World Policy Journal – George Papandreou’s Honorable Legacy
World Policy Journal (Volume XXI, No 1, Spring 2004)
George Papandreou’s Honorable Legacy
Nicholas X. Rizopoulos*
There is the often told story about Winston Churchill learning the devastating news of his party’s electoral defeat, in July 1945, at the hands of a seemingly ungrateful British public, only to have his wife tell him that, given how exhausting the previous five years had been for him, this was perhaps “a blessing in disguise.” Without missing a beat, Churchill famously shot back, “If so, the disguise was perfect.”
On March 7, Greece went to the polls, and in giving the conservative New Democracy Party and its leader, Costas Karamanlis, a fairly healthy parliamentary majority–165 seats in the 300-seat parliament–the electorate not only threw out of power the Socialist (PASOK) Party, which had ruled Greece during 20 of the preceding 23 years, but also effectively put on hold the meteoric career of George Papandreou, who had been Greece’s foreign minister since early 1999 (as well as the recently elected chairman of PASOK), and who, in the eyes of most knowledgeable international observers, was seen as being one of the few truly admirable European statesmen of our time.
One of the most striking things about the 52-year old Papandreou is that both in his private and professional life he has proved to be so unlike his grandfather (and namesake), prime minister at the end of the Second World War and again in the mid-1960s, a mercurial rabble-rouser whose liberal-cum-republican credentials (and even occasional marxisant pronouncements) never stopped him from cutting deals with the Right when it suited his own career advancement; and even more unlike his father, Andreas Papandreou, founder of PASOK and himself prime minister through most of the 1980s and early 1990s, who–though intellectually distinguished, genuinely respected early in his life as an academic economist living in the United States, and unquestionably charismatic–turned out to be, in the main, an irresponsible demagogue masquerading as a populist and Man of the Left, who also cultivated in public a virulent streak of anti-Americanism.
By way of contrast, the younger George Papandreou (whose mother, like Churchill’s, was American) has always behaved in a low-key fashion, with a personal lifestyle (unlike his father’s or grandfather’s) unmarred by sexual or other scandals. A relative latecomer to the riotous world of Greek politics, he gained respect–especially abroad–by showing himself to be smart, well-informed, unexcitable, and utterly unostentatious. Until very recently, he had concentrated almost entirely on international issues. At the Foreign Ministry, he surrounded himself with like-minded–and, by Greek standards, relatively young–professionals who were themselves cosmopolitan in their outlook and refreshingly unburdened by chauvinistic blinkers. (True to form, this closely knit group of advisors, many of whom had studied in Britain and the United States, were derisively nicknamed “the Americans” by the “superpatriots” within PASOK.)
*Nicholas X. Rizopoulos is academic director in the Honors College at Adelphi University and a senior research associate at the Carnegie Council on Ethics and International Affairs, New York City.
Nicholas X. Rizopoulos