Greece in Review: 2016

A group of migrants return to Greece after a failed attempt to cross the FYROM border.

Greece entered 2016 with a mix of reserved optimism for the economy and fear of the repercussions of the uncontrollable migrant influx. The new government that emerged from the September 2015 elections had made many promises for 2016. Yet, the end of the year turned out to be a return to December 2014: New negotiations with creditors for what looks like a fourth bailout program and signs of snap elections in 2017.

Several of the events that marked Greece in 2016 are like the ones that marked 2015, showing that the country is caught in a vicious cycle where political powers — left, right or center — seem determined to maintain the old, corrupt system that brought Greece in this dire position. It is uncertain whether Greece would return to normalcy in 2017. What is certain, is that most of the events below will feature on the 2017 list.

  1. Refugee crisis: Dozens of thousands of refugees from war-torn Syria and undocumented migrants from Asia and Africa made the perilous journey from Turkey to the nearby Greek islands. The majority of them crossed to central and northern Europe via the Balkan Route until the borders closed in early March. Then the European Union-Turkey deal on March 20 stemmed the flow to a few hundred per month. Official figures talk of 62,000 stranded migrants and refugees, with most of them living in squalid conditions in overcrowded camps.
  2. The television licensing fiasco: In the summer the Greek government invented a way to control television by announcing a tender for four television licenses for nationwide broadcasting. The excuse was to bring order to the vague legislation system that had television stations operating for 27 years with temporary licenses. State Minister Nikos Pappas assumed the role of media controller and announced that the existing stations would have to shut down if they didn’t get a license in the auction. The Greek government locked all tender participants in a building for three days and four of them got a license. Yet, the Council of State, Greece’s highest administrative court, ruled that the tender was unconstitutional because the only authority that could grant the licenses is the National Radio and Television Council. It was a big blow for the government that silently retreated after that.
  3. Bailout program review negotiations: The first bailout program review that should have been completed in October-November 2015, was finally completed in the end of May 2016. The agreement was accompanied by new taxes, raises in old taxes and VAT and pension cuts. The second bailout program evaluation that should have been completed in October, is postponed for 2017.
  4. Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Center inauguration: A cultural oasis in the debt-ridden capital, put a smile on the face of thousands of Athenians who crossed its doors. A huge seaside space with concert halls, theaters, libraries, children playgrounds and the new home of the National Library. The soon to become an Athens landmark destination, offers countless of free cultural, sports and educational events on a daily basis.
  5. Barack Obama visit to Athens: Despite the fact that Barack Obama came to Athens as the outgoing President of the U.S., his speech at the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Center gave a fresh breath of pride to the wounded dignity of Greeks. His speech about democracy and its birthplace made Greeks feel good at a time when the country’s prime minister was parading in Europe as the wondering beggar.
  6. Tax avalanche and pension cuts: The closing of the first review of the bailout program was accompanied by new taxes and pension cuts that brought millions of pensioners and low-income Greeks to their knees. At the same time, middle-income Greeks are now taxed to the point where they will soon approach the poverty level.
  7. Police tear gas pensioners: A sad way for police to treat the elderly who worked for thirty and forty years and now get pittance pensions. Their protest rally to the prime minister’s mansion stopped about one hundred meters away after police tear gassed them. The citizen protection deputy minister did not have the decency to apologize. The prime minister did apologize but it was too late.
  8. Farmers protest with roadblocks: January and February found national highways and other thoroughfares blocked by farmers protesting high taxes and loss of benefits. Customs were blocked, citizens were unable to go to their destinations, fruit and vegetables rotted in trucks. The roadblocks ended after the government promised new measures. But roadblocks will recommence in January 2017.
  9. Anarchists burn buses: The lawlessness in central Athens is now marked by a new pastime for the city’s self-professed anarchists: It’s called “Let’s burn buses.” Buses that pass in front of the old building of the Athens Technical University (Polytechnio) are stopped by anarchists who order the driver and passengers to disembark and then torch the buses. When the mayor asked why the citizen protection deputy minister does nothing about that, the latter argued that there was more violence in the area during previous administrations, thereby he is excused for not acting.
  10. Turkish provocations: The failed coup attempt in Turkey in July triggered a consequence of events that changed Greece-Turkey relations. The Turkish president, after a long series of purges in the military and civil sectors, started a nationalist campaign that includes questioning of the borders with Greece. The repeated statements challenging the Treaty of Lausanne, and thereby the sovereignty of Greek territories, were accompanied by continuous violations of Greek airspace. At the same time, Turkey has assumed a more unfriendly attitude in the Cyprus peace talks.
  11. Greece wins six Medals in Rio Olympics: In the Rio de Janeiro 2016 Olympic Games, Greece ranked in 26th place, winning three gold medals, one silver and two bronze. This was the fifth best ranking in Greece’s participation in the world’s most celebrated sports event. All thanks to Anna Korakaki who won a gold and a bronze medal in shooting, Eleftherios Petrounias who won the gold medal in rings, Katerina Stefanidi who won gold in pole vault, silver medalist Spyros Gianniotis at 10 km. offshore swimming, and the bronze medal won by Takis Mantis and Pavlos Kagialis in 470 sailing.