Tears and drama as Greeks say farewell then Mr Greece

Papandreou funeral: Country grinds to halt for lavish public tribute to turbulent statesman
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The Independent Online
It was a funeral to fit all the self-aggrandising rhetoric and contradictory passions of the man himself. Yesterday, Greece paid a lavish, tearful farewell to its towering political personality, Andreas Papandreou, with the same mix of grand spectacle, low political skulduggery and family jealousies that punctuated his long, turbulent life.

The country ground to a halt for the day as politicians, foreign dignitaries and thousands of admirers converged on Athens for the first state funeral to be held in Greece since the death of King Paul in 1963. Dense crowds squeezed along the narrow streets leading from Athens' Metropolitan Cathedral, where Mr Papandreou received his last honours, to the city's main cemetery where he was finally lain to rest.

"Andreas, you live, you are the one who guides us!" chanted the crowd as a seemingly endless sea of dignitaries, brightly-uniformed soldiers and politicians paraded through the hot streets of the capital.

Mourners threw handfuls of rose petals down from apartment buildings, forming a carpet of red and pink on top of the Greek flag covering the bier. Right and left were rows of huge wreaths of flowers sent from well-wishers around the world.

For all his faults - and there were many - Mr Papandreou proved yesterday just how deeply the Greeks loved him for his populism, his determination to keep up at least a semblance of independence from foreign allies, and even for the all-too human frailty he showed over money and beautiful women.

"For me, Papandreou is the embodiment of our transition from dictatorship to democracy. He made Greece excited about its role in the world, refusing to let the country become just another homogeneous adjunct of the west. It may all have been an illusion, but it was a beautiful illusion," one mourner said.

The drama was not without its quirks, however. Just off the main funeral route, a clutch of hamburger- and soft-drink sellers gave the proceedings the whiff of an oriental bazaar. Scruffy young men picked up the red roses that mourners had brought to place on Mr Papandreou's coffin and resold them for a tidy profit.

As befitted a man famous for cultivating strange allies, the guest list included a group of Kurdish freedom fighters (applauded by the anti- Turkish crowd) and Iran's Foreign Minister, Ali Akbar Velayati. Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin represented the United States, a country with whom Mr Papandreou conducted a lifelong love-hate relationship. Britain sent the Secretary of State for Defence, Michael Portillo.

The dignitaries crammed into the tiny cathedral to hear eulogies from family, friends and political leaders. And it was here that the games and subtle attempts at one-upmanship began. Members of Pasok, the Socialist movement Mr Papandreou founded in 1974, could barely contain their rivalries on the eve of a congress to designate the old man's successor as president of the party.

Costas Simitis, a noted dissenter from Mr Papandreou's autocratic leadership style, who took over as Prime Minister in January, did his best to sound statesmanlike as he called for party unity - a coded pitch for his own campaign to become leader. "Pasok has lost its founder, but not its soul. He has brought us face to face with our responsibilities, and we will prove ourselves equal to the challenge," Mr Simitis said.

Mr Papandreou's more unambiguous acolytes, including Mr Simitis' main rival for the party leadership, Akis Tsochadzopoulos, adopted a more emotional tone, addressing the deceased in the second person and wallowing in memories of grand party battles and moments of personal intimacy. The contrast in styles could not have been more orchestrated.

It was the family, though, that created the greatest drama. Mr Papandreou's flamboyant young widow, Mimi, dissolved into tears without fail whenever a television camera came close.

At the end of the service she prostrated herself full-length over her husband's coffin to give him one last hug and whisper: "My love! My love!".

Mr Papandreou's first wife, Margaret, clearly disapproved of such histrionics and made strenuous efforts to be more dignified, holding back her tears and simply resting her forehead on the coffin. Margaret and the four Papandreou children later retired to the home they all once shared in the Athenian suburb of Kastri to receive mourners, leaving Mimi to go home to her lavish villa in Ekali in resentful isolation.

The gossip rags got new grist for their mill from the dead man's half- brother, George. His oration reduced the assembled company to a stunned silence. "I always loved you," he said. "But you never explained why you didn't love me. I love you all the same." There's probably enough family strife behind those three lines to fill a television mini-series.

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