OPINION

Commentary

Once a year in Thessaloniki, the prime minister opens the international fair by expressing his interest in northern Greece, setting out the basic elements of his economic policy and describing a pitiful situation in glowing terms. Back before the opening ceremony was televised, the fair was a pleasant festival for the city’s residents and its visitors, with fireworks, acrobatics, floodlighting on the ships in the Thermaic Gulf and feasting. The upper echelons of local society gave their own receptions for the country’s political leadership away from the public eye, since the purpose was not just to capitalize politically. There was always time for communication and socializing on a personal level. But times have changed. Prime Minister Costas Simitis went on Friday to Thessaloniki, where he was mobbed by the PASOK masses, and set out what he called his vision for Greece in 2004. Yet no matter how good the government’s communication team might be, there is no way they can gloss over the the current situation. Simitis unwittingly emphasized the dead end at which he had arrived by claiming in his speech Friday night that his policies were neither purely economic nor purely social, without appearing to realize the effects of his lack of clarity. The country’s reformist prime minister is not in a position either to make the radical changes required by the EU’s stabilization program or to satisfy the needs of Greeks, 66 percent of whom declare income [that would have them living] below the poverty line, according to an annual report by the Labor Institute of the General Confederation of Greek Workers. Unfortunately, Simitis has gone from being a socialist to a champion of the free market, and has tried to adopt a business mentality without ever having been personally exposed to market challenges. A businessman is creative, takes risks and amasses wealth by making the most of opportunities that come his way. He even has the right to fail, because the repercussions of his actions only affect him alone, his family and employees. A prime minister, however, is not administering a personal fortune or representing a business on the stock market, but a society of individuals. They are looking ahead, but naturally expect to maintain their current living standards into the future. Simitis took power at a time when people believed that a globalized, technology-oriented economy would resolve humanity’s problems. Along with the rest of the Euro-Atlantic left, led by former US President Bill Clinton, he tried to remove what was probably the most attractive, although perhaps inhuman, aspect of the free capitalist market – the fact that it was uncontrolled. The unfortunate thing for the prime minister is situations cannot be dealt with through rhetoric, opinion polls or the promotion of yet more visions.