Confidence building

An old friend celebrated his 80th birthday last Friday. Therefore, I duly called Markus Wolf in Berlin to congratulate him on the occasion and also to comment on his new slice-of-life book «Friends Never Die.» For some 30 of his fruitful professional years, «Mischa» (or «the man without a face») was the relentlessly elegant head of East German espionage. From the early 1950s to the mid-1980s, he was known to western intelligence and headed the international intelligence gathering arm (HVA) of East Germany’s Ministry for State Security (MfS), the notorious Stasi. At the time of the call I did not know that only 48 hours later a massive operation by the Greek counter-terrorist agency would lead to the arrest of several individuals accused of being members of the terrorist group Revolutionary Popular Struggle (ELA). These arrests were made possible after the Stasi archives in former East Germany became public – «a huge reservoir of interesting information,» as ex-public order minister Stelios Papathemelis, who caters to Orthodox Christians, described them yesterday. Obsessed with all ideas of conspiracy, as a good Greek, I made a mental note to question him on this subject next time I call him. Needless to say, I doubt greatly that he will oblige. Although what is generally said to be wrong is wrong, defining terrorism is not always an easy task. Marcus Wolf usually flees into generalizations such as the following: «It was important for us to study very closely what sort of people we recruited – perhaps from diplomatic families with establishment backgrounds, people who had studied a certain field at university and had shown good results; that is, people who, from a Western perspective, looked good and had a good chance of getting in… » Or, he expresses his outrage at a monstrously unjust capitalist society: «At the time there were many links through the (student protest) movement in 1968. There are examples concerning young people from the 1968 movement who wanted to protest against the injustice they saw in the West.» Good. These were students who, after coming in contact with East Berlin, were controlled from their time at a western university all the way up to a top position in NATO or in government. In the realm of real and alleged terrorists, all things take on a twilight shade. The case of the mayor of Kimolos island, Angeletos Kanas, led me to another illustrious outlaw. It was probably the name that reminded me of Cesare Angelotti, the escaped political prisoner in Puccini’s opera «Tosca.» When this operatic desperado, in the beginning of the first act, takes refuge in a secret hiding place, he recognizes the icon-painter Mario Cavaradossi as a fellow revolutionary sympathizer – another one of those diabolical coincidences with the case of the already imprisoned alleged terrorist Savvas Xeros… Whatever. As Thessaloniki, together with the world, mourned lost space shuttle Columbia and its crew of seven, and as President Bush declared that the space program is continuing regardless, one cannot but wonder whether democracies can press ahead with policies that have lost the confidence of their citizens. The worse and more intricate the news from this tragic incident becomes, the harder it will be to restore world confidence. Now, as Armageddon draws nearer, we take a look at our Balkan neighborhood – a subject of no demonstrable interest to Athenians. Yugoslavia – a desperately passe Serbo-Croatian coinage of the words «south» and «Slavs,» today looks like an anachronism. It is expected that next month, when the federal Parliament in Belgrade adopts the new constitutional charter, Yugoslavia will cease to exist. Meanwhile in Thessaloniki, which has taken over from Athens as the Balkan’s main economic center, the Greek economic reconstruction plan for the Balkans was reported to be «progressing well.» Deputy Foreign Minister Andreas Loverdos, an energetic practitioner of the «go-get-it» entrepreneurial spirit of today, said that funds had now been allocated for private productive investments. Of a total of 107 millions euros, Yugoslavia (Serbia, Montenegro and Kosovo, it was clarified) will receive 53 million euros. Where will that money come from? Unofficial sources mentioned the high-interest, 5 billion euro government bond that the Greek government floated on January 28. The only problem is that the issue matures in 2008 and will be then used for government programs. The Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, currently in the middle of a huge anti-corruption campaign, will receive 15 million euros. Romania, whose McDonald’s reported a sales increase of 10 percent last year and is consequently expanding from 48 to 100 fast-food restaurants, will receive 14 millions euros from our country’s Balkan economic reconstruction plan; while ex- communist Bulgaria, once dubbed as the 16th Soviet Republic for being the most loyal supporter of Moscow, is now set to become a member of the Western bloc. Sofia, whose first loyalty was to be to Washington from now on, declared over the weekend that it would allow the United States to use a Black Sea airbase in the event of an attack against Iraq. Consequently, it will receive 11 million euros from us. And as for Albania, who made common cause a long time ago with the United States, its Foreign Minister Dragisa Burzan declared last Thursday in Podgorica, Montenegro, that they will defend the rights of minority populations. Tirana will receive from Athens a meager 10 million, level with the parts of a disintegrated Yugoslavia. In conclusion, recent events seem to have prompted in our corner of Southeastern Europe a well-deserved orgy of state supervision and a redesign that may infuriate the media but makes our Balkan family a great deal securer.