TIME Greece

Greece Faces Crisis as Prime Minister Takes Election Gamble

Samaras’ call for December vote may bring pro-default party to power for the first time in the Eurozone’s debt crisis

Greece and the Eurozone are set for a hair-raising Christmas after a massive gamble by Prime Minister Antonis Samaras that could usher into power a party that says it would rather default than repay hundreds of billions of euros in bailout loans.

Samaras’ decision came after Greece’s Eurozone creditors agreed to keep bankrolling it for another two months after the end of this year, when its €240 billion ($297 billion) emergency support program was due to end.

It brings to a head political risks that have been simmering for the last couple of years since Greece’s second bail-out, which despite forcing massive losses on private bondholders failed to cut the country’s debts to a manageable level.

Samaras’ coalition of the center-right New Democracy party and PASOK, which until the crisis had dominated the center-left space in Greece’s political spectrum for decades, is under enormous pressure from the more radical left-wing party Syriza, led by Alexis Tsipras. Syriza came first in this year’s European elections in May as Tsipras led a campaign against the grinding austerity that has contributed to shrinking Greece’s economy by a quarter since 2010.

Samaras had wanted to exit the bailout program as soon as possible to avoid having to make any more spending cuts or other measures dictated by the deeply unpopular “Troika” of the European Commission, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund.

However, the creditors had refused to pay out the last instalment of the emergency loans due to Athens’ failure to implement agreed cutbacks and reforms, and had said they wanted to extend the program by six months. At a meeting in Brussels Monday night, Greece and the rest of the Eurozone compromised by agreeing a two-month extension.

That deal created the political space for Samaras’ gamble.

Greece’s president Karolas Papoulias was due to step down from his largely ceremonial post in February. But his coalition doesn’t command the two-thirds majority in parliament needed to elect a new one, and if Syriza successfully blocks Samaras’ candidate, then new parliamentary elections will have to be called within four weeks.

A poll at the end of November by Metron Analysis suggested Syriza would be the largest party in any new parliament, with a 3.5% lead over New Democracy.

Nick Malkoutzis, deputy editor of the Greek newspaper Kathimerini’s English edition, said via his Twitter account that, by moving the presidential vote up to Dec. 17, Samaras has effectively asked the Greek people to decide who they want to handle the decisive final talks with the creditors on life after the bailout.

“The combination of very large electoral uncertainty and the lack of an official financing backstop would release a meaningful period of uncertainty for the sovereign,” Deutsche Bank analyst George Saravelos said in a blog post late Monday.

That uncertainty was on plain view in Greece’s financial markets Tuesday, with the yield on the government’s benchmark bond surging by nearly half a percentage point to 7.84%. That’s well above what a Greek government could afford to pay if it wanted to do without official support. Greece’s benchmark stock index, meanwhile, lurched 9.5% lower by lunchtime in Athens.

If Syriza were to come to power, it would be the first of the radical new European parties that have sprung up since the crisis to form a government. Whether it would be able to extract meaningful debt relief from a German-led Eurozone that seems as determined as ever to prioritize structural reform and fiscal discipline isn’t clear, but the negotiations would certainly be as loud and as tense as anything seen since the Eurozone debt crisis erupted, in Greece, four years ago.

This article originally appeared on Fortune.com


Newly Discovered Tomb in Greece Largest Ever

The sepulcher appears to date from the reign of Alexander the Great

A team of archaeologists may have discovered a new tomb in Greece that is the burial site of a high profile individual during the reign of Alexander the Great.

The tomb, which dates to 300 BCE and sits under a burial mound near the ancient city of Amphipolis in Greece’s northern Macedonia region, appears to be the largest ever discovered in the country. Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras called the find “clearly extremely significant.”

“It is certain that we stand before an especially significant finding. The land of Macedonia continues to move and surprise us, revealing its unique treasures, which combine to form the unique mosaic of Greek history of which all Greeks are very proud,” Samaras said.

A five-yard wide road leads up to the tomb, atop which experts believe once sat a 16-foot tall lion sculpture previously discovered at the site. Carved sphinxes stood to either side of the entrance and the compound was encircled by a 500-yard marble wall. The tomb is believed to be that of a top general or close relative of Alexander the Great, the warrior king who ruled Macedonia and conquered a massive swath of the ancient world.

The possibility that the tomb is Alexander’s has been ruled out, as he is believed to have died in Babylon and been transported to Egypt for burial in 323 BCE.

Archaeologists have been excavating the tomb since 2012 and hope to know definitively who was buried there by the end of the month.

[The Telegraph]

MONEY Travel

Summer Vacation 2014: 10 Ways to Get More Bang for Your Travel Bucks

Oheo Gulch and Seven Sacred Pools. Part of the Haleakala National Park, Hana, Maui, Hawaii.
Oheo Gulch and Seven Sacred Pools. Part of the Haleakala National Park, Hana, Maui, Hawaii. Carl Larson Photography—Getty Images

Tops on the summer travel hot list: which dream islands have suddenly become affordable, the airlines that offer the best value, and where a thirsty traveler can turn for cheap beer on a hot summer day.

Summer starts this weekend, and to mark the season’s kickoff we bring you 10 of the best ways to make your vacation dollar go farther.

Most Unexpected Bargain Spot for Budget Travelers
Normally, the sunburnt Greek islands flood with tourists in July and August, and with the crowds come soaring prices. Not so this year. The country’s “ongoing financial crisis has caused visitor numbers to decrease and, as a result, prices have dropped in an effort to woo back travelers,” explains Lonely Planet, which named Greece as its top European destination for backpackers in 2014. Earlier this year, the Backpacker Index estimated that a budget traveler could get by on $55 per day on the popular island of Santorini, making it cheaper than Athens ($62).

Dream Island That’s Suddenly a Steal
According to Priceline, the average nightly room rate in Maui this summer is $188, a 10% drop compared with the same period a year ago. Other data have indicated that Hawaii’s visitor numbers are down, and that tourist spending is on the decline as well, likely related to an economy that continues to be lackluster—or at least is perceived as such.

Most Cost-Effective Place to Vacation
No need to complicate things: It’s the beach. Expedia surveyed travelers around the globe about a number of vacation topics, including which kind of trip offered the most bang for the buck. Beach vacations got the top ranking, with 40% of those polled naming it as the most cost-effective option. Meanwhile, 12% said cruises , and 7% named theme park vacations.

Poland Warsaw Old Town beer advertisement person disguising beer mug
Old Town, Warsaw, Poland. Urs Flüeler—age fotostock

Where to Find the Cheapest Beer
GoEuro, a travel search site based overseas, ranked 40 world cities in terms of that all-important feature: beer affordability. Warsaw, Poland’s capital city, gets bragging rights for selling the least expensive beer of all, at £0.64 ($1.08) a pop. Berlin, Prague, Lisbon, Dublin, and Mexico City aren’t far behind, all featuring brews for under $1.35. Unfortunately, the per-beer prices are what tourists will encounter in a regular store, not at a bar, pub, or club, where prices are far more expensive. In Dublin, for instance, a pint of Guinness in a touristy pub will probably run about $10.

Most Affordable Business Class
The recent launch of JetBlue Mint, a premium service available on select coast-to-coast routes, brings spacious, fully-flat seats, high-end food and drink, and other business class amenities within reach of plenty of fliers. Fares between JFK and LAX or SFO start at $599 one way, and are readily available at around $1,600 round trip, compared with $2,500 and up for other airlines’ business class seating on the same routes.

Best Airline Seat Space for the Buck
The flight-planning site Hopper crunched the numbers and concluded that AirTran Airways, which is owned by Southwest, offers the best value per dollar of any airline in terms of what a passenger gets in the way of seat area and pitch. As for overall customer satisfaction per ticket price, that award goes to JetBlue.

Las Vegas Strip shot from the Trump Tower. Brian Jones—Las Vegas News Bureau

Least Expensive U.S. Destination City
The fact that the average daytime high in July is 106 degrees may have something to do with why Las Vegas was named the cheapest U.S. destination city of the summer by TripAdvisor. But hey, it’s always delightfully chilly in the air-conditioned casino of your choice. Researchers added up expected costs such as hotel, taxi, and dinner and cocktails for two, and estimated that a night in Sin City would run $276, about $230 cheaper than the most expensive U.S. city, San Francisco.

Best Home Base for Travelers
Travelers who live in the vicinity of Chicago and Washington, D.C., are in luck: They have the best flight departure options in the U.S., according to WalletHub, which factored in the cost, duration, and directness of routing on flights both within the U.S. and abroad. It’s no coincidence that travelers in both of these cities have more than one airport to choose from when booking flights.

Best Credit Card for Travelers
The answer as to which credit card provides the best perks and bonuses for travelers is heavily dependent on the cardholder’s spending habits and vacation desires. CardHub lists a dozen good options, broken down into categories for travelers who prefer rewards focused on hotels, flights, and more. In terms of all-around travel bonuses, among the top-named cards is the Barclays Arrival Plus, which gives 40,000 bonus miles—the equivalent of a $400 statement credit—after a new cardholder spends $3,000 during the first 90 days. NextAdvisor also says the Barclays card is tops in travel rewards. The card has an $89 annual fee, but it’s waived for the first year. Another feature to factor in when deciding on a credit card to use for travel purposes: Some cards are safer when going abroad.

Cheapest Flight to Europe Before It’s Too Late
Low-fare carrier Norwegian Air has been aggressively trying to expand service between Europe and the U.S. The airline, which has offered transatlantic round trips for under $500 (taxes included), recently brought its low-cost service to more U.S. cities, including Orlando. After a strong lobbying effort on the behalf of rival carriers and airline union workers, however, in early June the U.S. House of Representatives voted to block Norwegian’s expansion plans, reportedly due to concerns the airline wouldn’t be complying with labor laws. Since the Norwegian subsidiary that operates its transatlantic service is working with a temporary permit, the future of the airline’s international flights is up in the air.

TIME Aging

Watch: The Island That Holds the Secret to Long Life

Here's how the people of Ikaria, Greece reach old age

Today is the 115th birthday of Jeralean Talley, the oldest living American.

While reaching that age would be considered a feat by many, it’s not so far-fetched to the people of Ikaria, Greece. In 2009, it was named a longevity hotspot for being home to people who reach the age of 90 at a rate two and a half times greater than in the U.S.

“Ikaria’s a very unique island. The people are not what you would find in other places. They have a different lifestyle, a different way of looking at life,” said Thea Parikos, an American-born Ikarian who returned to the island as an adult.

Situated in the Aegean Sea, Ikaria is a mountainous island with a population of 10,000. Winding dirt paths descend toward cerulean water and the faint bleating of meandering goats in the distance can often be heard. The island’s arresting beauty and temperate climate create an enticing atmosphere of rest, but elderly Ikarians thrive on keeping themselves busy.

The remarkable longevity of Ikarians is attributed to multiple factors. A heavily plant-based diet, habitual physical activity such as tending to a garden, social bonds, and a stoic approach to stressful situations have been cited as reasons why Ikaria is home to such a high number of centenarians.

“Everybody’s trying to find the secrets of longevity,” said Xanthi Tigani, who is writing her Ph.D. thesis on Greek longevity at the University of Athens Medical School. “There’s no one thing that can make you grow to be 100 years old or older.”

Nothing can make us stop trying to figure it out, though. And the Ikarians may provide some clues.

Dan Q. Tham is a production assistant for the CNN Documentary Unit.

TIME Greece

Tech Start-Ups Bloom in Recession-Hit Greece

The Greek economy is reeling from six years of recession, with youth unemployment around 60 percent, but a new wave of startups could be just the thing to turn the economy around

A year ago, when Greek start-up Workable had secured their initial funding deal, the company’s headquarters consisted of six guys – including the two founders, Nikos Moraitakis and Spyros Magiatis – in three barely furnished rooms. These days, 16 of Workable’s 18 employees fill a grander, yet still conspicuously relaxed office space on two floors in the plush Athenian district of Psychico. The new office has lofty views, an abundance of couches and beanbags. People walk around in flip-flops or bare feet. The company, which offers business clients user-friendly software to facilitate the hiring process, recently opened satellite offices in London and Portland, Oregon, and has just announced a $1.5 million funding round led by the venture capital fund Greylock IL.

For a Greek economy reeling from six years of recession, start-ups like Workable may offer hope for the future. The prospects of employment in government or with an established company have become less appealing and less likely for the droves of well-educated IT engineers produced by Greece’s universities. Unemployment in Greece stands at 27.5 percent, and youth unemployment has hovered around 60 percent for months. The country’s start-up sector is small, far too small to make a dent in the staggering joblessness numbers, but it is growing rapidly.

The turning point was the creation of four EU-backed venture capital funds in December 2012 that specifically target technology start-ups in Greece. Workable’s initial funding round came largely from one of these, JEREMIE-Openfund II, which has 11 million euros under management (70 percent from the EU), and which has already funded eight Greek start-ups in as many months. Aristos Doxiadis, an economist and a general partner at the fund, said its initial target was to invest in 25-30 companies by the end of 2015, which he feared might prove too ambitious, but is now well on track to being met. The three other funds are larger, managing between 17 and 30 million euros. The evolution has not been without its growing pains – among them a dearth of experienced investors – but in the past year, start-up growth has outpaced expectations.

Now, the highest-flying among Greece’s start-ups are already spreading beyond the local scene, led by deals like Workable’s funding round from Greylock. “It is certainly a boost for the local start-up ecosystem,” says Moraitakis, Workable’s 36-year old CEO, who has a degree in Software Engineering from Imperial College in London. Along with co-founder Magiatis, he previously worked at Upstream, a Greek mobile marketing company that serves operators in more than 40 markets.

The Greylock deal is the latest in a series of international successes for Greek start-ups. Last September, US-based software Company Splunk acquired Bug Sense, a mobile app analytics company. Taxibeat, a digital taxi-hailing application, secured $4 million in funding led by the European fund Hummingbird Ventures. “It’s not that big investors will suddenly put money in other Greek tech companies just because they come from the same place we do,” Moraitakis explains. “But it will help open doors for them.”

In fact, the deal already seems to have had a ripple effect. “After it was made public, a number of big players on the European venture capital circuit began asking us what other promising companies we can tell them about,” says Doxiadis of Openfund II, which also contributed to Workable’s current round of funding. Greylock IL, an affiliate of Silicon Valley-based Greylock Partners – one of the biggest venture capital firms in the world with over $2 billion under management, and among the most discerning investors in the new digital economy – has backed companies such as Facebook, LinkedIn and Dropbox. Its portfolio consists of 30 Israeli firms and only 9 European companies, including Workable.

Workable was founded in June 2012, a few days before the critical, repeat parliamentary elections in Greece that many thought would lead to its exit from the euro. Moraitakis came home to Athens from Dubai, where we has working for Upstream, just as the election campaign for the initial May poll was getting under way. His friends thought he was crazy. These days, having bucked the emigration trend, he is busy trying to engineer what he calls a “reverse brain drain” – bringing other talented Greeks back to Athens.

The first meeting between Workable’s founders and Greylock took place in November 2012 in London, when the company was still at a very early stage of development. The fund kept its eye on Workable’s product development, in particular its suitability for small and medium-sized firms that do not have dedicated HR departments. They saw the high rates of growth: in early 2014, the month-on-month increase in clients has reached 30%. That performance prompted investment despite Greece’s less than stellar reputation as a place to do business.

Greece’s economy is still very troubled; however, the ingredients are there for a startup that may turn out to be a world beater, and venture capitalists are taking notice. “We feel there are benefits to Greece,” says Tilly Kalisky, associate partner at Greylock IL. “There is qualified engineering talent at competitive costs compared to European and US equivalents. We feel that excellent entrepreneurs and companies can be created from anywhere.”

TIME movies

Zack Snyder and the West Should Stop Killing Ancient Persians

A scene from 300: Rise of an Empire.
A scene from 300: Rise of an Empire. Warner Bros.

The story of '300: Rise of an Empire' comes from a graphic novel, but it's based on a travesty of history that has long existed in the Western imagination

Shortly after the 2007 release of 300—Zack Snyder’s computerized gorefest about the ancient Battle of Thermopylae—the Iranians issued an angry response. Then President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad did not take kindly to the film’s garish depiction of hordes of feral Persians, swarming and dying around the famous band of Spartans whose last stand 2,500 years ago briefly checked the Persian Empire’s advance into mainland Greece. The film was “an insult to Iran,” said one of Ahmadinejad’s spokesman; it was “part of a comprehensive U.S. psychological war aimed at Iranian culture,” said another.

The current, more diplomatic Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has yet to react to the movie’s sequel, 300: Rise of an Empire, which made $45 million on its first weekend in U.S. cinemas. But he surely won’t be pleased. Like its predecessor, the new 300 presents a spurious clash of civilizations. The muscled, taciturn Greeks—this time fighting on sea—carry on flexing their freedom-loving biceps, hacking and slashing their way through faceless mobs of easterners. The Persians remain the incarnation of every Orientalist stereotype imaginable: decadent, oversexed, craven, weak, spineless. They are also incapable of winning a battle against the Greeks without the help of a Greek traitor: in the new film it’s Artemisia, a woman consumed by a crazed desire for power and destruction. “My heart is Persian,” she says in a viperous voice.

A quick turn to the source material—specifically, The Histories by Herodotus, the most famous Greek chronicler of the Persian wars—shows how ridiculous some of this is. Far from being a lone, blood-thirsty warmonger, Artemisia was one of countless Greeks serving in the Persian armies and a figure of considerable wisdom. According to Herodotus, she cautions the Persian Emperor Xerxes against fighting the disastrous naval battle at Salamis, which, in the film, is an engagement she pursues with a furious mania. The burly Themistokles, the new 300‘s jacked Athenian protagonist, is made out to be a selfless champion of Western liberty; according to ancient Greek accounts, though, he later defects to the Persians and joins Xerxes’s son.

The larger cultural picture painted by this new 300 is not any more edifying—it sets a tyrannical, violent East against a folksy, democratic West. At various moments in the film, the narrator reminds the viewer with mind-numbing seriousness that the Persians “fear” or “mock” or even “are annoyed by” Greece’s fledgling democracy. To hammer home the crude, ahistorical message, the Persians win their only victory in the film when a suicide bomber is able to destroy a number of Greek ships.

It would be nice to chalk off this atrocity, as many have, to the silly imagination of Snyder, the film’s producer and co-writer, and Frank Miller, the graphic novelist whose blood-drenched books form the immediate basis for the movies. In no other chronicle of antiquity is Xerxes a hairless, bejeweled creature of camp fetish. To be sure, the film’s creators know this isn’t a story based on facts: it takes place in a “fictionalized, mythological world,” says Snyder in notes distributed to reporters at an advance press screening last week.

But Snyder’s bludgeoning Hollywood franchise is hardly alone in its fictions. A tradition of Western myth-making gained traction in the 19th century that insisted these battles between Greek city-states and the Persian Empire were a showdown over the fate of Western civilization itself. Preeminent historians of the time believed that Xerxes’ defeat helped preserve supposedly Greek attributes of free-thought and reason in the face of Eastern backwardness and mysticism. It’s a dubious view that some conservative scholars in the West continue to propagate to this day. The far-right, anti-immigrant Golden Dawn party in Greece holds ceremonies at Thermopylae, as TIME reported in 2012, chanting “Greece belongs to Greeks” before a bronze statue of the slain Spartan king Leonidas.

300: Rise of an Empire shamelessly indulges this demonization of the Persian—of the alien, dangerous “Other.” That’s far removed from the way many of the ancient Greeks saw their world at the time. The Persians by the Greek playwright Aeschylus, who actually fought at the Battle of Salamis, imagines the scene in the Persian capital in the wake of the empire’s disastrous defeat. There is weeping, lamentation and a cautionary tale about hubris and imperial overreach. It’s a lesson not just meant for Persians. Flush with glory, Aeschylus’s Athens is about to enter a long, grinding war against other Greek states, especially Sparta, that will bring decades of devastation to the Greek world. That’s a story I challenge Snyder and Miller to tell.

TIME Archaeology

Priceless Greek Statue, Lost for Centuries, Briefly Resurfaces on eBay

Palestinian fisherman Joudat Ghrab, who said he scooped a 500-kg bronze statue of the Greek God Apollo from the sea bed last August, prepares his fishing net in the central Gaza Strip
Palestinian fisherman Joudat Ghrab, who said he scooped a 500-kg bronze statue of the Greek God Apollo from the sea bed last August, prepares his fishing net on the beach of Deir El-Balah in the central Gaza Strip February 9, 2014. Ibraheem Abu Mustafa—REUTERS

$500,000, no shipping, buyer must collect from the Gaza Strip

Archaeologists were stunned to find a long lost statue of the Greek god Apollo resurface on eBay, selling at the bargain basement price of $500,000. But buyer beware, the ownership could be in dispute.

According to the U.K. Guardian, a fisherman in the Gaza Strip claims to have spotted the statue in shallow water, hauled it onto shore, loaded it into a donkey cart, showed it to his mother — who was appalled to find a 1,100 lb Greek nude at her doorstep — and finally notified local police.

The officers in question, members of Gaza’s ruling party Hamas, reportedly then put the statue up for sale on eBay. Soon after, shocked archaeologists caught their first fuzzy glimpses of venerable Phoebus relaxing on a Smurfs-themed beach towel. (Although some have questioned whether it had ever been underwater, given his pristine condition.)

As the statue’s true value came to light — one archaeologist told the Guardian it was like putting a price on the Mona Lisa — the listing was pulled down and Hamas authorities whisked it into hiding, pending further investigation. When this may conclude, they won’t say, much to the chagrin of some very patient archaeologists.

[The Guardian]

TIME Greece

Debt-Ravaged Greece Has a Budget Surplus After a Decade of Deficits

There's positive news from Europe's struggling economies, but don't celebrate too much: the eurozone is far from out of the woods

For the first time in recent memory, a month’s worth of economic news out of a debt crises-ravaged Europe wasn’t just positive—it was downright hopeful, especially in many of the countries hardest-hit by the eurozone crisis.

In Ireland, Citi raised its growth forecast for the country’s economy, consumer confidence jumped to the highest level in six-and-a-half years, and according to a survey by Deloitte, 96 percent of Irish CFOs said they think the economy has returned to growth or will do so this year. Portugal’s unemployment rate declined, while in Spain, unemployment rose, but at a slower rate than in previous years, suggesting the Spanish labor market might have hit the bottom.

Perhaps the most exciting news came out of Greece, a country wracked by the economic crisis, years-worth of unfunded liabilities and an economy that has been in a nosedive since 2008. Last month, Prime Minister Antonis Samaras prepared to announce that the country was projected to post its first primary surplus in more than a decade. According to the New York Times, the projected surplus was about 1 billion euros ($1.35 billion), while Bloomberg reported a slightly higher figure of over 1 billion euros ($1.4 billion). Never mind that Greece has more than 240 billion euros in bailout loans it still needs to pay back; a surplus, any surplus, had to be seen as a sign that the country could finally be beginning to repair the weak political systems and structural economic problems that drove the country into a hole in the first place.

Not quite. Before Samaras announced the projected surplus, Greece’s top administrative court ruled that some public sector wage cuts – part of a sweeping austerity plan meant to help shore up the country’s finances –were unconstitutional. Now the Greek government will likely have to repay police officers, firefighters and military personnel about 300 million euros in back pay.

Like previous reports that the Greek budget may be in the black, the announcement was of a primary surplus, which doesn’t take into account interest payments on the country’s massive debt. Austerity measures, while deeply unpopular in Greece, were necessary to secure a bailout from Europe’s wealthier countries, but they may have exacerbated the effects of an already painful recession.

In some ways, the future looks similar to the recent past: Germany is reportedly preparing a third rescue package worth 10 billion to 20 billion euros. Still, there are glimmers of actual hope. A survey released earlier this week showed that Germany, Europe’s largest economy, had the highest increase in manufacturing last month, and that Spain, Italy and Ireland all saw boosts as well. Greek manufacturers were reporting their first expansion since the summer of 2009. Small manufacturing rebounds and modest foreign investment won’t be enough to save Greece’s economy, but together they provide a welcome respite from a very long stretch of grim, depressing news.

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