Monday, April 22, 2013

Greece's great fire sale

 Harriet Alexander

By Harriet Alexander, Rhodes 6:00PM BST 20 Apr 2013

From pristine beaches to palaces, entire islands and its London embassy, a nation in crisis is selling its assets, writes Harriet Alexander.

The coast at Afandou is part of the Greek government's desperate attempts to raise money by privatising its vast portfolio of state-owned assets.

The coast at Afandou is part of the Greek government's desperate attempts to raise money by privatising its vast portfolio of state-owned assets. Photo: ALAMY

As George Georgas drives his golf buggy along the sea front, the sprightly 80-year-old muses on why this is the best stretch of coast in the world.

The beach is the longest on the Greek island of Rhodes – four miles of crystal waters, flanked by a gently sloping pebble shore. The 18-hole golf course that flanks it is lined with olive trees and wild flowers, and there is scarcely a hotel or high rise in sight.

Mr Georgas has played here for over 30 years. And now he thinks the government should sell it.

"We are like a bankrupt housewife forced to sell the silver, to save the family," he said. "Greece has no choice."

The sale of the coast at Afandou is part of the Greek government's desperate attempts to raise money by privatising its vast portfolio of state-owned assets – the largest fire sale in history. Some 70,000 lots are for sale, ranging from pristine stretches of coast through to royal palaces, marinas, thermal baths, ski resorts and entire islands. Only last Wednesday, bidding closed for a stake in the state gambling company.

On Monday Antonis Samaras, the prime minister, scraped through another round of negotiations with the Troika – the EU, IMF and European Central Bank – and managed to secure payment of the next EU 8.8 billion instalment of the bailout. But privatisation is a prerequisite for receiving the bailout funds.

On Rhodes, a mountainous island 50 miles long that was the mythical home of the sun god Apollo, huge chunks of prime real estate are now up for grabs. Beside the 1,850-hectare Afandou estate there is the peninsula of Prasonisi, a paradise for windsurfers, and the Mandraki marina in Rhodes Town, where the famous Colossus, a 100 foot high statue that was one of the seven wonders of the ancient world, once stood guard over the port entrance.

Rhodes is unique in having nearly a third of its land owned by the government, a legacy of being occupied during the Italian invasion in 1912 and later having ownership of that land passed over to Athens when it became part of the modern Greek state. Yet that hasn't stopped the inspectors from Athens fanning out across the country to see what else they could auction off.

The idea of snapping up a Greek island certainly has its appeal. In March the Emir of Qatar bought six for £7 million, while a Russian oligarch bought Skorpios – previously owned by the Onassis family – earlier this month for a reported £65 million, as a present for his 24-year-old daughter Ekaterina Rybolovlev. While both those sales were private, it showed there was a potentially lucrative market for chunks of scenic Greece.

To that end, the royal palace on Corfu, where Prince Philip was born, is now also for sale. So too is a large coastal estate which, the government boasts on its website, is next door to land owned by the Rothschild banking dynasty.

Officials refuse to discuss prices, saying that it depends on offers and the development proposals, but the Afandou coastline is looking for an investment of 150-250 million Euros. The port of Poros, a pretty cobbled marina in southern Greece, is on the government books, as is the Athens police headquarters and the Ministry of Culture – a giant temple-like construction in the centre of the capital. So too are the buildings housing the ministries of health, education and justice. Even the Greek embassy in London's Holland Park: yours for £22 million.

However, not everyone supports the idea of so many places going under the hammer.

"We need to keep state ownership of all our assets – not sell them to the highest bidder," complained Yiannis Milios, chief economist for the opposition Syriza party, who would prefer to see more use of public-private partnerships, rather than sales.

"Experience shows that the privatisation of public goods is a very bad idea. With water, for instance, the quality falls but the price rises, which is totally wrong. The government is very good at finding legal formulas to work its way round supposed guarantees of public interest. It is not a good idea at all."

But others argue that Greece has no choice. Two bailouts from the European Union have failed to inject life into the economy, which has been in recession for the past six years. Unemployment is 27 per cent, and the deficit is forecast to grow to 189pc of GDP this year. Almost 1,000 jobs have been lost every day over the past three years in the private sector, and as part of Mr Samaras's deal made on Monday, 15,000 public sector workers are set to be made redundant as part of a Troika's programme for slimming the bloated public sector.

As well as political resistance, the other problem for privatisation programme is finding buyers. While the more picturesque islands might seem attractive busy, the same cannot be said of vast, loss-making behemoths like the Hellenic Railways Network and the Public Power Corporation. Both have militant unions that have vowed to fight privatisation tooth and nail, making them highly risky prospects for investors.

That partly explains why Greece has only raised about EU2 billion from privatisations since its first bailout loan in May 2010, missing its target of raising EU3 billion by last year. The country's longer-term aim of raising EU50 billion by 2019 has repeatedly been scaled back, and the best it now hopes for is to raise around EU 11 billion in privatisation proceeds by the end of 2016.

From his office overlooking the Mandraki marina in central Rhodes Town, Stathis Kousournas, mayor of Rhodes, sees no alternative.

"We want this investment – we actually fought for it to happen," he said. "We have to make sure that we are getting a fair price and respecting the environment, but those who have come to me with concerns are in the minority.

"It is not all being sold permanently – some of it is a long-term lease. We're all anxious to make the best of this – it is a development for all of us.".

Unemployment on the island is low compared to the mainland, averaging 17 per cent over the year thanks to the influx of tourists. But life is still hard.

Maria Karabini, a 40-year-old civil servant, has seen her salary drop by half over the past three years. Now, after paying her mortgage, she only has EU200 a month to live on.

"This sale of the land must happen," she said. "We need this now, quickly. Tell the Russians and the Qataris to hurry up!"

Across the island, almost everyone seems to embrace the proposals, so desperate are they for relief from austerity measures, although Lucas Georgas, a Bath University-educated businessman, sounded a note of caution.

"What I don't like is the 'sale' aspect of it," he said. "I would like to see the government renting it out for 20, 30, 40 years so that the business venture can make a profit, then return ownership to the state. This land does not belong to my generation to sell it."

In Athens, though, the man with the task of directing the fire sale is convinced that there is no other way.

Stelios Stavridis, chairman of the Hellenic Republic Asset Development Fund, has only been in the job for three weeks – his predecessor resigned, reportedly before he could be sacked, over the slow pace of sales.

"I'm an entrepreneur, not a politician, and I have been screaming my head off that this is all about growth, job creation, wealth creation," said Mr Stavridis. "I am the anti-bureaucracy man: we need to bring in this money – there is no other way."

In Mr Stavridis's office in central Athens, not far from the parliament, a pair of American businessmen discuss in hushed tones their negotiating position. A ticker tape flickers above the head of the receptionist, detailing the latest hot offers: Afandou, Corfu lands, the disused Athens airport.

"We have been acting so stupidly for years, making rules against our own interest," Mr Stavridis added. "Being state-owned and well run is a contradiction in terms."

For those who do take the plunge, there are still myriad hurdles to overcome, despite the efforts of Mr Stavridis's team. Land registry is patchy at best, while investors must also promise to commit their own equity, but many foreign banks are wary of lending to Greek projects. Greece would appear to be only acting now because the Troika has forced its hand.

Back in Afandou, Vassilis Anastasiou, the manager of the golf course for the last 30 years, looks out every day on concrete proof of the "stupidity" of previous government programmes.

A grand breeze block clubhouse looms over the golf course; completed in 1973 and, strangled by bureaucracy, empty ever since.

"At least under the military junta it only took three years to build that site," said Mr Anastasiou. "Governments since would have taken 50 years to do the same."

His club has around 100 members, paying EU400 a year and with 60 of them playing regularly. But he is adamant that the land must be privatised – even if it means increasing the fees.

"Anyone who argues against it is either an idiot, or a state employee who doesn't think about economic reality and just likes to lounge on the beach," he said. "We have our heads in the noose."

Greece's great fire sale - Telegraph

Friday, April 19, 2013

Greek-German MEP rails at Berlin 'hypocrisy' over economic crisis

Helena Smith in Athens The Guardian, Wednesday 17 April 2013 17.03 BST

Jorgo Chatzimarkakis accuses Berlin of bullying EU's poorer members and criticises Merkel's handling of euro zone crisis

Greek protest

Demonstrators burn a swastika flag in Athens in protest at the visit of German chancellor Angela Merkel last October. Photograph: Yannis Behrakis/Reuters

Jorgo Chatzimarkakis, an MEP with the liberal Free Democrats (FDP), the junior party in Angela Merkel's governing coalition, says he is so "fed up with German hypocrisy" in its dealings with Europe he can no longer speak for the country.

In an interview with the Guardian, Chatzimarkakis, who was born in Germany to Greek migrant workers and has dual nationality, accused Berlin of bullying the EU's poorer member states and indulging in the very practices it sought to stamp out.

"Germany is setting the European house on fire. I don't want to be with those playing with fire. I would rather be with those in the fire brigade," said Chatzimarkakis, who recently announced that he would be resigning from German politics after representing Germany in the European parliament for the past nine years.

"Germany is focused on national interests much more than EU interests," said the 47-year-old, who did not rule out standing for re-election with a Greek party when euro elections are next held in May 2014. "It is regarded as the hegemon but is not behaving as the hegemon and that is shown by the stereotypes that are used in the Greek case and, even more, the Cypriot case.

"The Germans in their hearts believe it is OK to bribe if it leads to more profit. They have a totally different attitude to corruption as the donor [party]. Many regard themselves as not guilty if they give," he said, listing German companies that he said handed out kickbacks to secure multimillion pound contracts. "The guilty ones are those who take … this is the sort of hypocrisy that I am personally fed up with."

The politician said he had been left shocked by the country's handling of the continent's worsening economic crisis.

"Members of my own party, liberals, came up with the idea of selling Greek islands and the Parthenon because it was an easy way to win votes," he said. "Merkel herself gave a speech to party members saying the euro zone wouldn't survive if countries in the south continued to take long holidays. She used this stereotype and it was not backed by real data, because the reality is that Greeks, for example, work a lot longer than Germans do."

Berlin's treatment of Cyprus had been the last straw, he said. The island was the best proof yet that double standards in the bloc were now at play.

"Look at the money-laundering that is taking place in Germany," he said. "It is well proved that up to €60bn is laundered in Germany every year. How can a country like Germany then accuse a small country like Cyprus of being nothing else than a criminal money-washing system and at the same time execute a whole economy within a fortnight just to send a message to German voters [in September's general election]?" he asked. "It is unbelievable!"

Such behaviour, Chatzimarkakis argued, had aggravated the growing north-south divide in Europe and contributed to the "bad climate" in the EU. It had also created a hostile atmosphere towards German politicians in the European parliament.

With its dogged emphasis on austerity as the only way out of the crisis, he claimed Berlin had become increasingly isolated and out of touch with its partners even if it remained the biggest provider of bailout funds to indebted nations in the south.

"The atmosphere has become tougher in the EP and I'm afraid we won't be able to wait until the German elections to fix it," averred the MEP, saying visiting German MPS on the country's budget committee had expressed surprise that hostility should exist at all.

"A group of us met them last week and they asked us 'is it really true that everyone is against us?' The question, alone, shows you the level of unawareness. They think all this anger is a media phenomenon and nothing to do with reality."

It was urgent, he insisted, that the German government not only "put things right" but stop "a very dangerous policy" for Europe and European integration.

"It should start, possibly, by apologising to Cyprus, at least symbolically," Chatzimarkakis said. "We have a shadow state that is governing Europe," he added referring to the continent's increasingly dominant eurotocracy. "I am specifically thinking of the euro group, the troika, the European commission, bodies that the German government hides behind and all too often controls."

Greek-German MEP rails at Berlin 'hypocrisy' over economic crisis | World news | The Guardian

Greek farm staff 'shoot unpaid strawberry pickers'

By Romil Patel, and agencies 7:58PM BST 18 Apr 2013

At least 27 migrant workers have been shot and wounded at a strawberry farm in Greece after demanding unpaid wages from their employers, according to police.

Bangladeshi worker Mohamed (C), 25, is helped by colleagues into a tent in the southwestern Greek town of Manolada, following a shooting incident on Wednesday evening.

Bangladeshi worker Mohamed (C), 25, is helped by colleagues into a tent in the southwestern Greek town of Manolada, following a shooting incident on Wednesday evening. Photo: REUTERS

The labourers had been working in the village of Manolada – 160 miles west of Athens – and some had not received their salary for six months, according to police.

The incident occurred yesterday when three foremen opened fire on a group of about 200 mostly Bangladeshi immigrants who “moved threateningly” towards them and demanded that they be paid.

The injured workers were hospitalised with gunshot wounds and two men have been arrested. One is believed to be in critical condition.

Among them was a 57-year-old landowner who apprehended for being a “moral instigator” of the shootings. Another man was detained for providing refuge overnight for two of the alleged perpetrators.

One unidentified worker said: “They keep telling us that we will get paid in a month, and this has been going on for more than a year.


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“We don't talk about it because we are afraid that we will be killed or kicked out.”

The attack has been condemned by the Greek government, with spokesman Simon Kedikoglou calling it “inhuman” and “outside Greek morality” and promised a swift response from the authorities.

Greece is an entry route for Asian and African migrants trying to enter the European Union, but the PAME union said the episode was only the latest in a country with a long history of abusing migrant workers.

“Growers and landowners have operated with cover from the government and justice for years, creating a hell-hole with slavery labour conditions,” the union said.

“Modern slaves in Manolada work in stifling conditions, pay rent to their exploiters and are lodged in sheds without water and electricity, piled upon each other”.

Greek farm staff 'shoot unpaid strawberry pickers' - Telegraph

Aristotle Onassis heir sells private island to Russian oligarch's daughter

Helena Smith in Athens The Guardian, Tuesday 16 April 2013 19.16 BST

Athina Onassis sells Skorpios, where grandfather married Jackie Kennedy, as Greek economic crisis leads to soaring costs

Skorpios island

Skorpios island, bought by the Greek tycoon Aristotle Onassis in 1962. Photograph: Manolis Patakakis/EPA

It was the ultimate symbol of status and celebrity for Greece's most famous dynasty – a private island playground for the legendary shipping tycoon Aristotle Onassis and the location of his wedding to Jackie Kennedy.

But soaring taxes and maintenance costs – largely as a result of the Greek economic crisis – have prompted Athina Onassis, heir to the oil tanker and business empire built by her grandfather and the sole surviving inheritor of one of the world's biggest shipping fortunes, to sell the family's private island, Skorpios, to the daughter of a Russian oligarch.

Ekaterina Rybolovleva, whose father has substantial shares in the Bank of Cyprus, has picked up the idyllic isle for €117m — and in effect cut the last remaining ties of the House of Onassis with Greece.

"This is the end of an era, the end of the Onassis myth as Greeks have known it," said Alexis Mantheakis, author of the biography Athina Onassis: In the Eye of the Storm. "Skorpios was the iconic symbol of the Onassis legend and family."

Athina Onassis

Athina Onassis in São Paulo, Brazil. Photograph: Fernanda Calfat/Getty Images

Purchased by the late magnate in 1962 for 3.5m drachmas – the equivalent of $10,000 – the Ionian isle was where Onassis entertained his opera singer lover Maria Callas. It was also the setting for the tycoon's marriage to Jackie Kennedy in 1968 and the location of lavish parties that helped give birth to the concept of celebrity.

Establishing the rich man's trend of owning island paradises, the tycoon shipped hundreds of plants and trees to the isle, turning it from a barren outcrop into a green resort almost overnight. Sand was also transported to create his own private beach.

Bill Gates, the billionaire co-founder of Microsoft, and the pop star Madonna had both sought to buy the isle in the past.

An avid equestrian, now based mostly in Brazil, the 28-year-old Onassis heir is only known to have visited the island once, to pay her respects at the tomb of her mother Christina, who died of a drugs overdose and is buried on Skorpios along with her grandfather and uncle Alexandros.

"The last time she was there was in November 1998 to attend her mother's 10-year memorial," said Mantheakis, a former adviser to her French father, Thierry Roussel. "The three of us spent the night there but after that she never went back again."

Skorpios island

Another view of Skorpios island. Photograph: Manolis Patakakis/EPA

The young Onassis is believed to have paid around €35m in inheritance taxes and maintenance costs since being given the isle. Hefty levies slapped on real estate by the Greek government in a bid to reduce the country's debt pile are also thought to have contributed to her decision to sell.

Athina came into her wealth at the age of 21. Her fabled fortune included hundreds of priceless works of art, a fleet of ships, properties and companies spanning three continents.

If she wanted to, she could dip into her 217 bank accounts to pay off the debts of most third world countries and still live comfortably. Although once known as the "poor little rich girl", the heir in recent years has also sold off a considerable number of Greek assets. To the surprise of friends and family, she recently auctioned the entire collection of her mother's jewellery and a plot of land on the Athenian Riviera where the dynasty's ancestral home once stood.

"In one sense she has been a true Onassis in being totally unsentimental about financial matters," said Mantheakis. "From what I know, all her cash is still in a trust formed by her father, which may also explain why she is selling assets."

While partly attributed to the Greek crisis, her decision to distance herself from her roots may also have as much to do with the notoriously bad relations she has with officials who run the Onassis Foundation – the other half of her grandfather's legendary estate in Athens.

A charitable organisation bequeathed by the shipowner to commemorate his son Alexandros, who died in a plane crash, the foundation cut ties with Athina after its board of trustees criticised her lack of spoken Greek and poor knowledge of the country and its customs. She was raised speaking Swedish to her stepmother and French to her father Roussel, the heir to a pharmaceutical empire.

Famously reclusive, the heir has remained tight-lipped about the latest sale. But 24-year-old Rybolovleva, whose father Dmitry is the owner of the AS Monaco football club and has a history of snapping up trophy properties, says she regards her latest prized possession, which also includes the adjacent islet of Sparti, "as a long-term financial investment". A spokesman for the Harvard-trained Russian said she saw "significant potential for further improvement of the islands using environmentally friendly technology".

That, at least, has been music to the ears of locals now ruing the demise of the Onassis dynasty in Greece. "None of us know what tomorrow will bring," said Gerasimos Staurakis, a taverna owner on the nearby island of Lefkada who once worked on Onassis's super yacht Christina.

"We are all praying that we will eat a crumb or two … Onassis was a wonderful man and we would have liked other Onassises to be like him, but unfortunately that hasn't been the case."

• This article was amended on 17 April 2013. The original version wrongly stated that Alexandros Onassis died in a helicopter crash, instead of a plane crash, and that Athina Onassis came into her wealth aged 18 instead of 21.

Aristotle Onassis heir sells private island to Russian oligarch's daughter | World news | The Guardian

Monday, April 15, 2013

Southern Europe's brain drain over the Alps to Germany

By Nick Squires, Rome, Fiona Govan in Madrid and Jeevan Vasagar in Berlin

8:00PM BST 14 Apr 2013

Italians, Spaniards and Greeks are forsaking their homelands and heading over the Alps to the more robust economies of Germany and Switzerland, as economies contract across the Mediterranean.

Greeks are facing a difficult life during the economic crisis Photo: EPA

In Greece, the unemployment rate is now 26.4 per cent, the highest in the euro zone, with youth unemployment at a staggering 58 per cent.

Spain has the euro zone's second highest rate of unemployment, with 26.3 per cent of people now out of work, while Cyprus's relatively modest rate of 14 per cent is expected to rise sharply in the wake of the devastating contraction of its financial sector, a condition of the country receiving a massive bail-out by international creditors.

In Italy, new figures released this week showed that there are now nearly six million people without jobs, out of a population of around 60 million.

Italy's employers' organisation warned at the weekend that the country has lost a full percentage of GDP in less than two months thanks to the political paralysis in the country following inconclusive elections in February.

"No matter how much we both worked in Rome, the money was never enough," said Grazia Bonsignore, 46, a translator and teacher, who moved with her husband from Rome to Zurich two years ago in search of more secure contracts and better paid work.


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"We now earn enough money to cover the rent, expenses, insurance and holidays and the quality of life is a lot higher."

She is one of a growing number of Italians for whom La Dolce Vita is no longer so sweet as a result of a deep recession, almost negligible economic growth and stringent austerity measures.

The number of Italians, among them highly qualified graduates and professionals, who have decided to emigrate rose 30 per cent between 2011 and 2012, from 60,000 to 79,000, according to figures published last week.

There was a particularly sharp increase in the number of Italians aged 20 to 40 who are forging new lives abroad.

The most popular destination was Germany, followed by Switzerland, Britain and then France.

Spain is witnessing the same phenomenon, with the latest figures showing that the number of Spaniards moving abroad rose by 114,000 last year – more than six per cent more than the year before.

The most dramatic brain drain has taken place in Greece. A recent study by the University of Thessaloniki found that more than 120,000 professionals, including engineers, doctors and scientists, left the country since the start of its economic crisis three years ago.

The results of the exodus can be seen in Germany, where official figures show a surge in migration from crisis-hit Mediterranean nations.

Statistics published by the Federal Statistical Office showed that in the first six months of 2012, there was a 78 per cent increase in migration from Greece and a 53 per cent rise in Spanish migration.

Official figures show that more than 31,000 Italians migrated to Germany in 2012.

There has also been a boom in the number of southern Europeans signing up for German language courses.

More than 9,000 Spaniards, 4,700 Italians and some 2,000 Greeks took language classes offered by the Goethe Institute last year.

The institute, which promotes German language and culture abroad, has launched specialist language courses tailored to the needs of doctors, lawyers and engineers.

Just over a year ago, the labour agency in Stuttgart flew 96 Spanish engineers from Barcelona to Germany to meet employers.

In Germany's prosperous southern states of Bavaria and Baden-Wuerttemburg there is nearly full employment and firms are desperate for skilled labour. Thirty-three of the Spanish workers were hired.

Petra Cravaack, the head of the labour agency said: "We could train unemployed people here who have lower qualifications, but we need engineers quickly. There's freedom of movement in the EU, and foreign countries where there's no work."

Germany also has a shortage of engineers, nurses and carers for the elderly and is actively recruiting from southern Europe.

Leaving behind friends, family and a familiar environment is often painful for emigrants as they try to adapt to a new language, culture and working environment.

"What do I miss about Rome? Well, the blue skies that only Rome has," said Ms Bonsignore in Zurich.

"I miss the beaches which are so easy to get to. Swiss people are very reserved. It can take more than two years to become friends with them. And the language is hard. But overall, we're doing well."

Southern Europe's brain drain over the Alps to Germany - Telegraph

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Greek Nazi link group 'set up here'

Nino Bucci April 4, 2013

Members of Melbourne's Greek community are seeking to prevent Golden Dawn MPs from entering Australia.

A Greek political party with links to neo-Nazis say they have established themselves in Melbourne, but have no interest in Australian politics.

Golden Dawn, which was founded by a Holocaust denier and whose members have been linked to dozens of violent protests in Greece, claims to have set up a group in Melbourne filled with Greek-Australians who will ''fight and defend both of our countries with pride and honour''.

The group sent an email to Fairfax Media criticising the ''lies'' of reporters, politicians and Greek community leaders since controversial Golden Dawn MP Ilias Kasidiaris announced plans for a Melbourne office and a visit from MPs on a Melbourne radio station in February.

A member of the extreme right Golden Dawn party holds a flag bearing their party's logo during an election campaign rally in Athens <br />25/04/2012

A member of the Golden Dawn party holds a flag bearing their party's logo.

The group claims to have more than 200 members in Melbourne, but about 3000 "followers". It plans to open offices in Melbourne soon but had been established in the city since 2010.

Mr Kasidiaris and Ilias Panagiotaros, who once threatened to raid hospitals and kindergartens and throw immigrants and their children out on the street so that Greeks could take their place, are the two Golden Dawn MPs who are expected to visit Melbourne, the group claim.

The visit is planned to coincide with October 28, a public holiday celebrating Ioannis Metaxa, who was described by the group as "our great fascist leader".

''We are Golden Dawn Melbourne and we have set up here, our aims are to raise awareness of the current political situation in Greece to Greek-Australians,'' the email reads.

''We are not interested in Australian politics nor do we want do get involved in Australian politics. Australian politics is a dictatorship which is not true democracy.''

Golden Dawn was not racist but was opposed to illegal immigration, the group stated. They wrote that this was because illegal immigrants had turned every suburb in Athens, apart from affluent areas, into ghettos.

They claimed that Golden Dawn was the only Greek political party that donated ''all its money to feeding poor and needy'' Greeks.

The group would not comment on the level of aid and support it had provided Golden Dawn in Greece.

''If it is OK for Israel to have only Jews as its citizens, then I'm sure the oldest race in the world, the Hellenic race, has a right to only have Hellenes in our country as citizens.''

According to the Israel Central Bureau of Statistics, about 75 per cent of the Israeli population is Jewish.

Anti-fascist groups clashed with Greeks wearing Golden Dawn clothing during a march celebrating Greek Independence held in Melbourne last week.

A spokeswoman for Immigration Minister Brendan O'Connor said the MPs would have to pass a character test to obtain a visa, like any other person who wished to enter Australia.

Last month, Prime Minister Julia Gillard told Neos Kosmos, a newspaper for Melbourne's Greek population, said the MPs would not be stopped from travelling to Australia but that did not mean their views had any local support.

Independent Senator Nick Xenophon, who believes he was deported from Malaysia in February because of his views on that country's government, said he did not think the MPs should be prevented from entering the country.

But he warned that any plan to set up a Melbourne office should be closely monitored as it could lead to funds being sent back to Greece to aid Golden Dawn.

Golden Dawn MPs

Nikos Michaloliakos: Leader and founder of the Golden Dawn party. Has denied existence of Nazi gas chambers used during World War II.

Eleni Zaroulia: Michaloliakos' wife and deputy leader. Has described immigrants as "sub-human".

Giorgos Germenis: Former bassist from a neo-Nazi band.

Ilias Panagiotaros: Threatened to raid hospitals and kindergartens and throw immigrants and their children out on the street so that Greeks could take their place.

Konstantinos Mparmparousis: Allegedly participated in an Athens protest last October where several migrants were bashed.

Ioannis Lagos: Told parliament in February that it was "unacceptable" that Greeks commemorated International Holocaust Remembrance Day.

Nikos Kouzilos: One of several Golden Dawn MPs with a lower profile. Member of the Standing Committee on Cultural and Educational Affairs and Special Permanent Committee on Research and Technology.

Ilias Kasidiaris: Former army commando who assaulted two women during a live television debate before the election last June. Watch footage of the assault here.

Nikos Michos: Among several Golden Dawn MPs who attended an event in Greece last month that was marred by violent protests that left several anti-fascist protesters in hospital.

Antonis Gregos: Aims to have Golden Dawn members visit schools to ensure teachers are focused on homeland, religion and family.

Polyvios Zisimopoulos: Golden Dawn candidate for deputy speaker who failed to win the post usually assigned for opposition MPs when other parties decided not to support a Golden Dawn representative.

Dimitris Koukoutsis: Claimed the assault by colleague Ilias Kasidiaris on two female MPs during a live television debate had boosted support for Golden Dawn.

Panagiotis Iliopoulos: Has a tattoo of the Nazi victory phrase 'sieg heil' on the inside of his left bicep.

Efstathios Mpoukouras: Another MP with a low profile. Member of Standing Committee on Production and Trade.

Crysovalantis Alexopoulos: Supported a protest by Greek farmers in January. Party believes farmers are the "backbone" of a self-sufficient state.

Nikitas Siois: Former MP who reportedly resigned because she had too many employment opportunities outside parliament.

Christos Pappas: Walked on to a police bus and freed a protester who had been arrested during a violent rally opposing a play that depicted Jesus and the Apostles as gay.

Michalis Arvanitis: Bashed last May before a TV interview. Was due to speak about Golden Dawn supporters storming a building used by migrants for shelter after Afghans were charged with murdering a Greek man.

Greek Nazi link group 'set up here'

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Cyprus finance minister Michael Sarris resigns as blame game begins

Jill Treanor, Tuesday 2 April 2013 18.30 BST

Formal investigation begins into events leading to €10bn bailout, under which savers are taking financial hit in first for euro zone

Cypriot finance minister Michael Sarris has quit after concluding talks with the island state's international lenders.

The Cypriot finance minister, Michael Sarris, quit after concluding talks with the island's international lenders. Photograph: Sergei Chirikov/EPA

The Cyprus finance minister quit on Tuesday as a formal investigation began into the events leading to the country's €10bn bailout, under which savers are taking a financial hit in a first for the euro zone.

As Michael Sarris resigned he said his previous role as chairman of Laiki, the country's second largest bank which is being wound down, was likely to be subject to scrutiny.

"I believe that in order to facilitate the work of [investigators] the right thing would be to place my resignation at the disposal of the president of the republic, which I did," said Sarris, who had been finance minister for just six weeks.

His departure was announced shortly after the Prudential Regulation Authority – the UK body set up inside the Bank of England to regulate banks – announced on its first day of operation that 15,000 account holders at Laiki bank in the UK are to escape any levy imposed on savings by the Cypriot authorities.

After a week of talks the UK arm of Bank of Cyprus has taken over £270m of Laiki UK balances. The chancellor, George Osborne, had told MPs the government was trying to find ways to stop the UK's Laiki operation being "sucked" into the Cyprus bailout.

Osborne wrote to Andrew Tyrie, the chairman of the Treasury select committee, to insist there had been "no material recourse to public funds" in the Laiki deal. Some costs had been incurred to cover fees for advisers who led discussions with the Cypriot authorities and to handle legal transfers.

Laiki operates as a "branch" in the UK, so its depositors were covered by the Cyprus government for the €100,000 (£85,000) European-wide guarantee in savings. But larger balances could have been subject to levies – possibly 60%.

However, as Bank of Cyprus UK Limited is a separately capitalised, UK-incorporated bank, it is subject to UK regulation and its customers will not be hit by any levy on accounts of any size, nor will there be any Cyprus-style capital controls limiting withdrawals to €300 a day.

Bank of Cyprus in the UK said the customers that have transferred to it "will not be subject to the imposition of any 'levy', 'haircut' or withdrawal restrictions applicable to deposits with banks in Cyprus". It was not clear how many accounts were above the €100,000 threshold.

Customers with overdrafts remain at Laiki. "These accounts are now frozen at Laiki Bank UK and customers in overdraft will no longer have banking facilities at Laiki Bank UK," the PRA said. Mortgages and loans are not transferred either.

The PRA had been working to resolve the levy threat after Osborne told MPs on the Treasury select committee last week that he wanted a solution for customers of the UK arm of Laiki.

The new finance minister of Cyprus was named as Charis Georgiades, previously the labour minister in the government of president Nicos Anastasiades.

Sarris had spent the late weeks of March travelling to Russia to try to seek aid for Cyprus, whose banks had exploded in size to eight times that of the economy, bolstered by deposits from Russians.

Cyprus finance minister Michael Sarris resigns as blame game begins | World news |

Greece's neo-Nazi Golden Dawn goes global with political ambitions

Helena Smith in Athens The Guardian, Monday 1 April 2013 18.00 BST

Buoyed by its meteoric domestic success, the far right party is planning to expand 'wherever there are Greeks'

Link to video: Golden Dawn party infiltrates Greece's police, claims senior officer

Emboldened by its meteoric rise in Greece, the far-right Golden Dawn party is spreading its tentacles abroad, amid fears it is acting on its pledge to "create cells in every corner of the world". The extremist group, which forged links with British neo-Nazis when it was founded in the 1980s, has begun opening offices in Germany, Australia, Canada and the US.

The international push follows successive polls that show Golden Dawn entrenching its position as Greece's third, and fastest growing, political force. First catapulted into parliament with 18 MPs last year, the ultra-nationalists captured 11.5% support in a recent survey conducted by polling company Public Issue.

The group – whose logo resembles the swastika and whose members are prone to give Nazi salutes – has gone from strength to strength, promoting itself as the only force willing to take on the "rotten establishment". Amid rumours of backing from wealthy shipowners, it has succeeded in opening party offices across Greece.

It is also concentrating on spreading internationally, with news last month that it had opened an office in Germany and planned to set up branches in Australia. The party's spokesman, Ilias Kasidiaris, said it had decided to establish cells "wherever there are Greeks".

"People have understood that Chrysi Avgi [Golden Dawn] tells the truth," he told a Greek-language paper in Melbourne. "In our immediate sights and aims is the creation of an office and local organisation in Melbourne. In fact, very soon a visit of MPs to Australia is planned."

Ilias Kasidiaris, Golden Dawn MP, leaves court in Athens 4/3/13 Golden Dawn MP Ilias Kasidiaris (centre) leaves an Athens court this month where he denied assisting in a 2007 assault and robbery. He has said the party will spread 'wherever there are Greeks'. Photograph: Thanassis Stavrakis/AP

But the campaign has met with disgust and derision by many prominent members of the Greek diaspora who represent communities in both the northern and southern hemispheres.

"We don't see any gold in Golden Dawn," said Father Alex Karloutsos, one of America's leading Greek community figures, in Southampton, New York. "Nationalism, fascism, xenophobia are not part of our spiritual or cultural heritage."

But Golden Dawn is hoping to tap into the deep well of disappointment and fury felt by Greeks living abroad, in the three years since the debt-stricken nation was plunged into crisis.

"Golden Dawn is not like other parties in Greece. From its beginnings, in the early 80s, it always had one eye abroad," said Dimitris Psarras, whose book, Golden Dawn's Black Bible, chronicles the organisation since its creation by Nikos Michaloliakos, an overt supporter of the colonels who oversaw seven years of brutal anti-leftist dictatorship until the collapse of military rule in 1974.

"Like-minded groups in Europe and Russia have given the party ideological, and sometimes financial, support to print books and magazines. After years of importing nazism, it now wants to export nazism," added Psarras. By infiltrating communities abroad, the far-rightists were attempting not only to shore up their credibility but also to find extra funding and perhaps even potential votes if Greeks abroad ever won the right to cast ballots in elections.

"[Golden Dawn] not only wants to become the central pole of a pan-European alliance of neo-Nazis, even if in public it will hotly deny that," claimed Psarras, who said party members regularly met with neo-Nazis from Germany, Italy and Romania. "It wants to spread its influence worldwide."

With its 300,000-strong community, Melbourne has pride of place in the constellation of Greek-populated metropolises that dot a diaspora officially estimated at around 7 million.


Golden Dawn member, Athens 21/4/12
A Golden Dawn election rally in Athens in April.
As part of its international push, Golden Dawn has also focused on the US, a magnet for migrants for generations, and Canada, which attracted tens of thousands of Greeks after Greece's devastating 1946-49 civil war.

"It's a well-studied campaign," said Anastasios Tamis, Australia's pre-eminent ethnic Greek historian. "There is a large stock of very conservative people here – former royalists, former loyalists to the junta, that sort of thing – who are very disappointed at what has been happening in Greece and are trying to find a means to express it. They are nationalists who feel betrayed by Greece over issues like Macedonia, Cyprus and [the Greek minority] in Voreio Epirus [southern Albania], who cannot see the fascistic part of this party. Golden Dawn is trying to exploit them."

The younger generation — children of agrarian and unskilled immigrants – were also being targeted, he said. "They're the generation who were born here and grew up here and know next to nothing about Greece, its history and social and economic background. They're easy prey and Golden Dawn will capitalise on their ignorance."

Tamis, who admits that some of his students support the organisation, does not think the group will gain traction even if Australia's far-right party has been quick to embrace it. But the prospect of Golden Dawn descending on the country has clearly sent tremors through the Greek community.

"This is a multicultural society. They are not wanted or welcome here," said one prominent member, requesting anonymity when talk turned to the group.

Greek Australian leftists have begun collecting protest signatures to bring pressure on the Australia immigration minister, Brendan O'Connor, to prohibit Golden Dawn MPs from entering the country. In a statement urging the government not to give the deputies visas, they said the extremists had to be stopped "from spreading their influence within the Greek community and threatening the multicultural society that Greek Australians and other migrants have fought to defend".

The neo-Nazis have been given a similar reception in Canada, where the party opened a chapter last October. Despite getting the father of champion sprinter Nicolas Macrozonaris to front it, the group was quickly denounced by Greek Canadians as "a black mark".

The culture of intolerance that has allowed racially motivated violence to flourish in Greece – with black-clad Golden Dawn members being blamed for a big rise in attacks on immigrants – had, they said, no place in a country that prides itself on liberal values.

"Their philosophy and ideology does not appeal to Greeks living here," insisted Father Lambros Kamperidis, a Greek Orthodox priest in Montreal. "We all got scared when we saw they were giving a press conference. But it was a deplorable event and as soon as we heard their deplorable views they were condemned by community leaders and the church."

"We are all immigrants in Canada," added Kamperidis, referring to Golden Dawn's tactic of tapping into anti-immigrant resentment. "The conditions that apply in Greece do not apply here, so there is no justification for the party to flourish. The really bad thing is that in opening here it gives the impression, to people who don't know the situation, that it is supported by a lot of Greeks, which is not the case. It has hurt Greece, the Greek cause, and Greeks' reputation more than anything else."

Anti-racism activists, Athens 4/3/13 Anti-racist activists outside the appeals court in Athens this month for the case involving Golden Dawn MP Ilias Kasidiaris. Photograph: Louisa Gouliamaki/AFP/Getty

Despite the resistance, the far-rightists have made concerted efforts to move elsewhere, with Golden Dawn supporters saying Toronto is next. But the biggest push by far to date has been in the US. As home to close to 3 million citizens of Greek heritage, America has the diaspora's largest community. At first, cadres worked undercover, organising clothes sales and other charitable events without stating their true affiliation. Stickers and posters then began to appear around the New York suburb of Astoria before the organisation opened a branch there.

But while Greek Americans have some of the strongest ties of any community to their homeland, senior figures have vehemently denounced the organisation for not only being incongruous with Greece's struggle against fascism, during one of Europe's most brutal Nazi occupations, but utterly alien to their own experience as immigrants.

"These people and their principles will never be accepted in our community. Their beliefs are alien to our beliefs and way of life," said Nikos Mouyiaris, co-founder of the Chicago-based Hellenic American Leadership Council (HALC), whose mission is to promote human rights and democratic values.

The victims of often violent persecution at the hands of the Ku Klux Klan as well as wider discrimination (in Florida in the 1920s restaurant noticeboards declared "no dogs or Greeks allowed") Greek Americans proudly recount how, almost alone among ethnic minorities, they actively participated in the civil rights movement, their spiritual leader Archbishop Iakovos daring to march alongside Martin Luther King. "Our history as a diaspora in the US has been marked by our fight against racism," said Mouyiaris.

Many in the diaspora believe, like Endy Zemenides who heads HALC, that Golden Dawn has deluded itself into believing it is a permanent force because of its soaring popularity on the back of the economic crisis. "The reality is that it is a fleeting by-product of failed austerity measures and the social disruption this austerity has caused," he said.

In Greece, where Golden Dawn has begun to recruit in schools, there are fears of complacency. Drawing parallels with the 1930s Weimar period and the rise of Hitler's National Socialist German Workers' party, the historian Mark Mazower recently warned against underestimating the threat posed by a party whose use of violence was so disturbing. "Unfortunately, the Greek state does not seem to realise the urgency of the situation," he told an audience in Athens.

After spending almost 30 years following Golden Dawn, Psarras agrees. Only weeks ago, he claimed, Michaloliakos held talks in the Greek parliament with two German neo-Nazis posing as journalists. Golden Dawn rejected the claim as "old mud".

"It is an extremely dangerous phenomenon and do I think it will get worse? Yes I do," Psarras said, lamenting that, with living standards plummeting, the organisation was opening offices in traditional middle-class neighbourhoods. There remained a simple fact too big to ignore: in 2009 the party was a political pariah, gaining a mere 0.29 % of the vote; today it had global ambitions.

"Ten years ago, if you had said Golden Dawn would become the third biggest force in Greece, you'd be called crazy," said Psarras. "Now look where it is."

Greece's neo-Nazi Golden Dawn goes global with political ambitions | World news | The Guardian

Gillard holds up a mirror to Greece

Penni Pappas 2 Apr 2013

Comments made by Australia's PM to Neos Kosmos about Golden Dawn, the Greek community in Australia and March 25 have sparked a fresh debate in Greece

Gillard holds up a mirror to Greece

Julia Gillard at this year's Antipodes Festival.

When the Australian Prime Minister spoke to Neos Kosmos about Golden Dawn, no one imagined the impact her words would have, not only on the Diaspora but to the Greek community in the mother country. Some comments have been positive, some negative, but all have have the underlying message that Greece should look at Australia for the treatment of migrants, after all, it's the Greeks in Australia that the PM praises for harmonious multicultural life in the antipodes.

The majority of the media in Greece has commended the Australian PM for having the courage to speak out against Golden Dawn and their policies, with many comments geared towards Greece learning from Australia to work with the migrants in the Hellenic Republic and how to live in harmony as Greek migrants have done for many years in Australia.
In the interview with Neos Kosmos at this year's Antipodes Festival, Ms Gillard said political parties such as Golden Dawn will not be "muzzled in Australia", even though she was quick to point out there is "no place for that kind of politics in our nation".

"We have freedom of speech and even people who have got the most repugnant views are not muzzled in Australia, but if they do come with repugnant views then we certainly call it for what it is as there is no place for that kind of politics in our nation," she tells Neos Kosmos.

Her comments made as part of Greece's independence day celebrations for March 25 in relation to the contribution by the Greek community were also noted by the media.
In her message to the Greek community of Australia, Ms Gillard noted the valiant efforts of the heroes of 1821, but used the message to pay tribute to Greek Australians.
She said: "As the leader of Australia, I also record our gratitude for the gift of Greek migration, which has done so much to transform and enliven this land we love.

"The shape of modern Australia is unimaginable without the Hellenic contribution. We are a better, richer nation because of what you've done."

Upon reading this, a columnist for Eleftherotypia wrote:

"As I read it I wondered, would any Greek leader dare speak at some point about migrants in Greece - such as Albanians, Filipinos, Ukrainians, Africans and so on. The ones who harvested the land while the men drank their frappes in the cafe; the migrant women who cared and looked after our elderly while the Greeks would not bother.”

"So let's re-read what Julia Gillard wrote and rethink how we progress as a country to think seriously about acknowledging the contribution of foreigners to its progress."

However, there were some negative comments made towards the Federal Government. One person responded dismissively to Ms Gillard's stance on Golden Dawn, stating that she could not comment given Australia's treatment of the Aboriginals.

The article Golden Dawn: we will not muzzle them, says PM was also posted on a white supremacist forum entitled White Pride World Wide. A member of the forum from Greece posted this comment on the forum:
"You can forbid the people of Golden Dawn to enter Australia but you can do nothing to stop the ideas."

Gillard holds up a mirror to Greece | Neos Kosmos

Ban sought on far-right Greek party

Nino Bucci April 3, 2013

Golden Dawn party logo.

The Golden Dawn party already has a presence in Melbourne. Photo: Reuters

Members of a Greek political party widely regarded as neo-Nazi - and which has been linked to dozens of violent protests - may visit Melbourne with a view to opening a local office.

The Golden Dawn party already has a presence in Melbourne, with members accused of hijacking an annual march commemorating Greek independence last week and videos showing them protesting outside State Parliament posted on YouTube.

Immigration Minister Brendan O'Connor has been sent a petition calling for Golden Dawn MPs - including a man who assaulted two female political opponents during a live television debate and another with a ''sieg heil'' tattoo - to be blocked from entering Australia.

But Prime Minister Julia Gillard has indicated that the government will not stop the group, despite concerns the party aims to exploit Australian-Greeks who are disenchanted with their homeland government's austerity measures.

Alex Kakafikas, who organised the petition, said he expected high-profile MPs to travel to Australia. Ilias Kasidiaris, whose assault on left-wing politicians received worldwide attention, told Melbourne's Greek radio station 3XY about the visit during an interview in February.

Neos Kosmos, a newspaper for Melbourne's Greek population, reported last month that Ms Gillard said during the Antipodes Festival that ''we have freedom of speech and even people who have got the most repugnant views are not muzzled in Australia''.

Mr Kakafikas, who lives in Coburg, said he would not be surprised if Golden Dawn already had a paid Australian organiser.

His petition reads: ''This violent, racist, authoritarian movement has no place anywhere, but while Greece is unable or unwilling to prevent them from growing, the Australian government is in a position to prevent their members from spreading their fascist poison here.''

Mr Kakafikas said some young Greeks based in Melbourne were sympathetic to nationalism, which could make them targets for Golden Dawn. ''Whether what Kasidiaris said about them visiting and setting up an office was said out of bravado or reality, it's certainly concerning,'' he said.

''It would connect them to possible fundraising here and give nationalist Greeks here links with that movement in Greece.

''Golden Dawn have a history of violence and connecting with far-right groups in other countries to spread their beliefs.''

The president of the Greek Orthodox Community of Melbourne and Victoria, Bill Papastergiadis, and the state Minister for Multicultural Affairs and Citizenship, Nicholas Kotsiras, are among those who have voiced their concerns about Golden Dawn in Neos Kosmos.

Golden Dawn did not respond to requests for comment.

Ban sought on far-right Greek party

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Cypriot president angrily denies claims family member exported bank funds

Josephine Moulds The Guardian, Monday 1 April 2013 20.19 BST

Cyprus TV station claims more than 100 savers sent deposits abroad in run-up to bailout deal and crippling bank levy


Nicos Anastasiades says the allegations are 'an attempt to defame companies or people linked to my family'. Photograph: Yiannis Kourtoglou/AFP/Getty Images

Cyprus president Nicos Anastasiades is under fire after reports emerged that a company run by a member of his family withdrew deposits from the island state ahead of its bailout.

A Cypriot TV station has published a list of more than 100 savers alleged to have transferred money out of the country before the rescue deal, which imposed heavy losses on wealthy depositors in Cypriot banks.

The reports suggest that A Loutsios & Sons Ltd – said to be co-owned by Anastasiades' son-in-law – transferred €21m (£18m) from Laiki Bank in the week running up to the bailout. The money was then moved to London, according to Haravgi, a newspaper affiliated with the communist party Akel.

Cypriot TV station Sigma subsequently published the names of 132 companies and individuals who transferred money out of Cyprus in the weeks before the bailout, giving details that concur with the newspaper report.

The list could not be verified although the company has denied that it moved any cash.

The president said the reports were an "attempt to defame companies or people linked to my family".

"[This] is nothing but an attempt to distract people from the liability of those who led the country to a state of bankruptcy."

He added that no one, including himself, would escape the ongoing investigations into the crisis that has engulfed the Cypriot economy.

Anastasiades said that when the investigative committee assembled he would ask its members to look into this particular case.

A spokesman for Akel, Stavros Evagorou, has called on the investigation committee to check allegations about withdrawals by Anastasiades' family members and other transfers out of the country ahead of the bailout.

Last week, Cyprus and the troika of international lenders agreed a €10bn bailout plan aimed at saving the island from financial meltdown.

Under the terms of the deal, depositors holding more than €100,000 at the Bank of Cyprus will lose 37.5% of their savings in exchange for bank shares. A further 22.5% will be put into a fund that earns no interest and could be confiscated should the bank need further funds. Those with deposits of less than €100,000 will be protected.

Cyprus has long attracted wealthy Russian depositors, but yesterday a senior cabinet member in Moscow said his government will not protect individual Russian victims of the Cypriot economic crisis. The UK has also been dragged into the problem.George Osborne has said he is working on a solution for people in the UK with deposits in branches of Laiki, the island's second largest bank.

Cyprus continues to hold negotiations with creditors and it emerged on Monday it has been granted an extra year to achieve a budget surplus of 4%. The original deal was based on forecasts that the economy would shrink 3.5% this year. But an anonymous government official told the Associated Press that the economy is now projected to contract by about 9%.

A government spokesman, Christos Stylianides, said negotiators are now pushing to extend the deadline to 2018 to achieve a better budget surplus.

Cypriot president angrily denies claims family member exported bank funds | Business | The Guardian