Greece Wants to Be European despite the Sensitive Issue of Macedonia, Athens Seeks Better Relations with Other EU Member States

Article excerpt

`I WILL tell you something," a leading political economist in Athens said after an hour of talk at a busy downtown cafe. "The sense of belonging is the most important Greek issue. Our unanswered question is, Do we belong to Europe or not?"

In the fifth month of the Papandreou regime in Athens, the government is quietly attempting to go the way of Europe. Pragmatism is in. Gone is the nationalist rhetoric that many feel went out of control during the Mitsotakis regime, when angry crowds in Thessaloniki rallied against international recognition of the former Yugoslav republic of Macedonia, and a young radical was put on trial for stating that Alexander the Great was a ruthless conqueror.

The leader of the opposition New Democrats, Miltiadhis Evert, has broken with Greek political tradition by saying in parliament in late January that his party would "cooperate" with the ruling Socialists in attempting to meet European Union fiscal demands.

On the still ultrasensitive issue of Macedonia, diplomatic sources say Prime Minister Andreas Papandreou is looking for a way to settle the dispute. Through June, Athens has the rotating presidency of the EU. And while Greece, popularly pro-Serb, has opposed European military action in Bosnia, there is pride here that Athens has not used the presidency as a platform for its own problems.

But the new pragmatism hides much insecurity. There is palpable worry about ethnic instability in Albania, nervousness about a new EU customs union with Turkey set for later this year, and a feeling among many that its European partners should have leaned harder on Kiro Gligorov, president of Macedonia, to rename Macedonia "Skopje." Greeks believe the name Macedonia implies territorial ambitions on Greek land. Some officials say privately they feel betrayed by Europe's position on Macedonia, which one described as "a test of friendship. …