Keeping animals out

Greek prime ministers speaking at the annual Thessaloniki International Fair tend to offer lavish promises of handouts and be upbeat about the prospects of the economy. So it was a surprise to see voters approve Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis’s break with this past practice and go to the fair empty-handed. The best the conservative leader had to offer was an assurance that «the threat of new tax measures is no more.» Remarkably, an opinion poll earlier this week found that 83 percent of the people believe the economy is in bad shape, 70 percent are unhappy with the government’s economic policy, and 84 percent fear their financial condition is set to deteriorate. But that does not stop New Democracy from leading PASOK by four points. The mess of PASOK, it seems, says a lot about New Democracy’s advantage. Greek voters must feel a bit like the legendary owner of the cramped little hut who complained to the late Albanian dictator Enver Hoxha about his condition. Hoxha advised the man to invite his chicken, goat, cow and donkey to live all under the same roof. When coexistence had become intolerable, Hoxha advised the hut owner to take out the donkey. Thus, the owner was relieved. To be sure, governments know their Hoxha well. That includes the conservative administration, which has merely vowed not to add more animals in the already-packed hut. Karamanlis knows the relief is false and temporary, so it is unlikely to yield fruit for his party. That explains his remarks that «in one year, if nothing goes seriously wrong, we will have the first positive results which will give us the feeling that things are taking off.» Optimism of this sort is not typical of Karamanlis. He knows that cultivating big expectations can easily lead to disappointment.