For most world leaders the events of the previous weeks have been a source of worry and concern. However, for Kostas Karamanlis, the leader of Greece’s ruling New Democracy conservatives the economic crisis has provided a welcome relief from the constant critical attention by the nation's media.
Despite winning re - election just 13 months ago Greece’s conservatives have struggled to keep to their political agenda amidst a seemingly endless stream of finance and influence peddling scandals. Yet, for Greek voters the latest scandal may be just one too many, especially as it involves allegations of improper dealings at the very highest echelons of government.
The latest controversy revolves around the attempts by the Greek Orthodox monastery of Vatopedi to aquire a 40 million euro conference facility in Athens earlier this year. In exchange for the facility ,which was built as part of the Athens 2004 Olympic Games, the monastery offered Lake Vistonida, a protected wildlife reserve in northern Greece in exchange.
The high profile sale triggered an investigation by local media into the deal which has produced a series of long list of legal irregularities and a disturbing pattern of corruption in which the monks were given large tracts of land under what can best be described as dubious circumstances. The fact that the church then tried to sell back to the Greek state the land which it had recently been given has served to inflame popular anger against the government.
Even the usually high esteem in which the Greek Orthodox church is held in this deeply religious Balkan nation has been affected. The role of the Abbot Efraim, leader of the Vatopedi monastery and his connection with leading members of parliament, including government spokesman, Theodoros Rousopoulos has drawn the ire of many politicians and commentators across the political spectrum.
In addition the case has, according to many in the Greek media brought to light the complex web of patron-client relationships that link the Greek state and the Orthodox church.
The two public prosecutors, Ilias Koliousis and Eleni Sotiropoulou assigned to investigate the case resigned yesterday due to what they term political intervention by the government. In their letter of resignation they said that their investigation had uncovered evidence that implicated two deputy ministers in the case which is alleged to have cost taxpayers up to 100 million euros.
The dramatic developments in the Vatopedi case have merely added to the growing sense of distrust the many ordinary Greeks feel towards the New Democracy administration. The change in mood has been reflected in the steady drop of the party in recent opinion polls, triggering talk of possible elections.
According to the opposition left-wing PASOK party the current scandal is merely the 45th to come to light during the government’s 54 months in power. It should be noted that despite numerous accusations of corruption, bribery and abuse of power there has not been a single arrest or conviction of a member of the ruling conservative party.
Given the government's narrow one - seat majority and growing unrest over worsening economic conditions the chances that New Democracy will see out its second term seem slim.