National name: Elliniki Dimokratia
President: Karolos Papoulias (2005)
Prime Minister: Kostas Karamanlis (2004)
Land area: 50,502 sq mi (130,800 sq km); total area: 50,942 sq mi (131,940 sq km)
Population (2007 est.): 10,706,290 (growth rate: 0.2%); birth rate: 9.6/1000; infant mortality rate: 5.3/1000; life expectancy: 79.4; density per sq mi: 212
Capital (2003 est.): Athens, 3,247,000 (metro. area), 747,300 (city proper)
Other large cities: Thessaloníki, 361,200; Piraeus, 179,300; Patras, 167,000
Monetary unit: Euro (formerly drachma)
Languages: Greek 99% (official), English, French
Ethnicity/race: Greek 98%, other 2%; note: the Greek government states there are no ethnic divisions in Greece
Religions: Greek Orthodox 98%, Islam 1%, other 1%
Literacy rate: 98% (2003 est.)
Economic summary: GDP/PPP (2005 est.): $243.3 billion; per capita $22,800. Real growth rate: 3.3%. Inflation: 3.8%. Unemployment: 10.8%. Arable land: 21%. Agriculture: wheat, corn, barley, sugar beets, olives, tomatoes, wine, tobacco, potatoes; beef, dairy products. Labor force: 4.72 million; agriculture 12%, industry 20%, services 68% (2004 est.). Industries: tourism, food and tobacco processing, textiles, chemicals, metal products; mining, petroleum. Natural resources: lignite, petroleum, iron ore, bauxite, lead, zinc, nickel, magnesite, marble, salt, hydropower potential. Exports: $18.54 billion f.o.b. (2005 est.): food and beverages, manufactured goods, petroleum products, chemicals, textiles. Imports: $48.2 billion f.o.b. (2005 est.): machinery, transport equipment, fuels, chemicals. Major trading partners: Germany, Italy, UK, Bulgaria, U.S., Cyprus, Turkey, France, Netherlands, Russia, South Korea (2004) .
Communications: Telephones: main lines in use: 5,205,100 (2003); mobile cellular: 8,936,200 (2003). Radio broadcast stations: AM 26, FM 88, shortwave 4 (1998). Television broadcast stations: 36 (plus 1,341 low-power repeaters); also two stations in the US Armed Forces Radio and Television Service (1995). Internet hosts: 208,977 (2004). Internet users: 1,718,400 (2003).
Transportation: Railways: total: 2,571 km (2004). Highways: total: 117,000 km; paved: 107,406 km (including 470 km of expressways); unpaved: 9,594 km (1999 est.). Waterways: 6 km; note: Corinth Canal (6 km) crosses the Isthmus of Corinth; shortens sea voyage by 325 km (2004). Ports and harbors: Agioitheodoroi, Aspropyrgos, Irakleion, Pachi, Peiraiefs, Thessaloniki. Airports: 80 (2004 est.).
International disputes: Greece and Turkey continue discussions to resolve their complex maritime, air, territorial, and boundary disputes in the Aegean Sea; Cyprus question with Turkey; Greece rejects the use of the name Macedonia or Republic of Macedonia.
Located in southern Europe, Greece forms an irregular-shaped peninsula in the Mediterranean with two additional large peninsulas projecting from it: the Chalcidice and the Peloponnese. The Greek islands are generally subdivided into two groups, according to location: the Ionian islands (including Corfu, Cephalonia, and Leucas) west of the mainland and the Aegean islands (including Euboea, Samos, Chios, Lesbos, and Crete) to the east and south. North-central Greece, Epirus, and western Macedonia are all mountainous. The main chain of the Pindus Mountains extends from northwest Greece to the Peloponnese. Mount Olympus, rising to 9,570 ft (2,909 m), is the highest point in the country.
Indo-European peoples, including the Mycenaeans, began entering Greece about 2000 B.C. and set up sophisticated civilizations. About 1200 B.C., the Dorians, another Indo-European people, invaded Greece, and a dark age followed, known mostly through the Homeric epics. At the end of this time, classical Greece began to emerge (c. 750 B.C.) as a loose composite of city-states with a heavy involvement in maritime trade and a devotion to art, literature, politics, and philosophy. Greece reached the peak of its glory in the 5th century B.C., but the Peloponnesian War (431–404 B.C.) weakened the nation, and it was conquered by Philip II and his son Alexander the Great of Macedonia, who considered themselves Greek. By the middle of the 2nd century B.C., Greece had declined to the status of a Roman province. It remained within the eastern Roman Empire until Constantinople fell to the Crusaders in 1204. In 1453, the Turks took Constantinople and by 1460, Greece was a province in the Ottoman Empire. The Greek war of independence began in 1821, and by 1827 Greece won independence with sovereignty guaranteed by Britain, France, and Russia.
The protecting powers chose Prince Otto of Bavaria as the first king of modern Greece in 1832 to reign over an area only slightly larger than the Peloponnese peninsula. Chiefly under the next king, George I, chosen by the protecting powers in 1863, Greece acquired much of its present territory. During his 57-year reign, a period in which he encouraged parliamentary democracy, Thessaly, Epirus, Macedonia, Crete, and most of the Aegean islands were added from the disintegrating Turkish empire. Unfavorable economic conditions forced about one-sixth of the entire Greek population to emigrate (mostly to the U.S.) in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. An unsuccessful war against Turkey after World War I brought down the monarchy, which was replaced by a republic in 1923.
Two military dictatorships and a financial crisis brought back the exiled king, George II, but only until 1941, when Italian and German invaders overcame tough Greek resistance. After British and Greek troops liberated the country in Oct. 1944, Communist guerrillas staged a long military campaign against the government; the Greek civil war, infamous for its brutality, began in Dec. 1944 and continued until Oct. 16, 1949, when the Communist guerrillas conceded defeat. The Greek government received U.S. aid under the Truman Doctrine, the predecessor of the Marshall Plan, to fight against the Communists.
Greece was a charter member of the UN and became a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) in 1951. A military junta seized power in April 1967, sending young King Constantine II into exile. Col. George Papadopoulos, a leader of the junta, gradually attempted to modify his hard-line right-wing image. A coup ousted Papadopoulos in Nov. 1973.
A referendum in Dec. 1974, five months after the demise of the military dictatorship, ended the Greek monarchy and established a republic. Former premier Karamanlis returned from exile to become premier of Greece's first civilian government since 1967. Greece has continued to be ruled by freely elected civilian governments ever since. On Jan. 1, 1981, Greece became the 10th member of the European Union. Andreas Papandreou, son of former premier George Papandreou, founded the Panhellenic Socialist Movement (PASOK) and became Greece's first Socialist premier (1981–1989).
Greece continued to experience tensions with Turkey over a disputed, unpopulated 10-acre island and over Cyprus, which is divided into Greek and Turkish sectors.
The pro-Western Socialist prime minister Kostas Simitis (1996–2004) was credited with reviving the Greek economy. Still, The Economist magazine estimated in 2001 that it would be at least another 15 years before the per capita GDP in Greece comes close to the current EU average.
In the summer of 2002, the government was finally able to crack down on the 17 November (17N) terrorist organization, which had eluded the Greek authorities for the previous 27 years. The radical leftist group was responsible for more than 20 murders of diplomats and businessmen. In parliamentary elections in March 2004, the conservative New Democracy Party swept to power, defeating Pasok, the ruling Socialist Party. The new prime minister, Kostas Karamanlis, vowed to deliver a successful and safe Olympics (Greece had been criticized for being lax on terrorism), and, in spite of last-minute construction, the Athens Olympics was widely hailed as a triumph.Some 220 separate fires ravaged the Greek countryside and threatened ancient Olympic sites around Athens in late August 2007. At least 60 people died and more than half a million acres were destroyed in the blazes. Prime Minister Karamantis faced criticism over the country's response to the devastating blazes. The anger did not carry over to the polls, however, as Karamantis was reelected to a second term in September. His center-right party, New Democracy, won 42.6% of the vote in parliamentary elections, defeating the Panhellenic Socialist Movement (PASOK), headed by George Papandreou