Simitis: The great and the small

How a political leader goes down in history often depends not only on what he did and didn’t do while in power but also on how he manages his retirement. Costas Simitis was a good prime minister – even his fiercest rivals admit to this now. Of course, the public did not really take to him because he regarded the average Greek with an almost Calvinistic outlook, giving the impression that he, Simitis, was the medicine that would cure all the citizens’ ills. The former PASOK premier is clearly attempting to return to politics. And this is quite justifiable. All important Greek statesmen of the 20th century staged a comeback – Eleftherios Venizelos, Constantine Karamanlis, Constantine Mitsotakis and, of course, PASOK founder Andreas Papandreou. All these men came to know political exile and – in Mitsotakis’s case – annihilation, but all returned to political life. Simitis too is now swirling around the Greek political stage like a ghost trying to find a soul to inhabit. His friends and associates refer to a wave of nostalgia for Simitis’s particular form of governance, while others speak of the cultivation of a messiah syndrome. What is most annoying though is a certain cynicism and indifference the former leader seems to project regarding the future of PASOK and the country. Simitis often refers to his successor in a disparaging way. He forecasts that the difference in popularity between the two main parties, although small now, will increase spectacularly in the final month before elections due to the negative image of PASOK leader George Papandreou. It makes one wonder whether Simitis knew Papandreou when he made him party leader or whether he was trying to seek revenge on the family that made life so tough for him before he came to power in 1996. In any case, the former premier should now be telling us how to move beyond his established ideas, not how to return to them.