CULTURE

The swallow of peace and family photographs

The Zappeion Hall is draped with the flags of the 15 European Union member states; on April 16, the flags of the 10 countries accepted for accession at the Copenhagen summit will be added to their number. Naturally, there were broad smiles in the family photograph taken in the atrium of the Zappeion Hall, with the blue flag with the white swallow fluttering in the breeze and the president of the Greek presidency, Prime Minister Costas Simitis stepping just ahead of European Commission President Romano Prodi. The spring weather that Attica produced was like a red carpet greeting to the EC president and the host of commissioners. At the press conference, smiles set the tone, starting with the Simitis-Prodi panel, even though the Greek and foreign correspondents’ questions centered on the matter of avoiding a war with Iraq, which is one of the five subjects that will be discussed during the Greek presidency in the first six months of 2003. «The Security Council and the United Nations are doing the right thing in dealing with the issue. We are in contact with them; we make proposals; we take a clear position in favor of peace, but the UN will find a solution,» was Simitis’s diplomatic response to the barrage of questions showing how deep the fear of a possible conflict is among European journalists who shape public opinion. The Zappeion Hall was crowded as television cameras broadcast the interview live in Greece and abroad. There are 69 foreign correspondents who came from Brussels at the government’s invitation and who are staying at the Ledra Marriott Hotel. They were keen to enjoy the rest of the program after the concert at the Athens Concert Hall. That included yesterday’s dinner hosted by Press and Media Minister Christos Protopappas at the Palio Grammophono restaurant in Psyrri, a meeting with Greek President Costis Stephanopoulos at noon today, at the Presidential Palace, and, tomorrow, an excursion to Sounion with a visit to the Temple of Poseidon and a meal at a restaurant there before returning to Athens for the 15.40 flight to Brussels on Olympic Airways. What will they take with them, apart from souvenirs like worry beads and Olympic mascots (we hope the Athens 2004 committee gave them Athena and Phevos) and a bottle of ouzo? Smiles, a Europe whose role counts for more, and the familiarity of Simitis and Prodi on first-name terms. «Yes, we are friends and we’ll stay that way, if you have no objection,» said Prodi, while Simitis repeated, «I have said so publicly; I shan’t be the next commission president.» What about the one after that?