Greece

Over Greece's Kastellorizo Island, Erdogan's Shadow Looms

The easternmost island of the Dodecanese archipelago is just a stone's throw from the coast of Turkey, where the president's neo-Ottoman rhetoric is cause for concern.

KASTELLORIZO — There is no indication that the horseman Giorgis, who struck down the famous dragon in Lydda with a single blow of his sword or spear, ever stopped in Kastellorizo during his adventurous life. And yet, the name of the man who became Saint George for the Christians is found everywhere in Kastellorizo — or Megisti, as the Greek island is known to locals.

The monastery bears his name, as do churches and even some boats. Evoking the name of the patron saint of knights, it would seem, is a kind of plea for protection. These days, there are no dragons, of course, trying to harm the easternmost island in the the Dodecanese archipelago. But the inhabitants of Kastellorizo do live in the shadow of another threat, one that goes by the name of Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

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Moria Voices: Where To Next After Migrant Camp Fire In Greece?

Testimony from Afghan and Somali migrants, as well as locals on Greek island of Lesbos, where Europe's largest migrant camp has burned to the ground, leaving 13,000 migrants without shelter.

LESBOS — "We are not animals," shouts a boy, as a policeman orders him to step back. Nearby a group of men pull a cart loaded with suitcases, and a little girl who had fallen asleep on the pile of bags. They have been on the road for three days and ask the officer where they should go. "We are hungry," says one in English. "Let us at least go to the village to buy some milk for our children. People may start dying here."

Thousands of people are huddled along the road that connects the city of Mytilene, on the island of Lesbos, with Moria, the largest refugee camp in Europe, which was destroyed by a fire during the night between Sep. 8 and 9. Police in riot gear prevent refugees from reaching the city, and have even fired tear gas at the refugees. A column of black smoke from a second fire continues to rise from what remains of Moria, and for hours a fire brigade helicopter flies low over the heads of the displaced. The late summer days are windy and weighed down by a sultry heat.

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Greece And The Dark Forces Of Modern Mobility

The word krisis was coined by the Greeks three millennia ago, meaning "turning point in a disease." The meaning of course has evolved and expanded since, even if our pandemic has brought the word full circle to its ancient ramifications. In Greece's more recent history, turning points have come in different forms, at rapid-fire pace over the past decade: starting with the euro turmoil and the arrival of the establishment-busting leftist Syriza party, followed by the refugee crisis and now COVID-19 that seems to bring them all simultaneously to a head.


The pandemic arrived just as some believed that Greece was finally emerging from its longstanding economic torpor, with some hoping that the 2019 election of Kyriakos Mitsotakis and the return of his business-friendly New Democracy party would further cement the country's upward economic trajectory. But the reality of the refugee crisis, so often hidden, remains and is compounded by broader economic ills: 30% of its own citizens trapped in poverty, and youth unemployment at nearly 40%.


And now, the health crisis. Though Greece has been spared the grave death tolls of other European countries, the government was quick to impose a national shutdown. But grave problems remain. As of April 20, 2020, some 35,000 migrants and asylum seekers lived in the camps on the Greek Aegean islands of Chios, Kos, Leros, Lesbos, and Samos — more than six times capacity. Human rights organizations have criticized Greek authorities for not doing enough to address the acute overcrowding and need to limit the spread of COVID-19 in camps for asylum seekers. Meanwhile, with its healthcare system in shambles after a decade of economic plague, Greece is pleading to the EU for help.


In the 21st century, there's another word with multiple meanings: "Mobility" can now refer to how we get around in our towns and in the economy. It is also what allows desperate refugees to risk their lives crossing the open sea, and lets tourists visit a Mediterranean beach for a weekend getaway. The pandemic has hit both, with reports of a near shutdown in illegal human trafficking as well as vacation travelers. Greece has again become the center of countervailing forces, a place where migrants come for shelter, tourists come for sun, and its own citizens leave for a better life elsewhere. Greece has declared that it will be ready to welcome foreign tourists by July 1. And yesterday, the country tallied its second straight day with zero COVID-19 deaths. Another turning point, perhaps. But the past two months have also taught us that the virus itself is a textbook case in modern mobility.

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Pandemic Dilemma: Save Summer Tourist Season Or Take No Risks?

Last year 1.5 billion international tourist arrivals were recorded globally. In 2020, with borders closed and airplanes grounded, the tourism industry has been decimated and its recovery could take years.

The Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development anticipates a 45% to 70% decline in the tourism economy — amounting to losses between $295-$430 billion for the global travel industry. For countries that rely heavily on summer tourism, there's a scramble to save the season.

  • Quick to impose a nationwide lockdown, Greece hasn't been hit as hard as other European countries, with 146 registered deaths so far. But with the tourism sector making up about 18% of its GDP, and most of the visitors arriving in the warm months, action is needed. Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis estimates that the country could be ready to reopen to foreign tourists on July 1, depending on the implementation of health protocols.Tourism Minister Haris Theocharis presented a three-point planto the Parliament earlier this week to help reopen Greece to tourism, I Kathimeriní reports. The plan centers on special health safety standards for hotels, airplanes and tour buses, as well as diplomatic contacts with other governments to allow visitors to come, and finally, a new advertising campaign to promote Greece as a holiday destination in spite of coronavirus.

  • Last year, Spain was the world's second most visited country, with nearly 84 million tourists. Having suffered more than 24,500 deaths, Spain continues to be on strict lockdown. After the ABC daily reported that the government was considering closing its borders to foreign tourists for the whole summer, an outcry followed from the tourism industry. Tourism Minister Reyes Maroto since told El Pais that the reopening of borders would depend on "the evolution of the health crisis'. For now, only domestic travel and tourism will be encouraged as hotels, bars and restaurants will be gradually reopened beginning next week, with reduced capacity and under strict hygiene measures. Some coastal towns are also looking to recruit extra lifeguards to make sure beachgoers respect social distancing, while separate hours for children or elderly people are also being considered. On the destination islands of Mallorca and Ibiza, some hotels are starting to reopen, though it's unclear how people would reach them.

In Malaga, Spain, on May 2 — Photo: Jesus Merida/SOPA/ZUMA

  • Egypt has cut itself from the outside world and cancelled all international flights since March 19, leading to losses estimated at $1 billion per month for its tourist sector. The country, famed for its Pyramids and Nile river cruises earned $12.6 billion in tourism revenues in 2019, the highest in a decade, according to Asharq al-Awsat. Now Egypt has begun to allow hotels to reopen, but only for domestic tourists and at a 25% capacity until the end of May and 50% from the beginning of June. The Egyptian Tourism Federation has devised a plan with a package of health measures for tourism establishments to reopen while ensuring the safety of both tourists and workers, Egypt Independent reports. Hotels will have to clean rooms daily with a special steam machine to disinfect furniture and fabric and all touchable points will have to be cleaned and sterilized every hour in public places and restrooms. Each hotel will also have to provide an on-site clinic and doctor, and assign an area that can be used as a quarantine bay if any coronavirus case is discovered.

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food / travel
Bertrand Hauger

Ruinous Parking

This shot dates back from the very first of my 11 trips to Greece. My wife (whom you can see in the car) and I had driven our Simca Aronde from France through Italy, then onto a ferry, and up the Epirus mountains — to finally park smack in the middle of the ruins of Ancient Olympia. Yes, it was permitted way back when!

Greece
Juan David Romero

When They Mistook Me For A Muslim In Greece

A Colombian-American deals with different misconceptions in different parts of the world. Ask him who he is before you ask him where he's from.

ATHENS — "Where are you from?" The burly Greek port policeman demanded in English as he looked down, holding my American passport in front of me. I was barefoot, kneeling on the floor, wrists cuffed behind. Other officers were gathering around. "Is this passport your passport?" one repeated. "Are you from ISIS?"

At this point they'd already punched and stepped on me, yelling in Greek what I assumed were insults. Soon after, I was also forced to open up my phone and my computer, and was locked in a dark cell. Later, after having seen photos of my boyfriend and me on my iPhone, they figured out I was gay. "Are you a homosexual?" They passed my phone around, mocking and laughing — but this humiliation was the last of my concerns. I knew what they were doing was wrong and unlawful, but as the hours went by, I began to wonder how far they'd be willing to go. Am I going to be raped? I asked myself. Am I going to die?

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Bertrand Hauger

A License Plate My Mother Could Love

Over the years, I took pictures of license plates — they'd help me remember where I went without having to write things down in a notebook. But there was a different, more personal reason for photographing this motorbike plate on the Greek island of Corfu: "Ety," short for Etienne, was what my mother called me as a child.

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Bertrand Hauger

Unexpectedly Lush

You'd expect the mountainous Epirus region, in northwestern Greece, to be somewhat dry. But the shores of the beautiful lake Pamvotis bring some welcome greenery to the inland.

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Bertrand Hauger

Olympic Pause

Running, discus throw, long jump, javelin throw, wrestling ... After learning all about the Ancient Olympic Games, my wife was enjoying a well-deserved break in the shade, sitting on the ruins of the sanctuary of Olympia where the very first competitions were held.

Greece
Julie Boulet

Greek Debts: Is It Time To Let The Venus De Milo Go Home?

PARIS — Every day, tourists in the Louvre crowd around the Venus de Milo. The two-meter high armless marble lady is one of the museum's most renowned pieces of art. But the statue, recovered by a farmer on the Greek island of Milos in 1820, might have to go home soon.

The statue of Venus, or Aphrodite in Greek mythology, "is a migrant. It's about time she comes home," Zampeta Tourlou, who represents the island in Greece's national parliament, explained to Euronews. He hopes she will be back before 2020, to celebrate the 200-year anniversary of her discovery.

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Greece
Fabien Perrier

Euro Crisis Redux: Greek Austerity And Collective Depression

ELEFSINA — Greece must repay 7 billion euros of debt by July. But, as has been the case since 2011, the country will not be able to honor its debt without first receiving the credit promised by the International Monetary Fund and the members of the eurozone in July 2015 (86 billion euros). Athens' creditors are demanding new austerity measures, even though the economy and the population are both exhausted.

Dimitris Panogiotakopoulos' face gets longer as soon as he starts talking about the primary school he heads in Elefsina, 12 miles from Athens, where since 2009 the budget has decreased by 70%. "Every year, the situation gets worse. I've lost all hope that things might improve," he says. "We can't even afford chalk. We've had to organize fundraisers just to buy school supplies."

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Charon's Choice

In Greece, everywhere you go and everything you see can easily take on a mythological aura. When you're well-versed in the ancient Greek texts — as a high school philosophy teacher like me was bound to be — a seemingly mundane pier like this might actually seem to be the mooring for Charon's boat, carrying the souls of the just departed across the river Styx.

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This Is Not A Pipe

As Belgian surrealist artist René Magritte would say: "Ceci n'est pas une pipe."

Resting for a second on a column in the sanctuary of Olympia, my wife Claudine snapped this shot of me most probably chewing on a twig or a toothpick — for I was one of the few French philosophy teachers in the 1960s not to smoke. Not a pipe ... not anything!

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Four Hundred Pleats

There are 400 pleats in the kilt-like fustanella worn by the Evzones guards who patrol Athens' Syntagma Square. That's one pleat per year of Ottoman occupation. Now I wonder what the pompoms on the clogs stand for ...

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Ghost Town Grandeur

On the first of our many trips to Greece, my wife and I drove down to Mystras in the south of the country. Abandoned in the 19th century, the town's churches, castle and fortress walls stand as a reminder of Byzantine grandeur.

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