NEWS

From November 17 to security

Last Thursday, at 1 p.m., Public Order Minister Michalis Chrysochoidis arrived at Maximos Mansion to brief Prime Minister Costas Simitis yet again about developments and the next steps in the fight against terrorism. He had no idea what a gift Dimitris Koufodinas had in store for him, just when the government was under pressure because of the discouraging spectacle of the repeated flooding of the Kifissos River, and was expecting further pressure from farmers and trade unions at the inauguration of the Thessaloniki International Fair. He was on his way to the premier to describe the next steps and to assure him of the intensity of the efforts being made and of the expected outcomes. Since last Sunday he had been worrying about the extent of political doubts arising from the slowdown in the counter-terrorism campaign following the rapid developments of July. So last Monday he convened a wide-ranging meeting of police and counter-terrorism squad officials so as to speed up the investigation, particularly in connection with arresting the long-sought, second-in-command of November 17. At that lengthy meeting, certain goals were set and attempts made to seek out people who might be offering Koufodinas refuge. All the participants in the meeting agreed that Koufodinas could only seek protection among the anti-establishment circles. The police then shifted their attention in that direction, without anyone expecting such swift and dramatic developments. The development turned out to be more than satisfactory for the government, and boosted the effort to completely wipe out groups employing armed violence. After Koufodinas’s surrender, Simitis went to Thessaloniki feeling more confident, convinced that the new security dogma would be adopted. The breakup of domestic terrorism has obviously permitted Simitis to import and incorporate into Greece the policy model that became dominant in all developed Western countries after the terrorist attacks of September 11. November 17 gave the ruling party a springboard to launch a political offensive. Simitis has chosen to employ new rhetoric based on the idea of security, which extends to all spheres – the economy, labor, pensions, and foreign relations – and is primarily directed at the large middle class, which has conservative reflexes. It is not by chance that the tax cuts that have been announced are for families, and fit in with the mantra of security for everyone. Government officials and Simitis himself calculate that the left-wing parties will continue to decline, and that PASOK will continue to be a refuge for people who traditionally vote for the left. So he is trying to approach a segment of the center-right, especially those in higher income brackets, presenting the security policy line and hoping in that way to snatch away a crucial number of votes from the opposition New Democracy, as it did in 1996 and 2000. It is trying, once again, to look like the guarantor of progress, pensions, jobs, and stability in foreign relations. All this new rhetoric supports the above goal, while highlighting the phobias and anxieties which a possible political changeover might engender. Sources say that this new, conservative shift by Simitis is the outcome of discussions with Chrysochoidis, who has very definite views and perceptions about how PASOK should adapt to the demands of the times. In Chrysochoidis’s view, the governing party cannot base its revival on methods used in the past. He believes that the modern era requires steady, systematic political effort to solve problems and earn the trust of the public. He also thinks that PASOK must free itself from outdated dogmas and ideas, while re-emphasizing its democratic credentials. A radical solution that would save PASOK, Chrysochoidis thinks, would be the formation of a new, broad democratic party to rally dynamic contemporary forces and help reorganize and revitalize the Socialists, who have ruled for 20 years and of whom the public is tired. He has not directly raised such an issue. Simitis doesn’t want upheaval, and after the reaction to some of his proposals for changing symbols, Chrysochoidis does not want to cause internal party dissension at the moment. But this does not rule out future initiatives. Much will depend on how the fight against terrorism develops. If the matter is resolved and Simitis regains the initiative, then nothing can be ruled out, which will be confirmed by those who believe that the bomb that exploded in the hands of Savvas Xeros on June 29 changed the flow of history. He will accuse the government of adopting a managerial approach rather than being innovative, and of prettifying reality. And he will present ND’s economic platform, based on «competitiveness, development and social cohesion.»