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Greece weighs its new role in European Community

Greece, the new partner in the firm of Europe, NATO, & Western democracy, is mulling over an important question: Are we getting what we want out of our new partners -- or being used?

The answer is as important to the Western alliance as it is to Greece. The 132,608 square kilometers of peninsula and island are vital, strategic property for NATO. The 9.4 million Greeks are a strong new consumer market for the other nine EC countries. And -- more abstract but just as important -- the birthplace of democracy is still susceptible to undemocratic pressures from right and left.

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The recent revelation by Defense Minister Evangelos Averoff-Tossitas that a Putsch was narrowly snuffed out June 1 testifies, at least, to the lingering fear of a right-wing coup. Greece emerged from military dictatorship only in 1974. However, what happened June 1, says the government, was more conspiracy than actual threat and originated with a group of retired Army officers.

The June 2 bombing of two of Athens' leading department stores by a group calling itself the Revolutionary Anticapitalist Initiative exemplifies the violent threat from the left.

Political observers say this and previous bombings almost surely are being carried out by left-wing extremists. The two women arrested in connection with this attack were known for their leftist ties, Greek authorities say.

Neither of the fringes, however, have a substantial following in the arena of electoral politics. The far right is not very active politically, having joined forces for the most part with President Constantine Caramanlis and Prime Minister George Rallis, who now hold power in Athens with a center- right government.

The nonextremist left is led by radical Socialist Andreas Papandreou, son of a former prime minister. Mr. Papandreou, who has threatened to break EC and NATO bonds and to boot the four American bases out of Crete and Attiki, wants to become prime minister in this year's parliamentary elections, which are likely to be held next fall.

Lately, Mr. Papandreou has tried to compare his political stands with those of Socialist President Francois Mitterrand of France -- a comparison that some observers say amounts to political expediency on Papandreou's part and that others say represents his genuine moderation. In the past, Mr. Papandreou had been highly critical of moderate European socialists such as Mitterrand.

In the middle is Mr. Rallis, an unassuming, lawyer- turned-politician who has guided the republic into the EC, and back into NATO, and until recently, had been pressing Washington for an agreement by June 18 over the status of the US bases. Mr. Rallis is a committed democrat who has, for instance, made sure that Mr. Papandreou's statements are covered on the state-owned television network and who allows considerable dissent within his own New Democracy Party.

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"We are making the changes without turmoil," Mr. Rallis recently told the Monitor.

The prime minister argues, moreover, that the New Democrats actually are much closer to Mr. Mitterrrand than are Mr. Papandreou's Panhellenic Socialists. But whether Mr. Rallis's government stays in power -- and Greece consequently follows the center line -- depends to a great extent on how Greek voters perceive the following key issues:

* Is the Economy improving and benefiting from the new EC membership?

* Is the US-bases agreement advantageous to Greece?

* Are Turkish relations improving or deteriorating?

* Is Soviet aggression really a threat to Eastern Europe and the Middle East -- both areas with which the Greeks have strong trade and cultural links?

Leading students of Greek politics say already there are some apparent benefits being realized in the six-month-old EC membership, especially among cattle ranchers and olive- oil producers.

But negotiations between American and Greek officials on the US bases ended in disagreement June 12 and are to be postponed until November. Greece is seeking a US pledge that the bases will be used only for NATO purposes and not for a rapid deployment force, a pledge that it will strive to maintain a 7-to-10 Greek-Turkish military balance, a guarantee of Greece's territorial integrity, and a US payment of $700 million over four years.

Lately the bargaining over these points intensified and the government expressed some doubts over whether agreement would be reached. The decision to postpone the discussions came after American replies to Greek conditions were considered unacceptable -- especially regarding the Greek demand for electronic communications equipment. Meanwhile, protests over Greece's reentry into NATO last fall have died off.

In general, Greek-Turkish relations have been on the up- swing. The questions of Aegean air space and of intercommunal relations in Cyprus remain unresolved. But aside from some minor setbacks such as recent Turkish overflights in Cyprus and Turkish buzzing of Greek warships in the Aegean, the atmosphere is good. Mr. Papandreou, however, is highly critical of the Turks, often playing on the anti-Turkish sentiments of the electorate.

Political observers also note that Greeks are closely watching Poland, Afghanistan, and the Lebanese crisis to see whether the Soviets react. A Soviet military move would hurt the Greek left.

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