US Media on Greece
© Copyright Embassy of Greece 1996-2005. All Rights Reserved.
PRESS & COMMUNICATIONS OFFICE
January 2004; Vol. 10 No. 1
(also available in PDF file)
George Papandreou to Lead the PASOK Party
NATIONAL ELECTIONS ON MARCH 7
On January 7, Prime Minister Costas Simitis announced that general elections will be held in Greece on March 7, a month earlier than expected. (The last national elections were held on April 9, 2000.) Emerging developments on the Cyprus issue, Mr. Simitis said, required a new mandate for a Greek government involved in efforts to reunite the island before its EU accession on May 1st.
In calling the elections, which will be held five months before the opening of the Olympic Games (August 13-29), Mr. Simitis, 67, said he would remain as prime minister until the vote and hand over the Pan-Hellenic Socialist Movement (PASOK) party leadership to a newly-elected president. That, as expected, proved to be the current foreign minister, George Papandreou, who is the only candidate to succeed Mr. Simitis as the PASOK president, at a special party congress on February 8, and will be the new prime minister if PASOK wins the elections.
Simitis: “My Decision Promotes the Interests of Greece”
Mr. Simitis, who in January completed eight years as prime minister of Greece, said that the leader of a political party must represent the forces of renewal. In democracies throughout the world, he said, changes of the leadership are commonplace. Condemning the “egotism of permanency as a deeply conservative behavior,” he said his decision to retire from his party leadership “promotes the interests of Greeks and Greece.”
On his part, Mr. Papandreou called the decision of Mr. Simitis one that showed “ethos, courage and a sense of responsibility.”
The leader of the main opposition New Democracy party, Costas Karamanlis, called the early election decision an “admission of failure.” Greek voters, he said, would not now be able to pass judgment on Mr. Simitis personally, but they would give their verdict on his government’s policies.
Wall Street Journal: “A Turn for the Better”
In an op-ed article in the Wall Street Journal of January 13, by George Melloan, the calling of elections was welcomed as “a turn for the better” in Greek politics. With “a new generation of leaders,” Greece is showing “what can happen when a small country . . . gains acceptance in the larger world community and is challenged to adopt higher standards. In recent years, Greece has taken an increasingly responsible role in both the European Union and NATO. This year, it will be under even more intense international scrutiny when it plays host in August to the summer Olympics.” The article concluded that “Mr. Karamanlis and Mr. Papandreou will have an opportunity to infuse Greece with a new spirit that has been a long time in coming.”
In Top-Level Consultations in Washington
PUBLIC ORDER MINISTER ASSURES “TOP PRIORITY” FOR OLYMPIC SECURITY
Security for the Olympic Games in Athens next August was the main focus of discussions between Greece’s Public Order Minister, Mr. George Floridis, and high-level US officials during a two-day visit to Washington, January 15-16. There were also discussions of bilateral law enforcement cooperation against terrorism, organized crime, human and drug trafficking; and security cooperation in Southeastern Europe.
During his visit, Mr. Floridis met with Attorney-General John Ashcroft, National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice, CIA Director George Tenet, FBI Director Robert Mueller, Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage, the State Department Counter-terrorism Coordinator Cofer Black, Assistant Secretary of State for Diplomatic Security Francis Taylor, and other Administration officials.
At a press briefing on January 16, Mr. Floridis said that in all of his discussions he had conveyed Greece’s determination to give “top priority” to the security of the Olympics. That priority, he said, with the undertaking of both major political parties, will not be affected by the March 7 elections.
The security of the Athens Olympics, Mr. Floridis pointed out, is being assured by an expenditure of over $800 million—three times the amount of money and security personnel used for the last Olympics in Sydney. Even more important, Greece in the past four years has developed a close cooperation with seven countries (US, Britain, Israel, Spain, Germany, France, and Australia) which have special experience in counter-terrorist procedures, with the US among the most important. An important security exercise was held in Stuttgart last November in conjunction with the US European Command, and US forces will be involved in a major exercise in March.
“Through this cooperation,” Mr. Floridis said, “we believe that we have designed the best possible security plan in the world in such times, and we are confident that we will provide a safe environment in which people can enjoy the Games in the country of their birth and in the city of their revival.”
Mr. Floridis also noted the importance of dismantling the “November 17” terrorist group, the sentencing of its members, and the forthcoming trial of ELA—another domestic terror group. “The domestic environment in Greece is much safer,” he said, and so “we are focusing mostly on international rather than domestic terrorism . . . however the files on Greek terrorism will not close until the very last detail comes to light.”
Answering questions about two major security drills planned for February and March, Mr. Floridis noted that the February 6-8 exercise will be held with Greek security personnel and all seven cooperating countries observing; and an exercise in March will involve Greek and American forces. The February exercise, code-named “Blue Odyssey 2004,” will be concerned exclusively with the threat of radiation, biological, chemical and nuclear attacks, and the March exercise will deal with these and other threat scenarios. He said that these threats have international consequences and their confrontation requires international cooperation. “This is what has been organized, with the resources of large countries put at the disposal of the Greek authorities who are responsible for the security of the Games.”
The Greek minister also pointed out that the sharing of intelligence is an important area of the security arrangements, with CIA and FBI playing the most important role, together with the intelligence agencies of other countries, including Britain’s MI6.
Meanwhile, Mr. Floridis also said, the cross-checking between intelligence agencies has so far disclosed no indication of an attack on the Olympics from any part of the world. “The critical period is now until the Games, and consequently, from now on, the flow and evaluation of intelligence will be more intense.” The Greek Intelligence Agency, Mr. Floridis noted, has a direct relationship with the intelligence agencies of 50 countries; and intelligence data from some 150 other countries flows through the CIA network, the MI6, the FBI and other agencies.
Mr. Floridis also took the opportunity to point out that the US-based Science Applications International Corporation (SAIC), under a $320 million contract, is installing “the most sophisticated communications system in the world . . . it will provide tremendous input for the Greek authorities to ensure security.”
Air surveillance will also be carried out by NATO’s AWACS planes. Greece’s armed forces will make a significant contribution to security, with the Air Force protecting airspace and the Navy guarding sea borders and seaports.
From the US Press
DRAMATIC IMPROVEMENT IN SECURITY READINESS
On the occasion of the visit to Washington of Mr. Floridis, Washington press comment noted the importance attached by Greece to the security of the Olympic Games in Athens.
The Washington Post reported on January 16 that the Greek Public Order Minister’s visit was “part of an effort to reassure Washington that Greek authorities were beefing up security forces and making other preparations to prevent terrorist attacks” at the August Olympics. “Greece was devoting three times as much money and personnel to security for the Athens Games as Australia did for the 2000 Games in Sydney . . . It has in recent months announced a series of security improvements and has lined up help in training and equipment from other countries . . . US law enforcement and intelligence officials said that Greek authorities have made a strong case that their security readiness has improved dramatically.” Noting the recent dismantling of the “November 17” terrorist group—a “dramatic victory”—the article quotes a US national security official as saying after the meeting with Mr. Floridis: “We applauded the arrest of the ‘November 17’ group. We have good cooperation with them . . . They know they have a challenge and they are up to it.”
A Washington Times editorial of January 18 noted that “Greek authorities are taking security seriously.” Referring also to the importance of neutralizing the “November 17” terrorists, the editorial noted that “the Greek government has also actively sought help for bolstering security for the Olympics. NATO has apparently agreed to provide air cover during the Games, and Athens’ Olympic Village will be surrounded by twin concrete barriers and secured with cameras and X-ray machines. Greece has turned to the International Atomic Energy Agency for help in detecting and heading off a potential dirty-bomb attack . . . The United States also is helping Greece deploy both portable and fixed radiation detectors at several locations, focusing on border crossings . . . In early February, the representatives of the Olympic Security Group, which includes the United States, will observe Greece’s next major pre-Olympic exercises, which are geared to prevent an attack by weapons of mass destruction and will involve the police, the military, health services and other agencies.”
OLYMPICS COORDINATION CHAIRMAN: “I AM IMPRESSED”
After the latest in his series of visits with a team to inspect progress on Olympics preparations in Athens, Mr. Denis Oswald, chairman of the IOC Coordination Commission, said on January 21: “It is wonderful to see so many people so hard at work all across the city. Each time I visit Athens, I am impressed by the ongoing transformation.”
As always, Mr. Oswald emphasized the need to keep up with the deadlines, as August 13, Olympics opening day, draws nearer. “We have received commitments from government ministers that all the work will be completed in time for testing and for finishing touches before the Games begin.”
Mr. Oswald noted again the assurances from both major party leaders that Olympic preparations will not be affected by the March 7 elections. He reported also that, during his visit, his team had discussed “a vast range of Olympic issues, from ATHOC’s exciting global torch relay to the plans to hold the shot-put event in ancient Olympia . . . We look forward (on our monthly visits) to seeing Athens continue to take Olympic shape.”
For more Olympic updates visit: www.athens2004.com
An Ambitious Plan for the Modernization of Greece
Speaking after a January 22 Cabinet meeting to discuss Olympic preparations, Prime Minister Costas Simitis said that the Athens Games of 2004 are “a systematic and ambitious plan for the modernization of the country in the areas of infrastructure, habits and work practices; and in the competitiveness and international image of Greece.”
In addition to the flawless conduct of the Olympics and Paralympics, the active participation of Greek society and the best performances by Greek athletes, Mr. Simitis said that another objective of holding successful Olympics is to add to Greece’s international prestige. Greece, he said, would also seek to preserve the economic and developmental structure of the Olympics preparations which contribute to the growth of GDP and employment.
The post-Olympics exploitation of the various Olympics-related projects would, Mr. Simitis added, be helpful not only for sports but for Greek society in general. As an example, he referred to the housing which will be made available for 2200 working-class families in the Olympic Village.
Greece, the prime minister said, is investing !4.6 billion ($5.7 billion) over a five-year period of Olympic preparations in and around Athens and in other Olympic cities. The economy is reaping benefits as enterprises engage in these activities and create jobs. The development of Athens, Mr. Simitis said, is being given new life, with the improvement of its roads, better access to the sea and the benefits of its new airport and the public park replacing the old airport.
The Olympic Torch in Four US Cities in June
Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin and others involved in the 1996 Olympics held in that city have invited applications for runners to carry the Olympic Torch through the city when it arrives on June 18. Would-be torchbearers are required to submit a short essay on ideals which reflect the Olympic spirit. Other American cities on the route of the Torch relay, with the theme “Pass the Flame— Unite the World” are: Los Angeles (June 16), St. Louis (June 17), and New York (June 19). Applications are at the US Olympic Committee website: www.usolympicteam.com/olympictorchrelay
• The Washington Post on January 4 published a list of “Hot Spots” to visit in 2004. Athens led the list of international destinations at the time of the Olympics. “We’re happier,” wrote the Post’s staff writer Elissa Leibowitz, that “a difficult-to-navigate, traffic-filled city will become friendlier to tourists post-Olympics because of the subway extensions and upgrades, new light rail and trolley systems, a new airport and better traffic management.”
• Described as “an innovative presentation of the message and spirit of the 28th Olympiad,” an exhibition “Son Art-Olympics,” will open at Washington’s Kennedy Center on February 12, and run through February 29. It is sponsored by the Vorres Museum in Athens and the Greek Ministry of Mass Media.
“A WINDOW OF OPPORTUNITY” FOR CYPRUS
In a recent exchange of letters, President Bush and Prime Minister Simitis agreed that the accession of Cyprus to the European Union on May 1st opens the prospect of resolving the long-standing problem of the island, divided by the separation of the Turkish-occupied northern area.
In his letter, President Bush writes: “At this moment, there is a window of opportunity to achieve a solution, so that a united Cyprus can join the European Union. We must not allow this window to close.” Mr. Bush urged Mr. Simitis to follow the approach proposed by UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan and to encourage the President of Cyprus, Tassos Papadopoulos, to do the same.
Replying to President Bush, Mr. Simitis agreed that the coming accession of Cyprus to the EU has sparked a new effort for a comprehensive solution, for which, he pointed out, a desire “was recently expressed by the majority of Turkish-Cypriots . . . despite the pressure on them to support the existing status quo.”
“As you rightly pointed out,” Mr. Simitis wrote, “President Papadopoulos has made it absolutely clear that he is ready to return to the negotiating table at any time that Mr. Annan deems fit . . . “Valuable time,” Mr. Simitis said, “has been lost because of the intransigence of the Turkish-Cypriot leader Rauf Denktash and his reluctance to engage in constructive negotiations, and because also of the lack of will in Ankara to exert the required pressure. I fully concur with your view,” Mr. Simitis continued, “that the coming year (2004) is a historic opportunity for Cyprus. My government is fully aware of the importance of finding a solution to the problem on the island and of the positive consequences that this will have for peace and stability in the wider region. We will continue to spare no efforts to achieve this goal.”
SUPPORT GROWS FOR RETURN OF THE PARTHENON MARBLES TO GREECE
New public opinion polls in Britain, and the advocacy of prominent British personalities, indicate growing support for the return to Greece of the Parthenon Marbles—the precious sculptures removed from the Athens Parthenon by Lord Elgin in the 19th century and now displayed in London’s British Museum.
Writing in the January 13 Evening Standard, London’s afternoon daily, former foreign secretary Robin Cook announced the launching next day of “Marbles Reunited,” an initiative by a number of British citizens who believe that the proper place for the Parthenon Marbles is back at the Acropolis where they stood for 2,000 years until Lord Elgin pulled them down.
Citing new opinion polls which show a surge of support—up to 80 percent of those questioned—for the restitution of the Marbles to Greece, Mr. Cook says: “That should prompt some serious heart-searching among the trustees of the British Museum. It is one thing for them to resist the demands of the Greek government. It is quite another for them to defy the wishes of the British people on whose behalf they act as trustees.”
Referring to London’s hopes of hosting the 2012 Olympics, Cook writes: “What a dramatic launch pad it would be for London’s bid if Tessa Jowell, as minister for both heritage and sport, could demonstrate Britain’s cultural cooperation by announcing that the Parthenon Marbles would also be coming home to Greece. By contrast, what a disastrous start to the London campaign it will be if at Athens every Olympic dignitary is shepherded by their Greek hosts around the new Acropolis Museum with a long blank wall where the Elgin Marbles should be.”
Dismissing “whatever arcane dispute there may be over who had legal title to the Parthenon Marbles,” Cook says, “there is no denying that they belong in Athens . . . Imagine that someone had hacked Nelson’s Column in two and left us with only the great admiral’s stomach and legs. Does anyone believe that we would rest until the statue was restored as a whole? As the Parthenon cannot be moved to Russell Square (site of the British Museum), the only way of reuniting the Parthenon sculptures is for the Elgin Marbles to be returned to the Acropolis.”
Noting that Athens is “not the back of beyond” and that Greece is a favorite destination of British tourists, the Marbles would be seen by just as many British citizens who would appreciate the sculptures much more in their proper setting. They would also, he adds, “take pride in visiting an annexe of the British Museum, because the latest proposal would leave the Marbles under the ownership of the British Museum.”
Robin Cook refers also to the “exciting prospect” opened by Greece’s offer, in exchange for the Marbles, to mount in London a rotating exhibition of sculptures and archaeological finds never before seen in Britain or anywhere outside of Greece.
And Cook concludes: “Modern Greece is a stable country and a partner in the European Union. The gallery it is building as a safe home for the Parthenon Marbles is a state-of-the-art design prepared by a world-renowned architect.” Conceding that the British Museum and British government are “technically correct” in claiming the “legal nicety” of the museum’s ownership, Cook stresses: “It does not absolve the government from promoting the public interest and speaking up for public opinion.”
Robin Cook was one of more than 50 Members of Parliament who on January 15 introduced a resolution calling for the return of the Parthenon Marbles to Greece, citing the “unprecedented opportunity” offered by a new Acropolis Museum and urging that a long-term loan arrangement would avoid legal issues. The resolution states a belief that the restitution will be supported by most people in Britain and welcomes the Greek government’s offer to exhibit important antiquities in Britain.
• Meeting in London on January 22 with Prime Minister Tony Blair, Foreign Minister Papandreou said the issue could be resolved with positive results for both countries. “We have a new museum at the Acropolis,” Mr. Papandreou said, “and we can highlight the contribution of both peoples to international culture.” Looking forward to the meeting between Greece’s Culture Minister Evangelos Venizelos and his British counterpart, Mr. Papandreou told Mr. Blair: “We are open to proposals.”
Source: Press Office of the Embassy of Greece