European Arrest Warrant Issued for Greek Neo-Nazi Fugitive Pappas

Arrest warrant for Pappas
Christos Pappas during the Golden Dawn trial. Credit: AMNA

A European arrest warrant was issued on Tuesday for Christos Pappas, the neo-Nazi former lawmaker who is on the run after his conviction in October of 2020.

Pappas, who was number two in the Golden Dawn party leadership, was sentenced to 13 years in prison for his role in the group.

Although police had put the party’s leadership under surveillance before the historic verdict, Pappas somehow was able to disappear.

Greek authorities say that the noose is tightening on Pappas, however.

According to a report on Star TV, Pappas has managed to sneak out of our country and he is hiding in a Serbian monastery.

Police are focusing their investigations on several monasteries in Serbia, which are said to have close relations with Greek monks, according to the report.

Pappas is believed to have fled to North Macedonia with fake IDs, dressed as a monk.

Pappas in Greek Parliament

Pappas served in the Greek Parliament from 2012 until 2019, being elected three times.

In the last election in Greece, on July 7, 2019, Golden Dawn did not garner enough votes to make it into the House.

Pappas is the son of Elias Pappas, an Army officer and a collaborator with the Colonels Junta.

His father was also a founding member of the Golden Dawn extreme rightist party.

A devout nationalist, Christos Pappas was the founder of Helioforos Publications, publishing books with a nationalist content.

He became a close associate of Golden Dawn’s chief Nikos Michaloliakos.

On September 29, 2013, he was remanded into custody on charges of directing a criminal organization, following the murder of rapper Pavlos Fyssas by a Golden Dawn member.

In December of the same year, his application for release from prison was rejected.

He was released on March 29, 2015, just eighteen months after his arrest.

Neo-Nazi past

In a search in Pappas’ house in East Ioannina in September of 2013, the police anti-terrorist unit found two unlicensed weapons and a wide range of Nazi memorabilia.

Among other things, the anti-terrorist unit found a picture of Pappas in an SS uniform making a Nazi salute in front of a Nazi flag.

In another picture he is wearing a swastika armband.

Another series of photos show Pappas with his family saluting like Nazis, teaching his three children the Nazi salute.

Another find was two World War II German helmets, one with the SS logo and the other  with the swastika, small and large swastika flags, a framed picture of Adolf Hitler with the inscription “Golden Dawn,” and other items.

However, throughout police interviews, Pappas rejected all Neo-Nazi accusations, insisting that he is a Greek nationalist and has nothing to do with Nazi Germany and Adolf Hitler.

First-Ever Written Exam for Greek Citizenship Slated for May 16

Greek Citizenship
Credit: Odysseas Karadis/Greek Reporter

The first-ever written exam for those pursuing Greek citizenship is now scheduled for May 16, 2021, according to an announcement from the Interior Ministry released on Tuesday.

The test, one part of the process that foreign-born nationals must complete in order to acquire Greek citizenship, will be held nationwide on that day.

Once they pass the exam, foreigners will be granted the “Certificate of Adequate Knowledge for Naturalization” from the Interior Ministry.

Interview by three-member committee

The next step in the naturalization process is to be interviewed by a three-member committee, which will determine the level of each person’s potential integration into Greek society, one of the cornerstones of citizenship.

This last step is regulated by both the Interior Ministry and the National Transparency Authority of Greece.

The online platform to apply for the exam will open soon, but a description of the general subjects in the test has already been posted online at the website of the General Secretariat of Citizenship of the Interior Ministry.

The Interior Ministry states on its website that “Every benevolent state must ensure equality and parity for its citizens in addressing their needs and demands. This must also apply to residents of countries that are not its citizens, but actively and fruitfully participate in its social life.”

“Objectivity, transparency and universality”

“The return of Greek citizenship through the naturalization process should be based on principles that will ensure objectivity, transparency and universality in the examination of requests submitted for it,” the Ministry notes.

The Greek Citizenship Code, which sets the formal and essential conditions for the naturalization of aliens, was reformed recently with the passing of law #4735/2020.

That law instituted what the Ministry called “a substantial and crucial reform in the process of naturalization of allogeneic aliens.”

Knowledge of Greece, its culture, institutions and history

“The Certificate of Adequacy of Knowledge for Naturalization (PEGP) that will be obtained by those interested in naturalization will certify that they know the language and that they have the knowledge about our country, our culture, our institutions and our history to a degree which will allow them to exercise their rights and meet the obligations of the Greek citizen,” the Interior Ministry stated.

The PEGP will only be earned “after a competitive process based on the standard of the Panhellenic Examinations, in order to ensure the objectivity, universality and integrity of the process,” according to the Ministry.

The announcement explained to the public that the above measures will be taken as a way to replace the work of the former “Naturalization Committees,” which would had to determine through a half-hour long interview not only one’s knowledge of Greek language, institutions, culture and history but whether or not the other essential conditions for naturalization were met.

“Element of subjectivity” lessened

“In the operation of these Committees we understand that there was not only an element of subjectivity, but also the lack of homogeneous treatment of cases,” the Ministry’s statement acknowledged.

“At the same time, there were long delays and so the examination of requests was time consuming,” it added.

“With Law 4735/2020, the applicant, after obtaining the PEGP, will be in the final stage a short interview by a three-member committee of rapporteurs of the Citizenship Directorates to determine his or her social and economic integration.

“The rules for conducting these interviews will follow a standard handbook prepared by a joint team of Interior Ministry officials with the National Transparency Authority,” the statement explained.

“At the same time, every appropriate means will be taken to ensure the provisions of the Code for the benefit of the applicant.

“We hope that with Law 4735/2020 and the other initiatives of the General Secretariat of Citizenship, the status of return of Greek citizenship to those who wish it and meet the conditions, will be carried out in accordance with the requirements of the Greek Constitution and the principles of the rule of law.”

 

EasyJet Says Early Travel Bookings Already up 600%

EasyJet Travel
Greek holidays are on the horizon for UK residents this summer. Credit: Greek Reporter

The British airline EasyJet stated on Tuesday that bookings for flights increased by more than 300% and vacation reservations grew by over 600% on a weekly basis after Great Britain announced plans to resume international travel once again.

According to the travel giant, the Greek island of Crete is among the most popular destinations among those who want to travel during the month of August.

The British-based airline stated to the press that travel to coastal destinations such as Malaga, Alicante and Palma in Spain, the Lighthouse in Portugal and Crete in Greece are among the most popular destinations among vacationers who plan to travel during that month, typically when nearly all Europeans are off work.

EasyJet officials stated that July and September are the next most popular months regarding travel booking at present.

Lingering uncertainty over lifting of restrictions

The reservations were made despite the continuing uncertainty as to exactly how and when international routes will be reopened, although Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced on Monday that restrictions within Great Britain will be lifting gradually.

Vacationers will know more on April 12 when the government announces updated information regarding travel instructions. The UK had already announced that the lockdown ban on most international travel would remain in place until at least May 17.

The vaccination program in Britain is progressing rapidly and more than 17.7 million people, one quarter of the population, has already received the first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine.

Huge news for southern Europe

The UK embarked on a vigorous vaccination campaign after suffering the highest death rate of any Western nation during the pandemic.

After initially going for a “herd immunity” approach, in which the government hoped large numbers of the population would get a slight case of the coronavirus and be immune thereafter, the UK did a U-turn, instituting strict lockdowns.

The very welcome news for Southern Europe gives hope to airlines and travel companies as well, which are looking forward to resuming their normal operations after Britain lifts bans on non-essential travel and quarantine restrictions.

EasyJet and other air carriers are banking on the UK allowing international tourism traffic to resume in mid-May.

Foreign governments also need to acknowledge, however, that British travelers will be able to visit countries without the need for quarantining. At present, France and Spain, for example, have closed their borders to the British because of the new strains of the coronavirus.

However, Greek PM Kyriakos Mitsotakis has long been a proponent of the use of a vaccine certificate system, which will allow for free and unfettered travel between countries.

Push for EU-wide vaccine certificate

Greece is pushing its EU partners to approve Covid-19 vaccine certificates which would allow for the opening of travel throughout Europe, the Greek tourism minister said on Tuesday.

In an interview with the Financial Times, Harry Theocharis called on EU leaders to “move more quickly” to embrace the vaccine certificates.

“Looking at the reaction of some countries to vaccination certificate proposals, I feel there’s a lot of short-sightedness. There’s more to be done now to prepare ourselves,” Theocharis told the British paper.

“Some countries are very much preoccupied with the now,” he pointed out, as northern European nations, in particular, were unwilling to look ahead and plan for an economic recovery in the summer.

However, he urged “We need to move more quickly.”

The introduction of vaccination passports that could allow leisure and business travelers to move between countries after being inoculated will be discussed at the EU summit that begins on Thursday.

Travel deal with Israel

When discussing the outlook for Greece’s tourism sector in the summer of 2021, Greek PM Kyriakos Mitsotakis stated to Reuters recently: “I am a realist, but I am also cautiously optimistic that we will do much better than last year.”

A potential vaccination certificate deal with the UK may well add to Mitsotakis’ optimism for a successful tourist season this year.

The country has already struck a deal with Israel, which will allow vaccinated travelers from the Mediterranean country to enter Greece without coronavirus restrictions.

Cyprus and Israel reached a similar agreement between them on Sunday, creating a network of free travel between the Mediterranean countries for those who have been vaccinated.

After meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem Greek PM Mitsotakis lauded the travel deal as well as Israel’s swift rollout of the coronavirus vaccine.

Over 3.6 million Israelis have been inoculated against the virus, making the country’s distribution of the shot the most successful in the world.

Greek tourism took major hit due to Covid-19

Directly employing nearly one in five Greeks, tourism is one of the most important sectors of the country’s economy.

Greece welcomes around 4 million visitors from the UK each year.

The Mediterranean country hopes that opening up a tourist corridor with the UK for the summer will bring a much-needed boost to the Greek economy, which has suffered enormously in 2020 due to travel restrictions and strict anti-virus measures.

Greek tourism took a giant plunge in the third quarter of 2020 due to the Covid-19 pandemic, according to the Hellenic Statistical Authority (ELSTAT).

In total, in the first nine months of last year, the accommodation sector had revenues of only 1.89 billion euros, when last year in the corresponding period revenues were 6.15 billion euros — representing a staggering loss of 4.26 billion euros.

Greek Student in Italy Seriously Injured After Stabbing by Ex-Boyfriend

Greek student stabbed italy
Turin. Credit: Maurizio Moro/ Wikimedia Commons/ CC BY-SA 4.0

A female Greek student in the Italian city of Turin sustained serious injuries after her former boyfriend stabbed her in the neck and chest on Tuesday.

The 20-year-old woman was attacked by her ex-boyfriend, a 27-year-old man of Albanian descent, who was apprehended by police shortly after the brutal stabbing.

The perpetrator cornered the victim while she was waiting for the metro in the northern Italian city, and proceeded to violently attack her in public.

According to reports by the young woman’s family, her ex-boyfriend barraged the Greek student with threatening messages after she broke off their relationship.

Speaking to Italian newspaper La Stampa, the victim’s sister stated:

“I never saw the perpetrator, I don’t know how they met. However, I know that he eventually became dangerous, extremely dangerous. He was threatening her on Instagram, writing that he would hurt her and kill her.”

Tragically, experts on domestic abuse and intimate partner violence warn that leaving an abusive relationship can be the most dangerous time for victims, as abusers often become extremely violent when they lose control.

Doctors are currently treating the young Greek student in the intensive care unit after she received emergency surgery for her life-threatening injuries.

Covid-19 Transmission Skyrockets in Greece, with 2,147 Cases Tuesday

Covid-19 Greece
Credit: Greek Reporter

Transmission of Covid-19 has skyrocketed once again in Greece, as the country recorded a stunning 2,147 cases on Tuesday.

The figure represents an increase of 1,267 individuals from the 880 cases that had been newly diagnosed and recorded in the country just one day before, on Monday.

The jump in cases comes as the country has been under a strict national lockdown since November, with certain areas under less severe restrictions and others under more draconian measures.

Nearly half of Tuesday’s cases were diagnosed in Attica, a region where the anti-virus measures are particularly severe, with all schools and non-essential businesses closed.

1,047 cases recorded in Attica alone

A total of 1,047 new instances of the virus were located in Attica, home to Athens, Greece’s capital city.

Transmission of the virus is particularly high in the center of Athens, where 285 cases of the virus were identified on Tuesday. In Piraeus, the port of Athens, 259 instances of the virus were diagnosed.

In Thessaloniki, Greece’s second-largest city, a total of 205 cases of Covid-19 were identified in the last 24 hours.

Tragically, 22 people with the coronavirus passed away in the country over the past 24-hour period, which is just two fewer than those recorded Monday.

Currently, 357 patients with Covid-19 are intubated in Greece, 11 more than those undergoing the intensive treatment on Monday.

Total 182,783 coronavirus cases diagnosed in Greece

Since the beginning of the pandemic, a total 182,783 cases of Covid-19 have been recorded in the country, including all those who have recovered from the virus.

Of the cases diagnosed in Greece in the past seven days, just 55 are associated with foreign travel and 2,492 have been linked to contact with a known case.

Of the 357 patients intubated currently, 86.6% are over the age of 70 or suffer from preexisting conditions.

Additionally, a total of 1,291 patients have been discharged from ICUs around the country since the beginning of the pandemic.

The 22 new deaths recorded on Tuesday bring the total number of fatalities in the country to 6,343, and 95.7% of those who have passed away with the virus were over the age of 70 or suffered from underlying health issues.

Turkey Claims Greek Fighter Jets “Harassed” Vessel in Northern Aegean

Greece protests Turkish survey
Credit: Hellenic Defense Forces

In an unusual turnabout, Turkey charged on Tuesday that Greek fighter jets had “harassed” its research vessel Cesme while it sailed in international waters in the Northern Aegean.

According to Turkey’s state-run news agency Anadolu, the charges were made by National Defense Ministry sources today.

The reports say that four Greek fighter jets approached the area and one of them dropped chaff cartridges two nautical miles away from the ship in an effort to defeat any radar-guided missile systems that the vessel may have.

Greece denied any forces in the area

The same sources told the Anadolu agency that Turkey accordingly “reciprocated the harassment.”

However, the Greek Defense Ministry sources completely denied that any of its aircraft were even in that area at present, stating that the Hellenic Air Force is not active at present in the area where the vessel Cesme is located.

The Defense Ministry acknowledged that training activity is ongoing several miles southwest of the area, near Limnos and Agios Efstratios in the Northern Aegean.

Ministry officials stated to the press that no Greek jets flew over the Turkish research vessel; thus there was no response from any Turkish fighters in the area.

The Turkish Defense Ministry had stated on Sunday that the Cesme has begun what it termed “hydrographic research” in the northern Aegean Sea, and that it will continue its work until March 2.

Official demarche lodged on February 19

The Foreign Ministry in Athens lodged an official demarche with Turkey’s Foreign Ministry through its embassy in Ankara on February 19.

The Cesme’s hydrographic survey is planned to take place between the Greek islands of Limnos, Skyros and Alonnisos from Thursday to March 2.

The navigational directive concerns international waters; however, Athens denounced it as invalid and illegal.

According to the Ministry’s spokesperson, Alexandros Papaioannou, the Izmir Station does not have the authority to issue Navtexes for the area in question.

Officials in Ankara said recently that the surveys by the vessel Cesme will be restricted to the surface of the sea, as the vessel will not lay its cables on the seabed.

The Cesme carried out hydrographic surveys in the same area in 2018 under the close monitoring of Hellenic Navy ships.

Analysts say the Turkish Navtex came as a surprise as the two Aegean neighbors are — supposedly — engaged in efforts to ease tensions and intensify their diplomatic contact.

Exploratory talks continue in March

Papaioannou also said that Greece has suggested dates for the 62nd round of the exploratory talks with Turkey, but has not yet received a response.

He added, however, that it will be held in the first week of March.

The 61st round of talks was held in Istanbul in late January after a five-year hiatus.

Turkish Presidential spokesman Ibrahim Kalin, a close associate of Recep Tayyip Erdogan,  said that “it is possible to solve all problems.”

“Under the strong leadership of our President, it is possible to solve all problems, including the Aegean, and we have our will for this.

“Regional peace and stability is in everyone’s interest,” Kalin added.

 

Greek Doctors Protest “Suffocating” Conditions in Covid-19 Wards

greek doctors covid-19
Doctors and other healthcare workers demonstrating in front of the Greek Ministry of Health in Athens on Tuesday. Credit: Jebe38261846/Twitter

Greek doctors and healthcare workers took to the streets of Athens on Tuesday to protest what they called the “suffocating” conditions in the country’s hospitals, specifically its Covid-19 wards.

The doctors, on a day-long strike, described their extremely difficult working conditions, including countless hours at clinics that are overflowing with patients sick with the coronavirus.

Donning surgical masks and carrying banners, the doctors marched through the center of Athens to the Ministry of Health, giving a human face to the often-invisible healthcare workers who have been fighting at the front lines of the pandemic ever since last spring.

Greek hospitals under pressure

Greece’s public hospitals are currently functioning at 80% capacity, with many hospital beds occupied by coronavirus patients, leaving little availability for other people without the virus who need treatment.

The deluge of coronavirus patients, many of whom require intensive treatment such as intubation, has placed immense stress on Greece’s healthcare system, which was already weakened after the country’s long economic crisis.

Greece’s Doctor’s Union warned that the lack of resources, especially staff and hospital beds, poses a “serious risk for both critically ill COVID-19 patients and critically ill patients with other diseases.”

Due to the difficult conditions, which are only worsening as the number of the country’s cases and intubations rise, Greek doctors demand that the state construct new wards exclusively for Covid-19 patients, rather than using existing clinics dedicated to other patients.

They have also requested that Greece use resources from private clinics and hospitals to help the country’s public hospitals, as well as hire more staff.

Intubations, hospitalizations on the rise in Greece

Although the country has been under a national lockdown since November, with certain areas under less severe restrictions and others under more draconian measures, the number of intubated coronavirus patients reached 346 in the country on Monday.

Just last Monday, there were 299 patients undergoing the intensive treatment in Greece.

Of the 346 intubated patients in Greece, 85.5% are over the age of 70 or suffer from preexisting conditions.

A total of 880 cases of the coronavirus were diagnosed in Greece on Monday, nearly half of which were found in Attica, where 396 instances of the coronavirus were identified.

Additionally, 264 patients with the coronavirus were admitted to Greece’s hospitals for treatment on Monday alone, which represents a 58% increase in hospitalizations in the last three weeks.

Over 2,500 people suffering from Covid-19 are being treated in hospitals across the country.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, a total of 1,280 patients have been discharged from ICUs around Greece.

Man Arrested for Illegal Excavation in Amphipolis

Amphipolis illegal excavation
Some of the ancient artifacts recovered by the Greek police. Credit: Greek police

Found with a metal detector in his hand, a 68-year old man was arrested on Sunday for illegally excavating in the archaeological site of Amphipolis.

The area in Serres is known to hold a wealth of archaeological treasures and several objects were found on his person by the authorities. The man also had digging tools with him when he was caught red-handed by the Hellenic Police.

An investigation had been underway by officers belonging to the Department of Cultural Heritage and Antiquities in Thessaloniki.

After arresting the man, police searched his car and two houses — one in Thessaloniki and one in Serres — for objects which may have been stolen from the area.

Lion of Amphipolis
The Lion of Amphipolis. Credit: Dorin360/Public Domain

Items were found that fall under the protective provisions of laws drawn up for the protection of antiquities and ancient culture in Greece.

An archaeologist from the Ephorate of Antiquities of Serres stated to the press that a bronze coin from Hellenistic times, a lead slingshot projectile with lettering, a lead pillar, eight lead spherical missiles, five other lead objects, two bronze objects, nine other bronze coins, and a lead pyramidal-shaped agnita were discovered in the searches.

Two metal detectors, digging tools and headphones believed to have been used in the unearthing of the objects were also collected at the sites searched by authorities.

The man has been charged with violating the laws regarding the protection of antiquities and cultural heritage. His case will be put before the public prosecutor’s office in Serres.

Amphipolis a strategic area since antiquity

The site, which contains the renowned Kasta Hill Tomb, was an ancient Greek city in Macedonia. Located on the Strymon (Strimón) River, it is about three miles away from the Aegean Sea.

From antiquity a strategic transportation center, Amphipolis controlled the bridge over the Strymon and the route from northern Greece to the Hellespont, including the western approach to the timber, gold, and silver of Mount Pangaeum in Thrace.

Originally a Thracian town called Ennea Hodoi, or “Nine Roads”), it was colonized by Athens in 437–436 BC but it actually remained independent, despite Athenian attempts to regain control in 416 and 368–365.

Philip II of Macedonia occupied Amphipolis in 357 BC, and it remained under Macedonian control until 168, when Rome made it a free city and the headquarters of the Roman governor of Macedonia.

Amphipolis
Kasta Hill in Amphipolis. Credit: Neptuul. CC BY-SA 4.0/Wikimedia Commons

Sphinxes, priceless mosaics discovered at the site

Archaeologists have made a number of important discoveries on the site since excavations began there in earnest in August 2014. Experts say that the Tomb bears the handprint of Dinocrates of Rhodes, the chief architect of Alexander the Great.

Some of the findings made there have already been moved to the Archaeological Museum of Amphipolis.

So far, archaeologists have found the following treasures:

Two marble sphinxes approximately 2 meters (7 feet) tall, guarding the main entrance to the tomb and a fresco, with paint still visible, that mimics an Ionian peristyle, on top of which the sphinxes sit.

Two 2.27 meter (7.4 foot) high female statues in the Caryatid style were found in the antechamber, which support the entrance to the second compartment of the tomb.

A mosaic measuring 3 meters (9.8 feet) wide and 4.5 meters (15 feet) long was found in the second chamber, which appears to depict Persephone being abducted by the god Pluto (Greek: Πλούτων, Ploutōn).

The ruler of the underworld is depicted wearing a laurel wreath and driving a chariot drawn by horses led by the god Hermes, the conductor of souls to the afterlife. The depiction of the abduction of Persephone in the mosaic floor implies links with the cluster of royal tombs in Vergina (Aigai), as a mural representing the same scene decorates one of the tombs where King Philip II, Alexander the Great’s father, is buried.

The skeletal remains of five individuals were also found in the tomb, including a woman over 60 years of age; two adult men, between 35 and 45 years of age; a newborn infant; and fragments of a cremated adult.

Analysis of the intriguing skeletal remains is still ongoing.

Lion sculpture created in 4th century BC

Traces of ancient fortifications and a Roman aqueduct are on the site, which is just outside the modern town of Amfípolis.

The renowned giant statue known as the Lion of Amphipolis (Greek: Λέων της Αμφίπολης) is a 4th-century BC tomb sculpture. According to Oscar Broneer and archaeologist Dimitris Lazaridis, the first person excavating in the area in the 1960s, it was created in honor of Laomedon of Mytilene, who was an important general under Alexander the Great, the king of Macedon.

The discovery of the monument has extraordinary meaning for the Greek people since it is also is connected to the modern history of Macedonia. The first sections of the Lion were discovered initially by Greek soldiers who had camped in the area during 1912-13 during the First Balkan War.

British soldiers in the area a few years later in 1916 then discovered other large pieces of the monument. The British tried to steal the pieces, but a Bulgarian attack fortunately prevented those plans from bearing fruit.

Yet more sections of the Lion were discovered in the early 1930s, during works for draining part of nearby Lake Kerkini. After uncovering the remains of an ancient bridge,  large pieces of the marble lion were also found in the mud of the lake.

Monumental lion towers 26 feet into the sky

In 1937, thanks to Lincoln MacVeagh, the US ambassador to Greece, there was a private initiative, along with support and funds from the Greek government, to restore the Lion.

Although in a seated position, the lion is larger and bulkier than the one erected at Chaeronea and has a height of more than 4 meters (13 feet). With its monumental base, the Lion towers more than 8 meters (26 feet) into the sky.

According to experts, its craftsmanship shows that it was sculpted in the 5th or first half of the 4th century B.C. Unfortunately, there is no mention of the Lion in ancient sources.

Some have speculated that the lion was once on top of the Kasta Tomb, but this theory has now been discounted.

The Kasta Tomb is still undergoing excavation work by a team of archaeologists. Asked when the monument could open for the general public in December of 2019, Greek Culture Minister Lina Mendoni said that there is much that needs to be done and pointed out that it had taken 20 years for the tomb of Philip in Vergina to open to the public.

“That will happen too”

However, she added, modern means can make it possible that the same type of work can be carried out in less time at the Amphipolis site.

“I live for the day the Lion of Amphipolis will be transferred to the Kasta tomb,” the regional governor told Mendoni at the time she visited the site in 2019.

“That will happen too,” she answered.

Architect Michalis Lefantzis, who guided the minister and the regional governor around the site, noted that 330 large slabs of marble that were structural elements of the enclosure around Kasta Hill Tomb had been transferred back there from the site of the Lion of Amphipolis, where they had been stacked in order to facilitate the Tomb’s excavation.

The slabs have now been placed next to each other like pieces in a jigsaw puzzle, waiting for their precise position in the original structure of the enclosure to be determined.

With information from AMNA

Greece Pushes EU to Endorse Vaccine Certificates to Open Tourism

Vaccine certificate tourism
Greece leads the campaign in the EU for vaccine certificates. Credit: Iantomferry, CC BY 3.0/Wikipedia

Greece is pushing its EU partners to approve Covid-19 vaccine certificates which would allow for the opening of travel throughout Europe, the Greek tourism minister said on Tuesday.

In an interview with the Financial Times, Harry Theocharis called on EU leaders to “move more quickly” to embrace the vaccine certificates.

“Looking at the reaction of some countries to vaccination certificate proposals, I feel there’s a lot of short-sightedness. There’s more to be done now to prepare ourselves,” Theocharis told the British paper.

“Some countries are very much preoccupied with the now,” he pointed out, as northern European nations, in particular, were unwilling to look ahead and plan for an economic recovery in the summer.

However, he urged “We need to move more quickly.”

The introduction of vaccination passports that could allow leisure and business travelers to move between countries after being inoculated will be discussed at the EU summit that begins on Thursday.

The EU is divided and diplomats see early adoption of the proposed system as unlikely, because of fears they will set up a discriminatory two-tier system of citizens’ travel rights, the Financial Times added.

Certificate will negate the need for quarantines

Greek PM Kyriakos Mitsotakis already floated the idea of vaccination certificates earlier this year.

“A vaccination certificate will allow you to enter Greece without having to show a negative Covid test or undergo quarantine restrictions,” Mitsotakis explained in a Bloomberg television interview.

“And we intend to continue in the same context in which we agreed in principle with Israel. This vaccination certificate will be accepted, with the aim of facilitating travel from Israel to Greece,” he noted.

“People will want to travel. For me it does not make sense not to facilitate travel – to the extent of course that we will feel comfortable welcoming those who have been vaccinated,” he added.

“For those who have not been vaccinated, the most likely scenario is that they will be asked for some form of negative test.

“But for those who have been vaccinated, we want to make it as easy as possible for them to travel to Greece.

“I see that many EU Member States are interested in further exploring this idea. And I think the reason is that their citizens want to travel and they want to make travel as easy as possible, especially during the summer holidays,” Mitsotakis explained.

Tourism vital for Greece

Tourism is absolutely vital to the Greek economy, accounting for about one fifth of GDP and employment, according to the Greek Tourism Confederation (SETE).

Despite a partial reopening last summer, the restrictions on international travel made  Greece’s GDP drop four percentage points, UN estimates suggest, as hotel and accommodation revenues slumped by two-thirds.

The Greek sector is almost entirely reliant on international tourism with the domestic population too small and still too financially constrained following the country’s 2008 debt crisis to make up for the drop in external visitors, according to the Financial Times.

Acclaimed Greek Scientist Makes Breakthrough Discovery on Obesity

Greek scientist makes breakthrough on obesity
Dr. Constantine Stratakis was made a member of the Greek Endocrine Society April of 2019. Photo courtesy Dr. Constantine Stratakis

An accidental laboratory observation during an ongoing cancer research project on mice led acclaimed Greek geneticist Dr. Constantine Stratakis to a breakthrough discovery on weight management, which could help people battle obesity more easily in the future.

The discovery, which made international headlines following its publication, sheds light on key brain mechanisms related to healthy lifestyle behaviors.

In an exclusive interview with Greek Reporter, the head of the Department of Genetics and Endocrinology at the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) in Washington, D.C., stresses that scientists should always keep an open mind for accidental findings like this.

As he shares his excitement about both his medical discovery and Greek life, Dr. Stratakis also reveals his thoughts about moving back to Greece sometime soon – and with the purpose to contribute as a working professional.

Understanding weight management habits

Dr. Stratakis’ research team had been studying tumor development in a lab-created mouse with a specific genetic defect, when they made a surprising observation.

“These mice live in cages all the time, and so they gain weight. What was striking about this particular mouse was that not only wasn’t it getting the tumors that we were expecting it to get, but also it was maintaining a relatively normal weight compared to the mice that didn’t have that genetic defect”, the geneticist notes.

After studying its phenotype further, the research team realized that the difference was not so much in the quantities of food that the mouse was eating, but in what types of things it chose to eat.

Not only did the mouse avoid sugary diets — unlike other mice — but also, if the researchers put a wheel into its cage, the mouse would willingly jump on the wheel and run in it without stopping, and without any sort of incentive.

The scientists also found no evidence of stress in the mouse that could explain this behavior.

Greek scientist makes breakthrough on obesity
Dr. Constantine Stratakis speaking to the Greek Endocrine Society, 2019. Credit: Dr Constantine Stratakis

“We found out that these two behaviors, avoiding bad food and exercising willingly, are controlled by the same cells in the same part of the brain. And we also happen to know now, because this mouse had this genetic defect, the chemistry of  what regulates these two behaviors,” Stratakis explains.

“It’s amazing; I always thought that what we eat and whether we exercise are two different behaviors, but apparently they can be linked. I am not saying that they are linked all the time, but, at least in that setting, they are.

“And we know the molecules that are involved, and so in theory we can modify this behavior in humans, and maybe one day we can have a sort of a treatment for that. That’s it!” he exclaims.

Rollout in humans

The fact that this same part of the brain that controls the above-described behaviors, which are key in weight management, is also involved in the regulation of addictive behaviors, as well as in depression, anxiety, and some other essential functions of the human body that are controlled by the brain — has stirred even more enthusiasm in the scientific community.

“So, many of us now know that food preference as well as exercise, are both, or can have, an addictive component,” Stratakis notes.

“And so, one of the things that we are trying to explore is how addiction to certain foods and addiction to exercise are connected, and how these two addictive, or potentially addictive behaviors — which are good behaviors — connect to other addictive behaviors,” he points out.

Nonetheless, the researcher believes that we are probably a decade away from applying this knowledge to the public.

Just as he has previously indicated to journalists — although somewhat jokingly, he admits — a nasal spray could be an easy way to target and affect the center in question in the brain someday.

However, this might not be the only way to make these findings work on humans.

Although now scientists now know which parts of the brain controls these behaviors, and which molecules are involved, what they don’t know is how the mechanism actually works.

“It’s a very painstaking process to try to identify all the elements of these two behaviors and how the cells in the brain, the neurons, control these behaviors, which are executed by other parts of the body.

“So we have to find out the exact connections,” Stratakis emphasizes.

“In the meantime, we will be working with the molecular signaling, with the chemistry.

“And it is very possible that we will find something that modifies that behavior from outside that doesn’t require full knowledge of how these behaviors are connected – at least not before it goes to humans.

“Maybe we can come up with something that is already approved for another indication and, at the time, before it’s used in humans for this purpose, we will be sure,” he adds, on a more optimistic note.

Greek scientist makes breakthrough on obesity
Dr. Stratakis’ lab members at the NIH. Photo courtesy Dr. Constantine Stratakis

Key rules for researchers

At the end of the day, the accidental discovery reaffirms the key set of principles that Stratakis has long been teaching to his students — to never throw away data, and to keep an open mind in anything that they research.

“It is what many people say, accidents in a lab lead to great discoveries; as long as one, you never throw away data, and two, you are prepared to record these attributes,” he notes.

“Oftentimes, I say to my students ‘have an open mind.’ I think the beauty of the laboratory is that you can observe and, as long as you observe, don’t throw away any data, because you don’t know where it is going to lead to.

“All those big discoveries in medicine, in science, have been made accidentally — but it’s not exactly an accident, in the sense that people who are making these observations, follow these two rules. That’s very important,” Stratakis concludes.

A future in Greece

Originally a graduate of the University of Athens, with two doctorates from the same university — the second one awarded as honorary — Stratakis has been based in the Washington, DC area since 1999.

In what he calls “a great environment with great opportunities”, the Greek doctor went on to become a geneticist, did his residency in pediatrics, genetics and endocrinology at Georgetown University, and was eventually recruited by the NIH.

“But I have been in the US for too long, and, in fact I am entertaining the possibility of returning to Greece now that my children are off to college, so we are empty-nesters, I and my wife.

“Both of us want to do it now that we still can work in Greece and benefit the country with the knowledge we have gained in our own fields. My wife is a doctor as well, an opthalmologist, and so we can both work,” Stratakis adds.

He is looking forward to joining his circle of friends and former students — now colleagues — in Athens; after all, one third to one quarter of his students over the years have been from Greece.

“A lot of Greeks in the USA say they want to go back, but they don’t necessarily want to do what we want to do, which is to work in Greece. They say, ‘I’ll go back as a retiree.’ I don’t want to do that. So I am working at opportunities.

“It’s a great time to invest in Greece, as long as you love that country, and of course you have to be prepared — it’s not the United States, there’s no question about that.

“But there’s a give and take in everything you do, so if somebody can do it, I think this is the right time to do it”, Stratakis says with a smile.