Athens, 11 December 2008
Interview with George A. Papandreou on French TV channel "France 24"
Journalist: A police officer has been charged with murder after the killing of a teenager in Greece. A second officer is charged as an accomplice, but it has done little to calm public anger. Greece has entered its sixth day of unrest, after a night of rioting in ten Greek cities. There have been calls for the government to resign, and one of those calling for that is the head of the opposition socialist party, George Papandreou. Thank you for joining us, Mr. Papandreou. This unrest has been going on for six days now. What’s your reaction to what’s going on in your country?
George Papandreou: Of course, I am very upset and very worried. We have had a murder of a young boy, and this is part of a social reaction, a social explosion, I would say. Certainly this social explosion has much deeper causes.
We are living in a time, and I have called for the resignation of this government now for quite a few months, not just today, because we have a government which has deepened social inequalities, which has handled a number of issues such as corruption in a very bad way – there is a great deal of corruption at the highest level of government – where we have had a system which has undermined our educational system, our health system.
So there is quite a bit of social unrest and social injustice, and this is why I have said we need a new direction. We need a new direction particularly now, when there is an international economic crisis, and we need a stable government, which has the confidence of the people, which has credibility with the people of Greece. And that has been lost by this government.
Journalist: How would you have tackled this crisis differently? Would you have sent in the military?
George Papandreou: Absolutely not. When I was a young boy, I lived under the dictatorship, and that was a very, very crushing experience for the Greek people. We need to strengthen our democratic institutions.
I see that in the crisis we are dealing with and in the problems we are dealing with we need more democracy, we need more participation. We need to give our youth a voice. They need to understand, they need to see that there is a prospect for this country. They need to see that we can create a Greece which we have seen in the past, a Greece of the Olympic Games, a Greece which has opened up to the world, a Greece which can move and use its strengths, which are a green economy, it’s mobilising people, mobilising its educational system, creating tourist spots with quality, making an economy built around the environment and services.
This is a Greece which we can again create, and we have surprised people in the past.
Journalist: Can you tell us what you would have done differently from the government to tackle this crisis that has been going on for six days in Greece?
George Papandreou: First of all, we have called for everyone to demonstrate in a peaceful way. We have made quite a few protests, and we have called them protests against violence without violence for a more humane society.
I believe, however, that this is not question of how you deal with this problem just right now. This is something that has been building up over the last months, I would say the last years.
But certainly I think that if we had had a much more decisive government, which had ministers who were resigning because of their responsibilities, not only with the death of this child but also with many of the other issues that have come up on corruption and on the use of public monies, I think this would have created a greater confidence in the people.
Now there is a lack of confidence, and there is an anger in the youth. That has to be dealt with now, only through peaceful means, and of course what we are doing, as the opposition.
Journalist: You are criticising the government, but many people think of you and your party as very similar. You come both come from Greek political dynasties, don’t you?
George Papandreou: I have a very different background. My grandfather was in jail six times in his life. My father was exiled and was in jail twice in his life. We fought for democracy. Throughout my life I happen to be from a family which has been persecuted.
That is my history, and I have fought of course for democracy and for a social Europe, a social Greece, a green economy, a green Europe.
I think we have very clear views, and I think this is what we want to see as Greece, a Greece which is truly democratic, a Greece which is truly social, a Greece which is truly green. We need a Greece which gives the sense of confidence to its people that there is a government which establishes the law and which establishes a sense of justice.
That is lacking here in Greece, and that is what we represent, and we can bring this change.
And I am not saying this for any party political reasons. I am saying this because I really feel deeply that we are in deep crisis in Greece, and it needs a new direction. And this is a new direction which we, the progressive forces of Greece, must take it upon us, with great responsibility, to move this country out of the crisis.
And I don’t see this government, which has no confidence and no credibility amongst the Greek people right now, to be able to do this. We will be going deeper and deeper.
Journalist: In 2007 your party suffered its worst election result in 30 years. Surely that says you are not fit for government, either.
George Papandreou: I would say that that is not the criterion of whether one is fit for government. The criterion is whether we are ready for government and whether the Greek people have confidence in us.
Yes, the Greek people did give this government a second chance. However, a year later this government is in the deepest crisis we have had in the last possibly 30 years. And that is why we are saying we need a change.
It will be the Greek people who will have to make that decision, and then of course we’ll be judged by how we govern this country. But I believe we can bring this country to a very different point.
We have surprised – and I said this again – the world, when we organised the Olympic Games, about the kind of country we can be. We will surprise the world again.
Journalist: Mr. Papandreou, your party has been associated with numerous corruption charges and scandals. Why should the Greeks trust you now?
George Papandreou: That’s a good question, because I think that what we had in the past – first of all, corruption exists very often in many governments. The question is whether you have cases of corruption, or whether you have corrupt government.
And unluckily, right now the way these corruption cases are being handled, people are saying that we have a corrupt government. Not cases of corruption.
And that is why there is a breakdown in confidence in this country. I am very sorry to say that for my country, but what I am also saying is this is not Greece. Greece is a different Greece, and we are going to make sure that, both for the Greek people and for the world itself, we will show a very different Greece, with transparency.
And we have made it very clear in our party policy that we have learned from our past also. We have knowledge of our own failures. And that is why I am here, the new leader of this party, to open up a new path for this country.
Thank you very much.
Journalist: George Papandreou, leader of the Greek opposition party, thanks very much for your time.