Wednesday, 12 August 2020

Statement from Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis

Greece is a proud and powerful country. A member of the European family and a pillar of stability in the eastern Mediterranean. We remain unwaveringly committed to the principles of International Law and the rules of good neighbourliness. We seek to build bridges of peace, good faith, and cooperation with everyone.

Our country never threatens but will not suffer blackmail either. This is why it does not succumb to threats or tolerate provocative acts.

We negotiated and signed the agreements on maritime zone demarcation with Italy and, more recently, with Egypt, guided by this principled policy. These agreements are completely aligned with the Law of the Sea.
They demonstrate that long-standing disputes can be resolved when there is good will and a spirit of trust, and ensure progress and prosperity for the peoples, always in line with International Law.

It is in this very framework of legality that we are prepared to enter into discussions with all our neighbours, confidently and without concessions.

EU south hails step towards federalism, but north sees one-off handout

This article was published by Al Jazeera International.


Greeks awoke pleasantly surprised to the news that Europe’s leaders had agreed on a 750bn euro stimulus package for the continent’s economy, called NextGenerationEU.


With newspapers having gone to bed hours before the dawn deal in Brussels, most people got wind of it from the airwaves.


“Will I be able to finance the new shop windows?” asks Jenny, a butcher’s wife in central Athens who wants to remodel her husband’s shop so that people can sit down and sample the cold cuts.


Greece’s economy is forecast to shrink by as much as 9 percent this year, as the coronavirus hits tourism and merchant shipping, two industries Greece relies on for much of its exports. Merhcants like Jenny’s husband are feeling the pinch.


Wednesday, 8 July 2020

Sanctuary and Civilisation

This article was published by the Sewanee Review.

At the dawn of Western civilisation, the greatest Athenian dramatists extolled their city’s compassion for those who sought protection from pursuers, human or divine. In Aischylos’ Erinyes, Orestes, pursued by the Avenging Furies, finds absolution in an Athenian court chaired by Athena herself. In Sophokles’ Oidipous at Kolonos, Oidipous, wandering blind in self-exile across Greece, is assumed into the heavens after being granted sanctuary in an Athenian grove. In Euripides’ Herakleidai, the king of Athens risks war with Argos to provide political asylum to the children of Herakles, fatherless and with a death penalty hanging over them.

None of these asylum-seekers is blameless. Orestes has killed his mother; Oidipous has killed his father; the Herakleidai by their very existence threaten the royal line of Eurystheus, king of Argos. Yet all were somehow manipulated into their predicament by the gods or by fate, all have suffered for it, all are exiled from their homeland and all are unwelcome anywhere else in Greece.

The Athenian audience was flattered to be told that in all Hellas, it was their city that combined strength with generosity. As the children of Herakles cling to the altar of Zeus in Marathon, Euripides puts the following words into the mouth of Demophon, son of Theseus and king of Athens: “If I am to allow this altar to be robbed by a foreigner, it will be thought that it is no free land I govern but that I have betrayed suppliants for fear of the Argives. And that is nearly enough to make me hang myself.”[1]

The word ‘asylum’, though a modern coinage in English, derives from the Greek άσυλον, meaning ‘unviolated’. The word itself suggests that protecting the weak from the strong who mean them harm is not only a moral duty of the righteous; it forms an integral part of our sense of justice and is a pillar of the law, which replaces brute force in civilised society.

The notion of justice as mercy or protection was relatively new compared to the notion of justice as punishment, as a pair of temples at Rhamnous in northeast Attica suggests – the temple to Nemesis, or retribution, is thought to be older than its neighbour, the temple to Themis, or Rule of Law[2]. But thanks to the Athenian tragedians, the strength and will to provide sanctuary to the pursued, and even to forgive them for terrible deeds, have, through the church and the law, formed an inseparable part of our Western ideal of civilisation.

Tuesday, 19 May 2020

Pandemic pushes harder Greek refugee policy, but also solidarity

This article was published by Al Jazeera International.

ATHENS, Greece - Greece dispatched 50 unaccompanied minors to Germany on Saturday, the first major wave of some 1,600 intended for relocation to other European Union members. The minors were between the ages of 5 and 16, and were taken from overcrowded camps on Lesvos, Chios and Samos. Another dozen had departed for Luxembourg on Wednesday. 

“In the era of coronavirus, this act of solidarity by the German government is very much appreciated,” said prime minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, who saw the children off at Athens airport. “Dealing with the migration crisis should be a European responsibility. We should be burden-sharing,” he said. 

Greece has been asking for such European solidarity for months, but until last month it wasn’t being heard. Almost as soon as he came to power in July last year, Mitsotakis started pressing the EU for help with some 5,400 more Greece says it cannot cope with. Greece is providing shelter, education and psychological support for some 1,400 minors who seek asylum in Europe, and is trying to raise that number to 2,000 by summer.

No takers came forward until the coronavirus crisis, which coincided with a geopolitical crisis in the Aegean. On February 27, Turkey declared it was opening its borders to asylum-seekers headed for Europe, effectively suspending an agreement struck with the EU in March 2016. Although Turkey also has a border with EU member Bulgaria, in practice Turkish authorities assisted refugees only to the Greek border, creating enormous pressure on Greek authorities. 

Coronavirus accelerates Greece's overdue digital revolution

 This article was published by Al Jazeera International
Athens, Greece- While national lockdowns to stop the spread of coronavirus are ravaging economies around the globe, for Greece the pandemic is forcing a rapid and long overdue embrace of digital platforms that is placing Greek businesses and the government on stronger footing - no matter what comes after coronavirus. 
"Remote work is moving forward in leaps and bounds, and could leave us with an important legacy [after the crisis]," says Marco Veremis, a technology entrepreneur and angel investor.
Hundreds of employees at Upstream,  a mobile technology firm Vermis co-founded, have been working remotely for three weeks, communicating via Slack the business-to-business messaging service, and video conferencing services like Google Hangouts, Zoom and Microsoft Teams.
But Veris is even more heartened by how quickly his less-tech savvy clients have adapted to doing business under lockdown.
"A very large chunk of the marketplace is now being educated by the crisis," he told Al Jazeera. 

How Greece flattened the Coronavirus curve

This article was published by Al Jazeera International

ATHENS, Greece - When Greece cancelled carnival celebrations in late February, many people thought the measure excessive. In the western city of Patra, which hosts Greece’s most flamboyant carnival parade, thousands defied the ban and took to the streets.

“The government has ordered an end to all municipal activities… but this is a private enterprise. No one can shut it down,” said a jubilant reporter for the local Ionian TV in front of a crew dressed up as 17th century French courtiers. “They’re gathering here on St. George’s square, where the [Greek] revolution began in 1821, and that’s symbolic,” he said.

Greeks quickly put their revolutionary spirit aside, however, and largely heeded government advice to remain indoors. The result has been a remarkably low number of deaths – 81 by Tuesday, compared to more than 17,000 in neighbouring Italy. Adjusted for population, that’s a fatality rate almost 40 times lower.

Compared to other European Union members, too, Greece has fared better. Its fatalities are far lower than Belgium’s (2,035) or the Netherlands’ (1,867), which have similar populations but much higher GDP.

“State sensitivity, co-ordination, resolve, swiftness, seem not to be matters of economic magnitude,” Prime minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis recently told a pared down session of parliament.

“Our schools closed before we had the first fatality. Most countries followed a week or two later, after they had mourned the loss of dozens,” he said.

Wednesday, 11 March 2020

Greece puts up a wall as Turkey besieges Europe with refugees

This article was published by The Critic

Moria refugee camp is the largest in Greece. Its current population of about 20,000 stretches well beyond the organised camp into surrounding olive groves.

LESVOS, Greece – It is midnight on a solitary beach on the north shores of the island of Lesvos. A boatload of 42 asylum-seekers is bedding down on the grass in front of a seaside chapel to St. Demetrios. The rubber dinghy they arrived in from Turkey bobs in the shallows just yards away.

“Turkey told people ‘If you want to go, you can go to Europe’,” said Ayman Ahmadi, a Syrian who worked 16-hour days in a shoe factory for two years to pay for his crossing. “Before we saw that whoever wanted to go to Europe, the police would catch these people.”

Most of the group – who include 12 small children – are from Afghanistan, though there are also some from Syria, Uganda and Guinea. It was raining when they arrived just before dusk, and their clothes are soaked. The night air is damp and cold, but there is nowhere else to take them.