New police IDs cause controversy
In the wake of Prime Minister Constantine Simitis's announcement that new police ID cards will not list the bearer's religious beliefs along with other sensitive personal data, Archbishop of Athens and All Greece Christodoulos declared a "relentless struggle" against the government and other bishops warned of imminent social unrest.
All Greek citizens over the age of 15 are obliged to carry the cards, and the issue has dominated Greek social and political life for the last two weeks.
The controversy puts in question church-state relations and the late implementation of three-year old legislation that makes optional the listing of religion, nationality, occupation and the particulars of spousal information. The measure holds that these reflect protected and private aspects of citizens' identities.
Representatives of the Greek Orthodox Church were very dissatisfied with the Prime Minister's decision, claiming they were misled by previous government pledges to discuss the matter with the Church. The opposition New Democracy Party accused Simitis of having "tricked the Church" and warned of a "social rift."
This controversy comes at a time when the government needs wide social consensus in order to implement the strict policies required to enter the European Monetary Union, while at the same time preparing for the 2004 Athens Olympic Games.
At a press conference following a meeting of the 'Holy Synod' which examined the government's decision, Archbishop Christodoulos said the Church will use "every legal means" at its disposal to convince the government to change its mind and pursue a "relentless struggle." His statement, though, may cause exactly the opposite of the intended results.
It is clear, however, that church-state relations will have to be redefined, considering that the Greek Orthodox Church enjoys a highly influential and independent position in Greek social and political life.
NATO's "Dynamic Mix 2000"
The Greek participation in "Dynamic Mix 2000," NATO's largest military exercise this year, began on Tuesday 5 May and will last until 10 June. The exercise's aim is to enhance co-operation between NATO members involved in maintaining peace in the region.
Air and naval forces of 12 NATO members have come together under the alliance's new structure, employing new regional command centres at Larissa and Tyrnavos in Central Greece. Naval vessels have sailed into the Souda harbour NATO base in western Crete. More than 10,500 officers and troops, 65 naval vessels and 293 aircraft will be engaged in the operations in Greece, while naval exercises will also be held in Turkey and smaller air operations will take place in Italy.
In a test of Greek-Turkish relations, 12 Turkish F-16 fighter jets are stationed at the New Anchialos base near Volos and have flown joint sorties over the Aegean with their Greek opposite numbers. In the past, Turkish fighter jets have often violated Greek airspace and have illegally entered the Athens Flight Information Region (FIR). The Greek Defence Minister said that all Turkish military aircraft which failed to provide flight plans would be intercepted, a decision that almost brought the exercise to a deadlock because Turkey was initially reluctant to provide advance flight plans for planes entering the Athens FIR.
Foreign affairs roundup
On Saturday 20 May, Archbishop of Athens and All Greece Christodoulos began a six-day visit to Romania at the invitation of the country's Orthodox Church leadership. Christodoulos toured monasteries in the country, met with Greek students and visited the Greek Cultural Centre in Bucharest.
The next day, in Tirana, a protocol of assistance was signed between the heads of ERA, Greece's state-run radio network, and the Albanian public radio network. ERA Director Giannis Tzannetakos represented the Greek side, while Martin Leka represented Albanian public radio. Among other provisions, the agreement provides a Greek grant of GRD 50 million (USD 139,500) to the Albanian broadcaster for the purchase of equipment. It also provides for cross-border co-operation between the two state radio networks' affiliates: the ERA station on the island of Corfu will partner with an Albanian station in the south-western Albanian town of Gjirocasterin, while the station in Florina will work with their Albanian counterparts in the south-eastern town of Korce.
On 21 May, Foreign Minister George Papandreou met with his counterparts from Italy, Albania, Bosnia-Hercegovina, Croatia and Slovenia at the Ancona Conference in Italy, which highlighted the leading roles of Italy and Greece in the growth and stability of the region around the Adriatic and Ionian islands. Key agenda issues included democracy, black-market economies, illegal immigration, rising crime, political instability and smuggling. The "Ancona Declaration" adopted at the end of the conference vowed to co-ordinate police efforts to stamp-out crime and forge a solid platform for future investment. The Greek Foreign Minister stressed that "the initiative is within the more general framework of Greek foreign policy of promoting stability in the Balkans and the Mediterranean."
Czech Prime Minister Miloš Zeman arrived in Athens on Thursday 25 May for a three-day official visit in which he will hold talks with President Kostis Stefanopoulos, Prime Minister Constantine Simitis and a number of political party leaders.
The same day, Foreign Minister Papandreou met with US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright. The two discussed developments in the Balkans and focused particularly on Kosovo and Yugoslavia. The meeting took place on the sidelines of the NATO Foreign Ministers' meeting in Florence.
A strong earthquake, measuring 6.0 on the Richter scale, struck the southern region of Peloponnese at 0840 on Wednesday 24 May. Seismologists said there was no cause for alarm, but in the early hours of Friday 26 May two more earthquakes, recorded at 5.3 and 4.6 in the northwest Greece's Ionian Sea, raised concerns about a new chain of earthquakes similar to the one of September 1999.
Maria Vidali, 29 May 2000