US Media on Greece
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PRESS & COMMUNICATIONS OFFICE
February 2004; Vol. 10 No. 2
(also available in PDF file)
MARCH 7 ELECTION CAMPAIGN IN FULL SWING
With the dissolution of the Greek Parliament by presidential decree on February 11, calling for the new Parliament to convene on March 18, the March 7 general election campaign was fully launched. The elections were called by Prime Minister Costas Simitis a month earlier than expected because developments on the Cyprus issue required a new mandate for a Greek government involved in efforts to reunite the island before its EU accession on May 1st. The election will make it possible for the emerging government to receive the required vote of confidence from the new 300-member Parliament in time to represent Greece at the EU summit meeting in late March and before the Olympic torch-lighting ceremony for the 2004 Olympic Games on March 25.
In line with standard Greek practice, caretaker ministers have been sworn in to take charge of the sensitive interior and press ministries until the elections are held.
The total number of registered voters is 9.8 million of whom 4.71 million are men and 5.07 million are women. First-time voters number 548,404.
A Close Race
Following the decision of Mr. Simitis to step down from the Pan-Hellenic Socialist Movement (PASOK) leadership, the ruling party will be led to the polls by former foreign minister George Papandreou, who was the uncontested candidate in a special party congress on February 8. Open for the first time to “friends of the party,” in addition to PASOK members, the election was a near-unanimous endorsement of Mr. Papandreou, who received 1,017,085 votes.
The assumption by Mr. Papandreou, aged 51, of the PASOK leadership appears to have led to a narrowing of the gap with the main opposition New Democracy party, led by Mr. Costas Karamanlis, aged 47. The last public opinion polls on February 20, by law allowed to be made public no later than 15 days before the elections, predict a close race with New Democracy leading by some three percentage points and Mr. Papandreou preferred for the role of prime minister by a similar margin. The same polls show that the Communist Party of Greece (KKE), led by Ms. Aleka Papariga, will be represented in the new Parliament, while the Coalition of the Radical Left (SYN), led by Mr. Nikos Konstantopoulos, is close to the required minimum of three percent of the total vote for parliamentary representation.
Democracy in Action
The March 7 elections will be the eleventh in the 30 years since the restoration of democracy after a seven-year military dictatorship ended in 1974. The coming elections will be held on the same proportional system that, in April 2000, gave PASOK 158 seats in the 300-member Parliament with 43.79 percent of the votes, and New Democracy 125 seats with 42.73 percent (see results below).
The current electoral system aims at governmental stability by giving a slight edge to the majority party. Of the 300 seats, 288 are elected in 56 electoral districts; the remaining 12 seats go to “State Deputies” elected on a nation-wide basis. Voting is compulsory (with some exceptions for illness, old age, etc.,) with 18 as the voting age and 25 as the minimum age for candidates.
The four years that have elapsed since the last elections have reconfirmed and reinforced the place of Greece as a stable and active European nation. Whichever government emerges from the March 7 elections, it will take charge of a country which, as evidenced by its participation in the Eurozone and testified by international organizations, is catching up with the living standards of its European partners; and a country which, by virtue of its geographical and traditional links, is playing an important role in the stabilization of the Balkan region and the future of an expanded European Union.
New York Times: “The Greek Paradox”
In a comprehensive report on the Greek electoral scene in the New York Times of February 16, Frank Bruni notes “the string of accomplishments over recent years” achieved by the PASOK government, among them the ability of the economy to adopt the euro, the rapid growth of Greece’s GDP, and the many improvements, some of them Olympics-related, in the Greek capital city.
However, Bruni writes, the coming elections will provide “a revealing glimpse into the incomplete, uncertain state of Greece’s desired progress toward greater economic parity with its Western peers …To some extent, PASOK may be falling victim to expectations raised by its own accomplishments.”
New Democracy leader Costas Karamanlis is quoted in the report as saying: “We can now be fully content that we have a European orientation…it is high time now to invest, and to devote our effort to raising the quality of life.”
Comparing the new PASOK leader, George Papandreou, with his predecessor Costas Simitis, Bruni writes: “Mr. Papandreou has a wholly different style, at once folksier and more dashing.” The report notes the narrowing of the gap with New Democracy in the opinion polls since Mr. Papandreou assumed the PASOK leadership and quotes him as claiming to have made a “major change in the party in a matter of weeks” and of now leading “a new party.”
Bruni refers also to the views of political analysts that the election will turn “not on foreign policy issues but on Greeks’ desire for more economic security and better governmental services in areas like education and health care.”
April 2000 Election Results
Party Votes % of Votes Seats
PASOK 3,007,947 43.79 158
ND 2,935,242 42.73 125
KKE 379,517 5.53 11
SYN 219,918 3.20 6
On the Basis of the UN Plan
A SOLUTION IN SIGHT FOR THE CYPRUS PROBLEM
After 30 years of frustrated efforts since Cyprus was divided following the Turkish invasion of its northern area in July 1974, the persistence of the United Nations and the active role of the US and many European nations appear to have succeeded in promoting a breakthrough which, if finally concluded, will allow a reunited Cyprus—rather than just the part of the island controlled by the legitimate government of Cyprus—to formally join the European Union on May 1st.
Following what seemed to be a sudden reversal of his previous stance, the Turkish-Cypriot leader Rauf Denktash agreed to meet, together with the President of Cyprus, Mr. Tassos Papadopoulos, with UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan in New York on February 10 to negotiate a settlement on the basis of the UN plan, which Mr. Denktash had previously rejected. In a statement on February 13, following three days of meetings, the Secretary-General announced that the two parties have committed to negotiating in good faith on the basis of his plan to achieve a comprehensive settlement of the Cyprus problem through separate and simultaneous referenda before May 1st, 2004.
Mr. Annan’s statement goes on to note that the two parties will seek to agree on changes and to complete the plan by March 22 and that, in the absence of an agreement, Greece and Turkey will join in a concentrated effort to agree on a finalized text by March 29. As a final resort, if a deadlock should continue, the two parties have given the Secretary-General discretion to submit a final text to referenda in the two communities by April 21.
The Secretary-General’s statement refers also to the agreement reached on forming a technical committee, chaired by the UN, on the economic and financial aspects of the settlement. The guarantor powers of Cyprus’ independence in 1960 (Greece, Turkey and Britain) have committed to the process proposed; and the European Union has given assurances of its cooperation and assistance.
The continuing bilateral talks, in the presence of the Secretary-General’s special adviser, Alvaro de Soto, began in Cyprus on February 19, as did the meetings of the technical committees on laws and treaties. On his arrival in Cyprus on February 17, Mr. de Soto said he was ready to “roll up his sleeves” and help the two sides to reach agreement. He was optimistic, he said, that a viable and functional settlement would result. “We are either there or very close to it already.”
“All concerned,” he concluded, “now face historic responsibilities to bring about a just and lasting peace in Cyprus. The Secretary-General wishes them well and looks forward to working closely with them.”
“Success Will Depend on Change on Turkish Side”
In his statement following the New York negotiations, the President of the Republic of Cyprus, Mr. Tassos Papadopoulos, noted his efforts to achieve a resumption of the talks on the basis of the Annan plan, with the goal of a reunited Cyprus before May 1st 2004 and its entry into the EU. The efforts of his side, Mr. Papadopoulos said, “brought the Turkish Cypriot side back to the negotiating table, on the basis of the Annan plan which, until recently, they characterized as ‘dead and buried’.” The role of the Secretary-General in resolving issues of continuing deadlock, he added, “is now limited to the basis of the plan and does not apply to issues outside the plan that the Turkish Cypriot side might bring up.” He also called “very important” the involvement of the European Commission during all stages of the negotiations.
Mr. Papadopoulos further noted the importance of the collaborative and supportive role of Greece and Turkey and made specific reference to his close collaboration and identity of positions with the prime minister of Greece, Mr. Costas Simitis.
On his return to Cyprus, Mr. Papadopoulos said on February 15 that the prime concern of the Greek-Cypriot side is to achieve an improvement of the Annan plan to serve the best interests of all Cypriots. Referring to the new round of negotiations begun on February 19, “in very tight time frames,” he said that a solution will depend mainly on “whether the Turkish side has changed its policy…so that a reunited Cyprus will enter the EU or whether it insists on its old position for division of the island.” This, he added, “was not made completely clear from the New York discussions.”
Greek Foreign Minister: “Unanimous Support for UN”
Commenting on the outcome of the New York talks, Greek Foreign Minister Tassos Giannitsis (who replaced Mr. George Papandreou on February 16) spoke of the “unanimous” support for the proposals of the UN Secretary-General and made reference also to the “publicly supportive statement” made by opposition leader Costas Karamanlis, who expressed the hope that “negotiations will reach a positive result this time to enable a reunited Cyprus to join the European Union on May 1st, for the benefit of all its inhabitants.”
“For Greece and Cyprus,” Mr. Giannitsis said, “this is a justification of the steady and decisive position which we took at the United Nations, and of the good offices of the Secretary-General. It means that the Annan plan is accepted as the basis for negotiation by Turkey and by the Turkish-Cypriots who, up to now, were strenuously opposed to any such thing.”
“It also means,” Mr. Giannitsis said, “that we have upset the diversionary tactics of Turkey and the Turkish-Cypriot side and that there will be a technical and advisory presence of the European Commission which will mean that the solution to be proposed will facilitate the easy incorporation of Cyprus within the European Union.” British Prime Minister Tony Blair, he added, had written to Greek Prime Minister Simitis about the constructive future role of the European Commission in the negotiations. “All this,” he concluded, “makes us very optimistic and, I would also say, proud as we look at where we are today and how we can look forward to the future.” European Commission President Romano Prodi was also optimistic in saying: “The Commission considers that the chances for a comprehensive settlement have never been better.” The division, he said, “has been there for too long…There is no place for barbed wire, minefields and peacekeeping forces in the European Union.”
Warm US Welcome
At a US State Department briefing on February 13, spokesman Richard Boucher said: “The United States warmly welcomes the announcement by the United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan that the parties on Cyprus have committed to resume negotiations on the basis of his peace plan, and to submit the resulting settlement to referenda for approval in time for a reunited island to join the European Union on May 1st. The United States, the spokesman said, “will, of course, continue to provide appropriate support to reach a successful conclusion.” The US commitment to the success of the Cyprus negotiations was reiterated in a letter from US Secretary of State Colin Powell to Greece’s new Foreign Minister Tassos Giannitsis, congratulating him on the assumption of his duties.
GREECE HONORS JEWISH VICTIMS OF THE HOLOCAUST
A number of events and solemn addresses by high-level officials marked the designation, by a unanimous vote of the Greek Parliament, of January 27 as a Day of Remembrance for the Greek Jews who died in the Holocaust.
In Athens, an event attended by parliamentary, government, and diplomatic representatives heard the foreign minister of the time, Mr. George Papandreou, give a moving address in which he said: “The Jewish community—a community that has richly contributed to the diversity of our culture and identity, a community that has been an integral part of our society for some 2000 years—was almost totally eradicated. It is my duty to express my gratitude to the community of Greek Jews, the survivors and descendants of those who were taken from us. I thank them for keeping the flame of Jewish Hellenism alive.”
Further in his speech, Mr. Papandreou declared that the decision to inaugurate a Day of Remembrance “honors us all, as a nation and a people…The Greek Parliament owed this debt of honor to our Jewish Greek citizens. They fought on the Albanian front in the war of 1940. They actively participated in the national resistance movement, and gave their lives—this great Jewish community that contributed so much to the economic and cultural development of our country and was lost in the Nazi death-camps. Let us consider, beyond the humanitarian and historical debt to our dead brothers and sisters, how much post-war Greece was deprived of by this loss.”
In Thessaloniki, the main home of Greece’s thriving Jewish community before World War II, Nobel Prize winner and Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel was among those at a wreath-laying ceremony at the city’s Holocaust Memorial. He also spoke at the Holocaust commemoration.
Praise from Members of Congress
The decision of the Greek government to establish January 27 as a Holocaust Remembrance Day was commended in a letter to Greece’s President Kostis Stephanopoulos from 35 members of the US Congress. Noting that January 27 was the day when the Auschwitz death-camp was liberated, the letter praised the decision as “a historic step that will help to promote tolerance, combat the scourges of anti-Semitism and Holocaust denial, and give due respect to the victims.”
• The Israeli ambassador to Greece, Mr. Ram Aviram, in a ceremony in Athens on January 27, conferred the Israeli award “Righteous Among the Nations” on nine Greek Christians who saved Jewish lives during the Nazi occupation. More than 200 Greek citizens have been honored by the Yad Vashem Institute in Israel for risking their lives to save Jews during World War II.
ATHENS OLYMPICS UPDATE
Prime Minister Costas Simitis chaired a cabinet meeting on February 17 to survey Olympic preparations ahead of an IOC meeting in Athens on February 26 under IOC President Jacques Rogge. Among the topics discussed was the state of progress on the roof designed by Spanish architect Calatrava for the main Olympic Stadium, with assurances given that it will be ready on time.
Earlier, on a visit to inaugurate the new Main Press Center adjacent to the main Olympic complex, Mr. Simitis said: “Olympic projects are being continuously delivered. They are changing the image of Greece and proving that every euro is well spent.”
• The first public auditions were held on February 5 for volunteers applying to help at the opening and closing ceremonies of the Games, which will be watched by some 70,000 spectators and billions of TV viewers around the world. Some 6,000 volunteers have already been chosen, with another 2,000 expected to be taken on by the end of the month. Dimitris Papaioannou, artistic director for the two events, has hinted that the opening ceremony will feature Apollo, mythical Olympian god of intellect, the arts, healing and light. Bacchus, mythical god of wine and revelry, will rule at the closing ceremony.
• More than 10,000 applications have now been received from would-be Olympic torch-bearers. The Olympic Flame, for the first time in the history of the Games, will be carried through all five continents and will pass through four US cities, Los Angeles, St. Louis, Atlanta, and New York, in mid-June.
• The Greek Ambassador to the US, George Savvaides, has been providing audiences with the latest information about Olympic preparations, including the new infrastructure, security and international cooperation. He spoke on February 12 to some 200 guests at a Kennedy Center reception in Washington, DC, which also featured an exhibition of Olympic-theme sculptures, “Son Art-Olympics.” In conjunction with the exhibit, Professor Alexander Kitroeff of Haverford College spoke on February 26 on his new book, Wrestling with the Ancients—Modern Greek Identity and the Olympics.
• The Washington Times of February 1st published an op-ed article by Greece’s Public Order Minister George Floridis who wrote that “the security plans for the coming Olympics are different in scope and concept from those of any previous Games. In close cooperation with many other countries and by spending a record amount of money, we have worked on many different scenarios and methods to build an effective guard against any foreseeable threat to the peaceful conduct of the Games.”
• The Atlanta Journal-Constitution of February 1st reported that Brigadier-General David Tsur, Israeli member of the international team that works on security plans for the 2004 Games, said: “There has been very big progress in transforming an excellent security plan from paper to the field. The Athens Games will be among the safest ever, for both athletes and spectators.”
• US State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said on February 19: “We have every confidence that Greece has the will and the resources to hold a secure and successful Olympics this year. Greece continues to work with several countries, including the United States, to ensure the full safety of the Olympic Games. We have offered expertise and resources of several of our agencies to Greece in order to ensure Olympic security.”
• For Athens Olympic news go to: www.athens2004.com
Source: Press Office of the Embassy of Greece