Ανδρέας Παπανδρέου

Greek politician and economist; b. Chios 1919-02-05, d. Athens 1996-06-23. Prime minister of Greece 1981-1989 and 1993-1996.

Andreas was the son of former prime minister Georgios Papandreou and Sofia Mineiko, daughter of a prominent Polish philhellene. Initially educated in Law in Athens, he left for the United States in 1939 after being jailed by the dictatorship. He studied Economics at Harvard, acquired US citizenship and subsequently served in the US Navy during World War II. After completing his Navy service he renounced his US citizenship. He first entered politics in 1964 as a deputy for his father's party (the Centre Union) in Achaia. He held this seat in parliament until 1967 when he was arrested and jailed by the junta. In early 1968 he departed for exile in Sweden and Canada.

During his second exile, he founded the anti-dictatorial Panhellenic Liberation Movement (PAK) which, after the fall of the junta in 1974, evolved into the Panhellenic Socialist Movement (PASOK) party. An able orator and flamboyant populist, Papandreou's party won 13% of the popular vote in 1974, 25% in 1977 and finally swept to power in a 1981 landslide victory that gave him 48% of the popular vote. Both his personal charisma and his family name contributed to this giddy ascent to power. He ran on a vague platform of "change" (sound familiar?) and was given a mandate to deliver it.

His first years of government were marked by the fact that Greece had just been admitted to the EU which he had campaigned against. This led to Greece being a black sheep for the first years of its EU membership due to his independent-minded left wing rhetoric and inability to eliminate a pervasive mentality of graft, corruption and cronyism in the public sector which had its roots in the time of the Byzantine Empire. Or maybe it was just an unwillingness. After all, the Left had a lot to set straight in the spoils system, which had been more or less owned by the conservatives for many years.

Some of Papandreou's goverment's more memorable achievements were the introduction of demotic language into education and law instead of the purist katharevousa, which was never spoken by the general populace; legislation that emancipated women from residual legal inequalities from earlier eras; and establishing a more secular state against the will of the powerful Greek Orthodox church.

During the 1980s, along with Francois Mitterrand of France, whose career paralleled his own, and several other European leaders, he was part of a socialist counterbalance to the conservatism represented by Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan, often walking a thin line between his country's role as NATO and EU member and his own less than subtle way of expressing dissent. His contacts with the PLO, Muammar Gaddafi and Eastern European regimes as well as his outspoken support for the Sandinistas and Arab causes often earned him the wrath of his country's NATO allies and isolation from the power centres. His defiant populist rhetoric and lack of diplomatic tact sometimes led to games of brinksmanship with neighbouring Turkey over the Cyprus question and territorial disputes in the Aegean Sea.

Despite his ailing health Papandreou kept a firm hold on power. This led to Greece effectively being governed by fax from a UK hospital for several months following heart surgery in 1988. Not only did he hold on to power but also left a lasting impression by going one up on his philandering French counterpart and hosting the December 1988 EU summit accompanied by his mistress, a former stewardess half his age. He lost power in 1989 to an unlikely coalition of right wing and communist forces in the wake of several scandals that led to his indictment and that of several of his cabinet members. This defeat marked the country's transition from a political scene dominated by hard left-right divisions dating back to the civil war 40 years earlier to a more European republic dominated by the political centre.

In 1993, and following Papandreou's acquittal the year before, he returned to power, still at the helm of the party he founded. By this time his left-wing politics had mellowed and the government had a decidedly centrist character, including a number of moderate technocrats one of whom, Kostas Simitis, was to become Papandreou's successor.

Papandreou resigned as prime minister in January 1996 after repeated blows to his already fragile health and died at his home in a northern Athens suburb in June of 1996. Ever the politician he was working on a speech for his party's convention until the very end. He had four children by his second, American-born wife Margaret and one from an affair in Sweden.

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