have taken to the streets

of northern Greece demanding the release of two Greek soldiers detained by Turkey. Greece’s

defence minister, Panos Kammenos, described the pair of soldiers as “hostages” comparing

[Turkey’s] handling of the case being reminiscent of “Midnight Express”, a non-fiction book, which

became the basis of a 1978 Oscar-winning movie featuring scenes of abhorrent prison conditions

and police abuse in Turkey. Kammenos has also ordered border patrols to be stepped up along the

heavily defended land frontier the two nations share.

Meanwhile, the mood in Turkey too has become increasingly fractious ahead of presidential and

parliamentary elections next year. With the country in a state of emergency since the coup, Erdoğan

and his Islamist AKP party have sought to exploit nationalist fervour, going so far as to team up

with the nationalist opposition MHP party in an attempt to secure greater power. On Tuesday,

President Erdoğan intensified his rhetoric against both Nicosia and Athens warning against any

“attempted drillings” off the coast of Cyprus.

Greek Football

A Russian oligarch and football club proprietor stunned spectators when he stormed on to the pitch

carrying a gun during a match in Greece after a goal by his PAOK Salonika team was disallowed in

the 89th minute of the Greek Super-league match against AEK Athens on Sunday. The game was

subsequently abandoned after Savvidis threatened to kill the referee.

The Russian oligarch, Ivan Savvidis, is one of Greece’s most powerful businessmen. The 59-yearold

is former member of the Russian duma and is reputedly has close ties to Vladimir Putin.

Savvidis is already facing disciplinary action from football authorities over the incident. It is

widely rumoured that he will be fined at least €50,000 and prohibited from entering stadiums for the

next three to five years. PAOK, his team, which had been tipped to win the league now face

relegation.

Savvidis has been ordered to appear to before a public prosecutor after criminal charges were

brought against him but he has not been seen since the incident. It is believed he has fled to Russia.

Questions are being asked in the press why he had not been arrested and whether he had “privileged

protection”.

The world soccer federation, FIFA, has warned that Greek football was on the edge of the cliff, and

unless the notoriously violence-prone sport was immediately cleaned up, Greece’s football clubs

and international teams would be excluded from international competition.

Other News

Royal Visit to Greece

Prince Charles and his wife Camilla have accepted an invitation by the President of the Hellenic

Republic, Prokopis Pavlopoulos, for an official visit to Greece in May. It will be the first time in

modern Greek history that members of the British royal family have been official guests of Greece.

Although the queen has travelled to more than 100 countries but she never visited the birthplace of

her husband, Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh, as head of state. The only time she set foot on Greek

soil was in 1950 at the invitation of King Paul, Prince Philip’s cousin, but that was before she

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became the British monarch. Prince Charles however is a frequent visitor to Greece to visit the

churches and monasteries of Mount Athos.

The visit by Charles and Camilla is scheduled to take place on May 9th to 11th of May. The royal

couple will visit the Acropolis and other ancient sites in the Greek capital, but it is not clear yet

whether Charles will take the opportunity to revisit Corfu, the birthplace of his father.

Archaeology

New excavations on the remote island of Keros (Κέρος) reveal monumental architecture and

technological sophistication at the dawn of the Cycladic Bronze Age

Researchers from the University of Cambridge excavating at Dhaskalio, (Δασκαλιό), a tiny

uninhabited islet just off the west coast of Keros the site adjoining the prehistoric sanctuary on the

Cycladic island of Keros has shown that the settlement here to be a more imposing and densely

occupied series of structures than had previously been realised, and one of the most impressive sites

of the Aegean during the Early Bronze Age (3rd millennium BC).

Until recently, Keros, was known for ritual activities dating from 4,500 years ago involving broken

marble figurines. Now new excavations are showing that the promontory of Dhaskalio, which has

now become a tiny islet because of sea level rise was almost entirely covered by remarkable

monumental constructions built using stone painstakingly brought from Naxos, some 10km distant.

Almost every possible space on the islet was built on, giving the impression of a single large

monument jutting out of the sea. The complex is the largest known in the Cyclades at the time.

While excavating an impressive staircase in the lower terraces, archaeologists began to see the

technical sophistication of this civilisation a millennium before the famous palaces of the

Mycenaeans. Underneath the stairs and within the walls they discovered complex systems of

drainage, indicating that the architecture was multipurpose and carefully planned in advance. Tests

are now underway to discover whether the drains were for managing clean water or sewage. The

excavations also showed that the inhabitants of Dhaskalio were proficient metalworkers. There are

no metal ore sources on Keros; therefore all raw materials had to be imported from elsewhere such

as the Cycladic islands of Seriphos (Σέριφος) and Kythnos (Κύθνος) or the mainland.

What was the reason for this massive undertaking here? As with the broken marble figurines, which

Keros is chiefly known for, nobody knows. Professor Colin Renfrew, a Co-Director of the

excavation, suggested that the promontory with its narrow causeway to the main island, “may have

become a focus because it formed the best natural harbour on Keros, and had an excellent view of

the north, south and west Aegean”.

Further information on the Keros excavations can be found at:

https://www.arch.cam.ac.uk/unusually-sophisticated-prehistoric-monuments-and-technology-in-theheart-

of-the-aegean.

 

Islet of Dhaskalio

Image result for Islet of Dhaskalio

Photo credit: Cambridge Keros Project

Electronic Tickets for Greece’s Archaeological Sites

Electronic tickets for 11 of Greece’s premier archaeological sites and museums will become

available from June 1st this year just in time for the surge of tourists who descend on Greece for the

summer. At the beginning, it will only be available for the major Athenian attractions such as the

National Archaeological and Byzantine Museums, the Acropolis, the Ancient and Roman agora’s,

the Temple of Olympian Zeus, the Kerameikos archaeological museum and site, Hadrian’s Library

and Aristotle’s Lyceum. According to some reports, it will also include the Knossos and Messene

archaeological sites later expanding to Delphi, Olympia, Thessaloniki and Ioannina.

E-Tickets are ubiquitous in the US, and already in use at such venerated institutions as The

American Museum of Natural History, The Smithsonian, and The Holocaust Museum. E-tickets

will make it easier for the Greek government to keep track of the number of visitors and security. It

will also be useful to tourists who will no longer have to queue for ages to buy tickets while

coachloads of visitors are shepherded in ahead of them. The innovative initiative was made possible

and funded by the Stavros Niarchos Foundation and National Bank of Greece. Although it is

claimed that full details are available on the Facebook page of the Central Archaeological Council.

there is nothing there at the moment.

A recent press release from TAP, the Archaeological Receipts Fund, which is responsible for

collecting revenues from Greece’s archaeological product has issued a warning about a scam where

a webpage is selling tickets to the Acropolis at seven euros over their normal price claiming

fallaciously that these tickets will offer priority entrance into the site.

And finally,……a Greek-Cypriot teacher, Andria Zafirakou (Άντρια Ζαφειράκου), has been chosen

as the world’s best educator at an award ceremony held earlier this month in Dubai. Zafirakou is an

art and textile teacher at Alperton Community school in the London suburb of Brent, one of the

poorest areas in this country. The 39-year-old was named winner of the fourth annual Varkey

Foundation Global Teacher award at a glittering ceremony in Dubai. The prize is accompanied by a

cash sum of $1 million.

 

The Brent area where Zafirakou teaches in is one of the most ethnically diverse places in the UK

with 130 languages spoken in its schools. Zafirakou learned to greet her students in 35 languages

because many of the children attending her school have difficulty speaking English. Among the

languages she has learned are Portuguese, Hindi, Tamil, Arabic, Romanian, Polish and Italian.

Zafirakou was born in London to a Greek-Cypriot mother and a Greek father; this makes it a truly

Anglo-Hellenic success!

 

Greek News – February 2018

 

With EU bailout money and economic affairs taking back seat this month, most of the political news is international and for a change we will start with Cyprus.

After a lacklustre campaign, President Nikos Anastasiades comfortably won a second five-year term in the Cypriot presidential election. The conservative statesman received 56% of the vote with his left-wing challenger, Stavros Malas securing 44% of the vote. The result is similar to that five years ago when Anastasiades had won his first term with 57.4 percent against Malas’ 42.6%.  He had campaigned for re-election promising to re-energise the stalled peace process. These UN-mediated talks which were aimed at uniting Cypriots in a bi-zonal federation collapsed amid anger and mutual recrimination last July but still came closer than ever before to success.

Meanwhile on the other side of a UN-patrolled “green line” in the island’s north, some 5,000 Turkish Cypriots chanting “we want our country back” took to the streets of Nicosia in a mass demonstration against Ankara’s heavy-handed policies towards the breakaway republic.  Tensions with the Turkish government mounted after a mob of hardliners known as the “Grey Wolves” attacked the offices of the Turkish Cypriot pro-reunification newspaper “Afrika” for running a front-page article critical of Turkey’s military offensive against Kurdish militants in Syria. The Grey Wolves are a Turkish ultranationalistneo-fascist organization. Established in the late 1960s, it rose to prominence during the late 1970s political violence in Turkey when its members engaged in urban guerrilla warfare with left-wing activists and militants. They are also alleged to have been behind both the Taksim Square massacre in Istanbul on May Day, 1977 and the assassination attempt on Pope John Paul II in 1981.

The collapse of the UN talks last July has often been blamed on President Anastasiades’ understandable reluctance to make political concessions so close to a presidential election. Now he has a mandate to resume reunification talks unfettered by electoral concerns for the next five years. Perhaps we will see a united Cyprus before the next presidential election in 2023.

FYROM

The Greek government has welcomed an announcement by Zoran Zaev, the prime minister of the Yugoslavian Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) that his country is willing to change its name in order that one of the world’s most vexing disputes could soon be solved. According to diplomats, among the new names being considered are Upper Macedonia, New Macedonia, Northern Macedonia and Macedonia (Skopje), In addition Skopje's “Alexander the Great” airport has been already renamed “Skopje International Airport” and that the main road route to Greece is now known as the “Friendship highway”. The proposed names however still remain unpopular among certain groups of the Greek community both in Greece and across the diaspora. Hundreds of thousands of people protested in Athens over the prospect of a solution that would include the word “Macedonia”. The Greek foreign minister, Nikos Kotzias, and several other senior government officials had received death threats for their conciliatory stance on the issue.

Although nothing seems to have happened on the diplomatic front since our last meeting, things have been happening behind the scenes. Nikos Kotzias and his FYROM counterpart, foreign minister, Nicola Dimitrov have met several times during the last month. The Bulgarian President has waded the “name” dispute between Greece and FYROM saying that issue also concerns Bulgaria. Although he did not explain further, it is believed that he is concerned about the rise of IMRO, a Bulgarian a right-wing populist political party. IMRO is a reincarnation of the Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization, a pan Bulgarian revolutionary political organization in the Macedonia and Thrace regions which was founded in the late 19th century. Bearing in mind IMRO’s violent past, Bulgaria’s concerns are understandable.

Both Greece and FYROM are under intense political pressure to resolve the row, which has held up the Balkan nation’s drive to join NATO and the EU. The dispute threatens western-style liberal politics across Europe’s most historically volatile region where growing Russian intervention is increasingly a cause for alarm. The EU would like FYROM to join them. Greece is beholden to the EU who hold a tight rein on its purse strings.  Zaev been more progress than all the leaders before him and Greece’s prime minister, Alexis Tsipras, is as keen as Zaev to reach a settlement.  Although the current Greek government wants to see the issue resolved, it is so politicised it is hard to see how they could push it through. Tsipras only governs with the support of the right wing Independent Greeks party, which has taken a hard line on the name row. It is so tantalising close to an agreement yet still so far.

On Monday (19/02/18), the FYROM leader, Zoran Zaev, has reportedly said he expects the protracted name dispute with Greece to be resolved in the summer. Zaev was quoted by the Reuters news agency as saying he expected the issue to be fixed ahead of a NATO summit scheduled for the summer.

Imia

The two islands of Imia (Ίμια) are back in the news.  For those who don’t remember, Imia consists of a pair of small uninhabited islets in the Aegean Sea, which are situated between the Dodecanese and the southwestern mainland coast of Turkey. They lie roughly midway between the Greek island of Kalymnos and the Turkish peninsula of Bodrum. Their total surface area is 10 acres.

Although aspects of the islands’ sovereignty such as territorial waters and national airspace had been disputed between the two countries for decades, conflicts over the possession of island territory were unknown until the end of 1995. The dispute over Imia arose when, a Turkish Cargo ship accidentally ran aground on one of the islets and had to be salvaged.  The resultant dispute rapidly escalated with Greek and Turkish forces coming close to armed conflict until the situation was defused by a US envoy, Richard Holbrooke.  In the aftermath of the crisis, the dispute was widened Turkey began to lay parallel claims to a larger number of other islets in the Aegean which are regarded as indisputably Greek by Greece.

Tensions around the islets were renewed in January 2017 following Greece’s refusal to extradite alleged participants of the failed 2016 Turkish coup d'état. A Turkish navy missile boat accompanied with two special-forces speedboats entered the area around the islets. Almost exactly a year later, on February 12th, this year, a Turkish coastguard patrol vessel rammed a Greek coastguard boat near the islets. Nobody was injured, but the Greek vessel suffered damage to the stern where the Turkish boat hit it with its bows. Although the Turkish Foreign Ministry denied the Turkish vessel was at fault, TV footage revealed a Turkish patrol boat ramming the Greek boat.

In a further escalation of tensions in the Aegean, an advisor to Turkish President Erdogan has issued a direct threat to Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, his ministers and other Greek officials not to set foot on the islets of Imia.  Turkey has started to build a watchtower, barracks and a pier on Çavuş Adası, a neighbouring Turkish island only one mile away from the islets. The European Union has warned Turkey to refrain from any kind of threat or action directed against the sovereignty of any EU member state most pointedly Greece.


 

Other News

Smoking

According to a recent survey, Greeks are quitting smoking in record numbers. The nation-wide survey showed that just 27.1% of the population said they were smokers compared to 36.7% back in 2012.

Back in 2007, Greece had one of the highest percentage of smokers in the world with over half of men and a third of women being regular smokers.  Over the last 10 years, a campaign “Smoke-Free Greece” supported by a Greek-American charity, the Behrakis Foundation, has been fighting tobacco use in Greece.  Now the campaign is starting to change public attitudes.  According to the poll findings, the majority of Greeks expressing strong opposition to smoking.  The survey also focused on anti-smoking legislation in enclosed public areas. Over 80% of respondents, said that non-compliance with anti-smoking laws was unacceptable to them while 76.1% expressed anger at the fact that Greece is the only EU country that still tolerates smoking indoors.

What has bought about this rapid change in attitude in Greece? No campaign could do it, no health warning could do it; for a very long time, no change in the price of a pack could do it.  But as Greeks learnt to survive on less, they earned themselves the unusual distinction of abandoning cigarettes in record numbers a mind-blowing 2% drop in the number of smokers every year. Only 13% of Greeks over the age of 65 now smoke, and now we can see the fruits of years of Behrakis Foundation’s campaigning in schools, with fewer and fewer Greeks under the age of 24 becoming smokers. The battle is now with those who are middle-aged.

And finally… if I mention reproductions of Greek sculptures to you, your mind would normally turn to mass-reproduced plastic statues made in China and sold in tatty souvenir shops. Now this is changing; a group of artists working for Athens’ Culture Ministry have exclusive rights to make officially certified copies for sale in Greek museum shops.

The team of about 50 fine arts graduates are painstakingly recreating sculptures of Greece’s ancient masters. They work on a range of sculptures from an 8cm hare from Roman-era Macedonia to 2m high statues of Zeus and Poseidon. All statues are full-scale, made out of plaster in moulds and painstakingly hand-painted to match the hues of the original piece be it metal, marble, clay or even ivory. Plaster is used because it does not shrink while drying, unlike other materials such as resin, and allows reproductions which are completely accurate in size.

Each reproduction takes days to complete with the largest, copies of the 5th century BCE statues of Zeus and Poseidon requiring nearly two months from beginning to end. The casts are made in the museums where the originals are kept, and the ensuing moulds are stored together with more than a thousand prototype copies, some dating from the late 19th century. The standard of sculpture is very high with each artist trying to emulate the artistry of ancient times. It might even be the closest that an artist can get to time travel.

For the time being, the sculptures can only be bought at major museums and archaeological sites in Greece with the proceeds being used to help fund Greek archaeological and conservation projects. An authentic copy of Zeus or Poseidon will set you back about 3,000 euros excluding EasyJet’s excess baggage charges.

 

Greek News – January 2018

 

The next tranche of EU bailout money and the long-standing spat over an acceptable name for Greece’s northerly neighbour FYROM have been top of the political news from Greece since the new year.  With some 50 outstanding actions to be completed ahead of the Eurozone finance ministers meeting on Friday, I would have expected to be leading, as usual on the finance and bailout issues, instead it is FYROM which has been stealing the headlines.

Diners a fish taverna in Thessaloniki are not unaccustomed to seeing their mayor there on Saturday nights, what surprised them however that on a cold night at the end of December, his dinner guest was Zoran Zaev, prime minister of the former Yugoslav republic of Macedonia. This was no ordinary meal; the two diners were sending out a signal: that old enmities belong to the past, along with the nationalist rhetoric that for more than a quarter of a century has kept Greece and its northern neighbour at loggerheads. Twenty five years ago Thessaloniki saw more than a million citizens take to the streets chanting “Macedonia is Greek!” Now the city welcomes their Slav neighbours as tourists.

The dispute between Greece and the former Yugoslavian Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) started in 1993 and erupts intermittently over an issue that boils down to identity. In each reprise the focus, invariably, is on Alexander the Great – and which nation can exclusively claim him as their own.  This inevitably leads to the thorny question of what to call the multi-ethnic mini-state.  In Athens, “Republic of Macedonia” is unacceptable because it is seen as implying irredentist ambitions against the adjacent Greek province, which bears the same name. In Skopje, the republic’s capital, officials have long argued they have a historical right to a name now enshrined in the state’s constitution.

But Zaev’s decision to spend New Year’s Eve in Thessaloniki is evidence that emotions are changing in Skopje, Zaev’s government is taking a large step to ease tensions with Greece, by removing a series of provocative statues of historical figures such as Alexander the Great, from the streets of Skopje. Zaev no longer insists on his country being the sole heir to Alexander. Zaev has made EU accession a priority. Greece, itself in economic crisis for the best part of decade, also stands to gain if stability is restored to the region.

In Athens too, things are a’changin’.  As recently as 2008 Athens vetoed Skopje’s entry to NATO and the EU.  In what was seen as a major compromise, Athens has recently announced it would accept a composite name in which the word Macedonia can feature. Prominent politicians such as the interior minister Panos Skourletis are going on record as saying that the problem will be resolved in 2018. It is true that there is still considerable opposition in Greece to any compromise over the name but with over 100 nations using the name “Macedonia” for Greece’s northerly neighbour and the EU and NATO both keen to admit FYROM, Greece is becoming dangerously isolated internationally on this issue. It is very important that this dispute is settled Greece if it is to play an important role in the Balkans,

Today there is a meeting between delegates from Greece and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) in New York under United Nations mediator Matthew Nimetz. Yesterday Nimitz said that his proposal to resolve the decades-old name dispute will include the term “Macedonia”; it is noteworthy however that he does not use the term “Republic of Macedonia”. Mooted name changes have included adding geographic qualifiers such as “upper”, “new” or “northern” Macedonia. Watch this space!


 

Bailout Cash

The Greek government has adjusted the amount it expects to receive in bailout funding after the third review is completed to 6.7 billion euros, raising it from the 4.5 billion it had estimated previously.  Most of this money will be used to service its debt from February to June 2018. In order to receive this money the Greek parliament had pass a myriad of changes to Greek law to enable the release of funds.  The most contentious aspects of the legislation were a provision obliging unions to gather a larger number of votes in order to calls strikes and cuts to welfare benefits for large families.   It was inevitable that changes to Labour law would lead to strikes throughout causing transport chaos and disruption to hospital care and shipping as thousands of workers protested against proposed changes to a 36-year-old industrial action law demanded by the country’s creditors.

The Greek government’s aim is to approve the measures and secure the release of additional rescue loans at a summit of Eurozone finance ministers on January 22nd where, it is hoped, officials will also give the go-ahead for debt relief. It is unclear whether approval of the multi-bill alone will be enough, however as representatives of Greece’s creditors have deemed that another 50 prior actions remain unaccounted for and must also be enforced over the coming days. Greece has been given until Wednesday to adopt those prior actions, with European officials likely to take stock at the end of next week.

Other News

Greek Sharia Law

Members of Greece’s Muslim minority have hailed new legislation that will enable citizens to sidestep sharia law in family disputes.  Earlier this month, the Greek government announced that members of Greece’s 120,000-strong Muslim community would now be able to seek recourse in Greek courts in divorce, child custody and inheritance matters rather than take their case to Islamic jurists – a century-old legacy of legislation drafted with the collapse of the Ottoman empire. The new legislation, passed with overwhelming support from all political parties, has been seen as long overdue.

Islamic court hearings, in accordance with laws first drafted in 1914, have until now been presided over by a single Muslim cleric. Previous government had hesitated to change the law for fear of further straining ties with Turkey.  Under the new law Muslims will have the right to opt for a Greek court although Islamic jurists will still be available upon request. But while welcomed, Muslim MPs said the new law had not “fully abolished” sharia courts in the sole EU member state where they had been compulsory.

Human rights groups have long said the laws discriminate against women.  Inequities associated with sharia were highlighted when Hatijah Molla Salli, a 67-year-old widow locked in an inheritance dispute with her late husband’s sisters, took the case to the European court of human rights after Greece’s supreme court overturned an earlier court verdict in her favour. The European court is expected to rule in favour of the widow.

Neos Kosmos

One of my most reliable sources of Greek and Cypriot News is neither Greek nor Cypriot.  It is the Melbourne-based Greek community newspaper Neos Kosmos which last month celebrated its 60th anniversary.

When the Neos Kosmos started out in 1957, the Greeks of Australia were rather conservative.   Neos Kosmos was considered quite radical in its early days and, in contrast to existing newspapers, it encouraged immigrant Greek labourers to claim their legal rights. More recently, because of the fresh influx of Greeks making a fresh start in Australia, Neos Kosmos has become again active proponent in the Greek community, organizing soup kitchens and reporting on unfavourable legislation.

In general, the Greek-Australian media is very active.  Ta Nea is published daily in Greek and Sydney has its own local Greek newspaper, Elliniko Kyrikas or Greek Herald. Greek-Australians can also keep abreast of developments in both countries on the multilingual radio station, SBS, where there is a daily two-hour program from 4 to 6 pm presenting the major news stories from Greece and the world, as well as community issues.

Patrick Leigh Fermour

Last April, our patron, Sir Michael Llewellyn-Smith treated us to wonderful lecture on “Patrick Leigh Fermor and Friends” and told us about forthcoming exhibition at the British Museum on this topic.  There was an article about this forthcoming exhibition in the Observer just before Xmas.

A few days ago, the British Museum announced that the exhibition, provisionally entitled “Ghika, Craxton, Leigh Fermor - Charmed lives in Greece” will now run from the 8th March until 15th July 2018.  At the same time, there will also be an exhibition at the museum on Rodin and the art of ancient Greece which will run from Thursday 26th April until Sunday 29th July 2018.

And finally…when Chris and I first went to Zakros in Crete in the 1970’s, there were no site maps nor tourist guides to Zakros’ Minoan palace. Instead, our landlord lent us his treasured book about the Zakros Palace given to him and signed by its author, Nikolaos Platon, the site’s excavator.  Now over fifty years later, and over 25 years since his death, Nikolaos Platon’s wartime exploits in protecting Crete’s archaeological heritage are beginning to coming to light. Slight and modest, with a PhD from Paris, Nikolaos Platon was one of the unlikely heroes of occupied Greece in World War II, risking his life defending his country’s monuments. Now interest in this archaeologist’s wartime accomplishments has been recently resurrected by the return to Greece of 26 ancient relics stolen from Crete in WWII.

The Battle of Crete in May 1941 found Platon fighting on mainland Greece but, as director of antiquities on Crete, he was desperate to return to the Crete to protect its archaeological treasures. He managed to convinced a German archaeologist of the seriousness of the situation, who arranged his transport to Hania.  Platon’s son, recalls that his father had already arranged for several statues to be buried in the garden of the Iraklio Archaeological Museum and for a metal gate to be installed at the entrance to the basement to protect hundreds of other antiquities from plunder. The remainder of the museum’s exhibits, which could not fit in the basement and were moved to inaccessible parts of the building and hidden behind sandbag walls. Platon held the keys to the metal gate and refused to hand them over to the occupiers. He even slept in the museum to ward off possible thieves.  The Germans put a lot of pressure on Platon and even threatened to execute him.  Eventually he convinced them to take some copies of antiquities.

Nikolaos Platon was unable to prevent plundering in other parts of Crete though. He identified General Julius Ringel from Graz as one of the main plunderers. On Ringel’s orders, soldiers removed 11 clay jars, a bronze jug, a three-legged stone vessel and other objects in one day alone, according to notes made by a guard. In September 1941, Ringel ordered an illegal 20-day excavation near the Knossos palace complex but his efforts to reach untapped treasure were a failure. Nevertheless, he had plenty of booty to send off by air to Austria.

After the war ended, in February 1946, Greek authorities compiled a long list of pillaged artefacts, which included Ringel’s loot. Two years later, archaeologist Spyros Marinatos was assigned the daunting task of overseeing their return. A polyglot and an internationally respected scientist, he was the perfect man for the job. He started his quest in 1948 and found a significant number of Cretan antiquities at the local museum at Graz. The University of Graz’ Cretan Collection however had been sent to an expert in Vienna, who prevented their repatriation when he realized the suspect provenance of some of the Minoan bone shards.

The story of their homecoming began a decade ago, when Peter Scherrer was appointed head of the University of Graz’s Institute of Archaeology.  He launched a project to identify the provenance of hundreds of antiquities in the institution’s possession. His experts investigated their potential connection of these antiquities to the Third Reich.  One of the key sources used by the investigators was a report on the activities of the occupying forces compiled by Platon, when he was still director of antiquities on Crete in 1941. Based on Platon’s report, it was established that part of the Graz collection had been illegally removed from Crete. Scherrer was then able to start the process for the objects’ repatriation.  On November 20th last year, artefacts looted from Crete some 75 years previously - clay vessels, fragments of idols and a bone dress pin, were returned to a Greek Culture Ministry representative in a special ceremony at the Greek Embassy in Vienna.

Saving antiquities was something Nikolaos Platon saw as a duty. Now 25 years after his death, the risks and tribulations he bore bravely in the war have been instrumental in the repatriation of antiquities to Crete.

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The full article, “Return of stolen antiquities puts a WWII hero in the spotlight” by Yiannis Papadopoulos was published in Kathemerini on 12th January 2018.  It can be found at http://www.ekathimerini.com/224787/article/ekathimerini/life/return-of-stolen-antiquities-puts-a-wwii-hero-in-the-spotlight