The 66th Thessaloniki International Fair opens its doors to the public today and will remain open until next Sunday, September 16. By far Greece’s most important trade fair ever since it began in 1926, the TIF is going through a rough patch. For the first time in years, the number of private exhibitors has declined – by about a hundred, to 1,210. There are questions about the future of the organizing company, which is to be privatized. The political climate in the Balkans, Thessaloniki’s hinterland, is once again poisoned by ethnic conflict. And, to top it all, the town risks becoming a battlefield, as groups opposed to the government’s economic policies and generally to the process of globalization plan four separate rallies today, to coincide with Prime Minister Costas Simitis’s keynote speech on the economy. Unionists close to the Communist Party, especially, seem determined to spoil the government’s fiesta. Even local conservative deputies, wanting to fight the government at all costs, boycotted yesterday’s official opening. Thessaloniki’s conservative mayor, Vassilis Papageorgopoulos, who is opposed to the privatization of fair organizer HELEXPO, had also planned an official protest but backed down in the face of opposition from prominent local businessmen who do not wish to see the fair’s image tainted. Attractive state exhibits Despite this climate, the fair is still expected to attract hundreds of thousands of visitors to its varied exhibits, which cover an area of 43,000 square meters. Apart from the 1,210 private exhibitors, 45 state organizations and public companies will also participate, as will 18 countries. The largest foreign pavilions belong to the US, Russia, Italy, France, Cyprus, Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic. Of special interest to visitors is the government exhibit at Pavilion 10 on new and improved services for citizens. Most Greek citizens may not have noticed the difference, but the government is, finally, taking steps to reduce the interminable waits in state agency office corridors by reducing the number of necessary certificates. Recently, Interior Minister Vasso Papandreou opened a one-stop shop in central Athens that has been widely praised for its efficient and courteous service. Another exhibit, to be opened up by Prime Minister Costas Simitis this morning, concerns the introduction of the euro, and will inform citizens about the new currency which will completely replace the drachma by March 1, 2002.