Simitis takes over from Papandreou


By Wayne Hall

ATHENS — Andreas Papandreou died on June 23, only days before the fourth conference of his ruling PASOK (Panhellenic Socialist Party). The conference, which was to have elected a new deputy-president, was suddenly confronted with the task of electing a new president, in the face of threats from Prime Minister Costas Simitis that he would resign if the post was occupied by anyone other than himself.

Papandreou's funeral the following Wednesday was a media event, attended by political leaders from everywhere, notably including Serbia's Slobodan Milosevic. The day after the party had buried Papandreou, the party's three warring factions got down to the serious business of burying each other.

Simitis' main rival, Akis Tsochatsopoulos, Papandreou's former chief assistant and hatchet man, had become the focus for passions far out of proportion to his real stature. Increasingly threatened by a sense that the party is being hijacked by Simitis and transformed into a transmission belt for directives from Brussels, the leading personalities of PASOK came one after another to the microphone, usually to appeal to Simitis to respect the historical character of the party and to bear in mind that "no one person can take the place of Andreas Papandreou".

Simitis's victory marks the opening of an intriguing era that could have repercussions well beyond Greece. Parliamentary demagogy of both the right-wing and left-wing variety has been disarmed by Simitis. The Communist/anti-Communist detritus of the Cold War plays no part in his political style. The deeply antisocial policies of the European Commission and of Maastricht are applied cold turkey, without any ideological cover.

Categories of left and right no longer have anything to do with the Greek political scene. There are three parties of the status quo and three oppositional parties (oppositional in the sense that they are willing to take up popular grievances). The entire ideological spectrum from conservative-liberal through socialist to reformed or unreformed Communist is represented on both sides.

Former PASOK finance minister Dimitris Tsovolas' newly founded Democratic Social Movement is likely to grow in direct proportion to the unpopularity of the Simitis government.

Papandreou's most loyal lieutenant and chief scapegoat of the abortive "catharsis" conducted by the 1989 rightist-Communist coalition government, Tsovolas was physically prevented by PASOK security officials from attending Papandreou's funeral. This treatment stood in marked contrast to the reception given to Nikos Constantopoulos, president of the ex-Communist Coalition of the Left and an important ally of Simitis, who was invited to speak at Papandreou's funeral and given a respectful hearing when he did so. In 1989 Constantopoulos was prime mover of the "catharsis" campaign, the ostensible aim of which was to get Andreas Papandreou behind bars.

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