Tuesday, February 18, 2020

'I get a lot of love': how hope survives in the hell of Moria

by Sam Wollaston


Februay 18, 2020

The refugee camp is notorious for its overcrowding, fires and riots. But for the people who live there, life goes on – and every day brings new stories of resilience, bravery and compassion

It is not easy to find the library at Moria on the Greek island of Lesbos. Before reaching the refugee camp’s main entrance, you turn off the road where the police bus is always parked, then walk up the track that runs beside the perimeter fence. You walk past the military post and the hawkers selling fruit and veg, trainers, cooking utensils, cigarettes, electrical equipment – pretty much everything; past huge stinking mountains of bagged-up rubbish – so much rubbish; and past the worst toilets in the world, overflowing with excrement and plastic.

Then, opposite the hole in the fence where people who don’t want to use the main gate come and go, you turn right, into what they call the Jungle, the olive groves into which the camp has exploded, because it was meant for 3,000 people and now has 20,000. Continue along the winding path, watching out for low-slung washing lines, past the burnt-out olive tree and the tiny tent with the family who always say hello, then turn left up the steep hill that becomes a muddy slide after rain. And there it is, on the right: Moria’s new library.

From the outside, it looks like all the other structures in this part of the camp – a shack cobbled together from bits of wood and tarpaulins. But inside there are shelves and books. And, standing behind a counter, wearing a New York Yankees beanie, a librarian – Zekria, from Afghanistan.

He runs a school, too – that is how the library started. Zekria, 40, his wife and their five children arrived on the island a year ago in the usual perilous way, in a small boat at night across the 12-mile strait from Turkey. He tried to register the kids at one of the NGO-run schools that provide some educational activities, but they were all full; the waiting list could have been a month, two months, three months.


Wednesday, February 12, 2020

'Are there any Chinese there?' Greek tourism hit hard by cancellations amid coronavirus outbreak

by Symela Touchtidou


February 12, 2020

The effects of the Covid-19 coronavirus are not just about those who have caught it. The outbreak has had significant knock-on effects on the Chinese economy, as well as the tourism industry worldwide.

In Greece, about 200,000 tourists arrived in 2019 and at least 250,000 were expected this year.

The island of Santorini is a beloved destination for many Chinese tourists. But since the outbreak, scores are simply not showing up.

The rate may be small, but it is critical, as Chinese tourists travel in low demand times (especially in winter, when they have New Year's holidays). Also, Chinese people spend more on their holidays than average tourists spend in Europe.

Of the Chinese tourists coming to Greece, 90% end up in Santorini.


Friday, February 7, 2020

Greek oligarchs battle over football league

by Kerin Hope

Financial Times

February 7, 2020

One of the Greek oligarchs is dubbed the Kremlin’s man because of his links with Vladimir Putin. The other is a shipping magnate and the proprietor of a media empire.

But their wealth and influence has not stopped Ivan Savvidis and Vangelis Marinakis getting sucked into a bitter argument over football.

The feud between the two men burst into the political arena when Greece’s centre-right government intervened unexpectedly to legislate to settle a row over their rival teams.

Greece’s independent sports authority last week called for the relegation of Mr Savvidis’s PAOK, the country’s top team, amid a row over ownership. Two days later, the government pushed through an emergency law that effectively prevented the relegation but docked Mr Savvidis’s PAOK of points, a move that is likely to ensure that Mr Marinakis’s Olympiakos, its closest rival, will win the championship.


Wednesday, January 22, 2020

Top judge to become Greece’s first female president

by Kerin Hope

Financial Times

January 22, 2020

Katerina Sakellaropoulou, a senior Greek judge, has won the overwhelming backing of MPs to become the county’s first female president.

The 63-year-old head of the state council, Greece’s highest court, was supported in a vote by 261 deputies in the 300-seat parliament, after securing endorsements from the ruling centre-right New Democracy party of prime minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis and the leftwing opposition Syriza.

The prime minister’s decision to nominate Ms Sakellaropoulou, rather than backing a second term for president Prokopis Pavlopoulos, threw down a challenge to the overwhelmingly male members of Greece’s parliament, many of whom hold deeply conservative attitudes towards women.

“I think it’s time the country had a distinguished woman in the highest state role,” Mr Mitsotakis said ahead of her appointment. “Let’s not try to ignore it: Greek society still discriminates against women. This is going to change, starting from the top.”


Katerina Sakellaropoulou: High court judge becomes Greece's first female president

January 22, 2020

High court judge, Katerina Sakellaropoulou, has become Greece's first female president, after a vote in Parliament on Wednesday.

Two opposition parties sided with the centre-right government's nomination to give Sakellaropoulou 261 votes, way more than the 200 needed.

Centre-left opposition parties had already backed Sakellaropoulou's nomination before Wednesday's vote.

She will take up a five-year term in the largely ceremonial post in March.

Opposition leader and former Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras said Sakellaropoulou was an "exceptional judge" and a defender of human rights.

Aristides Hatzis is Professor of Law at the University of Athens. He says she'll be a positive force in Greek politics.

"She's a great judge, an excellent consensus builder, she's liberal in the broadest sense of the word, and she's not partisan. This is very important for Greek politics. Most importantly, she's a generous person, she's empathetic, she very perceptive."


Thursday, January 16, 2020

The Greek Debt Crisis: No easy way out

Peterson Institute for International Economics
January 2020

After World War II, farsighted European leaders sought to overcome centuries of hatred and warfare by striving step-by-step toward economic and political integration. Today an ongoing economic crisis in Greece poses a grave threat to that vision, bearing major lessons for the future of global economic cooperation.

Europe’s postwar drive toward unity began with the removal of tariff barriers and proceeded with harmonizing regulations and making it easier for people to move across the region. The European Union (EU), a quasi-political confederation that allowed for the free movement of goods, capital, services, and people, was launched in 1992.

But the introduction of a common currency, the euro, in 1999 proved to be Europe’s riskiest step. (The euro is the official currency of 19 of the 28 EU member countries.)

A decade after the euro was introduced, an unforeseen financial crisis engulfed Europe. It came in the form of a global financial shock that started in the United States after the failure of Lehman Brothers. Major European banks and economies suffered.

One country, Greece, plunged into virtual bankruptcy. In 2015, its leaders threatened to exit the euro. That step might have unraveled the common currency altogether and undermined the “European project,” which took decades to build. The debate over Greece’s threat revived long-dormant nationalist tensions throughout Europe.

Today Greece’s economy has stabilized and is slowly recovering. But the huge debts owed by Greece to the rest of the euro area cast a shadow over its future and the future of the European project. The Greek populace has suffered painful budget cuts, tax increases, high unemployment, and shrunken living standards and social services. Many still fear their future.

More (PDF)

Monday, January 13, 2020

Greece deploys cultural heritage to lure foreign students

by Kerin Hope

Financial Times

January 13, 2020

Greece plans to use its cultural and historical riches to lure Chinese and other foreign students to its universities as part of an overhaul of the state-run higher education system.

Niki Kerameus, the education minister, said in an interview that by 2024, she hoped about 40,000 to 50,000 foreign students would be taking part in English-language courses in classical literature, philosophy and ancient history.

“During past years Greek universities have been inward-looking institutions. We want to internationalise them and render them a hub for [tertiary] education in south-east Europe,” said Ms Kerameus. “We are working with academic institutions, with governments and through personal contacts at universities abroad.”

Universities would be offered extra state funding if they participated, she added.


Saturday, January 11, 2020

Trapped on Lesbos: the child refugees waiting to start a new life

by Harriet Grant


January 11, 2020

Outside the Moria refugee camp in Lesbos, a shanty town made of tarpaulin strung between olive trees is getting bigger every week. There are now 18,000 people living in this second camp, designed for just over 2,000.

Ahmed (not his real name), 17, and his friend Musa wind their way up muddy tracks towards their tent, swerving to avoid groups of children running in flip-flops through the dirt.

The boys have made their home under plastic and they want to show us how they are living, huddling in a group of three to keep warm. Ahmed has been here since October, when he arrived from Syria expecting to move quickly onwards.

Although he knew nothing of the laws on family reunion when he set out from his village near Aleppo, Ahmed knows now that his family in the north of England – a brother and cousin who are desperate to give him a home – are his only hope of escaping Moria. But he is worried. “It is so slow, and I know if we do not get into the system quickly it might not happen.”


Wednesday, January 8, 2020

Greek economy: will reality collide with fresh optimism in Athens?

by Ben Hall & Kerin Hope

Financial Times

January 8, 2020

Odos Lekka, a narrow street in the commercial heart of Athens, has not been this bustling in a decade.

Workers are busy refurbishing a drab warehouse left unoccupied during Greece’s prolonged recession. A clutch of new cafés and a smart boutique hotel, one of scores that have sprung up in the capital to cater for a surge in tourism, suggest that Lekka, a stone’s throw from the parliament building, is moving upmarket as the country’s economy gradually recovers.

Alecos, a carpenter, says: “There wasn’t any work round here for several years because of the crisis, but it’s quite different now. I’ve more job offers than I can handle. New businesses are opening and old ones are getting a makeover.”

The burst of optimism is a stark contrast to the experience of recent years. Almost 30 per cent of shops in the area, from high-end retailers of international brands to outlets selling handworked silverware, shut down or changed hands during the country’s deepest recession in memory. Property prices plunged as Greece came to the brink of crashing out of the euro in 2015.

It took Greece nine years to escape from a grinding recession following the 2008 global financial crisis, but the recovery has been weak. This year will test whether the country’s fresh political leadership and renewed business confidence can overcome deep-seated problems holding back fast growth.


Thursday, January 2, 2020

Israel, Greece and Cyprus set to seal €6bn gas pipeline deal

by Ilan Ben Zion & Ayla Jean Yackley

Financial Times

January 2, 2020

Israel, Greece and Cyprus are set to sign a trilateral agreement that will lay the groundwork for a planned gas pipeline connecting Israel’s offshore fields with Europe but which risks raising tensions with Turkey over what Ankara sees as its exclusion from the Mediterranean region’s hydrocarbon boom.

The €6bn EastMed pipeline project, which will link Cyprus and Israel’s offshore gas reserves to mainland Greece and Italy, bypasses Turkey and aims to provide an estimated 10 per cent of Europe’s natural gas.

Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel’s caretaker prime minister, Kyriakos Mitsotakis, the Greek prime minister, and Nicos Anastasiades, the Cypriot president, will sign the deal in Athens on Thursday.

Israel has developed close economic and security co-operation with Greece and Cyprus over the past decade. Discovery of natural gas, and the countries’ mutual interests in getting it to market, have helped deepen their ties.