OPINION

Compromising positions

Timing is everything. And so is its spatial twin, location. So there can be nothing worse than doing something at the wrong time, or being here when you should have been there. Sometimes being in the wrong place at the wrong time can be attributed purely to chance, sometimes to the forces of our own behavior and at others to the forces that govern both farce and tragedy. The Oedipal myth, after all, comes down to a young man killing the wrong traveler and waking up in the wrong woman’s bed. His obsessive search to root out the cause of his city’s ills leads inexorably to the discovery that no one but he is to blame. And so the truth destroys him. The tragedy is that if a man of his qualities had been allowed by the gods to rule another city, he would have been a great king. Now, fingers point at him through eternity. The other aspect of his tragedy is that all this was ordained. Poor Oedipus had his fate cut out before he was born, and while he tried so hard to do the right thing, thinking that he was acting of his own free will, he found that instead of breaking free of the net he was tangling himself more tightly. Nowadays we believe we have a lot more freedom to screw up, tending to farce rather than tragedy. The past week was full of bad timing, resulting mostly from bad judgment. Several leading figures on our public stage found themselves in compromising positions because of their own choices. No one has been destroyed with the finality that left Oedipus blind but wise. All of them are still midway through the performance that we are all witness to and it is not clear how much any will suffer nor how much wiser anyone will emerge. As the November 17 investigation slouches on toward the trial of suspected terrorists on March 3, one of the strangest fruit of this tree of evil hit the headlines this week. The previous Thursday, as police made their 19th arrest in the case (a 41-year-old bank employee from Thessaloniki who is suspected of having played a supporting role in the gang), the whispers that had been heard shortly after November 17 began to collapse last summer began to take on clearer shape. These concerned fringe newspaper publisher Grigoris Michalopoulos, a junta apologist, who was suspected of extorting money from prominent industrialists by promising that he could get them off the extreme left-wing group’s hit list if paid for his pains. Michalopoulos had sought publicity earlier last summer just after alleged November 17 leader Alexandros Yotopoulos was arrested. Inviting television cameras to his office, he had claimed that Yotopoulos had visited him on a couple of occasions and bought books that the publisher had written on captains of Greek industry. It was an open secret that the muckraking, ostensible exposés of these individuals were born of their subjects telling Michalopoulos to publish and be damned instead of paying him to rebury their past. On Sunday, in a statement made through his lawyer, Yotopoulos denied any such meeting. On Monday, a handwritten note said to be from the diary of Dimitris Angelopoulos was leaked to the press. The note, written on April 3, 1985, described a meeting in which Michalopoulos allegedly told the industrialist that he was on November 17’s hit list but that he had intervened and had it removed. A few days later, a postscript said, Michalopoulos assured Angelopoulos his name had been erased. The notes did not mention money. A year later, November 17 murdered the industrialist as he was walking in Kolonaki. During the week, it emerged that the diary excerpts had been given to Prime Minister Costas Simitis by the dead industrialist’s nephew, Theodoros Angelopoulos, and the latter’s wife, Gianna Angelopoulos-Daskalaki, shortly after Yotopoulos’s arrest. Apart from forcing Michalopoulos to issue desperate denials and angry threats against members of the family that he claimed he had been very close to, it put the Angelopoulos family in a spot as well. Questions were raised as to why the family had waited 16 years to inform authorities of the note and why they had gone directly to the prime minister with it rather than informing the competent police or judicial authorities. Even the government spokesman waded into the fray, explaining that he believed Mr and Mrs Angelopoulos felt more confident with the prime minister. If this is so, then we must believe that Mrs Angelopoulos-Daskalaki, who presides over the effort to prepare the Athens 2004 Olympics and therefore runs a major institution in Greece in her own right, did not have faith in the country’s institutions to deal with such an issue. In the media frenzy that followed, no one landed up looking good. For Mrs Angelopoulos-Daskalaki the timing was awful. She had to evade questions on the issue during a two-day visit by International Olympic Committee President Jacques Rogge. But the headline on an Associated Press dispatch from Athens summed up the embarrassment. «Olympic chief’s family allegedly targeted by terrorist blackmail ring,» it trumpeted on Wednesday. A judicial probe began, in which a who’s who of Greece’s leading industrialists was summoned to testify. But by week’s end, we did not know if any extortion had been committed nor if the alleged extortionists had any link with November 17 other than (if anyone is guilty) the shared talent of using terror for personal advancement. But the most interesting fallout came in the form of allegations between some of our more entertaining journalists of the yellow press (as well as some lawyers of similar hue) that many journalists were paid exorbitant amounts of money by industrialists for services rendered or in order to keep them from causing damage. If names are named the whole sorry story will benefit the country. But often in the past, we thought we were close to such catharsis and then had to see the same sultans of sleaze continue to color our public discourse. But one of the more colorful parasites of our body politic’s underbelly, the nightclub owner who controls a majority of the AEK soccer team’s shares and has made a career of flaunting the law, appears to be on his way down the painful path of self-knowledge, unwittingly. Makis Psomiadis, with his thick cigars, luxurious moustache, heavy eyes and two meters of relaxed arrogance has become the emblem of the inadequacy of our institutions. Only last year, the strongman in the ruling PASOK party took Psomiadis to court on charges of forging documents to accuse him of fraud. Psomiadis was found guilty and sentenced to 12 years in prison. With assurances from doctors that he has tuberculosis, he managed to avoid prison – as he has for a number of cases over several years – pending an appeal, and to continue throwing his considerable weight about. In the early hours of Wednesday he may, finally, have overstepped the mark. Demis Nikolaidis, the star striker of AEK and the national team, accused Psomiadis of going to his home with several goons to check up on whether he was at home resting or out partying. Apparently, insults were traded and Psomiadis allegedly threatened Nikolaidis that he would «end his career and cut off his legs.» Nikolaidis sued and asked to be freed from his contract. Psomiadis’s miscalculation (if it turns out to be one) is that Nikolaidis is idolized by a broad section of the population, both for his skill and for his passion. It helps also that, like David Beckham, he shares his life with one of Greece’s most popular pop stars, Despina Vandi, making him a household name. Now the government, which has known what Psomiadis is all along, is promising to take on AEK’s boss and to enforce a law which says that anyone indicted for a criminal offense cannot run a soccer team. If Psomiadis is removed, he will have paid the price of overplaying his hand when he had it good, when he had flouted both the judicial and police authorities with seeming impunity for so many years, thinking that he could just keep getting away with arrogance. Someone else caught in a compromising position this week was Rauf Denktash, the veteran Turkish-Cypriot leader. Still not realizing that this is the time to catch the tide in the affairs of Cyprus that will lead to a reunited island joining the European Union, he looked at the crowd of over 50,000 of his people who demonstrated against him on Tuesday and said condescendingly, «In the past, the hands that applauded me later threw stones at me and then asked for my forgiveness. These are the quirks of politics.» Once again, he said that he did not think a solution could be found to the Cyprus problem before Feb. 28. This, of course, can be read as his saying that he does not want a solution other than the one which he wants to force on an unwilling world – recognition of his breakaway state. This is an option the UN plan does not allow. By failing to jump when the time is ripe, Denktash may destroy either his legacy or his people’s future. The choice is his, the timing is not. All of these situations can lead to progress if the monsters born of the sleep of public indifference can be swept away. That remains a big if. But the week did have one indisputable gain. The European Parliament on Wednesday elected Nikiforos Diamandouros, who became Greece’s first ombudsman in 1998, to the post of European ombudsman. He established Greece’s newest institution as a force to be reckoned with in a country where the public administration prefers to sleep and to obstruct its citizens’ progress. He proved his worth, and, when the time was right, he found himself right where he should be.