Populism hijacks serious debate

The hasty backlash from conservative officials against PASOK’s nomination of Gulbeyaz Karahasan, a Greek Muslim, for the Drama-Kavala-Xanthi prefecture in the October polls – not least the comments by Macedonia-Thrace Minister Giorgos Kalatzis, who seemed to question Karahasan’s loyalty to Greece – left no room for a more cautious approach to the issue. Unfortunately, the debate was hijacked by verbal excesses and superficial arguments cheering or condemning George Papandreou’s choice. What ought to be discussed is the true motive behind the PASOK leader’s decision, assuming of course that it was more than a mere public relations exercise in view of the coming elections. There is no room for political expediency. Whether we like it or not, a number of factors render Thrace an extremely sensitive area: The large number of Muslim citizens living there; damaging government policies dealing with the social status of the minority; policies that indirectly help to foster hardline groups in both the Christian and the minority population; Ankara’s systematic interference through the Komotini consulate; the opportunistic, petty political alliances that form during election time; and the lack of consistent plans by successive Greek governments to develop the Thracian municipalities. As a result, Thrace is included in the agenda of the country’s so-called national issues. It is a first-class national failure. So what’s the ultimate objective of Papandreou’s decision? Does he really know what the situation is like in Thrace? And what about the conservative (as well as Socialist) critics who have lashed out against Karahasan’s nomination? Do they have any proposals for dealing with the problems that afflict the region? True to form, Greece’s political stars have met a substantial political issue with silence, or else a superficial, cost-free exchange of barbs and accusations.