NEWS

November 17 and 2004 are two thorns in Athens’s side

The observation made at last week’s emergency Cabinet meeting that the terrorist attack on the USA heralds changes that no one can predict with any accuracy, was an indication of the widespread concern in Athens over the attack. As the days passed, the government began to realize that Washington’s reaction to the attack would be particularly harsh and long-lasting. It was also understood that the Bush administration would naturally ask its allies, including Greece, to declare their support for the struggle against world terrorism. Therefore, Athens appears to be abandoning a number of initial approaches that could enable it, within the European Union, to maintain a more balanced position in the new situation, as it did during the attack on Yugoslavia two years ago. The government is to fall in with whatever the USA decides, provided of course that decisions are ratified by collective bodies such as NATO, or worked out in cooperation with the European Union. So the government’s attention is now mainly focused on evaluating – and minimizing – the repercussions for Greece itself of the new situation brought about by the strike against the symbols of American hegemony. Government officials believe that the new focus of the USA and the world will have serious repercussions on the organization of the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens. According to a leading government minister, Greece will now be firmly under Washington’s scrutiny in its battle to fight domestic terrorism. Moreover, Greece can also expect an escalation of US pressure on Athens to root out the November 17 terrorist organization. It is also certain that the USA’s long-standing demand for systematic and complete exchange of information between the two countries’ secret services will become more of an issue. The attack on the USA is also likely adversely to affect the course of Greece’s foreign policy interests, such as the Cyprus issue. Certainly Washington’s focus on world terrorism over the next few years will reduce the Bush administration’s interest in dealing with regional disputes such as the continued occupation of Cyprus. The Greek government’s foreign relations are also a subject of concern, given that Washington’s fight against terrorism will involve specific countries in the Middle East. This will have an adverse effect on Athens’s desire to maintain its traditionally good relations with the Arab world. Many people also believe that these developments will boost Turkey’s role in the region. Then there are the fears of an extended world recession. It is now considered certain that the USA will insist on better security systems in European Union member states, at their own expense, a cost that would be disastrous for the Greek economy as it gears up for the Olympic Games, not to mention the prime minister’s promise of more funds for the welfare state. According to government officials, last Tuesday’s dramatic events will also have an immediate effect on domestic politics. In the short term, it is felt that the events will benefit the prime minister at the ruling PASOK party’s congress next month, since international crises usually act as a rallying force around the current leadership. In the medium term, however, US pressure might force Simitis to take unpopular decisions, at considerable political cost.