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Sex and politics get an overhaul in Greece: The view from Athens

04/07/2003 13:51
Greek summers are rarely without drama. As temperatures soar, so also do passions, which the media then faithfully record in giant front-page headlines.

This week, as the mercury nudged 42C, it was Prime Minister Costas Simitis who roused feelings by announcing a radical shake-up of his ruling socialist party, Pasok.

The normally low-key leader was taking the "biggest risk" of his political career in demanding the resignation of the party's entire executive bureau, proclaimed Ta Nea . "With a move this surprising, which entails a huge political risk, Mr Simitis is attempting a 'new beginning' in preparation for (next spring's general) election," said the left-leaning daily. "The one sure thing is that he has showed his intention to move ahead with a radical overhaul . . . without being constrained by internal party balancing acts." The mass-selling Eleftherotypia predicted that these sweeping changes would be repeated in a major government reshuffle. And with his party trailing eight points behind the conservative opposition in the latest opinion poll, the premier was clearly determined to make the sort of changes that would bring Pasok closer to Europe's other social democratic parties, it said.

For once the rightwing papers agreed. The overhaul, said several conservative dailies, marked the onset of a civil war between old-school political barons and Mr Simitis's fellow modernisers.

"It's a big wager," said Kathimerini , the authoritative conservative daily. "The forced resignation of (the veteran) Costas Laliotis as secretary-general was highly symbolic. No other member of the socialists' old guard personifies Pasok's 30-year course in quite the same way as Mr Laliotis. His removal accentuates Mr Simitis's message that he intends to bury the old Pasok."

By making the changes, Mr Simitis - who has been tipped to succeed Romano Prodi as president of the European commission - was paving the way for George Papandreou, the foreign minister, to become Pasok's next leader, said Eleftheros Typos , the biggest-selling daily of the right.

Athens is set to join Pasok in the queue for a revamp, reported Eleftherotypia, in preparation for next summer's Olympics. The Greek environment ministry had put euros 225m (pounds 155m) aside just to renovate buildings, the paper said in a front-page splash. "Some 172,000 trees and 1,650,000 bushes will be planted and all advertising billboards will be withdrawn," it said. "It will be the biggest facelift that the Greek capital has ever had."

As part of the clean-up, work on the 1.6-mile walkway linking all Athens' major sites in a unique archeological park is entering its final phase, the paper said. And those motorists who breached traffic regulations around the archeological zone will face action, too, with undercover policemen patrolling the walkway on the lookout for offending drivers.

With change the order of the day, Kathimerini dedicated gallons of ink to the opening of a new wing at one of Athens' concert halls. The mostly subterranean extension, it said, was not only "unique in Europe", but was "comparable only to the Lincoln Centre in New York". For Greek opera buffs, however, "the greatest surprise was that, although the new section is mostly below ground, it is constructed so as to allow in plenty of sunlight, especially in the new great hall, which has a seating capacity of 1,750 people."

Every newspaper carried front-page stories on Athens' biggest change of all: getting brothels and prostitutes to register for licences before the games. The drive had unleashed a "holy fury", Eleftherotypia reported. "Sex tourism doesn't honour Greece," thundered the rightwing daily Apoyeymatini on its front page. The paper reported that the the spiritual leader of the Greek church had accused the mayor of Athens of encouraging prostitution, though the mayor responded that the church was getting the wrong end of the stick. Nevertheless, the church made it clear that no new brothels should be allowed to open for the Olympics, "as this was incompatible with the spirit of the Greeks".

But Ethnos said sex-for-sale would actually fit in well with the ancient Greek ethos. "Wherever spectators gathered there was a market and sex workers were among those who rushed to serve it, whether at the Olympic games or religious festivals," it said. Helena Smith

Without constraint . . . the Greek prime minister, Costas Simitis, is determined to bring his party in line