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Greece (Greek: Ελλάδα, Elládha (IPA: [e̞ˈlađa]), or Hellas (Ελλάς, Ellás (IPA: [e̞ˈlas])), officially the Hellenic Republic (Ελληνική Δημοκρατία, Ellinikí Dhimokratía (IPA: [e̞ˌliniˈci đimo̞kraˈtiˌa]), is a country in south-eastern Europe, situated on the southern end of the Balkan peninsula. It is bordered by Bulgaria, the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and Albania to the north and by Turkey to the east. The Aegean Sea lies to the east of mainland Greece while the Ionian Sea lies to the west. Both, parts of the eastern Mediterranean basin, feature a vast number of islands.

Regarded as the cradle of western civilization and being the birthplace of democracy[1], Western philosophy[2], sports, western literature, political science and drama[3] including both tragedy and comedy, Greece has a particularly long and eventful history and a cultural heritage considerably influential in Europe, Northern Africa and the Middle East. Today, Greece is a developed nation, member of the European Union since 1981 and a member of the Eurozone since 2001.

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The shores of Greece's Aegean Sea saw the emergence of the first advanced civilizations in Europe, the Minoan and Mycenean civilizations. Soon, around the Greek isles and peninsula there sprouted city-states, or poleis : each with their own distinct governmental and social infrastructure, uniting under Athens and Sparta to repel the 'eastern threat' of the Persians. The conditions had been created for the flowering of Athens and dawning of the Classical Era, brought to its end only by the culmination of the perennial struggle between Sparta and Athens, the Peloponnesian war. Within a century, the Greek tribes had been united under the rule of Alexander the Great, seeking to defeat the Persians a second time. Alexander led the Greeks on a victorious campaign which united the Greek and Oriental worlds ; his death heralded the onset of the Hellenistic period of Greek history (see Hellenistic Greece), itself brought only partially to a close with the annexation of the Greek peninsula and islands by Rome in 146 BC. Although the establishment of Roman rule did not break the continuity of Hellenistic society and culture, which remained essentially unchanged until the advent of Christianity, it did mark the end of Greek political independence. The Greek peninsula became a province of the Roman Empire, while Greek culture continued to dominate the eastern Mediterranean. See also:Ancient Greece.

12th century Mosaic in Hagia SophiaWhen the Roman Empire finally split in two, the Eastern Roman Empire, known as the Byzantine Empire and centered around Constantinople (known in ancient times as Byzantium), remained Greek in nature, encompassing Greece itself. During the Byzantine imperial period Greece experienced fluctuating fortunes, but succeeded in Hellenizing and institutionalizing most of its new invaders, and by the late 8th century Greeks from Sicily and Asia Minor were brought in as settlers. The 11th and 12th centuries are said to have been the Golden Age of Byzantine art in Greece, while the crusading epochs between 1204 and 1458 saw Greece hit by a series of western European armies in the name of religion. The Byzantine era persisted, nevertheless, until the Fall of Constantinople on May 29, 1453, to the Ottoman Empire.

Theodore Vryzakis, The sortie of MessolonghiWhile the Ottomans were completing the main conquest of the Greek Mainland Ottoman Greece, two Greek migrations occurred. The first saw the Greek intelligentsia migrate to Western Europe — especially to Italy — and was a significant factor in the advent of the Renaissance. The second migration of Greeks left the plains of the Greek peninsula and resettled in the mountains, the islands and other Greek regions where the Ottomans were unable to create a permanent military and administrative presence. As a result some Greek mountain clans across the peninsula, as well as some islands, were able to maintain a status of independence. The millet system contributed to the ethnic cohesion of Orthodox Greeks by segregating the various peoples within the Ottoman Empire based on religion. Eventually, religion played an integral part in the formation of the Modern Greek and other post-Ottoman national identities. The Ottomans ruled Greece until the early 19th century.

On March 25, 1821 the Greeks rebelled thus declaring their strong will for independence (Greek War of Independence). Their struggle ended in 1829, when the newly formed Greek state was finally created and recognized (History of modern Greece). In 1830, the Russian ex-minister of foreign affairs, Ioannis Kapodistrias, a noble Greek from the Ionian Islands, was chosen as the President of the new Republic. However, the Great Powers soon dissolved that republic and installed a monarchy. The first king, Otto, was of the Bavarian House of Wittelsbach. The War of Independence also set in motion the establishment of major new cities and centres of trade such as Hermoupolis, Athens and Pireaus. In 1843, King Otto was forced, as a result of an uprising, to grant his subjects a constitution and representative assembly. He was deposed in 1863, to be replaced by a Danish Prince who took the name George I of Greece and brought the Ionian Islands as a coronation gift from Britain. Greece was growing economically, whilst becoming politically more liberal. In 1877, Prime Minister Charilaos Trikoupis curbed the power of the monarchy to interfere in the Assembly.

The Hellenic Parliament, covening as Charilaos Trikoupis gives a speech, during the late 19th century.This period was punctuated by the undertaking of one of the largest construction initiatives in Europe: the creation of the Corinth Canal (1881 - 1893), and in 1896 the Olympic Games were revived in Athens, judged a success. As a result of the Balkan Wars of 1912-13, Crete, Chios, Samos, most of Epirus and southern Macedonia, including Thessaloniki, were incorporated into Greece. King George was assassinated in Thessaloniki in 1913 and succeeded by his Germanophile son, King Constantine I, whose struggle with Prime Minister Eleftherios Venizelos resulted in Greece's joining of the Entente against Germany and Austria, and the abdication of King Constantine in favor of his son, Alexander.

Eleftherios Venizelos, the Prime Minister who defined his era.A small part of Asia Minor, which still retained a majority Greek population and was centred around the city of Smyrna (known today as Izmir), was awarded to Greece by the Great Powers for having sided with the entente powers in World War I against the Ottoman Empire. Very soon, however, Turkish nationalists, led by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, denounced the Sultan's government in Istanbul and formed a new one in Ankara, eventually defeating the Greek armies (Greco-Turkish War (1919-1922)) by regaining control of Asia Minor and the destruction of Smyrna by fire. Soon afterwards, the Treaty of Lausanne was signed, fixing the borders to this date. A population exchange was included in the agreement and immediately afterward, around five hundred thousand Muslims then living in mainland Greek territory left for Turkey in exchange for more than 1.22 million Greek residents of Asia Minor (excluding Constantinople, Imvros and Tenedos).

In 1936, General Ioannis Metaxas established an authoritarian conservative dictatorship in Greece, known as the 4th of August Regime, and shortly before the outbreak of World War II a disputed referendum was held, resulting in a 'yes' to restore the monarchy under King George II.

On October 28, 1940, the Italian dictator Mussolini demanded that Greece allow Axis troops to enter the country and to surrender its arms ; the Greek government gave what became known as the simple negative response of “No” (see Okhi Day) — thereby immediately siding with the Allies (see Military history of Greece during World War II). Italian troops poured over from Albania but were foiled by the Greeks at the Albanian front, giving the Allies their first victory against fascism (see Greco-Italian War). Since Hitler and his generals needed to secure their strategic southern flank, German forces, whose ranks included troops from Bulgaria and Italy, successfully invaded, and the occupation of Greece by Nazi Germany began in April–May, 1941 (see Battle of Greece). Greek partisan resistance to the occupation was fierce, often with bitter retaliation from the occupiers. Greek Resistance however, such as that waged in Crete, is believed to have forced a delay in German plans to initiate invasion against the Soviet Union, thereby extending the campaign into the punishing Russian winter, while the extremely heavy losses of German paratroop forces foiled a planned German campaign in the Middle East against British-held Iraq and its oil fields. Germany retained its grip on the country until 1944 when German troops withdrew. The Jewish community of Thessaloniki suffered the heaviest toll by far and the Greek economy languished.

An ELAS guerilla during the Nazi occupationAfter liberation from Nazi Germany, Greece experienced an equally bitter Greek Civil War between the communist-led Democratic Army and Hellenic Army lasting until 1949, when the communists were defeated in the battle of Grammos-Vitsi. During the 1950s and 1960s, Greece experienced a gradual and consistent economic growth, aided by significant grants and loans by the United States through the Marshall Plan. However, starting in 1965, a period of turbulence and the subsequent political uncertainty led to a coup d’etat against the elected government and King Constantine II that took place in the dawn of April 21, 1967, and the establishment of a military junta (Regime of the Colonels). In the ensuing years, a number of sympathisers of the left, as well as a number of politicians and communists, were arrested and brutally tortured by the regime. Many politicians evaded capture and found political refuge in other European countries such as France and Sweden, but the then-head of state, King Constantine, officially acknowledged the new regime, which was also then duly recognized by the international community, and diplomatic relations continued; he attempted a counter coup in December, 1967, which failed and he went to Rome in exile.

A military tank standing in front of the Polytechnic School in the early hours of November 17, 1973. Only moments later the tank would come crushing through the School's main gate, violently ending the Athens Polytechnic Uprising in a bloodshed.In 1973, the junta abolished the Greek monarchy. In October, 1973, the head of the junta, Colonel George Papadopoulos, appointed politician Spiros Markezinis as the Prime Minister. A few weeks later, on November 14, law students decided to take control of the Athens Law School and in so doing inspired the students of the Athens Polytechnic School, who followed their lead. By November 16, however, the streets around the Polytechnic School resembled a battlefield, leaving no option in the administration's mind than to respond with the use of military force most familiar to it. In the early hours of November 17, a tank smashed the gate of the historical building of the Athens Polytechnic School with tragic loss of life. Twenty students were killed and the now famous Athens Polytechnic Uprising marked the beginning of the end for Papadopoulos' rule. On November 25, both Papadopoulos and Markezinis were overthrown by a countercoup headed by junta hardliner Brigadier Ioannides; a new President, Phaedon Gizikis, and a new Prime Minister, Adamantios Androutsopoulos, were appointed by the regime and soon backed a planned coup d'etat in order to overthrow the Cypriot President, Archbishop Makarios, giving a pretext for neighbouring Turkey to invade. Turkey invaded Cyprus on July 20, 1974 allegedly to protect its minority residing on the island, and managed to occupy the northern part, or a third of its territory. This signalled the end for a regime that crumbled within days.

The exceptionally-received 2004 Summer Olympics Opening Ceremony was held on August 13Ex Premier Constantine Karamanlis was invited back on July 23, 1974 from Paris, where he had found political refuge. Marking the beiginning of the Metapolitefsi era of Greek history, the plane carrying Constantine Karamanlis landed in Athens amidst massive celebrations and enormous crowds in Syntagma Square; Karamanlis was immediately appointed interim prime minister under President Gizikis, and founded the conservative New Democracy party, going on to win the ensuing elections by a large margin. Democracy was finally restored and a democratic republican constitution came into force in 1975. The monarchy was abolished by a referendum held that same year, denying King Constantine II and his family any access to the country until 2004. Meanwhile, another prominent figure of the past, politician Andreas Papandreou, had also returned from the United States, and founded the Panhellenic Socialist Party, or PASOK. Karamanlis won the 1977 parliamentary elections, but resigned in 1980 giving way to George Rallis; Papandreou, however, won the elections held on October 18, 1981 by a landslide and formed the first socialist government in Greece's history. Papandreou dominated the Greek political stage for almost 15 years until his death in June 23, 1996, by which time Kostas Simitis, another prominent political figure of PASOK, had already succeded him as Prime Minister. Simitis remained in office until March 7, 2004, when Kostas Karamanlis of the conservative New Democracy party won elections.

Greece became the tenth member of the European Union on January 1, 1981 and ever since the nation has experienced remarkable and sustained economic growth. Widespread investments in industrial enterprises and heavy infrastructure as well as funds from the European Union and growing revenues from tourism, shipping and a fast growing service sector have raised the country's standard of living to unprecedented levels. The country adopted the Euro in 2001 and successfuly organised the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens.



Main articles on politics and government of Greece can be found at the Politics and government of Greece series.

The Hellenic Parliament todayThe 1975 Constitution, describes Greece as a "presidential parliamentary republic”, grants extensive specific guarantees of civil liberties and vests the powers of the head of state in a President elected by parliament for a 5 year term. The Greek governmental structure is similar to that found in many Western democracies, and has been described as a compromise between the French and German models. The Prime Minister and cabinet play the central role in the political process, while the President performs some executive and legislative functions in addition to ceremonial duties.

The Prime Minister of Greece is the head of government, and Executive power is exercised by that government. Legislative power is vested in both the government and the Hellenic Parliament. The Judiciary is independent of the executive and the legislature and comprises three Supreme Courts: the Court of Cassation (Άρειος Πάγος), the Council of State (Συμβούλιο της Επικρατείας) and the Chamber of Accounts (Ελεγκτικό Συνέδριο). The Judiciary system is also comprised of civil courts, which judge civil and penal cases and administrative courts, which judge administrative cases, namely disputes between the citizens and the State.

Greece elects a legislature by universal suffrage of all citizens over the age of 18. The Hellenic Parliament (Vouli ton Ellinon) has 300 members, elected for a four-year term. Since the restoration of democracy the party system is dominated by the liberal-conservative New Democracy (Νέα Δημοκρατία - Nea Dimokratia) and the socialist PASOK, or Panhellenic Socialist Movement (Πανελλήνιο Σοσιαλιστικό Κίνημα - Panellinio Sosialistiko Kinima). Non-negligible parties include the Communist Party of Greece and the Coalition of the Radical Left.

Further information: List of political parties in Greece

On March 7, 2004, Kostas Karamanlis, president of the New Democracy party and nephew of the late Constantine Karamanlis, was elected as the new Prime Minister of Greece, thus marking his party's first electoral victory in nearly 11 years. Karamanlis took over Government from Kostas Simitis of PASOK, who had been in office since January 1996.


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