OPINION

Tigers and bedbugs

Prime Minister Costas Simitis’s rough landing on his return to his country home in Aghioi Theodoroi from Washington may help him find an answer to the question that has plagued him of late, namely why he receives praise outside the national borders and criticism within them. Instead of the healthful breeze he anticipated, the premier must have inhaled the same air, with its peculiar smell of oil or burning plastic, which yesterday bothered the long-suffering residents of the Attica basin. The combination of this unexpected guest with the rising pollution that is now permanently installed in the Attic sky must have made it hard for Simitis to concentrate. But gazing at the big projects from behind the window panes of his prime-ministerial BMW must have enriched his experience, even though he lacked the ability to sense the feelings of the drivers who were stuck for hours next to some Olympic-related project. Had Simitis taken the rationale behind his now-famous grievance a step further, he would probably share the melancholy of Bertolt Brecht, who wrote: «The tigers I slew / What ate me up / Was the bedbugs.» Simitis’s recent attitude is at odds with his former moderate style and priorities. Simitis rose to power as a politician whose central dogma – in contrast to the controversial and voluminous international initiatives of the late Socialist Prime Minister Andreas Papandreou – was that the key to a powerful Greece was internal, economic and social modernization. The problem with Simitis is that he saw modernization as the management of policies that were already under way in the rest of Europe, coupled with a meticulous maintenance of all sorts of equilibria (with social groups, business interests, in-party opposition), and not as a course that mandates radical breaks with the past. As a result, plans to change the status quo in areas like education and social security were shelved in the face of early reactions. Simitis rose to power projecting the profile of a politician who’d rather be useful than pleasant. We frankly hope that after his six-month abstinence from everyday affairs, he will take on the more productive course that he promised but failed to carry out. Otherwise, history will say that he merely presided in Brussels and Athens with relative success.