Friday, 15 October 2021

US to create four new military bases in Greece

Greece and the US on October 14 signed a new Mutual Defence Co-operation Agreement securing four new US military bases on Greek soil. One will be in the Evros border region near Turkey and one on the Aegean islands. 

In an interview with To Vima on October 10, Greek foreign minister Nikos Dendias did not name the island, but said the base would be positioned so as to enable Greek-US operations in the east Mediterranean. 

Greece has been negotiating this package since the last MDCA in 2019 brought $50 mn in new investments to the existing US base in Souda Bay, Crete and established a US logistics base in Alexandroupoli for the resupply of NATO allies in the Balkans bypassing the Bosphorus.

The four new bases will be commonly used between the US and Greek militaries, meaning that the US will invest in existing Greek military facilities or establish new ones both countries will use. It is for this reason that the new MDCA will be renewable in 5 years instead of annually, enabling Congress to release funds.

Tuesday, 12 October 2021

Afghan MPs, in exile, pledge to work for women's rights

This article was published by Al Jazeera.

Nazira Yousofi Bek

ATHENS, Greece - When Taliban militiamen ransacked Shagufa Noorzai’s home, she wan’t there. The parliament member from Helmand province had gone into hiding as the hardline Islamic group proclaimed a theocracy in Afghanistan following the withdrawal of US and European troops last August. 

“I was in a washroom without a window for 15 days,” she says. “Even my family didn’t know where I was… The Taliban told my father, ‘tell her to come out of hiding and we will work with her’.”

“The [Taliban] are going to kill people who were working in government, and they will do it quietly,” says Homa Ahmadi, who served three terms as an MP for Logar province. “They break into people’s homes to show people that they have no rights, and to create fear that they can take whatever they want.” 

Greece ratifies landmark intra-NATO defence pact with France

This article was published by Al Jazeera.

Greek prime minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis defeiding the pact in parliament on October 7

Greece on Thursday ratified a mutual defence pact with France, the first between two NATO members. 

The two countries are already bound to help each other from an attack originating outside the alliance. The Strategic Partnership on Defence and Security for the first time binds two NATO members to help each other from an attack originating inside the alliance. 

Prime minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis hailed the agreement as the cornerstone of an independent European defence policy. “The defence of European interests in the Mediterranean now acquires new substance,” Mitsotakis told parliament. 

“If attacked, our country will have at its side the most powerful military on the continent, the sole European nuclear power,” he said. 

Greece: After fires, experts sound alarm over grim climate future

This article was published by Al Jazeera.

ATHENS, Greece – Climate experts say last month’s wildfires that razed 100,000 hectares of Greek forest are only a small sampling of the environmental and economic devastation Greece will face due to a warming planet this century. 

The fires came in the wake of a heatwave, repeating a pattern seen in two other nationwide conflagrations in 2007 and 1987; and the phenomenon is worsening, geophysicist Christos Zerefos tells Al Jazeera. 

“This heatwave was the longest that ever struck our country,” he says. “In 1987 it lasted five days. In 2007 it was six days. And now 11 days. It keeps on increasing.” 

Greece, France tout European defence autonomy with warships deal

 This article was published by Al Jazeera

ATHENS, Greece – Greece announced on September 28 a deal to buy between six and eight French-built warships accompanied by a strategic defence partnership with France. 

“Greece and France are taking a first step today towards European defence autonomy,” said Greek premier Kyriakos Mitsotakis, standing next to France’s president Emmanuel Macron at the Elysee Palace. “We have a common vision of an autonomous response capability to the challenges Europe faces.” 

The deal, billed at $5bn, will provide Greece with three state-of-the-art Belharra frigates and three Gowind corvettes, with an option for one more of each. According to local reports the ships would be delivered by 2026, with the first frigate arriving as early as spring 2024. 

Monday, 11 October 2021

New Aegean camp pushes refugees out of sight

This article was published by Al Jazeera.

SAMOS, Greece – Workers are still laying down asphalt in the high-security end of the camp where deportees will be held, but the overall shape of Samos’ new, 15 hectare refugee reception centre is clear. 

A large, central area contains neighbourhoods of colour-coded mobile housing units for Arab speakers (green), Afghans (blue) and people of African origin (red). Between them are shared play areas for football, basketball and volleyball. A purple area is set aside for Covid-19 quarantine. A separate section of the camp will process new arrivals. 

Some of the 350 asylum-seekers bussed here on September 20-21 were grateful to be moved from the old camp in Samos’ main town of Vathy, which will be bulldozed. Built for 700 people, it had ended up housing 9,000. People arriving from Turkey, only 1.5km away across the Aegean Sea, had built a shanty town of tarpaulin huts nailed onto frames of salvaged lumber. 

Tuesday, 3 August 2021

Salamis after twenty-five centuries

This article was published by the Sewanee Review.

1. What Salamis achieved 

The marble doorway leading in and out of the Acropolis offers the departing guest a framed view of the Salamis Strait, thirteen kilometers away. The University of California archaeologist John Papadopoulos, who made this observation, believes that is deliberate. 

The Battle of Salamis, which took place twenty-five hundred years ago in that strait, successfully pitted an Athenian-led navy of three hundred ships against a Persian-led one of twelve hundred. It was perhaps the unlikeliest Athenian military victory of all time but gave Athens mastery of the Aegean. She used it to build a maritime empire offering Greek city states Athenian-style democracies and security guarantees against Persia. 

The doorway itself is part of the Propylaia, or foregate, of the Acropolis: a grand, colonnaded passage built, like the temples behind it, with the proceeds of that empire. It also happens to stand on the spot where an aristocratic-led party of landlubbers who, having refused to give up the city and entrust their fate to the navy, erected a wooden palisade against the invading Persian army and were killed beside it. It is irresistible to imagine that Perikles, the Athenian general who commissioned the Propylaia, meant to create a permanent pointer to the city’s greatest victory upon the site of its greatest miscalculation. 

Controversial concrete paths on the Acropolis are part of a grand restoration

This article was published by Al Jazeera

ATHENS, Greece – A concrete controversy is raging over the Acropolis in Athens. 

Architects and archaeologists say that re-paving pathways for visitors on the millennia-old monument with concrete is a barbaric intervention. 

“It’s a crime to wound the Rock, because it’s a monument,” architect Tasos Tanoulas told local newspaper EfSyn, using shorthand for the Acropolis, an ancient fortress and temple complex which towers 150m above the city of Athens. 

“[The pathway] imposes itself aesthetically with its modern appearance and its sheer size, said Despoina Koutsoumba, president of the Association of Hellenic Archaeologists. “The scene of a concrete city that we see from on top of the Acropolis has now climbed up onto the Acropolis itself.” 

Stuck in the waiting room: Albania's years-long bid to join the EU

This article was published by Al Jazeera

TIRANA, Albania – The prospect of Albania’s EU membership has lost its shine for Jonara Hoxha. Six years ago she opted to study medicine in Tirana rather than the foreign universities that accepted her. 

“I really thought that if I left I would lose [my] place in my country, and sometimes I thought that I would lose my place even in my family,” she says. “So I stayed here, and I regret it, that decision of mine.” 

Now in her final-year, she is making plans to go to Germany to specialise as a general surgeon. It’s not just that starting salaries in Germany are many times higher than the $600 euros a month she would earn in Albania. She is disappointed that many of her faculty never showed up for class, leaving students to fend for themselves; and she says doctors in Albania are often viewed with suspicion, suffering verbal and physical attacks. 

All this has convinced her that Albania is far from becoming a truly European society anytime soon. 

Thursday, 17 June 2021

Cyprus' reunification: What next after failed talks?

This article was published by Al Jazeera

ATHENS, Greece - Weeks after United Nations-led talks in Geneva failed to resuscitate negotiations to reunify Cyprus, the Turkish-Cypriot foreign minister tells Al Jazeera that the UN process is dead. 

“There will not be negotiations so long as the Greek-Cypriots are treated as if they are the Republic of Cyprus, and so long as the Turkish-Cypriots are treated as if we are nothing other than a mere community of that Republic,” says Tahsin Ertugruloglu. “Equal international status is a must.” 

Turkish-Cypriots proclaimed the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus in 1983, but the UN Security Council immediately denounced it as “invalid” and “incompatible with the 1960 Treaty” that established Cyprus’ independence from Britain. As a result, only Turkey recognises it. The internationally recognised Republic of Cyprus is where Greek-Cypriots live.  

UN resolutions have since called on the two sides to form a bizonal, bicommunal federation. 

As Greece opens to tourists amid pandemic, some shift strategy

This article was published by Al Jazeera

CORFU, Greece - For the past 14 years, Eleni Chrysikopoulou has raised her children selling trinkets to tourists. Her shop is well situated at the intersection of two main streets in the heart of Corfu town; but that also means she pays a hefty rent. 

Last year nearly ruined her. Covid travel restrictions meant that Corfu received just 28,000 visitors from cruise ships, down from 850,000 in 2019. The 1.5mn visitors who arrived by air in 2019 dropped by three quarters. 

“A lot of shops have closed. I know of many instances, people who’ve been in business for years. I’ve no idea what happened to them. Perhaps they went back to their villages,” says Chrysikopoulou. She thinks she, too, will be forced to close shop. “My only consolation is that... I don’t have underage children.” 

In arms race for air superiority, Russia challenges US hegemony

This article was published by Al Jazeera

ATHENS, Greece – Half a decade since its return to the Middle East with a military base in Syria, Russia is aggressively moving into weapons markets left vacant by the United States and boosting sales to traditional clients. Its expanding arms sales bring money and geopolitical influence, as it seeks to challenge US hegemony. 

On February 25, Russia officially announced that Egypt had received five Sukhoi SU-35 advanced multi-role fighter aircraft, the first of an order of twenty-four. Egypt ordered the planes despite threats of US sanctions after the US refused to sell Egypt its fifth-generation F-35 fighter-bomber. 

Turkey, a NATO ally, is in talks with Russia to buy the SU-35 and eventually the state-of-the-art SU-57 fifth generation combat plane, after being shut out of the US’s F-35 programme. On March 12, Russia announced it was ready to open official negotiations with Ankara, and to help Turkey develop its own fifth-generation fighter, the TF-X. 

Algeria, Russia’s biggest customer in the MENA, is to receive fourteen upgraded Sukhoi-34 light bomber this year, and is also reportedly interested in the SU-57. 

Iran, a historic client of Russian weaponry since the days of the Shah, is free to consider Russian goods again since a decade-long UN arms embargo against it expired in October. 

Refugees forced to uproot again as Greece closes 'safe' camp

This article was published by Al Jazeera

MYTILENE, Lesbos – Anis Alizai is a refugee success story against all odds. 

The 17 year-old Afghan arrived in Lesbos with her parents and four siblings in December 2018. After roughing it for seven months in the olive groves around Moria camp, the island’s reception centre at the time, the Alizais were granted a coveted ISO box at Kara Tepe, a municipal camp that has been an exemplar of humanity and solidarity since it was created in 2016. 

Anise’s dream is to study mathematics at the University of Patra, one of the country’s most competitive technical universities, and she was determined to succeed. 

Cyprus prepares for talks, but Turkey holds the cards

This article was published by Al Jazeera

ATHENS, Greece - Greek and Turkish Cypriots are preparing for new talks on reunifying their island. This time, the UN has asked them to figure out not how to share power, territory and resources, but whether they want a shared future at all. 

“The purpose of the meeting will be to determine whether common ground exists for the parties to negotiate a lasting solution to the Cyprus problem within a foreseeable horizon,” said the office of UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres. 

That’s because three attempts at reunification have failed since 2004 – the most recent at the Swiss resort town of Crans Montana in 2017. Last October, Turkish Cypriots elected a president who says it’s time to give up on forming a bizonal, bicommunal federation, which has been the UN goal for two-and-a-half decades. Instead, says Ersin Tatar, Cyprus should split into two states - a position backed by Ankara. 

Refugee pushbacks: Greece prepares to indict whistleblowers

This article was published by Al Jazeera

ATHENS, Greece- In the small hours of April 3, a rubber dinghy filled with asylum-seekers set out from the Turkish coast near the town of Babanli. Among the 27 passengers were 11 children. Their destination was Lesvos. 

By 4:31am, when they were just 450m from Lesvos’ north shore, their engine sputtered out. At 5:20am, a Greek coastguard vessel spotted them, took the passengers on board, sped them back into Turkish territorial waters, transferred them onto a life raft and notified the Turkish coastguard to pick them up. 

That story, with precise geolocation co-ordinates and timings, was told by Aegean Boat Report, a non-governmental organisation run from Tromso by a Norwegian named Tommy Olsen. His sources, Olson says, are the asylum-seekers themselves, who call ABR when in distress, send GPS map points of where they are, and provide videos of what authorities do. 

Tuesday, 13 April 2021

How Poetry Won Independence for Greece

This article was published by the Wall Street Journal.

The grave of Theodoros Kolokotronis on March 25, 2021

"All art is propaganda,” George Orwell wrote. This month Greece celebrates the bicentennial of its War of Independence against the Ottoman Empire, won with the help of some of the most powerful propaganda ever written. During a virtual conference on the east Mediterranean last November, New Jersey senator Robert Menendez quoted some of it: “The mountains look on Marathon—/And Marathon looks on the sea;/And musing there an hour alone,/I dream’d that Greece might still be free.”

Lord Byron wrote these lines in his poem “The Isles of Greece” just before the outbreak of the Greek Revolution. Revered today as a Greek national hero, Byron saw in the modern Greeks the flicker of ancient genius fallen on desperate times, and he wasn’t the only one. Percy Shelley and his wife, Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, author of “Frankenstein,” were also famously Philhellenes. In Pisa they took Greek lessons from Alexandros Mavrokordatos, a Constantinopolitan Greek who would become the first president of independent Greece in 1822. The literary result of this relationship was Shelley’s verse play “Hellas,” written to help finance the Greek cause and portraying the Greeks as re-emerging from antiquity: “The world’s great age begins anew,/The golden years return.”

Thursday, 8 April 2021

Greece 2.0 seeks to transform the economy. Does it go far enough?

This article was published by Al Jazeera. 

2.0 Blueprint aims to make Greece greener, more efficient and crack down on tax cheats.


ATHENS, Greece - On the day US president Joe Biden presented his $2.3tr infrastructure bill, Greece unveiled a vision of state-driven economic regeneration that shares many of Biden’s priorities.


Greece 2.0 aims to leverage 57bn euros ($67bn) over six years to rebuild network industries, reform state services, attract investment and boost exports.  


Among other things, the omnibus plan would redesign the electricity grid to absorb renewable energy, install high-speed fibre optic and 5G wireless networks across the country, digitise government, hospitals and schools, modernise railways and reforest 16,500ha of burnt land.


Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis pitched the plan as a jobs creator and economic growth driver that will make Greece more sustainable, entrepreneurial and more equitable.

But transformation doesn’t come cheap. 


Tuesday, 30 March 2021

Suez crisis creates winners and losers in the global supply chain

This article was published by Al Jazeera

Terminals II and III of the Piraeus Container Terminal

PIRAEUS, Greece - Yiorgos Gourdomihalis sounds very sanguine about losing $30,000 a day. 

Just hours before the Suez canal shut down last week, the CEO of Phoenix Shipping and Trading had clinched a time charter carrying porcelain clay from Ukraine to India, which would have made his company close to half a million dollars. 

“Our charterers did not complete the paperwork the next day, because the boat would have gone through Suez. We were sorry because it was a good price, but we’ll do something else,” the second generation shipowner tells Al Jazeera. 

Despite the loss of this charter, Gourdomihalis expects to be among the winners of the upset in global trade, which began on March 23 when the container ship Ever Given ran aground while entering the canal from the Red Sea. That is because upsets in global supply chains have historically tended to raise freight rates and profit shipowners. 

The Greek shipowning community, which controls more than a fifth of the world’s oceangoing merchant fleet and more than half of the EU fleet, is poised for a potential bonanza in rates. 

Friday, 26 March 2021

The godfathers of Greek independence

This article was published by The Critic

From its very inception as a nation state, Greece learned that to fight the Turks successfully it needed allies, and that these had to be won through shared interests as well as shared values.

The grave of Theodoros Kolokotronis, a captain of the Greek Revolution of 1821,
festooned with flags on the bicentennial 

The Greek War of Independence, which reaches its bicentennial this month, is usually associated with Lord Byron, the most famous of an estimated twelve hundred Philhellenes who arrived to fight alongside the Greeks in the first half of the war. Philhellenism was key to the success of the Greek revolution, stoked by a belief that an ancient civilisation was rising from the ashes. Within that movement, a very small number of people made an outsized contribution. 

Byron’s death in Messolongi in 1824 had an electric effect on public opinion because he was, quite simply, a rock star. Childe Harold’s Piligrimage, in which his wandering hero mused about freedom for the Greeks twelve years earlier, had sold ten editions in three years. And Byron was, after all, a British lord. 

“The enthusiasm he awakened perhaps served Greece more than his personal exertions would have done, had his life been prolonged,” concludes George Finlay, Byron’s friend and historian of the Greek War of Independence. 

Monday, 22 February 2021

In Greece, an Olympian leads the 'MeToo' movement

This article was published by Al Jazeera. 

Sofia Bekatorou

ATHENS, Greece – For two decades, Greek Olympic sailing champion Sofia Bekatorou’s rape quietly smouldered inside her. During that time she became one of the most decorated athletes in Greek history, had two children and completed a degree in psychology. But she struggled constantly with her experience. 

“I couldn’t reconcile it with my character. I couldn’t forgive myself for not reacting as I would have wished,” she says in an interview with Al Jazeera. “Sometimes I tried to find a solution in my dreams, to imagine I had reacted differently.” 

Repression is a defence mechanism, she says, but “the cost of not facing [the event] is that you don’t respect yourself. You consider yourself guilty.” 

Last month she went public about how a senior official at the Greek sailing federation lured her to his hotel room in 1998, when she was 21 years old, and raped her. “He said he would stop if I wanted him to, but he didn’t stop, no matter what I said. When he finished and got up from on top of me, I left the room ashamed and in tears,” she told a magazine. 

Tuesday, 2 February 2021

Campus police proposal riles Greek students

This article was published by Al Jazeera.

Students demonstrate outside parliament in Athens on January 28.

ATHENS, Greece – University students are preparing to fight an education bill they say will harm freedom of expression on campuses. 

The conservative New Democracy government wants to create a new police force for universities, empowered to arrest and charge those considered troublemakers. Although campus police would not bear firearms, they would be able to call in riot police and other reinforcements. 

The government also wants to introduce disciplinary boards with powers to suspend or expel students.  

Perhaps most controversially, students could face scrutiny for putting up posters or banners, and for “noise pollution”. 

“We’re afraid of the disciplinary measures in the bill, which essentially allow vigilantism on campus, and all forms of political expression are interpreted as misdemeanours,” says Hara Mantadaki, a political science student at Panteion University for the Social Sciences. She spoke to Al Jazeera in the midst of a student protest against the measures, where loud music was being played and banners were being painted – routine events on Greek campuses. “Even what we’re doing here would not be allowed,” she said. 

Monday, 25 January 2021

Greece and Turkey restart historic exploratory talks

An abstract of this article was published by Al Jazeera

ATHENS, Greece – Ever since she could hold fishing twine, Vasiliki Mastroyiannaki has gone out onto the Ionian Sea in the family caique. In the last 20 years, however, the family’s revenues have fallen along with their catch, as huge trawlers from Italy and Egypt harvested Greek waters. 

“I think there should be a law that doesn’t allow foreign boats. Only Greeks should be allowed to fish here,” says the 40 year-old. 

Her wish could come true if exploratory talks between Greece and Turkey, beginning on Monday after a four-year hiatus, go well. The talks aim to settle maritime boundaries. As a result, Greece hopes to double its territorial waters to 12 nautical miles from shore, in accordance with international law. 

Greece has begun the process off its west coast. Last week, Greece doubled its territorial waters in the Ionian Sea to 12 nautical miles – the maximum allowed under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, or UNCLOS. Mastroyiannaki applauds the move, hailed as the first expansion of sovereign territory since Greece absorbed the Dodecanese Islands in 1947. The January 20 law adds 13,000 square kilometres of water, airspace and sea bed to Greece’s sovereign domain – equivalent to ten percent of its land. 

“The extension of territorial waters westward inevitably sends a message to the East,” said Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis in parliament on January 20. “Under the same legal regime, we can resolve our great problem with Turkey, as long as its leaders abandon this monologue of disputation and sit down to talk.” 

Friday, 8 January 2021

2020: Turkey blackmails Europe, Greece adopts a policy of deterrence, the EU remains divided, and refugees suffer

This article was published in The Critic

An Afghan boy among tents in Moria camp, Lesvos, March 2020 (John Psaropoulos)

ATHENS, Greece – This year marked a turning point in Aegean refugee flows. According to migration ministry figures, 14,430 asylum-seekers crossed from Turkey to Greece in the first eleven months of the year, compared with 65,337 for the same period last year. 

That is a scale of arrivals not seen since before a 2015 peak, when almost a million asylum-seekers entered Greece, followed by 205,000 in 2016, and many tens of thousands a year since. Spain and Italy have thus become the main refugee entry points to Europe this year. 

 “The rules have changed,” migration minister Notis Mitarakis announced in January, as the conservative New Democracy government put a concert of defensive and deterrent policies into action. “We are not open to people who do not have a refugee profile.” 

A Brief History of Moria

This article was published in The Critic.

Three Afghan men talk around their campfire in the unofficial Moria camp

Three Afghan men talk around their campfire in the unofficial Moria camp (John Psaropoulos)

I watched as Moria camp was built in January of 2013. A disused military camp on a terraced hillside was girdled with four metre-high fence, and large units capable of sleeping 15 or 20 people were lifted onto the terraces by crane. Each terrace was individually fenced off, too, so that if police chose, the only outside space inmates would be able to enjoy would be a few square metres in front of their dormitory. 

Moria was then designed for 1,200 asylum-seekers. Greek authorities had been alarmed not so much by the 3,345* arrivals in the previous year, as much as the agitated state of the unregulated migrants already in the country. In the post-2008 global financial crisis, Greece went through the worst economic recession in the postwar history of the developed world. Many unrecorded migrant labourers found themselves on the street, hungry and undocumented. Fights broke out and petty crime rose. The conservative government elected in April 2012 determined that more should not come in, and those who did should be incarcerated out of sight and out of mind.