A revealing confrontation

The confrontation between Premier Costas Simitis and former Foreign Minister Theodoros Pangalos on the issue of deputies’ declaration of their assets and an audit of their stock market dealings is quite revealing of each of their personalities and, particularly, of the anxious attempt by the Maximos Mansion to assert full control over domestic political developments in general. In the past, there have been many objections to Pangalos’s policies and demeanor but that is not at issue here. Still, it would be useful to make a few observations: Pangalos, along with Vasso Papandreou, Paraskevas Avgerinos and Costas Simitis formed the «gang of four,» an alliance of prominent, modernist-minded dissidents within PASOK who questioned the policies of late Prime Minister and party founder Andreas Papandreou, as well as promoting the current premier and leader. The bonds between Simitis and these other members of the group have been long broken. When foreign minister, Pangalos confronted the Imia crisis in January 1996 by negotiating with then Assistant Secretary of State Richard Holbrooke at a time when Simitis, who had just been elected to office, was in a state of paralysis. During the crisis caused by the clandestine entry into Greece of Kurdish rebel leader Abdullah Ocalan, Pangalos (though not his responsibility) handled the repercussions of the unfortunate issue which resulted in the humiliation of Greece and the inevitable re-evaluation of Greek-Turkish relations. For all this, Pangalos received the premier’s «eternal gratitude.» But shortly after Cyprus’s treaty of accession to the European Union, on a visit to the island, Simitis avoided any reference to Pangalos, though he was the man who had handled the matter for years and had hammered out the policy for Cyprus’s EU course, along with Yiannos Kranidiotis, the late alternate foreign minister. Of course, this is common in politics. What is interesting, however, is that Simitis is missing the point that, being in charge of a catch-all party like PASOK, his role is to ensure a creative synthesis of the basic trends that reflect the stronger voter groups within the party. Simitis does not treat politics in this manner. He rather sees himself as an academic, demanding compliance and obedience from the auditorium. Simitis is obviously trying to imitate Papandreou, his predecessor, a far more prominent professor and, moreover, the founder of the Socialist movement. While in charge, Papandreou did not hesitate to defenestrate his aides. Nevertheless, he was treated with awe by his victims and with admiration by his followers. Simitis, on the other hand, has prompted ridicule from Pangalos, whose response underscores his political and moral superiority, as he has never invested in the stock exchange and he shut down his law office once elected to Parliament. The encounter between Pangalos and Simitis is not of interest to the average citizen. What is of interest, however, is that the prime minister’s political decisions are being brought strongly into question and that Simitis is often at odds with many party cadres as well as with members of his parliamentary group. Under these circumstances, it is very unlikely that he will be in any position to regain control of political developments.