Greeks recoil from the rise of Mimi

Papandreou's plan to instal his wife in parliament has angered his supporters. Andrew Gumbel reports from Athens

WHEN Alan Bennett's play The Madness of King George III came to Athens a while back, it struck a strong chord with Greek audiences. The film version is about to take star billing at the forthcoming Britain in Greece festival. The story of a doddering patriarch propping up an old order on the brink of extinction appeals to Greeks: it sounds just like their own prime minister, Andreas Papandreou.

The founder of Pasok, the Greek socialist party, is reaching the end of the road. He is 77 and in poor health. Since returning to office two years ago, his government has been indecisive, at times verging on paralysis. His party is growing fractious.

Now, having weathered more scandals than even the Tories under John Major, he has pushed his luck one step further. He is campaigning to get his glamorous young wife into public office, to the outrage of many of his own supporters. It would be one thing if Dimitra, or "Mimi" as she is known to Greeks, were a career politician in her own right. But she is not. Before sweeping the ageing premier off his feet seven years ago, she was an air hostess with Olympic Airways. She has kept her husband going through heart surgery and a host of other ailments. Although she is clearly ambitious, she has never entirely convinced Greeks - admittedly an unprogressive lot when it comes to the promotion of women - that her talents extend beyond the physical.

Some have never forgiven Mr Papandreou for breaking up with his loyal American first wife Margaret to marry a woman 37 years his junior. Now they fear they are seeing the emergence of a would-be Eva Peron, as Mimi takes an ever more prominent role. She runs her husband's office, controlling access and perhaps also the flow of documents to the prime minister, to the irritation of Pasok old-timers. Mr Papandreou set the latest scandal in motion himself a few weeks ago when he announced that he would support any ambitions Mimi might have to run for parliament at the next general election in 1997.

The implication was that Mr Papandreou wanted Pasok to endorse her as a special personal favour. Mimi's job in the prime minister's office bars her, along with all civil servants, from seeking election for three- and-a-half years. The only way she could enter parliament would be as one of a dozen honorary deputies, selected from special lists put forward by the main parties. But these are supposed to be senior figures commanding wide respect, not relatives of the PM.

The outcry was immediate, with several Pasok deputies decrying a blatant piece of cronyism. But Mr Papandreou refused to be cowed by discontent in the ranks. When one Pasok MP, a former army general called Kyriakos Spyriounis, spoke out against Mimi's candidature in a radio interview, he was promptly suspended from the party.

Such behaviour inevitably prompted the question of what exactly Mimi's ambitions were: whether it was simply to enter parliament, or to take over Pasok outright. After all, she is hardly the only member of the Papandreou family entourage to be pushed into the limelight: Mr Papandreou's son is education minister, his personal doctor is health minister and Mimi's cousin is sports minister.

Pasok, however, simply would not stand for a takeover of the party. A more plausible reason for Mimi's sudden desire to enter parliament might be to secure immunity from criminal prosecution. All of Greece is asking questions about where the Papandreous found the money to build a sumptuous private villa outside Athens featuring 14 bathrooms, three swimming pools and a private chapel. The press has had a field-day with Mr Papandreou's claims that he raised the cash for the so-called "pink villa" through interest-free loans from friends.

Behind the theatricals lies a serious issue, that of Greece's attempted transition from inefficient Mediterranean backwater to mature member of the European Union. Mr Papandreou belongs to a generation of politicians to whom clientism and the cult of the leader come as second nature. Indeed, to judge by his miraculous comeback from the banking scandals of the late 1980s and the ensuing trial (at which he was acquitted), he seems to thrive on controversy and standing by seemingly indefensible positions.

Younger Pasok members want to modernise the Greek political system to the point where shameless wife-promotion is as unacceptable as it would be in northern Europe. A reformist wing has formed around former foreign minister Theodore Pangalos. Likewise, in the opposition New Democracy party, a number of prominent members have broken away from the leadership and are biding their time for an opportune moment to take over.

Voters are disillusioned with the status quo. Even if Mr Papandreou's precarious health holds out, the assumption is that he will step down in 1997. What happens then will depend on the outcome of the current struggle between traditionalists and reformers.

News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Joel Edgerton, John Turturro and Christian Bale in Exodus: Gods and Kings
film Ridley Scott reveals truth behind casting decisions of Exodus
News
people
Sport
footballArsenal 2 Borussia Dortmund 0: And they can still top the group
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment
An unseen image of Kurt Cobain at home featured in the film 'Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck'
filmThe singers widow and former bandmates have approved project
News
Andy Murray with his girlfriend of nine years, Kim Sears who he has got engaged to
peopleWimbledon champion announces engagement to girlfriend Kim Sears
Arts and Entertainment
Jake Quickenden and Edwina Currie are joining the I'm A Celebrity...Get Me Out Of Here! camp
tv
Arts and Entertainment
George Mpanga has been shortlisted for the Critics’ Choice prize
music
News
Albert Camus (left) and Jean-Paul Sartre fell out in 1952 and did not speak again before Camus’s death
people
Arts and Entertainment
Roisin, James and Sanjay in the boardroom
tvReview: This week's failing project manager had to go
News
Ed Miliband visiting the Holocaust museum in Jerusalem. The Labour leader has spoken more openly of his heritage recently
newsAttacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But are the barbs more sinister?
Arts and Entertainment
'Felfie' (2014) by Alison Jackson
photographyNew exhibition shows how female creatives are changing the way women are portrayed in advertising
Life and Style
fashion
News
i100
Life and Style
Fright night: the board game dates back to at least 1890
life
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Argyll Scott International: Senior Business Analyst- Insurance

Negotiable: Argyll Scott International: Senior Business Analyst - Insurance ...

Recruitment Genius: Property Manager

£25000 - £29000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This independent, growing Sales...

Recruitment Genius: Graphic Designer

£16000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Multi-skilled graphic designer ...

Austen Lloyd: Court of Protection Solicitor

£30000 - £50000 per annum + EXCELLENT: Austen Lloyd: Court of Protection Solic...

Day In a Page

Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

It's in all our interests to look after servicemen and women who fall on hard times, say party leaders
Millionaire Sol Campbell wades into wealthy backlash against Labour's mansion tax

Sol Campbell cries foul at Labour's mansion tax

The former England defender joins Myleene Klass, Griff Rhys Jones and Melvyn Bragg in criticising proposals
Nicolas Sarkozy returns: The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?

Sarkozy returns

The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?
Is the criticism of Ed Miliband a coded form of anti-Semitism?

Is the criticism of Miliband anti-Semitic?

Attacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But is the criticism more sinister?
Ouija boards are the must-have gift this Christmas, fuelled by a schlock horror film

Ouija boards are the must-have festive gift

Simon Usborne explores the appeal - and mysteries - of a century-old parlour game
There's a Good Girl exhibition: How female creatives are changing the way women are portrayed in advertising

In pictures: There's a Good Girl exhibition

The new exhibition reveals how female creatives are changing the way women are portrayed in advertising
UK firm Biscuiteers is giving cookies a makeover - from advent calendars to doll's houses

UK firm Biscuiteers is giving cookies a makeover

It worked with cupcakes, doughnuts and macarons so no wonder someone decided to revamp the humble biscuit
Can SkySaga capture the Minecraft magic?

Can SkySaga capture the Minecraft magic?

It's no surprise that the building game born in Sweden in 2009 and now played by millions, has imitators keen to construct their own mega money-spinner
The King's School is way ahead of the pack when it comes to using the latest classroom technology

Staying connected: The King's School

The school in Cambridgeshire is ahead of the pack when it comes to using the latest classroom technology. Richard Garner discovers how teachers and pupils stay connected
Christmas 2014: 23 best women's perfumes

Festively fragrant: the best women's perfumes

Give a loved one a luxe fragrance this year or treat yourself to a sensual pick-me-up
Arsenal vs Borussia Dortmund: Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain celebrates century with trademark display of speed and intuition

Arsenal vs Borussia Dortmund

The Ox celebrates century with trademark display of speed and intuition
Billy Joe Saunders vs Chris Eubank Jnr: When two worlds collide

When two worlds collide

Traveller Billy Joe Saunders did not have a pampered public-school upbringing - unlike Saturday’s opponent Chris Eubank Jnr
Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Drifting and forgotten - turning lives around for ex-soldiers

Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Turning lives around for ex-soldiers

Our partner charities help veterans on the brink – and get them back on their feet
Putin’s far-right ambition: Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU

Putin’s far-right ambition

Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU
Tove Jansson's Moominland: What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?

Escape to Moominland

What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?