‘I will confront vested interests’

In an interview with Kathimerini, opposition PASOK leader George Papandreou appears determined to confront vested interests and avoid repeating past mistakes. He also makes it clear that there will be no compromise with the New Democracy government. On the night after the election did you consider not becoming a candidate again? What made you decide to run for the PASOK leadership again? I was angry with myself for having, in the name of what proved to be artificial unity, fudged the mandate I had received to «change everything.» I criticized myself publicly, mentioning the reasons I believed lay behind our defeat. But I had a duty to be true to that mandate; only those who had given it to me could take it back or renew it, giving it a clearer content. Many wished I had resigned, for their own reasons. If I had yielded to that temptation, we would have found the best way of sweeping under the rug the real reasons why the people had punished us in 2004 and are still angry with us in 2007. My response was to pose the dilemma of whether the real change people sought was a change of leadership or a change of mentality, behavior and policy from a party that gave the impression it had become a coalition of personal ambitions. Early in the PASOK leader election campaign, Evangelos Venizelos had a large lead. Six weeks later, all polls give you a secure advantage. How do you explain that? Some say it is mainly due to the mistakes of your rival. In politics, time favors ideas. Discussion, debate and participation may be time-consuming but they ensure that the public’s voice is heard. Politics without the public’s voice is mere management. Dialogue won, so PASOK won. In 2004-2007, you talked about major changes. Now you lay more emphasis on taking PASOK back to its leftist roots. Many of those who supported you did not identify with the «reformist vision» for the Greek economy and society. Which Papandreou can we expect on November 12? We have to stop saying reform without saying whom it is for. ND talked about education reform. It didn’t mean parents, it didn’t mean teachers, and it certainly didn’t mean pupils and students. It meant those who make money from the informal education system. If you want to talk about education, you have to start with nursery school, where the relations of children, parents and teacher with education is determined, and move upward, otherwise it isn’t reform. On November 12, expect to see a Papandreou who has learnt, understood, changed and decided to clash with the interests, individuals and perceptions that question the autonomy of politics, shrink democracy, play with the expectations of the Greek people and treat social and national events as a television spectacle. We saw that with the [fires that devastated] the Peloponnese, and we’ll see it again if we don’t decide to change our modes of governance and behavior, our values and our development model… if we keep running the state according to a clientele mentality, bureaucratic logic and partisan criteria… if we show the public every day that we are the same and that nothing is going to change… if we stay mired in provincial politics that ignores international developments, the risks and challenges of globalization, the great challenges of the era, and Greece’s great strengths with its human resources, historical heritage and natural beauty… if we do not decide to share out national revenue so as to boost healthy business practices, free creative initiatives, invest in knowledge, provide access to information and technology, strengthen the social state, increase social cohesion and inspire security, certainty and hope for the future… Many say you are a hostage of the unions that support you. My relationship with the workers’ representatives is one of principle and trust, based on a shared vision for a just society and for social change that must come from redefining the role of a healthy, productive and strategic public sector that secures national interests and public goods. It must allow a modern social state and not crush private initiative. It must not allow a few insiders to profiteer from the public sphere and social rights at the expense of the many and the weak. It must give priority to work relations and to the competitiveness of our products and services in all sectors, from agriculture to manufacturing and tourism. You also have support from the PASOK old guard with whom you have had differences in the past. What is at stake on November 11 is overcoming all past division and discord in view of a new beginning.