George A. Papandreou (born June 16, 1952) is Former Prime Minister of Greece, current President of Socialist International, a Member of the Hellenic Parliament and former President of the Panhellenic Socialist Movement (PASOK). He served as the 11th Prime Minister of Greece from October 6, 2009 - November 11, 2011, after PASOK’s victory in the October 2009 national elections.

George A. Papandreou

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This year was a very challenging year

Speech at the opening session of thw 12th Symi Symposium

“Dear friends, welcome to this 12th Symi Symposium. As you know, the music on that video was by the famous George Markakis. And I welcome you to Skiathos, which we have not visited before in our Symi Symposium, a beautiful part of Greece. Just north of here is a natural park, which is under the auspices of UNESCO, with sea lions and turtles and dolphins. So we might see something as we travel around to visit some of the spots.

This year that passed was a fascinating year, a difficult year for the world, in some ways a hopeful year also, with some things that have happened. And in many ways this network we have created over the years has been very important, and I think we showed that; it became very apparent during the last year, when I myself and Luis Ayala, Secretary General of the Socialist International, had to deal with first of all the financial crisis, when everybody started talking about socialism, or were labeled socialists, as Obama was by the vice presidential candidate, Ms. Palin.

So we all of a sudden had to take initiatives, and we did so. We set up a commission and immediately asked our good friend Joe here to head the commission, and thank you, Joe, for that. And we have done and he has done some great work about how do we have to deal with the financial crisis. And this has been very useful for our movement, and will of course continue as this financial crisis unfolds.

We had meetings in New York, and during our meetings we had a small Symi Symposium there, and we hope we might be able to do this again, to develop sort of ad hoc Symi Symposium meetings. London would be a good place to do it also, and the Middle East, other parts of the world.

But in New York we had Joe, we had Richard Parker, who has helped, Jim Ray. We had Marts, of course. Marts was there. The Palme family. We had a number of people there, and others that came to help, Jamie Galbraith and others. It was very important to inform us on how particularly the United States economy was doing, and how the proposals by Obama were received, and the criticism or the critique on that issue also. And then we have come up with a number of papers on this issue.

So that’s just one of the, I think, the values that we have from this Symi Symposium.

But we also had the possibility to work with others over this period of time. I have asked a number of you, and you have sent me a number of papers, on issues that have to do with how our parties should work or how we can help empower our movement. I’d like to thank Gerts Leopold. I had the chance to present his paper that he has written of personal views on how the Socialist International can work with non-governmental organizations such as Greenpeace or other green movements, and it’s very important.

Very important, as we saw in Europe that we socialists didn’t do as well as we had hoped, while the Greens did well, and Cem Özdemir is here and others will be here also to give us their views on how we can cooperate and how we can work together. That will be, I think an important point.

But congratulations, Cem, for what your family did in Europe, even though our family didn’t do as well. So we’ll have to learn something from you, I think.

But of course in Greece we did do much better. As a matter of fact, there have been other parties also, but we have been singled out, not only by the press but also by the Foreign Minister of the UK, David Miliband, who quoted a number of innovations that PASOK had made. Amongst them was an innovation which our good friend Jim Fishkin has worked on with us, on deliberative democracy, and that is, I think, another area that is going to be of interest to discuss, and how we enhance our democratic institutions.

So financial issues, the financial crisis, the green problem, the green issues, climate change, the issue of democracy, the issue of institutions, corruption, the issue of how politics and sometimes even criminality and the mafia link up.

Misha, are you somewhere around here or haven’t you yet arrived? Yes, Misha. Well, his book has been doing very well, as I see on, but not only there but other places, too. And we are happy that maybe a part of the inspiration came from our meetings here in Symi.

But this is a very important issue, the issue of our institutions. And it is one thing we talked about only recently in Montenegro in the Socialist International, about how we strengthen our democratic institutions vis-à-vis the strong concentration of power in the world of media and money and power and technology in the hands of the few, which has captured our democratic institutions.

We talked about this with our African comrades in Montenegro, and I was glad to see that Obama only yesterday or two days ago made a major speech on this issue, talking about how we don’t need strong men but strong institutions, which I think we would agree with.

So these are just some of the important things we have done together. Mats has been very helpful in putting together a number of these papers that I have asked for you, and we will slowly distribute them also to many of the parties in the Socialist International that may be interested, but also amongst ourselves.

And I think that we also have a large number of authors here, both in politics but also in other areas, and I thought that maybe we could think of having a side session where some of the authors could talk about their experience of authorship, and also how we can learn from each other in this area of writing, writing for politics or about politics or about social issues and other issues also.

This year was a year which was, as I said, a very difficult year, a very challenging year. And in that sense our Symi Symposium this year is a bit smaller, cutting down, if you like, in accordance with the general cutbacks in the world, but still I am sure as vibrant as always.
But we do have a number of new members, new participants, and I’d like to welcome them. Ségolène Royal, I’d like to welcome Ségolène Royal and her daughter, Flora. Flora, please stand up so we can see you. Ségolène of course has gone through not only the candidacy for the presidency of her country, but also recently an internal battle in the Socialist Party. And unluckily the Socialist Party in France had, as in many other parts of Europe, not the best of results. So I think your experience, Ségolène, will be invaluable when we talk about socialism and progressive politics these next few days. So we very much welcome you, and glad you can be with us.

Also a very good friend over the years, Yossi Beilin and Daniela. Jill, Yossi, please stand up. Jill Envive, is that the right pronunciation, Li En Bar. And Yossi of course in his heart, and not only in his heart but in practice, has fought for peace in the Middle East. And I think we all recognize that in his work and in his politics. So we are very happy to have you, Yossi. Every time I used to visit, and I still continue to visit, but every time I’d visit the Middle East and visit Jerusalem, Yossi is always a voice of clarity, of hope, of courage, and I am sure we will be able to hear what he has to bring to us from a very difficult time in the Middle East. but as we just exchanged the hope that Barack Obama may bring a new spirit to the whole area is, I think, something we all should support.

We also have with us Dimitri Zenghelis. I don’t know if he is here. Maybe he hasn’t arrived yet. Dimitri Zenghelis is with us for the first time. He was on the Stern team on the issue of the Stern Report for the climate change. So he will be obviously involved in our discussions with the climate change issues.

And we have from the Democratic Party in Italy Simone Verde. Welcome. We want to see what the developments there in Italy are. We hope you can speak, because I think we are one of the countries where there is so much control of media by one person. What are you talking about, yes. Which actually shows how even our modern democracies and developed democracies are at threat by the developments and the concentration of power.

But I am very happy to hear that also Kumi Naidoo – Kumi, are you here? Ah, there he is. I didn’t recognize you in your new outfit. But there is some talk that maybe Kumi will be taking on the organization – I don’t know if there are rumors – Greenpeace. I don’t know if Symi had anything to do with it, but we are very happy that you are doing this, Kumi, and we look forward to further working with you in your new capacity.

This is a decisive year in Greek political life and we had a European election which obviously reflects also the internal situation. It’s not only a European vote but it’s also a local vote or a national vote. And people in Greece do want change. That was a very clear message from the European elections, so we are hoping, and we have been fighting for early elections, actually, because we feel that Greece is on a course which is not a positive one for the Greek people.

We may have early elections, and hopefully this time we will win these elections.

So I would like to use the opportunity, as I have done in the past, but use this opportunity so that the Symi Symposium can actually help inform, discuss how we can deepen our thinking about what Greece could do. We have our program, of course, that we have developed and well thought out.

But obviously what you have to bring, with your experience and with your knowledge and with your friendship and understanding, after many meetings in Greece, I think would be of great help to a future socialist government. And that’s why in a number of our evening sessions we will be bringing in some of the politicians from PASOK, who will be exchanging views with you on issues such as the financial situation or issues of democracy or issues of climate change and many other questions.

This year we have a special – well, it’s always special to have our younger Symi participants with us, the families. There are a number of new participants, even from the families that have been here before. I don’t have the whole catalogue. For the new participants, I’d ask the older, more experienced participants of the younger generation to, as we would say in Greece, hug the new participants and bring them into your company, so that they also can be part of this wonderful experience. So I’d like to welcome you also.

But what we had last years is there was a very nice protest from the younger generation, which asked to be more participant in these discussions but also have a time for their own discussions and maybe their own opinions. So I have asked that some of them get together and link up and come up with some ideas, particularly on issues of how we can use social networks, the Internet, Web2, other Wikipedias or whatever, so that we can develop our contacts with you over the year, but also use this for a networking process of the younger generation.

And as you have seen, many of these kids began here 12 years ago and now are young adults. So we are very happy to have them with us, and we are very happy that they are participating in such an active way.

So let me thank you again, all, and wish you the best. Mats has been kind enough to send us a very provocative but I think very important text on how we should begin our discussions. Tonight we won’t get into the depth of discussing. I think we’ll do it at the tables, so that we can eat. But I’ll give the floor to Mats.

But before I give the floor to Mats, I’d like to say just a few words in Greek for Greek television, if you allow me. I know some of you, after 12 years, understand a lot of what I say. But it won’t take too long.

Σήμερα περνάει η Ελλάδα μια ιδιαίτερη κρίση. Το βιώνουν όλοι οι Έλληνες και οι Ελληνίδες σχεδόν σε κάθε τομέα της καθημερινότητας. Κρίση οικονομική, κρίση πολιτική, κρίση θεσμών, κρίση αξιών, κρίση σε ό,τι αφορά και εθνικά μας θέματα. Μια τεράστια ανασφάλεια όπου έχουμε δει μια κυβέρνηση που αδυνατεί να αντιμετωπίσει τα προβλήματα της χώρας. Δεν έχει σχέδιο, δεν έχει βούληση, δεν έχει το σθένος, το κουράγιο, τη φαντασία, τις ιδέες, τις προτάσεις για να πάει η χώρα μπροστά.

Βλέπουμε και εξελίξεις που μας ξαφνιάζουν, διότι είναι καινούργιες για τη χώρα μας, όπως η αύξηση της διαφοράς της εγκληματικότητας σε ένα βαθμό που πραγματικά έχει δημιουργήσει τεράστια κρίση στην ελληνική κοινωνία, όπως και οι πρόσφατες αποκαλύψεις από τις απαγωγές που είχαν γίνει.

Έχουμε τη συγκέντρωση πλούτου σε λίγους, εξουσίας, μέσων ενημέρωσης, έχουμε ένα σύστημα το οποίο περνά από μια βαθιά κρίση. Είμαστε έτοιμοι εμείς να κάνουμε βαθιές τομές, γνωρίζοντας τις ευθύνες που μας αναλογούν, τα προβλήματα που υπάρχουν και την αποφασιστικότητα που χρειαζόμαστε.

Με αυτή τη συνάντηση εδώ μας δίνεται μια τεράστια ευκαιρία να αξιοποιήσουμε την εμπειρία, τη γνώση τόσων σημαντικών προσωπικοτήτων απ’ όλο τον κόσμο, πολιτικών, αλλά και της διανόησης, της οικονομίας, του πολιτισμού, των πράσινων κινημάτων, της δημοσιογραφίας, του πνευματικού κόσμου που θέλουν να συμβάλουν στις προσπάθειες της χώρας μας, στις προσπάθειες του ΠΑΣΟΚ, στις προσπάθειες των προοδευτικών πολιτών αυτής της χώρας να αλλάξουμε πορεία.

Ξέρουν ότι μπορούμε να αλλάξουμε πορεία. Το ξέρουμε κι εμείς. Το ξέρουμε κι εμείς πια μετά τις ευρωεκλογές, ότι το θέλει ο ελληνικός λαός και είμαστε έτοιμοι να αλλάξουμε πορεία. Είναι λοιπόν ευκαιρία για ένα μεγάλο ευχαριστώ σε όσους συμμετέχουν σε αυτό το 12ο Συμπόσιο της Σύμης, που γίνεται στη Σκιάθο και που θα αξιοποιήσουμε όλες αυτές τις ιδέες για την Ελλάδα.

Again thank you, and Mats, let me call you to the floor so that you can give us an introduction to what we will be doing in the next few days. Thank you again. Thank you all and welcome.”

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