The velvet executioner

To the average Greek, the European Parliament is an incomprehensible and extremely costly institution which takes candidates from every party but which has never aroused media interest because Euro MPs, with rare exceptions, have never raised serious issues with their home base. The seriousness with which the domestic political leadership treats the European Parliament is evidenced by the stance of Marietta Giannakou who, though head of New Democracy’s ballot five years ago, resigned just three months into her term so as to participate in the 2000 national elections. Consequently, if there is any interest in the upcoming Euro elections it is because PASOK leader George Papandreou has collided head-on with his party’s entire establishment. Papandreou’s gradual dismantling of the Socialist party is one of the most fascinating political developments since the reinstatement of democracy 30 years ago and since which democratic practices have been showing signs of decline. Papandreou, a gentle, conciliatory and sometimes passive politician, aroused sympathy among center-left voters and repulsion among right-wingers, but has emerged as an unbending executioner of party officials without losing his natural urbanity. While apparently acting the opposite of his father, Papandreou is equally subversive. Political myth represents Andreas Papandreou as a leader of great stature, but when he came back to Greece with the return to democracy, he was simply an oddity. Sartorially off-putting, his discourse inarticulate and slogan-ridden, this unconventional politician engendered embarrassment and distaste among the right, center and left alike. His eventual political dominance and the gradual disintegration of New Democracy were the reasons his followers now portray Andreas Papandreou as a genius. By ignoring ranking PASOK officials, George Papandreou is acting exactly as his father did when he returned to Athens and the former Center Union deputies waited in vain for him to call on them. Traditional PASOK cadres lament the dismantling of their party, but the lament of the conservative party preceded it by many decades when their party was remade into a liberal party representing the middle ground.