Dim reaction

Prime Minister Costas Simitis’s statement yesterday regarding the allegations that senior Socialist cadres were involved in inappropriate dealings with businessmen showed that the premier is trying to bypass the issue. He blamed the fuss on ostensible business conflicts and on an orchestrated attempt to tarnish «the best moment so far» of Greece’s EU presidency, meaning the signing of the EU accession treaty by the new members – and particularly Cyprus. Revealingly, in passing off the political tumult as a form of pressure on the government from business interests, Simitis used the first-person singular alternatively with the first-person plural in an attempt to show that the government and party line bears his own mark and to make it clear that any corruption-related accusations will be taken as a political attack on him personally. Expressions such as «I do not succumb to pressure» or «This is what I work for; I have achieved a lot and I will safeguard [these achievements],» coupled with phrases such as «We are constantly fighting corruption and we have prove it» underscored Simitis’s intention of evading the issue. True, Simitis’s pledge that he will announce his proposals to modernize the political system after Greece’s EU presidency ends next month leaves hope for some remedial action against the malaise that came to light after the recent revelations. Indeed, any urgent measures would give the impression of a government buckling under the pressure of the Avriani newspaper’s allegations. However, the framing of Simitis’s statement does not foreshadow drastic measures. The Socialist leader does not want to accept the existence of political corruption, because doing so would force him to shoulder some of the blame, if only because of the people he picked. This is more than a matter of impressions. It appears that Simitis would not have the power to overcome the current situation even if he wanted to. Much as one may recognize the work of the Simitis government, one cannot turn a blind eye to the fact that throughout his career as premier Simitis has been quite tolerant over his cadres’ connections with business circles. Pressured by inner-party tension, the effort to promote so-called reformist cadres strengthened the hand of controversial party figures whose deeds are now haunting the premier. The problem does exist, regardless of the critics’ ulterior motives. Simitis’s stance may be understandable, but it also leaves little hope that the problem will be solved.

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