Letter from Thessaloniki

No subject is better suited to argumentation by Groucho-Marxist anecdote than pre-electoral campaigning, and no listener more susceptible to this style of persuasion than our pro-government press. «We have principles in PASOK,» Press Minister Christos Protopapas declared last Saturday in a comment on the party’s decision to proceed with the removal from its ticket of a deputy economy minister – Christos Pachtas – and some 10 parliamentary deputies who, by signing a rider, hurt the party’s prestige. Mr Christos Pachtas submitted his resignation on Friday. («I sent the club a wire stating, PLEASE ACCEPT MY RESIGNATION. I DON’T WANT TO BELONG TO ANY CLUB THAT WILL ACCEPT ME AS A MEMBER.» Only this is from a Marx Brothers film.) Now, the timing is just perfect for jokes of that sort. «Political parties are outdated. They have to be overhauled,» primeministerial hopeful George Papandreou said yesterday during a tour in western Greece. (Who was it again who said, «Those are my principles, and if you don’t like them…well, I have others»? Right! Once again it was Marx. Groucho Marx.) A European diplomat, posted in Greece, wanted to know the other day whether Mr G. Papandreou, in the event of a crisis, would align himself with the EU’s hardcore states or with its Atlanticists. (Chico Marx goes cleanly to the point – in the movie «Go West» – when he declares, «I would like the west better if it was in the east.» Or vice versa.) Yet, there are some important issues awaiting us. Let’s forget our March elections for a moment. For instance: «What will Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan discuss with US President George W. Bush when the two leaders meet in Washington DC the day after tomorrow? Will it be just Cyprus as most Greeks think – or wish?» With the ball now in Ankara’s court, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan must have surely helped to set out good arguments for Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan when they met in Davos last weekend, for Turks and Turkish-Cypriots to judge. Now both the US and the EU are trying to persuade Ankara that their way is the only way to make democracy more democratic. Yet the main issue will, no doubt, be Turkey’s concern about northern Iraq. Our neighbor seems greatly annoyed by the Kurds’ desire for autonomy as well as their claims to Kirkuk and the oil-rich regions of northern Iraq. The Turkish premier will once again insist that Kurdish terrorists in northern Iraq threaten his country. How much was there about that issue and the prospects for mutual disarmament that were announced a week ago by George Papandreou in Thrace? Is there no need to fear anyone anymore? («Afraid, me? A man who’s licked his weight in wild caterpillars? Afraid? You bet I’m afraid,» said the madcap Groucho Marx in «Monkey Business» – a film of 1931 – where by guile and wit the Marx brothers managed to worm themselves into the upper echelons of society – just as so many political candidates struggle to do so today.) Now, speaking of «Monkey Business,» one is actually referring to a species of animals that are both creative and clever, and sometimes brighter than politicians. In one of his fables, Aesop describes a splendid entertainment, something like a campaign party, organized by the beasts of the forest, in which the Monkey stood up and did his fabulous routine. Envious, the Camel tried to ape him, and made a fool of himself. The other animals set upon him with sticks and clubs and drove him out of the assembly. There is a moral here for prospective politicians: You can fool too many of the people too much of the time. Or, as James Thurber once moralized in «Fables for Our Time»: «Government of the orioles, by the foxes, and for the foxes, must perish from the earth.» Now, since today’s subject has been monkeys, let’s not forget that a couple of days ago – on January 22 – we marched into the Year of the Monkey, according to the Chinese zodiac. And it is said that this monkey year will bring us all progress and opportunity. With most of our New Year’s resolutions already forgotten, this occasion presents us with a second chance to start a new year all over again. So, Happy, Happy Chinese New Year.

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