Letter from Thessaloniki

An abstract question: Could some secret intelligence service, responsible for spying and recruiting agents abroad, possibly be behind this virtually unprecedented suicide attempt by some Greek government official involved in an erotic tryst – say, former Culture Ministry general secretary Christos Zachopoulos? Supposing that such a thing could be the case here, let’s propose a practical answer to this hypothetical question. Since we have heard – and read – in the past few weeks so many absurd «truths» on this affair, why not assume that some foreign power was interested in using a political sex story to destabilize the Greek government? Since time immemorial, security services have used the mating game to gain access to interesting figures. Isn’t it the fourth book of Moses that mentions the story of God ordering Moses to send forth men into the land of Canaan and to bring back intelligence? And wasn’t a woman of loose morals by the name of Rahab involved in this story? And what about Delilah? The same goes for sex as well. Aren’t our notions about what constitutes correct sexual behavior based on religious texts too? Now, to be sure Evi Tsekou – an assistant to the ex-public official Christos Zachopoulos, and the center of the scandal, now in custody at Korydallos Prison – is no Mata Hari. And thank goodness, the affair has obviously nothing to do with foreign powers. Yet. By the way, it does not have anything to do with goodness either. Yet who wants a Mata Hari? At least not East Germany’s Markus Wolf, modern history’s most brilliant spymaster of communism, who in his autobiography «Man Without a Face» commented: «This Dutchwoman who performed useful services for Germany in the First World War was an awful spy and was tried and shot by the French in 1917. I would not have kept her on my payroll.» So let’s stick to this weird hypothetical account of the stereotype of the «spy for love.» In all probability, had the Greek press only thought of it, our journalists could have had a field day with such a story. But they didn’t. In his autobiography, the late Markus «Mischa» Wolf (January 19, 1923 – November 9, 2006 ), chief of the Stasi’s foreign espionage directorate, wrote: «In this century, women began to be useful to intelligence agencies in roles other than as kindhearted prostitutes and seductresses. They took over the formerly male jobs as secretaries to important figures and, with the rise of feminism became secretaries of state themselves, advisers to politicians, senior academics and bearers of state secrets. So it was not surprising that the male counterpart to Mata Hari should come along, the Romeo spy.» In the 1960s I lived in Berlin as a student. Federal Germany began life after the Second World War as a graveyard in which almost every city had been reduced to rubble, and almost every institution and political resource was contaminated by complicity in the crimes of National Socialism. At the time, the postwar shortage of men was keenly felt and not only in the streets and the coffee shops where one could see all those elderly «Kriegswitwen,» the war widows who made up a big part of the city’s population. It was also keenly felt among lonely, middle-aged secretaries yearning for a partner. The gap was dutifully filled with eligible bachelors from East Germany – Stasi spies. «The way that it usually worked was like this: When we sent a young male agent to the West with a specific espionage task, we would say to him; ‘OK, you are likely to have a private life like anybody else, but if you do happen on a secretary, and a well-placed one at that, so much the better.’ The rest was up to him. Contrary to the wilder rumors, they were not schooled in the ars amatoria back in East Berlin. Some were better than others at this sort of thing.» (From M. Wolf’s «Man Without a Face,» Random House). Sex, spying and politics – sometimes all of them together – played a major role in most of the top stories in the international press in 2007 as well. At any given moment in a society’s life, there are certain hot buttons that a political party or a politician can push to get a predictably hot response. Rumors that fit into such a conspiracy theory bracket whispers all over the weekend that high-ranking politicians from both New Democracy and PASOK plotted a re-creation of themselves and of their parties. Furthermore, current politicians have started to contemplate something that up to now has seemed unthinkable: a coalition. Now back to Wolf’s country and some parallels to us. In Germany, every government since the Federal Republic was founded has been a coalition. This coalition has usually been an arrangement between the conservative Christian Democrats and the tiny Free Democratic Party (aka the Liberals). Up until some six months ago, there was a possibility that the same could happen between PASOK and the Coalition of the Radical Left (SYRIZA). Yet, a so-called «grand coalition» between New Democracy and PASOK also seems possible after the last scandals and polls should new elections be proclaimed. It happened in Germany in 1966. However, the elections in the autumn of 1969 transformed the politics of coalition once again, when the Social Democratic Party picked up enough seats to secure a slim majority in parliament by going into coalition with the Free Democratic Party. In the fallout from the Zachopoulos scandal, most agree that Greek politics will never be the same again. And as opposition seems to be coming at the present situation from within the two big parties themselves, new organizations and groupings of elected people are expected to appear. Like I said, this is all hypothetical.