Seven years after

Holding on to the Greek premiership for seven consecutive years is quite a remarkable achievement, particularly when taking into account that socialist party leader Costas Simitis won the race for the succession to the late PASOK founder and Prime Minister Andreas Papandreou in the teeth of strong party opposition. Simitis met resistance both from the Cabinet and from the party mechanism. Simitis’s main asset in the battle of succession was that he had already won the wager at the ideological level. His modernizing tendencies already enjoyed popularity among the public, making Simitis seem, in the eyes of his socialist peers, like the only politician who could ensure a fresh election victory for PASOK. PASOK, a party of functionaries, was not left unmoved. Socialist officials picked Simitis, not so much because they shared the same ideas and political priorities as he did, but rather because they realized that Simitis was the only one that could guarantee the renewal of PASOK’s mandate. Ever since his election in 1996, Simitis has followed a policy that could be characterized as a «break within continuity.» He avoided radical changes and, at the same time, changed PASOK’s character in a number of qualitative ways. But while PASOK’s strongman is inclined to dwell only on the good things, his seven-year rule has had grim aspects as well. Indisputably, Simitis’s name has been linked to some of Greece’s greatest historical achievements, such as the accession to the eurozone, Cyprus’s entry into the European Union and the crackdown on terrorism. On the other hand, however, citizens’ everyday problems have increased. So have social inequalities. Not least important, corruption and political and business entanglement have taken on a dimension unseen before now. Recent disclosures and allegations over extortions are only the tip of the iceberg. It would be unfair to put the entire blame on the Simitis administration, but it should clearly shoulder much of it. Not only has the socialist government tolerated this situation but it was often itself implicated, at least as far as graft allegations are concerned. The truth is that over the last seven years, Greece has taken some steps forward and forced through some significant changes. Yet these were not always for the better.

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