Dark cloud over political landscape

A report by a German parliamentary committee on the files of the former East German secret service Stasi, and its relations with Greek business tycoon Socrates Kokkalis has made things very difficult for the government. By banning video game arcades, Prime Minister Costas Simitis has tried to respond to the media uproar and find a radical solution to the spread of «one-armed bandits,» but he has not had the same success in dealing with the storm unleashed by the Kokkalis case. Statements by officials in the East German secret service have cast long shadows not only over the ruling PASOK government, but also over New Democracy (ND) and the Communist Party of Greece, although nothing has yet been proved. These three parties could equally claim ignorance of the fact that the Stasi sent money to the Intracom president for the purpose of funding political parties in Greece. The question is whether there is any evidence that money from that account actually went into any party coffers. ‘Centers’ and ‘para-centers’ AS PASOK indicated in a statement from its press bureau last week, it has chosen two lines of defense. First of all, it claims it cannot be judged on the basis of «unfounded claims by agents» and secondly, it is using the well-worn tactic of abstract danger-mongering. Experienced in the art of communication politics and with powerful support in the media, PASOK is charging that various «centers» and «para-centers» are trying to undermine both the government and the political balance. In reality, however, PASOK’s leaders are deeply concerned about the dimensions this case has assumed, about the direction in which it is going and the effect it will have on what is already a shaky political equilibrium. The most recent opinion poll, carried out by (pro-government) Metron Analysis, showed New Democracy ahead of PASOK by 6.3 (37.2 percent vs 30.9 percent) in voters’ preference. Asked who was most likely to win, 54.5 percent said ND, compared to just 26.4 percent for PASOK, although the ruling party was just ahead of ND (33.6 to 33.4 percent) as to which party the public trusted most. In other words, the ruling party is slowly but surely sliding into second place. In an attempt to rally his forces, the prime minister has tried to turn the Kokkalis case into a confrontation with ND. Speaking last week at a party gathering in Veria, Simitis launched a vitriolic attack on the opposition party, charging that «it is they who are mixed up with vested interests that want to take the country backward and to share power.» Arguments such as these have only provoked further hostile rhetoric. ND leader Costas Karamanlis, returning the broadside from Thesprotia, where he is on tour, said the prime minister was trying to «poison the country’s public life… He is pretending to be Zorro, cleaning up corruption (when he is none other than) the servant of organized interests.» The prime minister also made another significant remark: «I’m going to talk about the years that I have been governing this country. For the past six years there has been a government working with passion, courage and consistency. For six years, work has been steady, there has been progress and national self-confidence,» he said, clearly distancing himself from the PASOK party of the late Andreas Papandreou, a stance that is not unrelated to developments in the Kokkalis affair but one that is not likely to be successful. ‘We were landed with him’ First of all, Simitis himself was one of the leading Cabinet members during the 1980s. Moreover, according to a distinguished PASOK parliamentary deputy who spoke with Kathimerini, «it is common knowledge that the government’s relations with Kokkalis became much closer over the past decade, to the point where he became one of the government’s strongest supporters. It is the prime minister’s responsibility that we were landed with him and everyone knows that Costas (Karamanlis) was opposed to him. If the truth be told, Simitis started to distance himself just a few months ago, when he started to smell a rat.» An associate of the late Andreas Papandreou, questioned by Kathimerini about PASOK’s relations with the business tycoon, said: «Back then, the traditional business barons were not only right-wing, they were actively opposing us. Andreas thought most of them were losers, so he was very interested in promoting a younger generation who employed modern business methods and were politically free of the old right-wing mentality,» he said, adding: «Kokkalis’s father was a distinguished person and he had the added advantage of investing productively what he had earned as a middleman and in that he was trying to set up an industry. At least, that is what we saw then and that was the argument that no politician, let alone the party president, could afford to ignore. We all thought we should help a high-tech Greek company get on its feet.» When we asked the same source whether PASOK might have received funds from Kokkalis, he replied: «Andreas was no fool and would not have let the party take money from the Stasi, or, at least, from a communist country. The Americans already considered us as black sheep and had us under the microscope. «He would never have given them the chance to accuse us of dependence on Moscow. «I don’t know whether the party took money from Kokkalis in the belief that it was simply financial support from a friendly businessman. I can’t rule that out. You know how these things are. All parties take money from business owners, otherwise they just couldn’t manage,» he said. Local elections The course events will take will be determined to a great extent by the course of the investigation, judicial or otherwise, into the case. In an extremely fluid political climate, the Simitis government is having to deal with difficult problems, such as social security reform and privatizations on the domestic front, as well as relations with Turkey. Not to mention the early start of the campaign for the municipal and prefectural elections this coming October. The election results will not only decide the distribution of power in first and second level local government but will also indicate a correlation of forces which will, to a great extent, determine the political dynamics of the next parliamentary election campaign. Although Simitis’s leadership is on a somewhat shaky footing, rumors of an attempt to unseat him are baseless. It is simply that more and more parliamentary deputies and party cadres are treating him as a losing card, rather than as a winning card as in the past. This is of the utmost importance in a party of officials, such as PASOK. As PASOK’s hopes for a political revival fade and ND’s lead over it increases, questioning within the party will escalate and alternative rescue plans will be sought. However, there is no expectation of an assault on the leadership. That said, one cannot rule out the possibility that pressure within the party and negative forecasts might force Simitis to resign. If that does happen, it will be in the fall of 2003, after Greece’s tenure in the rotating European Union presidency, one of Simitis’s personal ambitions. For the time being, however, PASOK General Secretary Costas Laliotis is anxiously building bridges with parties on the left and with Dimitris Avramopoulos’s Movement of Free Citizens in an effort to avert political isolation and, if possible, to create a new dynamic via new political alliances. His proposal for strategic cooperation with the Left Coalition is not simply an expediency, despite the immediate needs of the local election campaign. Laliotis has, for some years, believed this is the way to renew PASOK’s tattered public image and give a boost to its waning political dynamic. The prime minister is in agreement with this strategy and, in Veria last week, reiterated his theory of «progressiveness-conservatism,» extending it beyond politics to the economy and society. Unfortunately for Simitis, the real contrasts are far too complex to be encompassed in such a convenient formula.

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