Protesting too much

Prime Minister Costas Simitis, who rarely appears in Parliament, managed to show his worst side – miles away from the European demeanor he is seeking to cultivate – in his appearance there on Tuesday night. The 36 secondary school pupils «privileged» to be present for the debate on corruption were no doubt expecting to hear something other than the premier’s tirades, which provoked similarly embittered responses from opposition leaders. For hours, Simitis insisted that corruption does not exist in Greece. He dismissed as nonsense what most citizens know to be true: that the construction firm Aktor is charging exorbitant fees to rebuild the whole of Athens; that the companies owned by Socrates Kokkalis have somehow infiltrated the Hellenic Telecommunications Organization, transforming it into a non-competitive enterprise both at home and abroad; and that no one has taken the blame for the bursting of the stock exchange bubble in 1999. But the peak of Simitis’s uncharacteristic outburst was his insistence that the opposition was merely professing ideas of former dictator Papadopoulos and his presentation of extracts of the latter’s book in Parliament. This would be like German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder submitting Hitler’s «Mein Kampf» to counter criticism from Edmund Stoiber or another Christian Democrat. Maybe Simitis should consider what an uproar such a gesture would provoke in Germany or any other EU state he admires so much.