- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 14, 2000

First of two parts.
ATHENS, Greece.
Last week's assassination of a British military attache, by a domestic terrorist group that has eluded the Greek
police for a quarter-century, severely embarrassed Athens in the midst of protesting U.S. charges it is soft on terrorism.
The assassination opened a troubling but not unmendable pothole in the path of Greece's ambitious economic and political initiatives that promise a new golden age of Greek influence and prosperity in the Eastern Mediterranean.
For Greek business interests and government officials are positioning the Hellenic Republic to provide a hub for economic development in neighboring Balkan states. These notably include Bulgaria and Romania, recently emerged from decades of communist rule, and awaiting admission to the European Union.
At present, Greece is the Balkan region's sole EU member, has gone through a series of fiscal reforms to reduce public debt and inflation, and awaits admission of its drachma to the European Monetary Union. (Greece now is the only EU state lacking a common border with another EU member country.)
Athens, a sun-drenched, vibrant center of an economy dominated by service industries such as shipping, banking and communications, surges with traffic and throngs of people from all over the world in its busy downtown area.
As the region's most developed democracy, Greece also has begun coping with the problems of multiculturalism usually characteristic of much larger countries. Immigrants, a third of them Albanian, account for 10 percent of Greece's 11 million people.
There now are thousands of Muslims in Athens, where the government is seeking land suitable for a mosque. And a new issue has arisen between the government and the established Orthodox Church over a proposal to eliminate religious information from Greek identification cards.
Greece has reversed its past opposition to Turkish admission to the European Union, hoping the EU will provide a context of rules in which longstanding issues between the two states can be worked out. Greece has offered advice to facilitate Turkey's EU application. (To qualify, Turkey must fulfill EU requirements on human rights and treatment of minorities, and on budget and currency stability.)
Greek officials and banking, telecommunications and other business interests also are investing in and assisting nearby Romania and Bulgaria, which must complete some of the same fiscal and other reforms Greece has undergone as the price of full EU membership. There are hopes of securing funds available for developing EU border areas to build two north-south highways through Eastern Europe, which will tie the potentially lucrative Balkans market more tightly to Greece, with its ports at Thessaloniki and Piraeus, and the huge Greek-owned merchant shipping fleet.
All this takes place in the walk-up to the 2004 summer Olympics, which are to return to their original Greek homeland for the first time in more than a century.
Planning for the large influx of an additional 300,000 visitors (Greece already receives more than 10 million travelers a year) is prompting Greece to expedite improvements in infrastructure and transportation that also will support its long-term economic goals in the region.
Athens has a sparkling new subway system it plans to expand. A vast new, state-of-the-art, airport will open next year, which will immediately raise capacity to 16 million travelers and will be capable of expanding in stages to more than triple that number. A broad new highway is to be built, linking the airport with Athens. Jorg Schill, the German CEO of the new Athens Airport, said the facility will improve security: At the present airport, about 15 percent of all luggage is X-rayed. "The new airport will be able to X-ray every piece of baggage," he vowed.
Andreas Christodoulides, director general of the Athens News Agency, disputed the characterization of U.S. congressional and State Department reports about the inadequacy of Greek cooperation against terrorism. "The real problem with the November 17 [Greek terrorist group] is that the Greek police aren't able to find them," not that they are unwilling to do so. The group is said to be very small; even its leadership is unknown. Off the record, one Greek official compared police inability to track down the terror group to the Unabomber case in America, broken only when the culprit's brother came forward and volunteered information.
The November 17 group issued a communique after the assassination last Thursday, labeling the killing an act of revenge for Britain's role in last year's "barbaric" bombing of Yugoslavia.
The mainstream Greek newspaper Kathimerini ran a Page One story in its June 10-11 weekend edition headlined, "War on terrorism now a priority." Inside, an editorial echoed the dismay of government officials and citizens alike: "The hard men have come back out of the darkness … to haunt us after our repeated denials that we have a problem with terrorism." The newspaper also said unique factors making the Greek terrorists elusive are "that they have remained small and highly secretive… .they never had any aims of fomenting revolution, so they never took the risk of recruiting new members and thus endangering their own security."
Mr. Christodoulides also said that "Greece's open borders and recent waves of refugee immigrants also included some criminal elements."
But he observed that the coming Olympics "gave an opportunity to make changes more quickly" in Greece's economic structure "to change the way of life, to mix. It is a turning point for society."

Next: National security policies and how they undergird the new economic potential.


Benjamin P. Tyree is deputy editor of the Commentary pages of The Washington Times. He visited Greece last week under the aegis of the American Journalism Foundation.

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