Greece is slightly smaller than Alabama; it is strategically located in the Aegean Sea, between Albania and Turkey. It enjoys a temperate climate with mild, wet winters and hot, dry summers. The terrain of Greece is mostly mountainous with peninsulas and chains of islands (about 2000).
Greece achieved independence from the Ottoman Empire in 1830. During the second half of the 19th century and the first half of the 20th century, it gradually added neighboring islands and territories, most with Greek-speaking populations. In World War II, Greece was first invaded by Italy (1940) and subsequently occupied by Germany (1941-44); fighting endured in a protracted civil war between supporters of the king and other anti-communist and communist rebels.
Following the latter's defeat in 1949, Greece joined NATO in 1952. In 1967, a group of military officers seized power, establishing a military dictatorship that suspended many political liberties and forced the king to flee the country. In 1974, democratic elections and a referendum created a parliamentary republic and abolished the monarchy.
In 1981, Greece joined the EC (now the EU); it became the 12th member of the European Economic and Monetary Union (EMU) in 2001. Since 2010, the prospect of a Greek default on its euro-denominated debt has created severe strains within the EMU and raised the question of whether a member country might voluntarily leave the common currency or be removed.
Greece has a capitalist economy with a public sector accounting for about 40% of GDP (Gross Domestic Product) and with per capita GDP about two-thirds that of the leading euro-zone economies. Tourism provides 18% of GDP. Immigrants make up nearly one-fifth of the work force, mainly in agricultural and unskilled jobs. Greece is a major beneficiary of EU aid, equal to about 3.3% of annual GDP. The Greek economy averaged growth of about 4% per year between 2003 and 2007, but the economy went into recession in 2009 as a result of the world financial crisis, and tightening credit conditions.
Massive austerity cuts have prolonged Greece's economic recession and depressed tax revenues. Investor confidence began to show signs of strengthening by the end of 2013, and the decline in GDP slowed to 3.9% that year. Greece subsequently marked three significant milestones in 2014: balancing its 2013 budget; re-entering financial markets in April; and posting its first quarter of positive growth since 2008. Severe earthquakes is Greece's main natural hazard; its natural resources include: petroleum, iron ore, bauxite, lead, zinc, nickel, magnesite, marble, and salt.
CIA World Factbook, 7/2015