Petty motives

TV images are relentless and make no exceptions, not even for prime ministers. Without doubt, the prime minister was unlucky in a sense. Had the conversation with British Prime Minister Tony Blair not been recorded by a lurking television camera, it would have never reached the headlines, like much of the corridor talk between government officials at EU summits and other international events. The Greek premier was careless, so what he said to his British counterpart was aired, to the slight shock of the domestic public. The problem, of course, is not that Simitis raised the issue of the return of the Parthenon Marbles – even if in an unofficial manner. Rather, it was that he connected the issue to the coming elections. True, any prime minister who strives to accomplish a national goal also has in mind the political gains that will accrue to himself and his party. But trivial as the incident was, the blatant association of the Marbles’ return with PASOK’s electioneering objectives offended public opinion. The campaign for the return of the ancient Marbles was initiated by the late Socialist Culture Minister Melina Mercouri, when few thought that such efforts would bear fruit. Today, 20 years later, the aim is still unaccomplished, but looks more feasible than ever; and this is thanks to the efforts of a large number of people. It would be a sign of petty cynicism to turn this effort into an object of political expediency. In a sense, the incident confirms the widespread belief that Simitis is prepared to do anything it takes to reverse the negative ratings for his party. Apart from the political facet of the case, there is also the aesthetic one. The TV picture spoke for itself, making any further comment unnecessary. Even those who never voted for the ruling Socialists must have cringed to see the prime minister cap in hand before a rather surprised Blair asking for a pre-election gift. As if this were not enough, the ruling party made the situation worse. Instead of portraying the issue as an unfortunate event, it reacted in a manner that insults public intelligence. It takes a bottomless well of impudence to claim that Simitis did not say what everyone had heard him say. And yet Culture Minister Evangelos Venizelos said exactly that, provoking sarcastic smiles among journalists. Similarly, Mass Media Deputy Minister Telemachos Hytiris went so far as to accuse New Democracy of being against the return of the Marbles. The prime minister and his government cadres must at last realize that sometimes it is better to stay silent, for the sake of our intelligence and their political fortunes.