Obituary: Andreas Papandreou
Monday 24 June 1996
In a political system in which charisma is all-important, he was endowed with it in abundance. He himself revealed that when he was admitted to Harefield Hospital, in Cambridgeshire, in 1988 for treatment of the heart complaint that plagued his later years he was showered with telegrams from devoted supporters offering their hearts for transplantation. Few political leaders in Greece have commanded as much loyalty from supporters, or aroused such execration on the part of opponents.
For all his modernising rhetoric, Andreas Papandreou was very much a politician in the traditional Greek mould. He came from a political family and showed no qualms about appointing his own son, George, to a key cabinet post in his own government. He created his own party, Pasok (Pan- Hellenic Socialist Movement), which was held together by the force of his own personality and which he led in a distinctively authoritarian fashion. He clung to power in advanced old age. Patronage and rouspheti, the reciprocal dispensation of favours, continued to underpin the political system. All that changed in this respect was that, whereas patronage had hitherto been dispensed by individual deputies, under Pasok it was tightly controlled by the party machine over which Papandreou himself maintained a firm grip. The ultimate purpose of political power continued to be to capture the machinery of government so as to reward voters cum clients.
Papandreou was born in 1919, the son by his first marriage of George Papandreou, who was himself twice prime minister. In 1938, during the quasi-Fascist Metaxas dictatorship, Andreas Papandreou, while a student at the University of Athens, was arrested for purported Trotskyism. Following representations by his father, he was allowed to leave for the US. There he studied economics at Harvard, became a US citizen and served briefly in the US Navy. After the Second World War he acquired a formidable reputation as an academic economist, teaching at the universities of Minnesota and California (Berkeley), where he became chairman of the Department of Economics. In 1951 he married as his second wife Margaret Chant, with whom he had three sons and a daughter.
In 1961 he was invited to return to Greece to serve as director of the newly founded Centre for Economic Research and Planning by the conservative prime minister, Constantine Karamanlis, the other dominant figure in Greek politics during the past 40 years. Soon after his return to Greece his father became prime minister for the second time, heading a centrist government. In the 1964 election the younger Papandreou himself entered parliament as a deputy for Achaia, his father's birthplace, and was appointed Minister to the Prime Minister and subsequently Alternate Minister of Co-ordination, a key economic ministry.
In the hermetic Athenian "political world", Andreas Papandreou's meteoric rise to high office led to charges that he was a "parachutist". Numerous feathers were ruffled, not least among those who aspired to eventual leadership of the Centre Union and who saw in the younger Papandreou a serious rival for the eventual succession to his father, at that time 76. (Age has never been an obstacle to political advancement in Greece and politics have a strong dynastic element.)
During the political turmoil of 1965-67 that followed the downfall of his father's government, Andreas Papandreou emerged as the highly visible leader of a "centre left" grouping within the Centre Union. At the same time he was dogged by allegations that he had been involved in a "Nasserite" conspiracy in the army. It was fear that George Papandreou might be swept back to office in elections scheduled for May 1967, in which case his son might have been expected to be the real power in the new government, that was one of the factors that precipitated the Colonels' coup of 21 April 1967.
The younger Papandreou was immediately arrested and his father, who died shortly afterwards, placed under house arrest. Andreas Papandreou was subsequently allowed to leave the country, after pressure mobilised by fellow economists and applied at the highest levels of the US government. J.K. Galbraith has recorded that President Johnson told "those Greek bastards [the Colonels] to lay off that son-of-a-bitch [Papandreou] - whoever he is". Papandreou settled first in Sweden and then Canada.
While in exile he rapidly moved away from the basically social democratic views that he had espoused in Greece towards the much more radical national liberationist views found in the Third World. The bitterness and frustration he felt at the crudely interventionist American role in Greece before the coup and the aid and comfort the US were prepared to give to a regime at once absurd, brutal, incompetent and unpopular found expression in Democracy at Gunpoint (1971). Likewise he was disillusioned by the pusillanimous policy of Nato and the EEC towards the first military dictatorship to be established in Europe since the Second World War.
This new radicalism was reflected in Papandreou's foundation of an anti- Colonels resistance group, PAK (Panhellenic Liberation Movement). But his call for armed resistance to overthrow the junta and the establishment of a "democratic, socialist but not social democratic" Greece found little echo in Greece and his maximalist line inhibited the formation of a common anti-dictatorship front among Greek exiles.
Following the downfall of the Colonels' regime in 1974, Papandreou announced the formation of Pasok, based on his own PAK and another anti- dictatorship group, Democratic Defence. In combining fiery socialist rhetoric with a heady nationalism directed principally against Turkey, Papandreou hit on a winning formula. He demonstrated an uncanny ability to articulate the aspirations and, perhaps more significantly, the fears, resentments and frustrations of a significant proportion of the electorate.
Uniquely for a party outside the far left, Pasok rapidly built up a country- wide organisational structure. But, despite Pasok's seemingly democratic structures, Papandreou ruled the "movement" in a thoroughly autocratic fashion. Dissidents, including almost all those who entered Pasok from Democratic Defence, were summarily expelled or, as Pasok jargon had it, "placed themselves outside the movement".
Papandreou's "short march" to power began in 1974 when Pasok secured a 14 per cent share of the vote and ended when in October 1981 he swept to power with a 48 per cent share of the vote. During this seven-year period and against the background of the disintegration of the traditional centre, Papandreou significantly toned down the radical and initially Marxist-inspired rhetoric of Pasok, just as he shed the "Zhivago" or polo- necked sweater for a more respectable collar and tie. The heady mix of nationalism, populist demagogy and socialist rhetoric, encapsulated in the slogan "Allagi" ("Change"), gave Papandreou one of the largest pluralities in post-war Greek political history and Greece its first socialist government.
Once in power Papandreou fell far short of delivering his promise of radical social transformation and a decisive break with the cycle of dependence that had characterised the history of the Greek state. Attempts to introduce socialism, albeit in the idiosyncratic form espoused by Papandreou, in a country in which some 50 per cent of the workforce is working on its own account and in which the "black economy" represents some 40 per cent of all economic activity were perhaps doomed to fail from the outset.
Critics wrote off the 1980s as the "lost decade" but Papandreou did introduce some long overdue reforms. Civil marriage was introduced; changes in family law improved the status of women; the wartime resistance was recognised; Communist refugees who had fled to the Eastern bloc at the end of the civil war were allowed to return (even if the Slav Macedonians remained out in the cold). In general those who had been marginalised by the post-civil war anti-Communist state ceased to be second-class citizens. These were by no means negligible achievements. Papandreou also established a national health service but, like many of his compatriots, himself preferred to seek medical treatment abroad.
Much as he evidently, and successfully, enjoyed baiting his European and American partners, and for all his bitter criticism of the organisations, there was never any realistic prospect of Greece's withdrawal from Nato or the EC, not least because Greece, which had joined the EC early in 1981, soon became a principal beneficiary of EC subsidies. Ironically, indeed, it was subventions from the EC that helped Papandreou maintain his grip on power.
He secured a second term in 1985 with a comfortable 46 per cent share of the vote. But a price had to be paid for the economic profligacy of the first Pasok administration in the form of a harsh programme of belt- tightening. The government's unpopularity was exacerbated by scandals which reached the highest levels of government; by the prime minister's serious health problems; and by the abandonment of his wife of 30 years for Dimitra ("Mimi") Liani, an Olympic Airways stewardess barely half his age. These and other factors contributed to his defeat in the election of 1989.
But although he was beset by a sea of troubles that would have destroyed a less nimble politician Papandreou's share of the vote in the three elections that ensued in 1989-90 never fell below 39 per cent. Once out of office he was indicted on charges of telephone-tapping and corruption. He was acquitted, albeit by a narrow majority.
Perhaps the greatest testimony to Papandreou's charisma was his political resurrection in 1993 when his share of the vote, at 47 per cent, was only marginally less than at the time of his great triumph of 1981. By this time he had more or less reverted to the social- democratic views that he had espoused during the mid-1960s and, once in power, he gave his blessing to serious, and painful, efforts to bring the economy under control. But he was manifestly frail and remote, unable to work for more than few hours a day, and power was increasingly centred on Dimitri Liani, who controlled access to the prime minister, and a small camarilla of cronies. Papandreou made no serious effort to address the succession question and dissent within the ranks of Pasok came into the open, as potential candidates for the leadership began to stake out their claims.
A man of considerable personal charm, Andreas Papandreou to the end remained, in essence, a palaiokommatikos, an old-fashioned political fixer, albeit a supremely adroit one and one who came packaged in seductive new wrappings. During his years in office the cause of political modernisation in Greece was not advanced.
Some years before Andreas Papandreou became prime minister of Greece in 1981 I visited him for the first time at his pleasantly chaotic, old- fashioned home in Kastri, the Hampstead of Athens, writes John Torode. He was, appropriately enough, a hospitable, slightly scruffy academic figure wearing an old tweed jacket.
At that time he was widely regarded as some sort of Third World Marxist monster, flirting with the PLO, Colonel Gaddafi and the East German intelligence services. He was building his Pan-Hellenic Socialist Party on the basis of anti-American, anti-EEC rhetoric.
At the end of a splendidly gossipy afternoon during which he had discussed American politics with an informed an amused detachment, I asked him which of his many books he was most proud of. First he pulled from his untidy shelves a copy of Democracy at Gunpoint, a perhaps self-serving account of his opposition role during the dictatorship of the Greek colonels. But then he produced another volume. It was Fundamentals of Model Construction in Microeconomics (1961), one of the number of theoretical tomes he had written. This, he said, was his real masterwork.
American friends more qualified than I told me subsequently that it was a solid mainstream book of the sort that might have been written by any solid mainstream liberal academic. Then I learnt that for more than 20 formative years between 1939 and 1959 he had lived in exile in America, and been head of department at Berkeley. His friends from that period included such worthy Democratic citizens as J.K. Galbraith, Walter Heller and Hubert Humphrey. These were the people who prevailed on President Johnson in 1967 to lean on the Colonels to release Papandreou when he was arrested, and in real danger, after the Fascist coup.
After that first meeting, Papandreou always found time for a chat when I was in Athens. I was never able to take his disruptive anti-Western posturing very seriously. He was a charismatic patronage politician in the Balkan mould, who clothed himself in Third World rhetoric to get on at home.
The last time I saw him perform was during a bitterly fought election campaign. Searchlights on him, he strode alone on to a platform in Constitution Square in Athens before a well-drilled audience of perhaps half a million, bearing identical banners with centrally approved slogans. He folded his arms across his chest and orated for several hours before stalking off again to orchestrated chants of "Pa-pan-dre-ou". For a moment one smelled tin-pot totalitarianism in the air.
But he was not the stuff of which dictators are made and he took his subsequent defeats and rehabilitation, if not gracefully, at least in the democratic Greek tradition. It will be a long time before another Greek politician bestrides the international stage as he did.
Andreas George Papandreou, politician: born Chios 5 February 1919; Founder and Chairman, Pan-Hellenic Liberation Movement 1968-74; Founder and President, Pan-Hellenic Socialist movement 1974-96; Prime Minister of Greece 1981- 89, 1993-96; Minister of Defence 1981-86; married first Christina Rassias (marriage dissolved), secondly 1951 Margaret Chant (three sons, one daughter; marriage dissolved 1989), thirdly 1989 Dimitra Liani; died Athens 23 June 1996.
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