CULTURE

First ladies of the new year lead the country into 2003

High-ranking politicians put on happy, optimistic faces to see in the New Year, with statements that gave us hope, at least in this little land of Greece, of a creative year above petty political concerns, and indicating honorable intentions of working together, particularly in view of the need to get work done before the Olympics. President Costis Stephanopoulos, setting a good example as always, received the good wishes of the political and military leadership, diplomatic corps and prominent personalities of the arts and letters at the Presidential Palace, right after the New Year service in Athens Cathedral. At the service, attended by the government and other political party leaders, Prime Minister Costas Simitis kissed the crucifix presented to him by a smiling Archbishop Christodoulos of Athens and All Greece, who blessed him and wished him well in his difficult job, now that Greece has assumed the rotating EU presidency for the first half of 2003. All eyes were on the youthful and serious Costas Karamanlis, leader of the main opposition New Democracy party, who this year is closer than ever to his ambitions of assuming power, even if the latest poll indicated that the public sees Simitis as «more suitable» for prime minister. The ND party, however, was ahead of the ruling PASOK party by 6.5 points. Political analysts believe – although they won’t swear by this – that particularly in the second half of the year, after the end of the (naturally successful) EU presidency, Simitis might call a snap election. Nevertheless, President Stephanopoulos, who had the support of both major parties for his current, second term of office, wished both leaders «strength and success in their goals,» even if these are quite different and even conflicting. A wish is still a wish! The «woman of the New Year» was without a doubt Athens’s new mayor, Dora Bakoyianni, whose popularity is high following the recent attempt on her life and her decision not to press charges against her assailant «because the man is ill.» She stepped smartly into Athens Cathedral for the New Year service alongside Stephanopoulos and the armed forces leadership. The previous evening, amid the New Year’s Eve celebrations in a crowded Syntagma Square, she was given a standing ovation as she stood there with the popular, outgoing mayor, Dimitris Avramopoulos. «Athens needs us all,» said Dora, praising the contribution of Avramopoulos. It looks like she will be keeping a firm grip on the Olympic flag which Avramopoulos brought back from Sydney, and will be abiding by all the commitments of what will be an Olympic city in 2004. «And the winner is Athens,» as IOC President Juan Antonio Samaranch announced in Lausanne six years ago, followed by an outburst of joy from the Greek contingent. The president of the Athens 2004 organizing committee, Gianna Angelopoulos-Daskalaki, said in a recent interview with Kathimerini’s editor-in-chief, Antonis Karakousis, that she «doesn’t sleep easy at nights» because of the stress of getting Greece ready for the Games in time, and then carrying them out safely, all of which is a national challenge for Greece, the cradle of the Olympic idea. Young and with cover-girl looks, «first ladies» with political ambitions, they will both be displaying their creative and diplomatic abilities in 2003. Gianna has to placate the «immortals» on the International Olympic Committee, assuring them that everything is going well and will be ready on time. «This calls for a cigarette,» is a popular saying, and an appropriate one since the the Games president has recently been seen smoking a cigar. Another person who will be playing a major role in 2003 is Ecumenical Patriarch Vartholomaios, who has recently been receiving more and more visits from politicians seeking his blessing. This Epiphany weekend, ND leader Costas Karamanlis and his wife are visiting the theological seminary in Halki (which is still closed) and then on to meet the patriarch and attend the blessing of the waters. Whether he will be meeting Turkish political leaders remains to be seen. The «person» of the year, who has most properly been remaining in the background during these past feast days, is Foreign Minister George Papandreou, responsible for the achievements at the Copenhagen summit and, to a great extent, for the acceptance of the accession of Cyprus to the European Union. It was also Papandreou’s idea to have an Olympic Truce, for a spirit of peace and cooperation to prevail around the world during the 2004 Olympic Games. It is important both as an idea and as an action, now that the winds of war are blowing across the Atlantic. The year 2003 promises to be an important one indeed!