You may think me naive, but bear with me. My love affair with Greece started with Andreas Papandreou. I never met him, but no one could miss him. I was drawn to someone elected in a landslide on a radical socialist platform. Here was the antidote to the economic brutalism of the early Thatcher reforms in my own country.
Greece was undergoing some kind of rebirth in 1981 and I immediately recognized that to understand Andreas [as he was known by the people], would be to understand very important parts of contemporary Greece. I still think this is true, though the lessons to be learned were far more disturbing than I could have appreciated in 1981.
No one could be neutral about Andreas. Asked to make a public judgment of him, I risk alienating friends and not being given a future hearing. But Andreas was a mirror on Greek history and society.
Witnessing his oratorical skills, one could not fail to be impressed. He addressed anything up to a million Greeks in carnival atmosphere from Syntagma to Omonia and beyond, under the floodlights for TV cameras to catch from helicopters. The cult of personality stemmed from his own character and was fostered by those he charmed. The late Lady Amelia Fleming, then a PASOK member of the European Parliament, spoke to me of Andreas as if he was superhuman. Some were willing to be mesmerized and to cast aside normal intellectual judgment.
Andreas was the left-wing populist of modern Europe par excellence. He had the charisma to dominate the party he himself created. Official policies could undergo twists and contortions, as he chose. He gave voice to the Greece that had been politically and socially excluded, from the Civil War through to the colonels? dictatorship. This was a Greece that craved a release and Andreas could stroke their sensitivities and fears in a way that included almost all of them.
In his rhetorical flourishes, he demonized the right. True, this was a right that had had dark elements. True, the ?Right? had inflicted much suffering on his family. But Andreas?s father never flirted with the far left like his son. By the 1980s Greece had to look to the future and reigniting old battles was dangerous demagogy rather than statesmanship. We don?t have to just think of the contrast with Nelson Mandela here, but also of Felipe Gonzalez in Spain or Charles de Gaulle in France.
True, Andreas helped to integrate the left into Greek politics and to overcome the exclusions of the Civil War. He also introduced a much higher priority to social and health policy. But alongside this new inclusivity came divisiveness. He redefined and deepened clientelism and ?rousfeti? (special political favors). His political style also carried deeper costs for social democracy in Greece. The liberation under the September 3 Declaration sought new types of mass political participation. Andreas, however, stamped on internal dissidents within ?his? party. Those who spoke out had ?placed themselves outside of our Movement? and had no right of appeal. Nor was civil society built up as an effective counterbalance. Power remained personal and very top-down.
In the political games that Andreas played, the national interests of adaptation to the world beyond Greece was neglected. The early attacks on the European Community as merely an embodiment of imperialistic capitalism ultimately served no purpose. Despite the promises of 1981, no referendum on Europe was held (or sought) and the renegotiation of Greece?s terms of entry was negligible. By the 1989 elections, Europe was a bright new horizon on PASOK?s election posters. Public opinion obliged Andreas to be more positive on Europe.
His economic policy was marked by unsustainable nationalizations and debts; an excess of statism that undermined Greece vis-a-vis the EC. Andreas made no mark on the international stage like Eleftherios Venizelos. Perhaps there was no equivalent opportunity. Instead, there were gestures such as opposing EC statements on martial law in Poland and on the Soviet downing of a South Korean airliner. The removal of the US military bases was protracted. Better in spirit, though again of limited impact, was the anti-nuclear Peace Initiative of the Six. It represented an alternative to the Cold War adventurism of Reagan.
Ultimately, history will I think be very critical of Andreas — far more so than of his father or son. His stature decreases with the passage of time. The Greece of Andreas was a society too easily seduced; one insular and short-term; one that undermined the value of the state by its clientelism and abuse; and one where foreign policy was reduced to domestic opportunism.
Andreas?s prime legacy — not inconsiderable — is of a stable center-left party to give political voice. To give this legacy value, however, means recognizing that ?the past is another country.? This is not a time for the old delusions.
* Kevin Featherstone is a professor at the London School of Economics. This article was contributed to Kathimerini’s special section on the 30th anniversary of PASOK’s first election win (October 18, 1981).