Monday, June 18, 2018

Athens, Rising

by Charly Wilder

New York Times

June 18, 2018

It was Saturday night in Athens, and I was surrounded by dozens of young Greeks on the packed veranda of Six d.o.g.s., a cafe-bar and arts space that runs the length of an alleyway in the Monastiraki neighborhood. It was the 10-year anniversary party for Laternative, a local radio show launched in the wake of the country’s debt crisis, and people spilled into the gallery space, gathered under light-strung trees in the back garden and in the club area where the first of several bands was about to play.

Most of the partygoers looked to be in their early and mid 20s, just like I was the first time I came to this exact spot nearly 12 years ago, back when it was a tiny indie rock bar called Kinky. Standing here now, I could almost see myself as I was then: a 24-year-old backpacker sitting alone in the corner, smoking cheap Greek cigarettes and nursing a raki, unaware that my life had come to a crossroads.

There are places we live and places we visit, and then there are the other places. Places we return to, where we put down roots, but not strong enough roots to hold us — places that change us, that we haunt and are haunted by. Nowhere embodies this for me more than Athens, a city I’ve watched shift and evolve, endure crisis and chaos and economic collapse, and yet emerge from the wreckage as one of the continent’s most vibrant and significant cultural capitals, more popular than ever as a tourist destination. (Last year Athens welcomed a record 5 million visitors, double the 2012 figure.)

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Sunday, June 17, 2018

Greece and Macedonia sign landmark deal over disputed name

by Kerin Hope

Financial Times

June 17, 2018

Greece and Macedonia signed a landmark agreement modifying the name of Macedonia, as police used tear gas to disperse hundreds of nationalist protesters gathered on the Greek side.

Speaking on Sunday during a ceremony at the border between the countries, Alexis Tsipras, Greek prime minister, said the two nations had achieved “ a historic agreement . . . to lay the foundations of a new epoch in the region.”

Zoran Zaev, prime minister of the newly named North Macedonia, said: “We have put an end to longstanding problems that worsened our relations. The past 30 years have taught us important lessons . . . and now that we are building a friendship between our two countries, we will become allies and partners.”

Mr Tsipras, however, warned that the two countries “would face a challenge to complete the deal” in a reference to a forthcoming referendum in Macedonia to approve the new name, and constitutional changes for which Mr Zaev’s coalition government currently lacks a majority.

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Friday, June 15, 2018

Alexis Tsipras Deserves the Nobel Peace Prize

by Edward P. Joseph

Foreign Policy

June 15, 2018

The two leaders who deserve the Nobel Peace Prize did not meet this week in Singapore. Instead, they will meet Sunday on the banks of a clear, freshwater lake that borders Greece, Macedonia, and Albania. Prime Ministers Alexis Tsipras of Greece and Zoran Zaev of Macedonia — a country on track to be known formally as North Macedonia — will sign an agreement to resolve the bitter decades-long conflict over Macedonia’s name.

In fact, the deal does much more than that. It creates a model for addressing identity clashes that drive conflict not only in the Balkans but across the globe. A stinging rebuke to Russia and to its populist cronies in Europe, the agreement injects a timely boost of confidence in the European Union and the entire Western project for the Balkans. The agreement still faces stiff opposition from nationalists in both countries who have assailed their respective leader as a traitor. To avoid that outcome, it’s urgent that Tsipras and Zaev gain not just support, but worldwide acclaim.

Long mocked by diplomats as ridiculous, the Greek objection to Macedonia’s name — and the prideful Macedonian response — are rooted in the most basic questions of identity. Nowhere is the question posed more acutely than in the Balkans, where adding as little as a vowel to a word or an extra kiss to the cheek can immediately signal disrespect. Croats, Serbs, and Bosniaks, and Albanians and Serbs, all fought bitter wars over territory claimed as national patrimony. The struggle over national identity continues to infuse politics throughout the region as parties vie to ensure that “we,” as opposed to “the other,” get our due, speak our language, fly our flag, dominate our economy.

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Greek government faces confidence vote after Macedonia name deal

by Kerin Hope

Financial Times

June 15, 2018

Greek MPs will debate a motion of no-confidence in the leftwing Syriza-led government on Friday after Alexis Tsipras, prime minister, agreed a deal to rename the country’s neighbour as North Macedonia to try to end a decades-old dispute.

The move, triggered by the conservative New Democracy opposition party, is part of a growing backlash against the accord announced on Tuesday by Mr Tsipras and Zoran Zaev, his Macedonian counterpart.

The announcement followed five months of negotiations assisted by a UN special mediator but feeling is strong in both Greece and Macedonia over the issue. Resentment is especially strong in the northern city of Thessaloniki, capital of Greece’s own region of Macedonia and a stronghold of nationalist sentiment over the name.

Some Thessalonikans claim that their Slavic neighbours should be punished for “usurping” the name and heritage of the ancient Macedonian kingdom based in northern Greece and its warrior king, Alexander the Great, even though the region benefits from trade and tourism with Skopje.

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Thursday, June 14, 2018

The hounding of Greece’s former statistics chief is disturbing

Economist
June 14, 2018

Imagine the tale of Sisyphus, the mythical king doomed to spend eternity pushing a boulder up a hill only for it to roll back down, retold by Kafka. The result would be very like the tortuous story of Andreas Georgiou, Greece’s former statistics chief.

Since 2011 Mr Georgiou has faced several criminal charges. One is that he inflated budget-deficit figures, forcing Greece to seek a bail-out and resulting in alleged damages of €171bn ($190bn). Another is that he violated his duty by failing to seek approval from the statistical agency’s board before sending the figures to the European authorities.

Although Mr Georgiou was acquitted several times on both charges, the acquittals were annulled and he was retried. In 2017 he was found guilty of a violation of duty. He has now learnt that the Supreme Court had rejected his appeal, rendering the conviction final. It carries a two-year suspended sentence. In May prosecutors said they were refiling the charges that he inflated the figures and thus injured Greece. He will now be tried for a third time in the court of appeals. If found guilty, he could face life in prison.

Yet both Mr Georgiou’s numbers and his methodology were verified by Europe’s statistical agency. The method is still accepted by Greece’s creditors and its government. The chief statistician is also legally required to be independent: statistics tend not to be decided by committee.

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Greek parliament approves bailout reform package, moves to no confidence debate

by Kerin Hope

Financial Times

June 14, 2018

Greek lawmakers have approved a wide-ranging package of economic reforms, clearing the way for euro-area finance ministers to finalise the terms of the country’s planned exit in August from its current bailout programme.

With the legislation in place, the leftwing Syriza government expects the EU ministers to agree on a medium-term debt relief plan at a meeting in Brussels on June 21. They would also unlock a final €12bn tranche of bailout aid for Greece.

As soon as the vote was completed, however, the conservative opposition New Democracy party filed a motion of no-confidence in the leftwing Syriza-led government on a separate issue: the agreement announced on Tuesday on a new name — North Macedonia — for Greece’s northern neighbour.

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Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Diplomacy triumphs: Greece and Macedonia resolve name dispute

by Amanda Sloat

Brookings Institution

June 12, 2018

As the world focuses on U.S.-North Korea negotiations, today’s announcement of a resolution to the long-standing disagreement between Greece and Macedonia over the latter’s name is testament to the triumph of patient diplomacy. While successive U.S. administrations have actively supported this effort, the Trump administration deserves kudos for quiet engagement that helped push it over the line.

The name dispute dates to the break-up of Yugoslavia in 1991, when the country declared independence as the Republic of Macedonia. Athens objected to international recognition of the new country’s name, which it shared with a region in northern Greece, given concerns it could imply territorial claims. As a compromise, the country joined the United Nations in 1993 under a provisional name (the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia). Following a 19-month Greek trade embargo, Macedonia amended its constitution and changed its flag in 1995. However, Greece blocked it from joining NATO or beginning accession talks with the European Union (EU) until the name issue was definitively resolved.

After years of failed efforts, the politics were ripe in both countries for a deal. In Macedonia, the lack of progress on Euro-Atlantic integration contributed to democratic backsliding over the last decade. The government of Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski took actions that provoked its southern neighbor. In 2006 it named Skopje airport after Alexander the Great (the ancient Greek king who controlled territory that included the Greek region of Macedonia), and in 2011 it erected a 72-foot statue of him in the capital. Following a two-year political crisis dominated by a corruption scandal and violence in parliament, the election of Prime Minister Zoran Zaev last summer marked the first change of power in 11 years. His center-left government faced a weak economy, tense ethnic relations, and deteriorating political institutions. Motivated to resolve the name issue, he undid the airport and statue irritants as goodwill gestures.

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Greece agrees to recognise neighbour as North Macedonia

by Kerin Hope

Financial Times

June 13, 2018

Greece has agreed to recognise its northern neighbour under a new name, the Republic of North Macedonia, ending a long-running dispute over rival claims to the name Macedonia that has fostered nationalist feeling and undermined political stability in the region.

The two prime ministers, Alexis Tsipras and Zoran Zaev, sealed the agreement in an hour-long telephone call on Tuesday, their second in two days.

The name deal is expected to accelerate North Macedonia’s entry to the Nato alliance, which may be approved at an alliance summit in Brussels in July where Greece plans to lift a decade-long veto on the country’s membership.

Jens Stoltenberg, Nato’s secretary-general, welcomed the agreement. “I now call on both countries to finalise the agreement reached by the two leaders. This will set Skopje on its path to Nato membership. And it will help to consolidate peace and stability across the wider western Balkans,” he said.

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Sunday, June 10, 2018

Greek supreme court rejects statistics chief’s appeal

by Kerin Hope

Financial Times

June 10, 2018

Greece’s supreme court has rejected an appeal by the country’s former statistics chief to quash his conviction in 2017 on charges of violation of duty.

According to people with knowledge of the decision, which has not yet been officially made public, the supreme court upheld the ruling against Andreas Georgiou, the former president of the statistical agency Elstat, even after the court’s own prosecutor asked for the conviction to be annulled.

The supreme court decision will bring to an end a long-running case against Mr Georgiou filed by two political appointees to the Elstat board of directors, as the two-year suspended sentence he received cannot be reversed. The case is one of several brought against the former statistics chief since 2013 which have raised questions about commitment to the rule of law in Greece, and is the first to have reached a conclusion.

The leftwing Syriza government has faced criticism for not addressing the issue of political interference in the judicial system in the case of Mr Georgiou. A Syriza official said on Sunday the independence of the judiciary was not in doubt.

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Saturday, June 9, 2018

Clarissa De Waal, "Beyond the Bailouts: The Anthropology and History of the Greek Crisis"

I.B. Tauris, 2018

Since the nineteenth century, Greek financial and economic crises have been an enduring problem, most recently engulfing the European Union and EU member states. The latest crisis, beginning in 2010, has been - and continues to be - a headline news story across the continent. With a radically different approach and methodology, this anthropological study brings new insights to our understanding of the Greek crises by combining historical material from before and after the nineteenth century War of Independence with extensive longitudinal ethnographic research. The ethnography covers two distinct periods - the 1980s and the current crisis years - and compares Mystras and Kefala, two villages in southern Greece, each of which has responded quite differently to economic circumstances. Analysis of this divergence highlights the book's central point that an ideology of aspiration to work in the public sector, pervasive in Greek society since the nineteenth century, has been a major contributor to Greece's problematic economic development. Shedding new light on previously under-researched anthropological and sociological aspects of the Greek economic crisis, this book will be essential reading for economists, anthropologists and historians.

Clarissa de Waal is a Fellow of Newnham College, Cambridge, where she teaches Social Anthropology. She is the author of Everyday Iran: A Provincial Portrait of the Islamic Republic and Albania: Portrait of a Country in Transition (both I.B.Tauris).

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

Doubts over judicial fairness will hold back Greece

by Tony Barber

Financial Times

June 5, 2018

After eight exhausting years, the era of international financial rescue programmes for Greece will draw to a close in August. But the era of domestic Greek reform is, or should be, anything but over. In coming years, Greece ought to make new exertions encompassing a great deal more than stable public finances, business competitiveness and the return to health of the banking sector.

Naturally, such financial and economic concerns remain a priority for Greece. Its public debt amounts to more than 180 per cent of gross domestic product. Its economy shrank by a quarter in the crisis years. Growth, though returning, is still modest. Arguably, however, what Greece needs most is a lasting improvement in the quality of public administration and the rule of law. If achieved, this would provide in the long run the most reliable basis of prosperity, justice and modernisation.

Greece’s political classes, like society as a whole, give the impression of being pulled in two directions at once. Some politicians, civil servants, business people and ordinary citizens are convinced of the need for an intensive reform effort. Others do not seem, in their heart of hearts, to want to change old habits. Sometimes these contradictory attitudes coexist in the same person, small business, or political party.

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Greece May Be Turning a Corner. Greeks Who Fled Are Staying Put.

by Liz Alderman

New York Times

June 5, 2018

After a decade of economic pain, Greece finally appears to be back on track. Try telling that to the Greeks who left and have no plans to return, like Constantine Kakoyiannis.

As Mr. Kakoyiannis raised a glass of pilsner beer, he toasted his girlfriend at a German cafe in Düsseldorf, alongside 40 of their friends. The group, part of a club of expatriate Greek engineers, was welcoming several newcomers who had fled Greece in just the last few months.

“The situation isn’t getting better,” Mr. Kakoyiannis said. “When you realize that your country has become a cemetery of dreams, you need to find dreams elsewhere.”

While the Continent is finally emerging from the economic crisis, Greece still faces challenges. Nearly half a million Greeks have become economic migrants since the crisis began, one of the biggest exoduses from any eurozone country.

And they are still leaving.

Among them are doctors, technicians, architects and other skilled professionals as well as recent graduates who continue to stake out Europe’s prosperous north for work. Mr. Kakoyiannis managed to secure a coveted job as an engineer, and his girlfriend followed him here.

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Delayed Greek asset sales pick up steam as bailout approaches end

by Kerin Hope

Financial Times

June 5, 2018


Sitting in a cramped office a few streets away from the headquarters of Greece’s Public Power Corporation, trade unionist Giorgos Adamides admitted that the privatisation of the sprawling state-owned electricity utility could no longer be postponed.

“It’s a national crime that the government is selling off power plants and we [the union] fought hard against it but the troika [of Greece’s international creditors] have the upper hand,” said the president of GENOP-DEH, the power workers’ union.

To the disappointment of people such as Mr Adamides, Greece’s privatisation process is — finally — picking up momentum as the leftwing Syriza government races to complete a package of reforms and ensure a smooth exit in August from the country’s latest €86bn international bailout programme.

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Monday, June 4, 2018

Greek economy grows by most in a decade

by Kerin Hope

Financial Times

June 4, 2018

Greece’s economy is showing signs of a long-awaited rebound.

Output grew by 2.3 per cent in yearly terms between January and March, marking a fifth straight quarter of expansion according to Elstat, the statistics service.

Analysts said the first quarter figure, the highest recorded in the past decade, matched projections by the EU and International Monetary Fund that gross domestic product would increase this year by around 2 per cent.

Seasonally-adjusted data showed growth accelerating from an upwardly revised 2 per cent in the fourth quarter of 2017, Elstat said.

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Thursday, May 31, 2018

EU official says Greece’s bond market access is ‘fragile’

by Derek Gatopoulos

Associated Press

May 31, 2018

A top European Union official in Greece says the country’s access to bond markets remains “fragile” amid the ongoing financial turmoil triggered by the political uncertainty in Italy.

Declan Costello, who supervises the Greek bailout program for the European Commission, made the cautionary remarks at a conference in Athens on Thursday. Greece is preparing to end its third international bailout program in late August with plans to return to financing itself on bond markets.

“It’s clear that while Greece is coming out of the program — it has tentatively regained market access — that the situation remains fragile,” Costello said.

“And it will be very, very important that Greece continues to demonstrate, not just in the period up to the end of the program, but actually in the critical period after the program, that reforms are on track.”

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Greece eases capital controls ahead of expected bailout exit in August

by Kerin Hope

Financial Times

May 31, 2018

Greece plans to increase the monthly limit on cash withdrawals from local bank accounts to €5,000 from €2,300 as part of measures to ease capital controls ahead of the country’s expected exit in August from its current bailout programme.

The finance ministry said the measures were “another step on the road to a full relaxation of capital controls”. They would take effect in June.

Capital controls were imposed in June 2015 when fears that Greece was about to crash out of the euro prompted a run on the country’s banks.

Under the latest regulations, bank customers will be able to transfer €4,000 bi-monthly to accounts abroad and take up to 3,000 in euros or foreign currency in banknotes on trips outside Greece.

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Monday, May 28, 2018

The Far Left and Right Run Riot on Greek Streets

by Yannis Palaiologos

Wall Street Journal

May 28, 2018

Greece’s long economic crisis may technically be over, as the country is on course to exit its third bailout in August. But the decade-long depression leaves in its wake a society seething with resentment and divided on the causes of the catastrophe. The Greek political system is ill-equipped to deal with this fallout—which includes various shades of political violence.

Earlier this month Mayor Yannis Boutaris of Thessaloniki, Greece’s second-largest city, was attacked and beaten during a ceremony to commemorate the massacre of Pontic Greeks by Turkish forces during World War I. Mr. Boutaris, 75, has drawn the ire of far-right groups for years over his social liberalism and insistent push for better relations with Turkey and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. Two days after the attack, anarchists stormed Greece’s top administrative court, smashing window panes and tossing paint on the walls. The incidents are symptoms of a wider trend in the country: the inability of the state to defend the rule of law as various groups challenge its monopoly on force.

In the early years of the bailout era, Greece was beset by violent mass demonstrations. Several members of Parliament and other officials were waylaid in public for not standing up to the demands of the country’s creditors. Syriza, at the time a small hard-left opposition party, often rationalized these incidents as the product of the legitimate indignation of the people. In some cases, the party’s local cadres and student members led the way. Meantime, the far-right group Golden Dawn grew more influential and attempted to impose its dominance on the streets, attacking and even killing immigrants and left-wing activists.

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Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Greece unveils post-bailout growth plan

by Kerin Hope

Financial Times

May 23, 2018

Alexis Tsipras, the Greek prime minister, has unveiled a “strategic growth plan” to be implemented after the country exits the current €86bn bailout programme in August.

“It’s a plan that shows the path Greece will follow after the fiscal stabilisation programme ends, a plan that will lead us to an era where we stand on our own two feet.” Mr Tsipras told parliament. “It details our achievements, our goals and our aspirations.”

The 100-page policy document presented to MPs forecasts sustained growth above 2 per cent yearly over the next five years in line with projections by Greece’s international creditors while setting a modest target of €11bn of new investment.

Economic reforms would continue, underpinned by “key performance indicators and ongoing rigorous monitoring,” according to the text, which was produced by Greek finance ministry experts, indicating that Greece expects to remain under close surveillance by its creditors, the EU and the International Monetary Fund.

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Monday, May 14, 2018

Greek consultant sues health minister and deputy

by Kerin Hope

Financial Times

May 14, 2018

The wife of Greece’s central bank governor has taken legal action against the country’s health minister and his deputy, claiming they unlawfully annulled an EU-backed project in which her company was involved and undermined her professional reputation.

Lina Nikolopoulou, a healthcare consultant, is married to Yannis Stournaras, governor of the Bank of Greece.

“I have faced harassment from the judicial authorities for more than a year over this particular project even though my company’s participation was ruled as satisfactory by auditors in line with EU regulations,” Ms Nikolopoulou said in an interview.

Greece’s health ministry last year retroactively annulled a €3.5m project in which Mindwork, a company that Ms Nikolopoulou controls, was involved. Her lawsuit requests that Greece’s anti-corruption prosecutor investigate why the ministry did so.

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Monday, May 7, 2018

Fragile Balkans’ future depends on Macedonia deal

by Tony Barber

Financial Times

May 7, 2018

If the definition of progress is that a country no longer names its capital’s airport after a warrior king who died 2,300 years ago in Babylon, then there is surely hope for the Balkans — the source of many a modern European conflict. In February, Macedonia’s reformist leadership reversed the previous government’s bombastic nationalism and changed the name of Alexander the Great airport to Skopje International. The ice began to melt in one of post-Communist Europe’s most vexed disputes.

On the highway into Skopje, capital of the former Yugoslav republic, large green signs tell of more change. The road no longer bears Alexander’s name but is called Friendship Highway. Macedonian leaders consider these relabelling exercises to be not cosmetic but genuine concessions to Greece. For 27 years, Athens has accused its northern neighbour of laying claim to Greece’s territory, cultural heritage and identity by using Macedonia as a name and Alexander as a state symbol.

Negotiations aimed at finding a compromise on Macedonia’s name are approaching a climax. The foreign ministers of Greece and Macedonia have met 20 times. Should a deal be struck, it would send a rare signal to other quarrelling Balkan states and communities — Serbia and Kosovo, for example, or the Muslims, Croats and Serbs of Bosnia and Herzegovina — that even the most painful historical wounds heal with treatment.

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Saturday, May 5, 2018

Greek banks face €15.5bn hit to capital under stress tests

by Martin Arnold & Kerin Hope

Financial Times

May 5, 2018

Greece’s four biggest banks would take a €15.5bn hit to their average capital in a future economic downturn, according to the results of the European Central Bank’s stress test of the country’s main lenders.

The ECB’s health check of the Greek banking system is designed to determine if any of the banks need extra equity before the country enters talks on leaving its eight-year bailout programme.

Senior Greek officials said the outcome of the exercise meant there was “no immediate need for a capital increase by any bank”. However, one official said that while the banks were out of immediate danger they needed to clean up their balance sheets and several were likely to raise capital soon — notably Piraeus Bank, which emerged as a laggard in the tests.

“The stress test have gone as well as we could expect,” said one official, adding that they would ease Greece’s return to borrowing on international markets.

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