Europe

Greece country profile

  • 20 January 2016
  • From the section Europe
Map of Greece

The historical and cultural heritage of Greece continues to resonate throughout the modern Western world - in its literature, art, philosophy and politics.

Situated in the far south of the Balkan peninsula, Greece combines the towering mountains of the mainland with over 1,400 islands, the largest of which is Crete.

Post-World War II Greece saw rapid economic and social change, with tourism and shipping becoming major contributors to the economy.

The global financial crisis of the late 2000s hit Greece particularly hard, as the legacy of high public spending and widespread tax evasion combined with the credit crunch and the resulting recession to leave the country with a crippling debt burden.

FACTS

The Hellenic Republic

Capital: Athens

  • Population 11.4 million

  • Area 131,957 sq km (50,949 sq miles)

  • Major language Greek

  • Major religion Christianity

  • Life expectancy 78 years (men), 83 years

  • Currency euro

LEADERS

President: Prokopis Pavlopoulos

Image copyright Getty Images

Born in 1929, Prokopis Pavlopoulos, a veteran politician of the centre-right New Democracy Party was elected president by parliament in February 2015.

The vote was the fourth attempt to elect a successor to Karolos Papoulias, of the Pan-Hellenic Socialist Movement (Pasok), after previous failures triggered the downfall of the government of Prime Minister Antonis Samaras and snap parliamentary elections.

The presidency is a largely ceremonial post, as executive power resides with the prime minister.

Prime Minister: Alexis Tsipras

Image copyright Getty Images

Alexis Tsipras swept into power by winning snap elections in January 2015 on promises to ease the tough austerity imposed on Greece as part of international bailouts.

His leftwing Syriza party only narrowly missed out on winning an absolute majority in parliament, and formed an anti-austerity coalition with the nationalist Independent Greeks party.

He vowed to renegotiate bailouts worth €240bn (£179bn; $268bn) granted by the European Union, European Central Bank, and International Monetary Fund to keep heavily indebted Greece afloat in return for painful government spending cuts and restructuring.

MEDIA

Image copyright Getty Images

Television is Greece's medium of choice, followed by the press, the internet and radio.

News, variety programmes, comedy and game shows dominate peak-time TV. There are about a dozen private TV channels and a plethora of private radios.

The media have been badly hit by Greece's economic, social and political crisis. Facing declining circulation figures and advertising revenues, some outlets have imposed cuts or closed altogether.

In June 2013, the conservative-led government abruptly took state broadcaster ERT off the air and dismissed its 2,600 staff, citing endemic mismanagement. The move drew international criticism and sparked a domestic political crisis.

A replacement public broadcaster, New Hellenic Radio, Internet and TV (NERIT), made its debut in May 2014.

TIMELINE

Some key dates in Greek history:

1821-1829 - Greek War of Independence from Ottoman Empire.

1832 - Prince Otto of Bavaria is chosen as the first king of independent Greece.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption View of Athens from the Acropolis

1919-22 - Greco-Turkish War - Greek invasion of Asia Minor prompted by the collapse of the Ottoman Empire after World War 1 is defeated by Turkish forces.

1924 - Greeks vote for the abolition of the monarchy, country becomes republic.

1936 - General Ioannis Metaxas appointed prime minister, establishes right-wing dictatorship.

1940 - Italian dictator Benito Mussolini's forces attack Greece from Italian-held Albania, but are repelled.

1941 - Metaxas dies. Greece falls to German forces.

1942 - 1944 - Fierce resistance to the occupation by communist and royalist factions alike.

1944 - British and Greek forces combine to force Nazi withdrawal.

1946 - 1949 - Royalist parties win elections. Ensuing civil war ends with defeat of communist forces.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Ships pass through the Corinth canal

1952 - New constitution declares Greece a kingdom ruled by parliamentary democracy. Greece joins Nato.

1967 - Group of army officers seize power in military coup. Elections are postponed indefinitely and Col George Papadopoulos takes office as prime minister.

1973 - Greece declared a republic, the monarchy is abolished and Papadopoulos assumes the presidency.

1974 - A Greece-backed coup against President Makarios of Cyprus is followed by Turkish invasion and occupation of north of the island.

1975 - New constitution declares Greece a parliamentary republic with some executive powers vested in a president.

1980 - Conservative Constantine Karamanlis elected president.

1981 - Greece joins EU. Andreas Papandreou's Socialist Party (Pasok) wins elections.

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