Greeks Campaign for Office Publicly and With Passion

THROUGHOUT central Athens, outdoor loudspeakers thunder all day and well into the night, often with the kind of traditional Greek music much of the world has recognized since Zorba the Greek.

Spliced with political statements, the music is linked to the posters and billboards that seem to cover nearly every square inch of outdoor space, even clinging to the rare tree and more common parking meter pole.

All this combines with the gargantuan outdoor rallies that have been organized across Greece in the last month and that will culminate here tonight. A rally by the ruling New Democracy party is expected to draw several hundred thousand supporters.

This is political campaigning Greek style. At a time when elections in many other Western democracies can go on unnoticed by the casual visitor, the very public and passionate tenor of a Greek campaign can seem surprising, even quaint. Explanations range from the good climate, which encourages outdoor rallies, to the Greek personality, which is loudly patriotic. But history and economics also play a role.

Many Greeks still remember affectionately the first mass political rallies in the mid-1970s that followed the end of military dictatorship. More important still, tens of thousands of jobs, from janitorial positions to company presidencies, will change hands if the opposition Socialist party returns to power as expected, providing strong incentive to get involved.

What most Greeks do not seem to realize is that the poster-plastering is illegal. City officials say they haven't the resources to stop the pollution and are reluctant to take action that could be construed as favoritism. In truth, the city government is run by the same political parties causing the mess.

Except one. Political Spring, a new reformist party, says it is doing its best to curb its supporters' postering. ``All this littering and pounding of old slogans is really the two main parties trying to keep this a game between themselves,'' says John Olympios, a strategist with Political Spring. ``We think Greeks today want something more intelligent.''

Still, not everyone will be happy if the mass rallies die out. ``I'm already a little nostalgic,'' says Nicos Christodoulakis, a university economist who has to work with a booming loudspeaker out his office window. ``For those of us who lived through the military dictatorship, the big rallies were a mass ceremony to democracy.''

But if the youths hawking pamphlets are any harbinger, he needn't worry just yet. As sidewalk campaign booths closed down one recent night, a street sweeper passed by, sucking up layers of political detritus in its path. Then the driver slowed to allow an old communist, a stack of posters in one hand and a bucket of pasty water in the other, to cross the street.

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