CULTURE

Pioneering female politician had to break the walls down by herself

When Virginia Tsouderou decided to run for Parliament for the first time in 1974, her elder sister wrote her a letter berating her for «hurting» her brother’s chances, even though the two siblings belonged (then) to different parties and were running for different constituencies. She was more likely concerned that her younger sister would steal the limelight from her brother, who ended up having an undistinguished career as a backbencher. Even though the first female MP had been elected in a by-election in 1953, 1974 was still early days for women in politics. Tsouderou endured mistrust on the part of her male colleagues and, as her autobiographical «When The Walls Come Down» (Patakis Publishers, in Greek) shows, she has neither forgotten nor forgiven. The title of the book refers to her struggle for acceptance on her own terms, and not just as a stereotypical woman. Her father, Emmanuel Tsouderos, who became, in succession, governor of the Bank of Greece and prime minister, with a brief period of exile in between, had forbidden his eldest daughter to study at university and would have done the same with his youngest were it not for World War II. «I think he understood that nothing would be the same after the war,» Tsouderou writes. Tsouderou got a break when her father was appointed premier as the Germans were closing in on Athens in April 1941. She and her family were evacuated and spared the ravages of the occupation. She ended up in England, after a dangerous sea trip via Crete, Egypt and South Africa. Having persuaded her father to allow her to attend university, she enrolled at Oxford in 1942, earning a degree in philosophy, politics and economics. She had to negotiate again with him over her graduate studies, turning down a scholarship at Columbia University to join, at her father’s order, her brother at the University of Minnesota. Tsouderou returned to Greece in 1958, but writes nothing about her period in the US, except to say that it had gained her «10 years of work experience, three children and a failed marriage.» Before the 1967-74 dictatorship, she worked as a journalist and then was active in the resistance against the military regime, to her brother’s disapproval. When Tsouderou entered politics, her father was long dead and she could not count on any support network. Through her 20-year career – she ran with three parties, ending up with New Democracy – she fell out with all her party leaders and became, briefly, a deputy foreign minister – an appointment, which, she said, made her fellow women MPs jealous. At 82, she is still active with Transparency International. This is a forthright book, not too self-serving, although one would like to hear what her colleagues thought of her.