Monday, October 7, 2019

Greece sets out ambitious budget based on faster growth

by Kerin Hope

Financial Times

October 7, 2019

Greece revealed an ambitious budget for next year that assumes growth will accelerate to 2.8 per cent from a projected 2.0 per cent this year, driven by higher investment inflows and cuts in corporate and personal income tax.

Theodoros Skylakakis, deputy finance minister, said on Monday the centre-right government was also committed to achieving a 3.5 per cent primary budget surplus next year — before making debt repayments — as agreed with Greece’s international creditors.

Greece will hit the 3.5 per cent surplus target this year, but faces a projected fiscal gap of about €800m in 2020, according to EU monitoring officials visiting Athens last week.

Mr Skylakakis gave reassurances the government will find enough additional measures to close the gap before the budget is presented to the European Commission on Friday.

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Sunday, October 6, 2019

In Lesbos’s Moria camp, I see what happens when a child loses all hope

by Jules Montague

Guardian

October 6, 2019

Ayesha is nine years old. As her father lays her down gently on a mattress at the clinic, the only perceptible sign of life is the slow movement of her ribcage as she breathes in and out. She otherwise remains almost motionless, in stark contrast to the other children who run around this Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) paediatric clinic by Moria camp.

For two weeks now, Ayesha has not opened her eyes. She has not spoken. She has not walked. She has what the mental health team believe could be one of the first cases of resignation syndrome it has seen here.

I’m in Lesbos researching the psychological effects of trauma in these children who have often fled violent conflict in their home countries, only to arrive at a squalid camp where conditions are chaotic and inhumane. I quickly realise that Ayesha’s state embodies what can happen when a child loses all hope.

Resignation syndrome represents a state of extreme withdrawal that can last for months or even years and occurs in the context of severe psychological trauma. Hundreds of cases have been seen in Swedish refugee and asylum-seeking children, with others reported at Australia’s offshore immigration detention centre on Nauru. These children simply close their eyes and stop speaking, eating and drinking, their muscles wasting away. Children who were perfectly well weeks before need to be dressed in nappies and tube-fed. The prognosis is uncertain, but those who do recover often only do so when they and their family reach a place of stability, especially if their residency status becomes secure.

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Thursday, October 3, 2019

Can Kyriakos Mitsotakis ensure the Greek economy starts growing again?

Economist
October 3, 2019

The airport at Hellinikon, a few miles south of Athens, closed in 2001. Planes belonging to Greece’s now-defunct national carrier still litter the runway. Nearby a stadium built for the Olympics in 2004 gently crumbles. In the distance, a marina borders the glistening Aegean. In 2011, when Greece was in the throes of a sovereign-debt crisis, the government put the site, which is three times as large as Monaco, up for sale. In 2014 it was snapped up by a consortium that planned to build homes, hotels and a casino. At an expected cost of some €8bn ($8.7bn), it was Greece’s largest investment project.

Five years on, ground has yet to be broken. When Syriza, a left-wing party, formed the government in 2015, it reopened the terms of the sale. Ambivalent ministers held up licences. The authorities demanded numerous archaeological surveys. Locals sued. Apart from boats docking in the marina and the occasional security guard on patrol, the site now lies desolate.

Officials from the imf and European Union who flew into Athens’s new airport in September are thus not short of examples of the difficulties of doing business in Greece. When the sovereign-debt crisis struck they bailed the country out on condition that it enact deep fiscal cuts and far-reaching regulatory reforms. Last year the eu struck a debt-relief deal, allowing Greece to exit its third and final bail-out, despite a public-debt burden of 180% of gdp. It required Greece to continue with reforms while hitting eye-watering targets for the primary-budget surplus (that is, before interest payments) of 3.5% until 2022, and then 2.2%, on average, all the way to 2060. In return it offered some interest-rate relief and extended the maturity of some loans.

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Monday, September 30, 2019

Greeks sneer as Yanis Varoufakis reveals fortune

by Anthee Carassava

The Times

September 30, 2019

He made his name as the face of the anti-austerity movement but Yanis Varoufakis, Greece’s rebel economist, is now one of the country’s wealthiest politicians.

After being removed from a left-wing government in which as finance minister he became too radical, Mr Varoufakis wrote a book and built a media and speaking career that has proved so lucrative that he has bank accounts in Switzerland, a property portfolio and a boat.

His income in the past three years was €1 million, his tax returns have shown. Critics accused him of profiting from Greece’s misery and being a champagne socialist.

Mr Varoufakis, 58, who appealed publicly for Greeks to adopt “humble and frugal” lifestyles during the financial crisis, leads MeRA25, an anti-austerity party that won its first seats in July. As such he is required to disclose assets and earnings, which showed that he was making far more than other party leaders. The professor of game theory entered Greek politics in 2015, becoming the face of the left-wing government and its defiant strategy against debt negotiations with European leaders and international lenders at the height of the country’s financial crisis. His brinkmanship led to banks being closed and queues at cash machines.

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Thursday, September 19, 2019

There are reasons for moderate optimism about Greece

by Tony Barber

Financial Times

September 19, 2019

Ten years ago Greece plunged into a debt crisis that threatened to sweep away much of the political, social and economic progress achieved after democracy replaced military dictatorship in 1974. The economy shrank by a quarter, unemployment soared and Greece came close to crashing out of the eurozone. The crisis tore at the fabric of society and demolished one of the two political parties that had alternated in power since the return of civilian rule.

Today, on the face of things, the emergency is over and the outlook is bright. The authorities have lifted capital controls, imposed four years ago. Greece’s 10-year bond yield touched an all-time low in July. Consumer confidence is at its highest level since 2000. Elections in July produced a comfortable parliamentary majority for New Democracy, a conservative party committed under prime minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis to a well-designed programme of economic reform, fiscal responsibility and administrative modernisation.

New Democracy’s victory represented the delayed revenge of the Greek bourgeoisie against the Syriza party, which came to power in January 2015 as the most radical leftist government seen in a European democracy since the second world war. However, even critics of Alexis Tsipras, Mr Mitsotakis’s predecessor, ought to acknowledge that some of the credit for Greece’s recovery goes to the Syriza leader, who eventually swallowed the medicine prescribed by Greece’s creditors.

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Sunday, September 8, 2019

Greek PM announces fast-track reforms and red tape cuts

by Helena Smith

Guardian

September 8, 2019

Greece’s prime minister, Kyriakos Mitsotakis, has pledged that after almost a decade of being dependent on international rescue funds, his debt-stricken country will soon prove to be a “pleasant surprise for Europe”.

With investor confidence in Greek bonds better than at any time in the past 10 years, Mitsotakis said the country long at the forefront of the euro crisis had finally turned the corner. “Greece is no longer Europe’s black sheep,” he told the Thessaloniki trade fair, where Greek leaders traditionally outline economic policy.

“It is a country with self-confidence now,” he added in the keynote speech on Saturday.

Addressing Greece’s business elite two months after his centre-right New Democracy party ousted the leftist Syriza on a platform to revamp the economy, Mitsotakis said implementation of fast-track reforms to modernise the state and cut red tape were a priority if the EU member was to regain political credibility.

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Greece’s Mitsotakis calls for tax cuts and reforms

by Kerin Hope

Financial Times

September 8, 2019

Greece’s new prime minister, Kyriakos Mitsotakis, has announced tax cuts and structural reforms aimed at rebuilding the country’s credibility with investors, after three international bailouts and a grinding eight-year recession.

“Greece has turned a page,” the prime minister said in a speech on Saturday evening to businesspeople in the northern city of Thessaloniki. “Greece is no longer the black sheep of the EU, we’re a self-confident country now.”

The premier said the country was still committed to achieving high primary budget surpluses — before debt repayments — of 3.5 per cent of gross domestic product in 2019 and 2020, as agreed with European creditors.

Mr Mitsotakis hopes that if Greece delivers on reforms, the 2021 surplus targets will be cut to 2 per cent of GDP, freeing up funds for public investment projects frozen during years of austerity.

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Monday, September 2, 2019

Greece moves to ease asylum-seeker crowding on Lesbos

by Michael Peel, Kerin Hope & Laura Pitel

Financial Times

September 2, 2019

Greece has launched an urgent effort to move hundreds of asylum-seekers from a heavily overcrowded island camp as fears rise of a further influx of people fleeing a Turkish clampdown on migrants and the long-running war in Syria.

Athens started to take people on Monday from the Moria facility on Lesbos, which has drawn criticism over its dismal conditions as it ballooned to more than three times its roughly 3,000 capacity.

The effort comes as worries grow that more asylum-seekers could head to the Greek islands in the face of a Turkish crackdown on undocumented migrants and a Russia-backed military offensive to retake the rebel-held enclave in north-western Syria’s Idlib province.

More than 600 asylum-seekers from the Moria camp on Lesbos boarded a specially chartered ferry on Monday on their way to a camp in northern Greece as the government began implementing emergency measures to relieve overcrowding in reception centres on the east Aegean Islands.

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Monday, August 26, 2019

Greece fully lifts capital controls

by Kerin Hope

Financial Times

August 26, 2019

Greece will fully lift capital controls on September 1, ending four years of restrictions on transfers abroad by companies and individuals, finance minister Christos Staikouras told parliament on Monday.

The move, which was proposed last month by the country’s central bank, was agreed with the Single Supervisory Mechanism, the European Central Bank’s banking supervisory agency, Mr Staikouras said.

“Restoring free movement of capital will contribute significantly to strengthening confidence [in Greece] and attracting investments . . . and will lead to further upgrades of the country’s credit rating,” he said.

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Sunday, August 18, 2019

Greece’s new finance minister vows to prioritise tax reforms

by Kerin Hope

Financial Times

August 18, 2019

Greece’s new finance minister has said that implementing sweeping tax reforms will be his “key priority” as his country seeks to boost growth and rebuild credibility with investors following a decade of international bailouts backed by the EU and IMF.

Christos Staikouras told the Financial Times that the centre-right New Democracy government is planning “a comprehensive tax reform that will have a four-year horizon and will accelerate growth”.

The overhaul will focus on reducing income and corporation tax, cutting VAT, streamlining tax incentives for investors and abolishing emergency levies imposed during the Greek debt crisis to meet conditions set by bailout creditors.

“The fundamental objective is to achieve sustainable high growth rates so as to gradually restore the country’s lost wealth,” Mr Staikouras said in his first interview with a foreign media outlet since he took office after last month’s election.

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Monday, July 29, 2019

Greece’s new government promises tax cuts and spending increases

Economist
July 29, 2019

Over the past decade Greece has not been the easiest place for politicians who want to be liked by voters. The newly elected centre-right government is trying its best. In his first few weeks in office Kyriakos Mitsotakis, the prime minister, has announced tax breaks for ordinary Greeks as well as for corporations. He has promised not to cut social benefits or fire any public-sector workers. Jobs are being created in areas that suffered deep cuts during the country’s eight-year crisis: the health ministry is preparing to hire 2,400 hospital workers and another 1,500 police officers are being recruited.

Sadly, the good times are not guaranteed. The prime minister’s policy choices could derail Greece’s chances of hitting tough budget-surplus targets set by its creditors, the European Union and the International Monetary Fund. Economists fear that the relatively inexperienced Mr Mitsotakis—he held a fairly junior ministerial post from 2013 to 2015—may be overestimating his government’s capacity to shake up the country’s sleepy bureaucracy and push through reforms.

So far the markets have given Mr Mitsotakis and his New Democracy party a vote of confidence. On July 16th Greece issued its first seven-year bond since 2010. A modest target issuance of €2.5bn ($2.8bn) was hugely oversubscribed: offers exceeded €13bn, pushing down the yield on the new bond to 1.9%. Greece now borrows at the same rate that Italy does.

Winning over the EU and the IMF will be harder. Asked about the new Greek government at her annual summer press conference, Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, called the bond issue “very positive” but sounded a note of caution: “We will have to see how things evolve.”

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Friday, July 26, 2019

Can This Ancient Greek Medicine Cure Humanity?

by Frank Bruni

New York Times

July 26, 2019

Over my 54 years, I’ve pinned my hopes on my parents, my teachers, my romantic partners, God.

I’m pinning them now on a shrub.

It’s called mastic, it grows in particular abundance on the Greek island of Chios and its resin — the goo exuded when its bark is gashed — has been reputed for millenniums to have powerful curative properties.

Ancient Greeks chewed it for oral hygiene. Some biblical scholars think the phrase “balm of Gilead” refers to it. It has been used in creams to reduce inflammation and heal wounds, as a powder to treat irritable bowels and ulcers, as a smoke to manage asthma. I’m now part of a clinical trial in the United States to determine if a clear liquid extracted from mastic resin can, through regular injections, repair ravaged nerves.

That would have profound implications for millions of Alzheimer’s patients, stroke survivors — and me. The vision in my right eye was ruined by a condition that devastated the optic nerve behind it, and I’m at risk of the same happening on the left side, in which case I wouldn’t be able to see a paragraph like this one.

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Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Has Greece found the formula for defeating populism?

by Aristides N. Hatzis

Washington Post

July 16, 2019

Greece has a new prime minister. Kyriakos Mitsotakis took office immediately after leading his conservative New Democracy party to a landslide victory in the country’s general election on July 7. His dramatic victory ended 4½ of government by Alexis Tsipras and his far-left Syriza party. And that’s why the significance of this election extends well beyond Greece: Mitsotakis has shown how a traditionally oriented party can take on populists — and defeat them.

Syriza’s left-wing populism was based mostly on anti-market bias, a bit of technophobia and a strong measure of social envy. This kind of populism can be defeated relatively easily in liberal democracies — simply because the numbers don’t add up. That leaves a government of the type led by Syriza with two options: it can either succumb to its own anti-establishment paranoia or opt for pragmatism. Tsipras ultimately tried both, neither very convincingly. The voters didn’t appreciate the blatant contradiction and grew impatient with the anemic growth. In the end, they abandoned him for Mitsotakis, the quintessential anti-populist.

The first blow to Tsipras came after an ill-advised referendum in 2015 when Greek voters, reeling from the country’s financial crisis, had the chance to take a stand on a proposed European Union bailout package. (Sixty-one percent voted “no.”) Tsipras’s plans failed miserably, and the episode transformed the prime minister from a radical naysayer into a compliant enforcer of the E.U.'s tough conditions. He ended up resorting to a left-wing populist ploy: hitting the middle class with tax increases to offer handouts to groups he groomed as his core supporters. This small-scale redistribution was not as successful as he hoped. The fierce backlash from middle-class voters led to his eventual demise.

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Saturday, July 13, 2019

Kyriakos Mitsotakis: the new Greek PM hits the ground running

by Helena Smith

Guardian

July 13, 2019

It’s been barely a week but Greece’s new prime minister, Kyriakos Mitsotakis, has hit the ground running. Assuming power on Monday, the New Democracy leader announced parliament would not be going into recess for the summer: there was no time to waste, and bills had to be drafted.

By Wednesday, as his cabinet of established politicians, technocrats and ex-socialist reformers convened for the first time, the philosophy of his centre-right government became clearer still: ministers would not only set targets, they’d be monitored too. Placed before them were blue folders containing benchmark goals. As in any good business, progress reports would have to be kept.

In an era where appearance is everything, Mitsotakis, a former banker, has gone out of his way to set a new tone after four-and-a-half years of often rollercoaster rule under his leftwing predecessor Alexis Tsipras.

Police vans and barriers – which had come to represent the Tsipras government’s fear of protest – have been removed from the road approaching the prime minister’s office.

For many Greeks the new style is not just symbolic. Their first post-bailout government is viewed as the beginning of a new era; the crossing of a psychological threshold after a decade of austerity-driven depression, bailouts, extremist splinter groups and near bankruptcy on the frontline of Europe’s debt crisis.

“What we are seeing is a fresh generation of politician, Harvard-educated, result-oriented and with a more technocratic approach coming to the fore,” Pantelis Kapsis, a prominent political journalist, says of Mitsotakis.

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Friday, July 12, 2019

European democracy began in Greece. Thanks to its voters, it won’t die there.

Washington Post
Editorial
July 12, 2019


European Democracy began in Greece; some say it almost ended there, too. About a decade ago, as the world reeled from the financial crisis, Athens’s official financial data were shown to be badly misstated. In truth, the country was nearing insolvency, with potentially catastrophic consequences not only for Greece but for the 18 other countries that use the common currency, the euro. As the country spiraled into depression and chaos, it seemed ripe for the taking by extreme populists of the right and left. And, indeed, a far-left political neophyte, Alexis Tsipras, did win the prime ministership in 2015, promising to defy Greece’s international creditors and carry out revolutionary change.

Last Sunday, however, Greek voters went peacefully to the polls and calmly but decisively voted Mr. Tsipras and his party out, in favor of the center-right New Democracy party headed by Kyriakos Mitsotakis. Overall, it’s a soft political landing for Greece, with hopeful implications for the resiliency of Greek, and European, democratic culture.

To give Mr. Tsipras his due, he eventually abandoned radical policies in favor of the only realistic option: acceptance of a long-term bailout from German-led creditors, which required strict debt-control measures and a prolonged recession but did enable Greece to maintain the euro. Today, Greece’s economy is 24 percent smaller than it was in 2007, but it has at least resumed growth and job creation, modest though they may be.

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Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Greek bond yields dip even lower than US Treasuries

by Robin Wigglesworth

Financial Times

July 10, 2019

Greece’s borrowing costs have tumbled to a record low — dipping below even the US — thanks to rising hopes of a renewed bond-buying programme from the European Central Bank and the centre-right New Democracy party’s sweeping victory in elections last weekend.

This marks a stark turnround for Athens, which underwent the world’s biggest government bankruptcy in 2012 and is still labouring with one of the largest debt burdens, at about 180 per cent of gross domestic product.

ECB president Mario Draghi has stirred expectations that the eurozone’s monetary authority is set to ease policy, hopes that were reinforced last week by the nomination of the IMF’s Christine Lagarde as his successor.

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Greece voted populism out. Now it has to make sure it doesn’t return.

by Yannis Palaiologos

Washington Post

July 10, 2019

Sunday’s parliamentary elections amounted to a stinging defeat for both left and right populism in Greece. After a long slog in bailout purgatory, and 4½ years under a populist government of the hard left and the nationalist right, Greeks turned decisively to the establishment center-right New Democracy party, led by Kyriakos Mitsotakis. Now it is up to the new prime minister to deliver the reforms that will permanently consign the forces of extremism to the margins.

Ousted prime minister Alexis Tsipras, leader of the leftist Syriza party, came to power promising to end austerity and rid the country of the endemic corruption of the old political system. Tsipras’s defeat is a testament to his failure on both those fronts — and indicative of the struggles of populists everywhere to turn their simplistic and overblown campaign rhetoric into practical political reality.

Sunday’s returns were also disastrous for the Golden Dawn, a racist party with Nazi roots that became Greece’s third-largest party in 2015, even though its leaders had been arrested for running a criminal organization. (The trial is still ongoing.) This time, the group failed to cross the 3 percent threshold and make it into Parliament.

It was another sign of the resilience of Greek democracy, which was severely tested by the deepest depression ever faced by a developed country in peacetime, in a period of resurgent authoritarianism in Europe and the world. As the various populist myths about the causes and possible solutions to Greece’s crisis have been revealed as delusions and outright lies, the fuel that sustained extremism has been depleted.

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Tuesday, July 9, 2019

Greece’s Experiment With Populism Holds Lessons for Europe

by Matina Stevis-Gridneff & Steven Erlanger

New York Times

July 9, 2019

With a quiet handshake at the door of Maximos Mansion on a tree-lined street in central Athens, Alexis Tsipras ceded the office of prime minister on Monday to the New Democracy leader, Kyriakos Mitsotakis.

It was the kind of uneventful handover of power that heralded Greece’s return to normality after being ground zero of one of the most tumultuous periods in global economic history.

The election victory on Sunday by a traditional center-right party was the end of Greece’s flirtation with radical left-wing populist politics, even as the radicals of Mr. Tsipras’s Syriza party transformed themselves into a mainstream force of the center-left.

The Tsipras experiment may hold important lessons for Europe and its new ranks of anti-establishment populists. While many, as in Italy, gleefully thumb their noses at the European Union and its rules, once in power the risks of following through on their rebelliousness may corral them from the extremes.

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Good news — and bad news — from Greece

by Anne Applebaum

Washington Post

July 9, 2019

It may have been the worst recession to hit any economy in modern times. Between 2007 and 2014, Greece lost a quarter of its economy; hundreds of thousands of people moved abroad; unemployment peaked at almost 28 percent, hitting nearly 1 in 3 of the working population. Extremist parties of the far left and far right came to power, railing against shadowy foreign enemies, spinning dark conspiracy theories and making impossible promises.

Under their leadership, the crisis grew worse. In the summer of 2015, the Greek government, led by a former young communist, Alexis Tsipras, nearly crashed out of the euro, the common European currency. Tsipras called a defiant referendum that rejected the terms of the bailout proposed by the European Commission, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund, as well as the budget austerity that it required. There were rumors of military coups and the beginnings of a financial panic. In a stunning reversal, Tsipras threw in the towel a week later and accepted the terms anyway.

And then, somehow … it worked. The Greek economy turned the corner. Last summer, the country graduated from the European bailout program after eight years. Growth has returned, slowly. Unemployment is decreasing, also slowly. Most of all, democracy, though severely challenged, did not collapse, and that meant that alternative visions for the country’s future were allowed to gain strength. Greeks began asking if there weren’t better ways to run the country, and began tossing around words like “liberalism,” even “neoliberalism.” Now they might get to try some of them.

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New Greek government vows to get economy moving after election win

by Kerin Hope

Financial Times

July 8, 2019

A triumphant Kyriakos Mitsotakis was sworn in as Greece’s new prime minister on Monday after leading his New Democracy party to a resounding election victory.

“The people of Greece gave us a strong mandate yesterday to change this country. We will honour it to the full. The job begins today and I am absolutely certain we have the capacity to complete it,” Mr Mitsotakis said as he took the oath of office on a bible proffered by Archbishop Ieronymos of Athens, head of Greece’s Orthodox church.

The son of a centrist prime minister who tried unsuccessfully to reform Greece in the 1990s, Mr Mitsotakis has much to prove following Sunday’s convincing win. As a New Democracy MP he was rarely considered for even a junior minister’s post, even though he belonged to a powerful political dynasty. Now he has earned the top job by dint of his own efforts.

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The Rapid Fall of the Left

by Yascha Mounk

Atlantic

July 9, 2019

A few short years ago, the far left was resurgent. Fringe politicians such as Britain’s Jeremy Corbyn, Greece’s Alexis Tsipras, and France’s Jean-Luc Mélenchon were turning into the standard-bearers of the mainstream left. Meanwhile, in the United States, Bernie Sanders was staging a surprisingly robust primary challenge against Hillary Clinton, the anointed heir to the Democratic Party.

Progressive commentators, activists, and politicians argued that the far left was about to conquer Europe, and that the best way forward for Democrats was to ride the red wave to victory. “Jeremy Corbyn has given us a blueprint to follow for years to come,” wrote Bhaskar Sunkara, the founder of Jacobin. Representative Ro Khanna, the leader of the Justice Democrats in the House, argued that the populist message adopted by leftist leaders in Europe “is not just morally right—it’s also strategically smart.”

But reports of socialism’s resurrection were greatly exaggerated. Recent electoral defeats in Europe suggest that the much-heralded red wave crested before it reached the shore.

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Monday, July 8, 2019

Greece Is the Good News Story in Europe

by Roger Cohen

New York Times

July 8, 2019

If you’re looking for an optimistic story in Europe, try Greece. Yes, you read that right. Having lost a quarter of its economy in a devastating recession, Greece has turned the corner, its democracy intact, its extremist temptations defeated and its anti-Americanism defunct.

The landslide election on Sunday of Kyriakos Mitsotakis, the dynamic leader of the center-right New Democracy party, marked the end of a chapter. Greece rejected Alexis Tsipras, the leftist leader who took the country to the brink of ruin in 2015 before discovering a pragmatic streak. It also voted the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn out of Parliament. At the height of the crisis, Golden Dawn had become the country’s third-largest party.

First into populism, Greece is now first out. For a country in free fall, the anchors of the European Union and NATO are not so negligible after all. Europe is not simply a story of growing nationalism and xenophobia. It’s a continent in violent flux, torn between liberal democratic and nativist currents.

Despite unemployment that reached almost 30 percent, a chaotic near-exit from the euro, huge bailouts to save it from bankruptcy, mandated austerity programs and a wave of desperate refugees from Syria, Greece stabilized itself. It’s a reminder that reports of democracy’s demise are exaggerated.

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Kyriakos Mitsotakis sweeps to victory in Greece

Economist
July 8, 2019

Greece's center-right New Democracy party (ND) comfortably won a snap general election on July 7th, capturing 39.9% of the vote to 31.5% for the left-wing Syriza party of Alexis Tsipras, the current prime minister.

The result fell short of the sweeping victory for ND predicted by some pollsters, but gives the conservatives a workable overall majority with 158 seats in the 300-member parliament, thanks to a bonus of 50 seats that is awarded to the party that wins the most seats under Greece’s modified proportional representation electoral system. Syriza will have 86 seats.

This means that Kyriakos Mitsotakis, the ND leader, has enough seats to govern without having to form a coalition, unlike his predecessors as prime minister during the Greek debt crisis that has consumed the past decade.

The former McKinsey consultant has bold plans to overhaul the country’s creaking bureaucracy, attract foreign investment and create enough new jobs to stem the exodus of skilled young workers. He will face opposition from Syriza’s placemen in the civil service and regulatory bodies. Yet some worry that when Mr Mitsotakis’s political honeymoon is over, old rivalries and clientelism in ND will resurface and undermine his efforts to reform. Others see him as just the latest manifestation of the old dynastic establishment that got Greece into trouble in the first place. He is the son of a previous prime minister; his older sister served as mayor of Athens; and the mayor-elect of Athens is her son.

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Sunday, July 7, 2019

Greece’s centre-right on course for snap election victory

by Kerin Hope

Financial Times

July 7, 2019

The traditional centre-right party is set to regain power in Greece after a sweeping general election victory, raising hopes of a return to growth and stability in a country rocked by years of recession and three international bailouts.

Kyriakos Mitsotakis’s New Democracy party was forecast to win 38-42 per cent of the vote, according to exit polls, compared to 26-32 per cent for the leftist Syriza party of Alexis Tsipras, the prime minister.

Mr Mitsotakis, a US-educated McKinsey alumnus and son of a former prime minister, said he would focus first on cutting taxes, reducing red tape and attracting foreign investment to create jobs and stem migration abroad by skilled young Greeks.

The result is a heavy blow for Mr Tsipras, the one-time radical firebrand who abruptly reversed his policy stance and adopted a harsh austerity programme in return for an €86bn bailout after Greece came close to crashing out of the eurozone in 2015.

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Saturday, July 6, 2019

Let down by government, Greek voters expected to replace Tsipras with centre-right

by Jessica Bateman

Independent

July 6, 2019

There’s a general election in Greece on Sunday but, aside from a few roadside posters, it would be easy for visitors to pass through without realising.

In contrast to the huge demonstrations that were broadcast on news stations around the world when the current ruling party – radical leftists Syriza – swept to power in 2015, everything feels remarkably subdued.

The current government, lead by charismatic Alexis Tsipras, rose to power with a populist, anti-establishment message several years into the financial crisis that has engulfed Greece for a decade.

However, he disappointed many of his supporters when he ignored the results of a referendum on a bail-out package and adopted the same austerity policies he had previously stood against. Now it looks as though the country’s traditional centre-right party, New Democracy, will take power, having won the highest vote share in the recent European and local elections.

“Syriza supporters are disappointed, New Democracy voters are not too enthusiastic about voting New Democracy, and everybody knows the result already,” said Aris Hatzis, a political commentator and professor of philosophy and law at the University of Athens.

“The only question is whether they will get a majority or form a coalition government.”

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People’s anger over 2018 wildfires weighs on Greece elections

by Kerin Hope

Financial Times

July 6, 2019

In a defiant general election campaign that ends on Saturday, Greek prime minister Alexis Tsipras has robustly defended some divisive decisions taken over more than four years in power — from a treaty struck with North Macedonia to pension reforms agreed with the country’s bailout creditors.

But Mr Tsipras has been far less comfortable on one issue that is adding to public discontent and his likely crushing defeat on Sunday: his government’s response to a devastating inferno in July 2018 at Mati, a summer resort near Athens.

High winds drove a fire that caused 102 deaths, the worst recorded toll in a Greek wildfire. Two inquiries by Greek prosecutors and international disaster prevention experts pointed to a fatal lack of co-ordination between emergency services.

As the election campaign drew to a close this week Mr Tsipras —whose Syriza party is around 8 percentage points behind the opposition centre-right New Democracy in polls —was asked again about Mati in a television interview. He sparked a storm of tweets demanding he apologise publicly for the government’s chaotic reaction after he tried to fend off questions and said officials at first failed to inform him about casualty numbers.

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Friday, July 5, 2019

Resurgent centre-right party poised for victory in Greek election

by Helena Smith

Guardian

July 5, 2019

As the sun sets over the Acropolis, bathing the monument in the gentle light of a dying day, Kyriakos Mitsotakis ascends the podium, punching the air in jubilant mood. The backdrop may be antiquity’s most famous site but before him is a sea of blue and white, the colour of the Greek flag being waved by the crowd.

The man poised to become Greece’s next prime minister takes in the scene. “On Sunday Greece will become blue, the blue of the sky, the blue of the sea,” he thunders. “On Sunday we vote, on Monday we turn a page.”

Three days before snap elections, the opposition leader is on a roll. Democracy can produce unexpected results but every analyst agrees this is an election of foregone conclusion.

All polls point to victory for Mitsotakis’s centre-right New Democracy, with most suggesting the party is on course to win an outright majority in what would be a significant shift for a country governed by fragile coalitions for the past decade.

On Thursday, a Pulse survey showed the conservatives leading the leftist Syriza by eight percentage points. If so, New Democracy would acquire between 155 and 159 seats in the 300-seat parliament repeating its spectacular performance in the European election in May which prompted the prime minister, Alexis Tsipras, to call the vote three months ahead of schedule.

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The end for Alexis

by Kerin Hope

Financial Times

July 5, 2019

It’s almost unheard of for Greece to hold an election in July and Kyriakos Mitsotakis, leader of the centre-right New Democracy party, is worried that his voters may decide to head for the beach instead of the ballot box.

At every campaign appearance, from neighbourhood café debates to television interviews, Mr Mitsotakis makes a point of reminding conservatives they should turn up to vote in the country’s general election on Sunday.

Opinion polls suggest he doesn’t need to fret. Almost every published poll during the campaign has given ND a lead of between 7.5 and 10 percentage points over the ruling leftwing Syriza party of Alexis Tsipras, Greece's current prime minister.

If the polls are right, the conservatives would score an outright majority, winning between 153 and 164 seats in the 300-member parliament.

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Europe Tamed a Populist and Now He’s Paying the Price

by Eleni Chrepa & Paul Tugwell

Bloomberg

July 5, 2019

Michalis Asikis and his brother aren’t your typical shoe-store owners, at least by most standards. One uses time away from the shop to teach at a music school while the other heads off to taxi tourists.

In Greece, though, scratching a living from multiple sources isn’t unusual nowadays. The struggle to make ends meet or keep businesses on life support has become the norm for many Greeks, despite the promise by Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras that “hope is coming” when he surged to power in 2015. Indeed, to avoid shuttering his store in the northern town of Florina, Asikis has resorted to borrowing from family.

“People believed in Tsipras’s central slogan and not only didn’t hope come, there was also great disappointment,” Asikis, 47, says at his outlet on Florina’s main commercial street, which is littered with empty stores. “It’s like telling a kid that you will get them an ice cream and ending up giving them nothing, not even chewing gum.”

Such disillusionment is the harsh reality for Tsipras as he heads into elections on Sunday. While he managed to restore faith in Greece internationally, he lost it at home as his fresh face came to represent more of the same to a jaded nation. Opinion polls show power is likely to return to New Democracy, one of Greece’s two traditional parties of government, and back to the dynastic politics that Tsipras and his Coalition of the Radical Left vowed to break.

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In Greece, politics is a family affair

by Maria Petrakis

Politico

July 5, 2019

There may be no better place to understand Greek politics than the region of Achaia. Perched at the top of the Peloponnese peninsula west of Athens, it’s home to the country’s third-largest city — the bustling port city of Patras, famous for its annual Carnival parade, with its colorful costumes and floats.

It’s also the setting of a showdown between Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, the head of the radical-left Syriza party, and the man who will almost certainly become the Greece’s next prime minister, Kyriakos Mitsotakis, leader of the center-right New Democracy party.

In last month’s European Parliament election, Achaia — a Syriza stronghold — was one of just two constituencies in the country where New Democracy didn’t rake in the most votes. As Greeks return to the polls to elect a new government Sunday, Tsipras and Mitsotakis have both decided to lead their tickets in the region.

The outcome of the contest will determine not just Greece’s direction over the next four years. It will likely see the restoration of one of the country’s most powerful political families — after more than a decade of political and economic turmoil following the onset of the 2008 financial crisis.

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Monday, July 1, 2019

Greek election: Why frustrated young voters are turning conservative

by Jessica Bateman

BBC

July 1, 2019

Like many young Greeks, Tasos Stavridis plans to leave the country once he finishes his degree in political science.

"Our financial crisis has gone on much longer than we expected and we are so exhausted," says the 22-year-old.

His generation has been severely impacted by the country's decade-long financial crisis.

With a youth unemployment rate of almost 40%, between 350,000 and 400,000 graduates have emigrated since 2010.

"Most of my friends plan to leave too. In Greece the salaries are so low, and the economic situation is so bad," Mr Stavridis complains.

As Greeks prepare for a general election on 7 July, he and his peers are not backing a radical, youth-orientated party, such as the current-ruling Syriza which swept to victory in 2015.

In last month's European elections, the majority of 18- to 24-year-old voters (30.5%) backed New Democracy (ND), the traditional centre-right party widely considered partly responsible for the very crisis that still impacts them.

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Wednesday, June 26, 2019

Mitsotakis buoyed by Greeks’ desire for change after Syriza era

by Kerin Hope

Financial Times

June 26, 2019

Not so long ago the staunchly leftwing Athens neighbourhood of Petroupolis would have been hostile territory for Kyriakos Mitsotakis.

But when the leader of the centre-right New Democracy party campaigned in Petroupolis last week, he found enough support to be confident heading into Greece’s July 7 election.

“I’ve decided to take a chance on ND,” said Stamatis, a 28-year-old computer technician, who voted for prime minister Alexis Tsipras and his leftist Syriza party in 2015. “They promised to roll back austerity — but what we got was four more tough years and a slew of tax increases.”

Nektaria, 23, said she “wants to believe” the conservatives can deliver a better standard of living. “My parents don’t share my opinion but I think ND will try harder than Syriza did,” she said, as she pushed her two-year-old daughter in a stroller.

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Monday, June 10, 2019

Greece to hold snap elections after Syriza’s stinging EU defeat

by Kerin Hope

Financial Times

June 10, 2019

Greece is facing a snap general election after prime minister Alexis Tsipras and his ruling Syriza party suffered a heavy defeat in voting for the European Parliament last month.

The vote will be held on July 7, almost four months before the leftwing Syriza government’s term was due to expire. Mr Tsipras tendered his resignation to President Prokopis Pavlopoulos on Monday, saying the country had “entered a prolonged pre-electoral period from the day after the European elections.”

“I believe this could presage risks for the smooth course of the economy . . . endangering the virtuous circle we have entered and the sacrifices the Greek people have made,” he said.

Mr Pavlopoulos approved the premier’s request immediately.

The European Commission warned last week that handouts legislated by the Syriza government ahead of the European vote could derail Greece’s target for a primary budget surplus — before debt servicing costs — of 3.5 per cent of gross domestic product for this year.

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Monday, May 27, 2019

Tsipras pitches Greece into early election after EU poll setback

by Kerin Hope

Financial Times

May 27, 2019

Alexis Tsipras wanted to be the first Greek prime minister in three decades to see out a full term in office — but heavy defeat for his ruling Syriza party in European parliamentary elections has prompted him to throw in the towel and pitch the country into an early poll.

The conservative opposition New Democracy party of Kyriakos Mitsotakis will be the favourite for the election, which is most likely to be held on June 30. New Democracy took 33 per cent of the vote in Sunday’s EU vote, compared with less than 24 per cent for Syriza.

Greek equity and bond prices rose on Monday as investors priced in the likelihood of a more business-friendly government in a country still recovering from a deep economic and social crisis. The benchmark 10-year bond yield dropped 32.6 basis points to 3.036 per cent, the lowest recorded since 2000, according to Bloomberg data.

Mr Tsipras was braced for defeat on Sunday but was taken aback by the scale of his party’s losses. Most opinion polls ahead of the vote had given the conservatives a lead of between 5.5 and 8 percentage points.

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Thursday, May 23, 2019

Who Is Playing Politics With the Port of Piraeus?

by Nikos Konstandaras

New York Times

May 23, 2019

Piraeus, the gritty port city that has provided Athens’s naval and commercial power throughout its tumultuous history, is the theater of a new conflict, one that pits local interests against economic development and a superpower’s global strategy. At least that’s the story that Greece’s dueling politicians are telling.

Greek archaeologists have stalled an investment of more than 612 million euros offered by a Chinese-owned company seeking to revamp and expand Piraeus’s port as part of President Xi Jinping’s Belt and Road Initiative. Early last month, Greece’s Central Archaeological Council, an advisory body, proposed declaring everything within the limits of the ancient city of Piraeus — most of which overlaps with the modern-day port and commercial center — an archaeological site. This would give archaeologists greater power to monitor construction projects and determine building designs in order to preserve archaeological finds.

For its part, the Piraeus Port Authority, in which China’s state-owned Cosco Shipping holds a 51 percent stake, fears that a designation as an archaeological site could cause serious delays in its project. The Chinese embassy even got involved following the Council’s proposal, seeking assurances that the port development plans will not be derailed.

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Monday, May 20, 2019

Greek banks play long game on road to recovery

by Kerin Hope

Financial Times

May 20, 2019

When Martin Czurda devised a proposal last year to cut the huge pile of non-performing loans held by Greek banks, he was surprised initially to receive a non-committal response from the country’s finance ministry, given Greece’s push to improve its financial position.

“We put forward the idea of an asset protection scheme based on the GACS [state guarantee] model used in Italy. We thought it could be applied successfully to the Greek situation,” says Czurda, a veteran Austrian banker and chief executive of the Hellenic Financial Stability Fund (HFSF), the body established by Greece’s bailout creditors that manages the Greek state’s stakes in the banks.

“My concern was that the pace of eliminating bad loans was too slow and that unless it could be accelerated, the country would be unable to return to sustainable growth,” says Czurda, whose fund is a minority shareholder in the country’s four systemic banks after taking part in three recapitalisations during the financial crisis.

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Alexis Tsipras: ‘We need more reforms’

by Tony Barber & Kerin Hope

Financial Times

May 20, 2019

Alexis Tsipras wears a relaxed, confident, almost philosophical smile as he contemplates the prospect of Greece’s parliamentary elections, due to be held by October 20 at the latest.

Since early 2016 every opinion poll has placed Syriza, the party he leads, in second place behind the centre-right New Democracy opposition. Many polls have Syriza trailing by 10 percentage points — a gap that implies a clear-cut defeat for the prime minister and his leftist party. But Tsipras, who will turn 45 in July, is nothing if not resilient and forward-looking.

“I’m not thinking about losing the election, I’m thinking about how to win the election,” he says in an interview in the Maximos Mansion, the official seat of Greek prime ministers in Athens.

“There is a saying: if the soldier goes off to battle in order to lose, it’s better not to go to the fight . . . I wasn’t born to be prime minister. I’m not from a political family. I became the youngest prime minister in Greek history, at the age of 40.

“Life is life. In life you have to fight. This is the only thing. But the final decision is the decision of the people — it’s not ours.”

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From entrepreneurs to athletes: Six women to watch in Greece

by Kerin Hope

Financial Times
May 20, 2019

For some of Greece’s most talented women, the financial crisis was a signal to migrate to jobs abroad. Others, though, saw greater opportunities at home. Below are six high-achieving women who are building the future in Greece.


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Businesses in Greece await positive prospects

by Tony Barber

Financial Times

May 20, 2019

Emilios Markou and Alexis Pantazis, two Cypriot businessmen, defied conventional logic in 2013 and launched an online insurance company in Greece amid the turbulence of the eurozone’s sovereign debt and banking sector crises. “At that time the people who invested in Greece were contrarian investors. For us, it was a case of ‘because of the crisis, let’s come here’,” recalls Pantazis.

The success of Hellas Direct, which specialises in car insurance, illustrates that Greece can be a rewarding market for those who invest shrewdly and with an eye to the long term. “After a period of mishandling of the economy at different levels, there’s been more political stability over the past three years. We keep joking: ‘Greece is a re-emerging market’,” says Markou.

The nation’s overall investment picture is mixed. Company executives, investors and government officials speak of an improving domestic business climate and a change for the better in international perceptions of Greece as an investment destination. However, the fragility of Greek banks, the semi-reformed condition of the nation’s cumbersome public administration and the inefficiency of the legal system weigh on investors’ minds.

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Thursday, May 16, 2019

Greek central bank fires warning over risk of missed budget target

by Kerin Hope

Financial Times

May 16, 2019

Greece’s central bank governor has warned that a package of pre-electoral handouts due to take effect next week could derail the country’s budget target agreed with its bailout creditors.

Yannis Stournaras’s warning came as parliament on Wednesday approved hastily prepared measures that the leftwing Syriza government hopes will boost its popularity ahead of EU parliament elections on May 26.

The package of cuts in value added tax and a pension bonus would cost around €1bn, according to the finance ministry.

Speaking to the Financial Times on Thursday, Mr Stournaras said first-quarter budget figures indicated that the primary surplus — which excludes debt service costs — declined by 0.5 per cent of gross domestic product compared with the same period in 2018. He forecast the trend would continue as tax collection slowed ahead of a general election due in October.

“There is no fiscal space for handouts,” Mr Stournaras said. “The government is unlikely to collect taxes at the same pace as last year, while it will have to address this year a large body of further pension claims covering the crisis period.”

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Saturday, May 11, 2019

Greek government wins confidence vote

by Kerin Hope

Financial Times

May 11, 2019

Greece’s minority leftwing Syriza government narrowly won a parliamentary vote of confidence on Friday night after three days of heated debate over economic policy and prime minister Alexis Tsipras’ record during four years in power.

Mr Tsipras called the confidence vote after Kyriakos Mitsotakis, the opposition leader, proposed that MPs should censure the deputy health minister for criticising a disabled psychiatrist running in next week’s elections for the European Parliament with his centre-right New Democracy party.

Syriza captured 153 votes in the 300-member parliament thanks to support from a group of rightwing and independent lawmakers who have backed the government since the collapse in March of its coalition with Independent Greeks (Anel), a small nationalist party.

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Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Athens in Pieces: The Tragedy of Democracy

by Simon Critchley

New York Times

February 27, 2019

Our next location is a mere 100 steps from where I’m writing these essays. I pass it every day on my way to and from the library. It is the Monument of Lysicrates, built around 334 B.C.E., just about the time Aristotle returned to Athens to found his Lyceum. I always pause there, take in the view and watch the many seemingly well-fed and contented cats scattered around the place. If you let your eyes drift up from the monument, your vision is seized by the vast sacred rock of the Acropolis. It is skin-pinchingly sublime.

Indeed, New Yorkers might experience a feeling of déjà vu or double vision with this monument because you can find not one, but two copies of it atop the San Remo apartment building on Central Park West, just north of the Dakota, where John Lennon lived and died. The monument was also widely copied elsewhere.

The original Monument of Lysicrates is composed of a 9.5-foot-square limestone foundation topped with a 13-foot-high cylindrical edifice. There are six Corinthian columns, thought to be the earliest surviving examples of that style, made from marble from Mount Pentelicus, about 15 miles northeast of Athens. These support a sculpture divided into three bands that carry an inscription commemorating Lysicrates — a wealthy patron of the arts of whom little else is known — and a frieze depicting the adventures of the god Dionysus and some pirates whom he transformed into dolphins. The god sits caressing a panther as some satyrs serve him wine, while others, with torches and clubs, drive the pirates into the sea.

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Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Athens in Pieces: In Aristotle’s Garden

by Simon Critchley

New York Times

February 18, 2019

Aristotle had slender calves. His eyes were small. And he spoke with a lisp, which — according to Plutarch — was imitated by some. He wore many rings and had a distinctive, rather exotic style of dress — a kind of ancient bling.

I tried to piece together a picture of him as I arrived with my partner at the site of the Lyceum, Aristotle’s answer to Plato’s Academy, where I had visited the week before.

It is said that Aristotle was a difficult character — somewhat arrogant, thinking he was cleverer than everyone else (quite possibly true) and even criticizing his master of many years, Plato. He was a perhaps a bit of a dyskolos, a grouch, cantankerous, a curmudgeon.

Aristotle was not much loved by the Athenians. This might have been because he was a tricky customer or because he was a metic: a resident alien, an ancient green card holder; Greek, but decidedly not an Athenian citizen. Given his close ties to the Macedonian aristocracy, which was extending and tightening its military and political control across Greece, perhaps the Athenians were right to be suspicious of Aristotle.

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Monday, February 11, 2019

How Greece's PM hopes to solve his election riddle

by Renee Maltezou

Reuters

February 11, 2019

Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras has been implementing his re-election strategy to the letter over the past six months, steering Greece out of a humiliating bailout and resolving a decades-old dispute with neighboring Macedonia.

So far, it isn’t paying off. With a general election no more than eight months away, his Syriza party is far behind in opinion polls.

That is despite two signature projects since last summer, evidence that the economy is climbing out of years of depression and willingness at last among investors to lend.

Tsipras was elected as a firebrand leftist in 2015 on a promise to reject the austerity required in the bailout.

He later caved in to the lenders’ demands and has reinvented himself as a conformist. Now, after years of austerity many ordinary voters cannot afford to keep the lights on, others are deeply indebted, and almost one in five Greeks is unemployed.

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Thursday, February 7, 2019

New hopes for reopening of famous Greek Orthodox seminary on Turkish island

by Kareem Fahim

Washington Post

February 6, 2019

American presidents, religious freedom advocates, the European Union and Orthodox Christian leaders have for years issued desperate appeals to Turkey’s government to reopen a shuttered Greek Orthodox seminary on an island off Istanbul, but to no avail.

Before it was closed in 1971, the Theological School of Halki stood for more than a century as the primary center of scholarship and clerical training for generations of Greek Orthodox leaders. Now, stripped of its educational role, its classrooms — emptied by arguments over politics, nationalism and minority rights — are kept pristine in the stubborn hope the students will someday return.

The latest attempt to sway the Turkish government has come from Greece’s prime minister, Alexis Tsipras, who called this week for the seminary to be reopened during a two-day visit to Turkey. His cordial meetings with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan — despite a long history of conflict between the two nations and worrying recent flare-ups — has raised hopes among Orthodox leadership and members of Turkey’s ethnic Greek minority that a resolution to the deadlock over the seminary may finally be at hand.

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