Confessions of an estranged modernizer

Alexandros Baltas, former MP, both in the Greek and European parliaments, and deputy minister, is typical of a small band of hard-core modernizers within the Panhellenic Socialist Movement whose refusal to water down their enthusiasm eventually landed them in trouble even with their patron, former PASOK leader and Prime Minister Costas Simitis. At the party’s last regular congress, in October 2001, Baltas had the temerity to announce that he was going to challenge Costas Laliotis for the post of party general secretary; Laliotis, a seasoned party hack, had supported Simitis’s aspiration to become prime minister but had sought to circumscribe his power by supporting a «dual leadership,» with somebody else in charge of the party. He particularly wanted to cut Simitis off from his dedicated supporters and when he did not lash out at them directly, he orchestrated personal attacks through the media. Baltas, appalled that Simitis would compromise that much by supporting Laliotis’s candidature, submitted what he knew was an outsider’s bid. The rest was predictable: He was not voted onto the Central Committee and was therefore ineligible to stand as candidate general secretary. In fact, Baltas had been disenchanted for quite some time before that. Simitis’s decision to remove him from the government and put him on the list for the European elections in 1999 was already perceived as a sort of exile. In his recent compilation of speeches, articles and interviews, «Political Texts» (in Greek), published by the European Parliament’s Socialist Group (May 2004) just before he left that body in June 2004, and already in its second edition, Baltas includes a document which probably precipitated the cooling of his relationship with Simitis. In the document, written several months ahead of the 1999 congress, Baltas fiercely attacked those who posed as the defenders of socialist orthodoxy as bigoted, nationalist mediocrities who were also not above corruption. He did not name names but the content was incendiary. A Simitis acolyte who had been shown the text apparently warned his master and, at the same time, suggested that Baltas submit it to Simitis ahead of publication. «I will be glad if you read it. I will also be glad if you reject the argument but I will be unhappy if I am not able to submit it to a wider audience for criticism,» Baltas wrote in a cover letter. The reply, in Simitis’s neat, deliberate handwriting was: «Alekos, this text must not [last word underlined] be published, however unhappy this may make you. You are a member of government, not a journalist.» Other than that, the book does not offer any gossipy revelations. It is the honest, often pained, view of a committed, but ultimately disillusioned politician. It may not target a mass audience, but the fact that it went beyond a first edition is already a success.