NEWS

‘Greeks do not look back, they look ahead,’ declares an angry Simitis

Prime Minister Costas Simitis’s visit to the United States came at a time in which several major issues concerning Greece are up in the air, with Greek news media concentrating their coverage on how much pressure US officials would place on the Greek prime minister to accept solutions that would not be entirely in Greece’s favor. The issues involved include the efforts to solve the problem of the EU’s nascent defense force, in which Washington was expected to push a compromise it and London have proposed giving Turkey a say in the force’s operations, especially in regions of interest to it such as Cyprus and the Aegean. On Greece’s domestic terrorism problem, US news media and former officials have kept up a steady stream of suggestions that Athens is not doing enough to arrest members of November 17, raising expectations that Simitis would come under pressure from US officials. This prompted Simitis to declare before he left Athens on Tuesday: «It is obvious that we do not bow to pressure… I believe as well that the USA realizes that we will not accept pressure.» He added: «The time is long gone when the prime minister of Greece would go to some countries in order to hear recommendations for a certain policy. This is no more.» But at a news conference in Washington late on Thursday, after what he described as «a very good meeting» with President George W. Bush, Simitis was asked once again whether US officials had raised the issue of a list of terrorism suspects that some reports and former US officials have said exists and the Greeks have failed to act upon. Simitis took the opportunity to put on a very untypical display of anger, pressing the point that Greece does not have to act like a defendant before a prosecutor, or an apologetic school pupil before a teacher. Greece, he said, is an ally that has come to speak with friends. Below is an excerpt from Simitis’s news conference: «Greece did not come here as a defendant, I want you to understand that! This is a conversation among friends. It is a conversation between people who want to cooperate, who have common problems. And if there are some problems between us, such as terrorism, we recognize this, we know it, we want to solve it. But let us tell the truth: Is this a disgrace? That we haven’t solved the problem after so many years? It is not a disgrace at all. But, at the same time, we can say also that we have not been alone all this time. There have been experts from the United States and other countries in Greece for about 15 years. And the result is mostly our responsibility, but it is not ours alone. It also weighs on those who offered to cooperate with us, in a way. «So, international negotiations are not always between prosecutors and defendants. This is a mentality – if you will excuse me saying so – from 1950 and from the principles of the decade of the 1950s. Forty years have passed since then. And if I emphasize this, it is because we must give the Greek people some pride… Nothing is going to happen, because there is nothing for us to be afraid of. Why should we be afraid? We have achieved noteworthy things. «As you saw, President Bush looked at the euro coin [which Simitis gave him during a photo opportunity] and showed interest in it and discussed it. And he saw the Greek side of the coin and saw that we have a presence, even in this simple way. So why should we feel that we are suspects in a way, something like school students who have to explain to the teacher what went wrong in class. For God’s sake! That is not Greece. I want you all to understand that! «Greece is different. So if you want to talk seriously, if you want serious discussions, if you deal with problems systematically, others will respect you. And this depends on us. Behavior in which we say this must happen or that must happen does not help gain respect. It shows small people. We are not small. For goodness sake! And I want you to publish this. Because Greece and the Greeks need objectives, objectives in the future. Greece and the Greeks turn their backs to the past, they do not look back, they look ahead, they do not see disasters. Disasters are not coming. But this depends on us. If we are serious we will have a future. We want this future, we are creating it, we believe in it.» The ban on certain mood-altering drugs has led to an increase in the number of drug addicts. The cost of a plethora of law-enforcement, judicial, penitentiary and pseudo-therapeutic mechanisms is a burden on society. It boosts organized crime, both economically and politically. Unemployment, lack of prospects, alienation, poverty, questioning social norms and values are factors which lead young people to take drugs.