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.