OPINION

Letter from Thessaloniki

Peace and prosperity are usually good for parties in power when election time rolls round. Add winter sports and no big embarrassments, and the outlook for our March elections seems bright. Well, things are not so simple. The struggle, at least here in the Greek north, is not between New Democracy and PASOK, but between skiing and apathy. Cheap, fashionable skiing increasingly means Bulgaria, where throughout January, February and March, Thessalonians who like such things stand as good a chance of meeting their friends on the slopes of Vitosha, Borovets and Papmporovo as they might in a «paralia» (sea-front) cafe or wine bar. As Greek skiers get more knowledgeable, they demand better service – like edge-grinding and trained personnel – from the retailers. And they increasingly find those services in our northern neighbors. Another detail is that prices are, sensibly, lower in winter resorts in Bulgaria and FYROM – only a few hours away from Thessaloniki. «Yet, personally I prefer skiing in Greek Seli, with 14 ski areas to choose from,» says teenager athlete Fotis Athanassopoulos. There are three ski lifts and one single-seat chairlift in the Vermio ski resort only 22 km from Veria. In a world of pop politics and popular culture driven by focus groups, polls, and plagiarism, it’s no wonder that affairs of state, television and show business seem infected by a sameness virus. In an interview in yesterday’s Kathimerini, Spilios Spiliotopoulos, a New Democracy member of Parliament and most likely the party’s candidate for the Ministry of Defense, says: «In the age of communications, ‘facts’ are what is publicized and not what occurs in real life.» Facts are founded on surveys. Recently, telephone polls have become a standard part of our news reporting. It is through them that every scandal, or change in a party’s direction, is heralded by an «instant analysis» of who is up, who is down and «What Greece thinks.» Thus, opinion poll findings take a life of their own. And so, S. Spiliotopoulos urges: «Keep your radio or TV set off just for a day, and you’ll realize how insignificant it is for you whoever might be the head of PASOK » Fortunately, individual human choices are able to transcend this groupthink. So, there is at least some hope. Subsequently, we were instructed that Karamanlis’s support slipped in an array of polls released last week. Yet, another one, published yesterday in Kathimerini, indicates that PASOK (the Panhellenic Socialist Movement) trails New Democracy 41.1 percent to 35.5 percent. Though this is a rather slim difference, especially considering the survey’s usual three-point margin of error, further numbers (such as on who might be a more auspicious prime minister, with G. Papandreou’s 40.1 to C. Karamanlis’s 39.3) show the next PASOK leader recovering the advantage he held some time ago over Karamanlis. True or false? Should one wish so, one could take comfort in a declaration such as «It is far from certain that Papandreou will fulfill all these expectations (i.e. to reunite and rejuvenate the party.),» published three days ago in this paper. Nonetheless, there are also several things that polls do not tell us. Do the results reflect accurately the population it has surveyed? Whose opinions, after all, do these polls really reflect? So far and until the public stops having blind faith in them, telephone polls will tempt us with fluctuating views and corresponding periods of soul-searching. But until then, we can go skiing.