Greece 2018: The Year in Review



    The year 2018 was a tumultuous one for Greece, marked by tragic events such as the East Attica fires which claimed the lives of 99 people and the destruction of the entire town of Mati. The political world was shaken by the government’s decision to negotiate the name of the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) without deliberating with any other political parties. The decision went against the will of most Greeks to grant Skopje the name “North Macedonia”.

    The end of the third bailout program was a positive development on paper; yet Greeks did not see a difference in their finances, nor do they foresee any improvement in the near future, according to polls. New fiscal measures are to be implemented in the years to come, while the Greek budget will continue to be scrutinized by the E.U.

    However, there were positive developments during 2018. This marked the year Greece saw a new record in tourist arrivals, which boosted the economy and reduced unemployment figures, albeit seasonally.

    As the nation leaves 2018 behind, Greeks remain terribly divided politically ahead of next year’s election.

    January

    The year started with the first demonstrations regarding the Macedonian issue. When the SYRIZA – ANEL administration attempted to solve the ongoing problem of the FYROM name without consulting with opposition parties, it angered many Greeks, who then took to the streets in protest. The January 21 Thessaloniki demonstration against “selling” the name of Macedonia to Greece’s Balkan neighbors was the first of many in major Greek cities and abroad. Organizers estimated 500,000 people came from all over Greece to protest the name change. The government downplayed the figure to less than 100,000.

    In January, scientists reconstructed the face of a teenager who had been alive in 9000 B.C. Bones discovered in a cave in 1993 led scientists to estimate that they belonged to a girl between 15-19 years of age. In 2018 researchers were able to successfully reconstruct the girl’s skeleton, and they named her “Avgi” — “Dawn” in Greek — because she lived at what is considered to be the dawn of civilization.

    February

    February 4 marked Athenians’ turn to protest against the use of the name “Macedonia” by Skopje. In an impressive display of support, the heart of downtown Athens was flooded with people carrying the blue-and-white. Syntagma Square had not seen this many people since the pre-election rallies of Andreas Papandreou in 1981 and 1985. Organizers estimated as many as one million people turned out for the protest. The Ministry for Citizen Protection said the crowd was more along the lines of 120,000-140,000 people, and the prime minister called claims by the organizers to have had a turnout of 1,000,000 as “wishful thinking”. Renowned Greek composer Mikis Theodorakis gave a riveting speech during the rally which brought some people to tears.

    In the aftermath of the Macedonia demonstrations came the “Novartis Scandal”. Three anonymous witnesses came forth, claiming huge bribes had been given to previous ministers and top officials by the Swiss pharmaceuticals giant. The case is currently still under investigation by a parliamentary committee.

    March

    March was marked by the arrest in Evros of two Greek soldiers, Angelos Mitretodis and Dimitris Kouklatzis, by Turkish authorities. The two men had lost their way in the snow along the border and entered Turkey accidentally. They were apprehended on March 1 and  ended up spending months in a Turkish jail awaiting trial, without having any official charges pressed against them except for vague allegations of espionage. The case lasted for months, with the E.U. and other countries condemning the unjust treatment of the two men. Turkey asked the Greek government to exchange the two for the eight Turkish junior officers to whom Greece had granted asylum. Mitretodis and Kouklatzis were finally released by Turkey after spending 167 days in jail.

    On March 11, during the PAOK-AEK football match in Thessaloniki, PAOK owner Ivan Savvidis stormed the pitch with his bodyguards and moved threateningly toward the referee to complain about a decision made by the game official. Savvidis made a move to raise his jacket, underneath which there was a holstered handgun. PAOK players stopped the club owner, but the photograph of Savvidis with the gun was enough to earn PAOK a severe penalty. The Greek championship games were forced to stop for almost a month. Since that time UEFA officials have overseen Greek football.

    April

    On April 10, following countless Greek airspace violations by Turkish warplanes, Greek soldiers fired warning shots toward a Turkish army helicopter flying low over the island of Rho in the eastern Aegean. Turkey responded with threats, but the incident had no further consequences.

    On April 12, the Mirage 2000-5 of Greek fighter pilot Giorgos Baltadoros crashes in the Aegean approximately one hour after chasing Turkish warplanes that had violated Greek airspace. Defense Minister Panos Kammenos declares the dead pilot a national hero.

    On April 24, the AEK Athens football club beat Levadeiakos 2-0, winning the Greek championship for the first time in 24 years.

    May

    On May 9, Charles, the Prince of Wales and Camilla, the Duchess of Cornwall, arrived in Athens for a three-day visit aimed at strengthening the long-term maritime and military ties of the two countries. However, the prince noted that the Greek trip was also meant to close a wound dating back decades. In a rare public expression of his feelings about “the very peculiar country” that is his father’s birthplace, the future king said warmly that he loves the nation of Greece.

    Thessaloniki Mayor Yiannis Boutaris was hospitalized on May 20 after a brutal attack by nationalists during a demonstration commemorating the Pontic Genocide.

    A day later, popular Greek comedian and satirist Harry Klynn died at age 78. The child of Pontic Greek refugees, Vasilis Triantafyllidis was born in Thessaloniki in 1940. In 1964 he appeared at shows for the Greek Diaspora in Canada. He spent the next ten years in the U.S., where he performed as a standup comedian. After marrying his wife in Chicago, they had a son, Nikos, who later became a film director. Klynn returned to Greece in 1974 and introduced standup comedy to Greek audiences. He was a great satirist of Greek society and many of his biting comments turned out to be prophetic decades later.

    June

    On June 17, Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras and Foreign Minister Nikos Kotzias, along with their FYROM counterparts Zoran Zaev and Nikola Dimitrov, signed the agreement on the name of FYROM in a ceremony at Lake Prespa in northern Greece. The Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia agreed to change its name to “The Republic of Severna Makedonija”, (Republic of North Macedonia). The Balkan country must change its constitutional name for all uses, and the name will apply both domestically and abroad. FYROM agreed that articles in its Constitution which contain irredentist claims will be removed, while Greece agreed that there is a “Macedonian language” and a “Macedonian identity”.

    A day earlier, the coalition government of Alexis Tsipras survived a motion of censure brought forth by the main opposition New Democracy Party regarding the Prespa deal.

    On June 24, Recep Tayyip Erdogan won the national elections in neighboring Turkey and became president with new, all-encompassing powers. He soon continued his territorial claims to areas in Greece, Cyprus and the Eastern Mediterranean.

    July

    On July 10 the Ministry of Culture announced one of the most important archaeological discoveries ever made — a clay tablet with what archaeologists believe is the oldest known writing of Homer’s epic poem “The Odyssey.” The poem was engraved on a clay plaque found in the ancient Greek city of Olympia, the original site of the Olympic Games. Researchers have dated the plaque to Roman times, likely before the third century A.D.

    While the exact date of the tablet has yet to be determined, the ministry declared the priceless tablet to be one of the greatest “archaeological, epigraphic, literary and historical” discoveries of all time.

    July 23, 2018 will be remembered as the day of the worst fire tragedy in the long history of Greece. The wildfires in Neos Voutzas and Mati in seaside East Attica killed 100 people and injured hundreds within a span of two hours, and the seaside town of Mati was totally destroyed in the blaze. Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras called for three days of national mourning. Ten days later the Deputy Minister of Citizen Protection resigned, while the chief of police and the fire department chief were replaced. Eventually no one person was held accountable for not evacuating the town of Mati when the flames were approaching. Nationwide celebrations for the restoration of democracy were cancelled due to the period of national mourning.

    August

    Miltiadis Tentoglou won the gold medal in the long jump by jumping 8.25 meters and became European champion in the European Athletics Championship in Berlin on August 8.

    August 20 marked the end of the third bailout program, but the planned celebrations were cancelled since Greeks were still in mourning as investigations of the authorities’ reaction to the July fires continued. The end of the bailout program meant that Greece stopped borrowing from the E.U. and the IMF, but the requirements for fiscal targets and reforms which still must implemented will remain until 2060.

    On August 28 Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras proceeded with the reshuffling of his third cabinet since the September 2015 elections, but the heads of the most important ministries remained the same.

    September

    On September 7, President of France Emmanuel Macron made his first official visit to Greece. Macron delivered a speech on historic Pnyx Hill in Athens, the site where debates took place in ancient times, after he held talks with Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras and President of the Republic Prokopis Pavlopoulos. Macron was accompanied by several top executives of French companies who expressed an interest in investing in Greece.

    The United States was the honored country in the 83rd Annual Thessaloniki International Fair which took place from September 8-16, with U.S. Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross in attendance. Top U.S. companies and corporations such as Lockheed Martin, Apple, IBM, Microsoft, Cisco, P&G and others participated in a fair which was deemed a great success. The Greek prime minister’s speech to mark the opening of the Fair was marred by draconian police measures that were taken while Thessaloniki residents were loudly expressing their displeasure with the Prespa agreement.

    October

    Foreign Minister Nikos Kotzias, who was responsible for the FYROM negotiations, resigned on October 17 after allegations by Defense Minister Panos Kammenos that secret funds were funneled to FYROM to bribe MP’s opposed to the Prespa agreement.

    On October 21, Greek tennis wonder Stefanos Tsitsipas won his first ATP title by beating Latvian Ernests Gulbis in the ATP 250 final at the Stockholm Open, winning sets by 6-4, 6-4. He is the youngest player ranked in the top 20 by the Associations pf Tennis Professionals and has a career-high ranking of No. 15 in the world. He became the first Greek player to win an ATP title.

    On October 23 researchers discovered an ancient Greek merchant ship which had sunk more than 2,400 years ago. The wooden ship was found resting virtually intact and upright at the bottom of the Black Sea. Scientist believe it is the world’s oldest known shipwreck.

    On October 26, a powerful 6.4-magnitude earthquake south of the island of Zakynthos was felt across western Greece. There were no injuries from the tremor, but there was significant damage to the local port as well as a 13th-century island monastery south of Zakynthos.

    On OXI Day, in the Albanian village of Vouliarates, Greek expatriate Konstantinos Katsifas wass killed by special forces belonging to the Albanian police. The 35-year-old allegedly fired shots from a Kalashnikov rifle at police in Gjirokastra, after they took down the Greek flag from the military cemetery for fallen Greek soldiers.

    November

    On November 2, Greek champion Lefteris Petrounias won his third gold medal in rings in the World Athletics Championship in Doha, despite suffering shoulder pain. He became the top Greek champion in rings and a three-time World Champion, winning in 2015, 2017 and 2018.

    December

    On the night of December 6, on the 10th anniversary of the killing of 15-year-old Alexandros Grigoropoulos by a police officer, major riots broke out in Greece’s big cities as anarchists clashed with police. There was widespread damage to public and private property in central Athens, while Aristotle University of Thessaloniki suffered great damage.  Foreign nationals were among the people arrested.

    On December 13, Olympiacos beat AC Milan 3-1 in Piraeus and punched their ticket to the round of 32 in the Europa League.

    At 2:37 AM on December 17, a five-kg bomb exploded in front of the Skai Television/Kathemerini Newspaper building, causing major damage to the premises but no human casualties. Two warning phone calls had been made earlier. All political parties condemned the terrorist act aimed against the freedom of the press.