Ethnos, 12 July 1999
AN INTERVIEW WITH GEORGE A. PAPANDREOU
By MARIA GYPARI
GEORGE A. PAPANDREOU: "Socialism means sensitivity to all citizens and their problems, strong social welfare, and a healthy economy."
PROGRESSIVE POLITICS RUNS IN THE PAPANDREOU FAMILY
Greek Minister for Foreign Affairs George A. Papandreou shares the progressive political ambitions of his father and grandfather, both former Prime Ministers of Greece. In an interview with Ethnos newspaper, Papandreou talks frankly about the Panhellenic Socialist Party (PASOK), the need for co-operation among the Greek Left, the upcoming national elections, and Greek-Turkish relations.
Papandreou said that he is confident about the outcome of the next national elections (regardless of when they take place), as long as the PASOK government begins to engage directly with Greek citizens. Papandreou rejected the suggestion that PASOK is shifting to the right: "Our slogans might have changed, but our priorities and principles remain steadfast," he stated. In response to the intermal opposition within PASOK who reject the idea of reforming the party, Papandreou said: "Andreas Papandreou himself reformed the very party which he founded on several occasions."
ETHNOS: Do you believe that the results of the Euro elections can be reversed if the government 'goes all out' to achieve its goals, as Prme Minister Costas Simitis has said?
G. PAPANDREOU: Absolutely. First of all, the Euro elections are a special case: because citizens are not voting for a national government, they use different criteria. Secondly, the government can transform a potentially negative result into a positive one, by giving priority to the problems that presumably concern a proportion of our supporters, who registered their concern at the ballot box.
ETHNOS: Why didn't the government give priority to these problems when it came into power three years ago, rather than waiting to focus on them during the last eight or twelve months of its term?
G. PAPANDREOU: I think the government has given priority to a great many important areas. However, I am concerned that Greek citizens are asking themselves how successful our efforts have been in certain areas; and I am not sure to what extent they accept or understand some of the measures we have been forced to take. That is why I believe that the government must now be bold. First of all, we must discuss these problems with our citizens, we must ask them to contribute ideas, suggestions, and even practical solutions. Because I firmly believe that no government can successfully implement measures unless they have secured a national consensus.
ETHNOS: So do you think it is a question of communication?
G. PAPANDREOU: That is certainly part of it. More importantly, when it comes to national elections, the question is which party is capable of effectively addressing social problems and bringing about actual results.
ETHNOS: So the question is whether to choose New Democracy or PASOK?
G. PAPANDREOU: That's not what I said. That dilemma is a result of the Greek political system.
ETHNOS: Nevertheless, a number of people both within the party and among the opposition are accusing PASOK of shifting towards the right.
G. PAPANDREOU: I do not like simplistic categorizations. As far as I am concerned, socialism means sensitivity to all citizens and their problems, strong social welfare, and a healthy economy.
ETHNOS: So PASOK is still a Left wing party, because what you are saying is….
G. PAPANDREOU: Today, PASOK might have lost some of what you might call its 'socialist rhetoric' (the rhetoric I grew up with, in fact) - the credo and slogans - but it has certainly lost none of its sensitivity to social issues.
ETHNOS: Do you mean that the problem may be psychological?
G. PAPANDREOU: Yes, there is a psychological factor. I don't necessarily mean that we have to change our slogans - that would be completely superficial. I am simply saying that we must listen to the people, make an effort to address their problems. The Greek people are mature. They do not expect us to perform miracles within the next eight months - let's say, to transform all the hospitals in Greece into hospitals comparable to those in Sweden. But people do expect us to address their problems. We must convince them that we really care.
ETHNOS: In the last few days, there has been a great debate within PASOK about reforming or re-establishing the party. The internal opposition has reacted against this, arguing that PASOK was founded at a specific time by a specific individual. What do you say to all this?
G. PAPANDREOU: The party was indeed founded at a specific time by a specific individual - but Andreas Papandreou himself reformed the party he founded on several occasions. He actually used that term himself. But what really matters within PASOK - and in all the other Greek parties also - are not the political terms but the internal conflicts and affiliations.
?THNOS: If PASOK loses the next elections, will the question of party leadership arise?
G. PAPANDREOU: Although I generally prefer not to answer hypothetical questions, I will answer this one because I firmly believe that PASOK will win the next elections. Although as my grandfather George Papandreou used to say: "The ballot-box is like a pregnant woman - you never know what's going to come out." (Though now of course we have ultra-sound and Gallup polls!) As for the question of leadership, it was raised at our last party conference two months ago, so I don't see why it should be raised again. Of course, after every election - depending on the result - one party will always grumble.
?THNOS: Mr. Papandreou, many people claim that your relations with the Prime Minister have cooled since your recent interview [with To Vima] in which you indirectly but clearly alluded to your ambition to become Prime Minister. Is this true?
G. PAPANDREOU: Neither of those claims are true. I neither implied nor expressed any such ambition in that interview. I entered politics to serve my country, not to win office. As a member of the Papandreou family, I was born to uphold that tradition.
?THNOS: So are you destined to follow the footsteps of your father and grandfather, who both became Prime Ministers?
G. PAPANDREOU: I was not referring to the fact that both my father and grandfather were Prime Ministers. I was referring to the Papandreou family's tradition of fighting for what they believe in. I share the Papandreou ambition to offer something to society. In any case, neither my grandfather nor my father knew for certain that one day they would be Prime Minister. Nevetherless, they both fought for their ideals - my grandfather for democracy, and my father for his country. To settle this matter once and for all, let me say that I am very satisfied at the Ministry for Foreign Affairs and I have no unfulfilled desires for higher office. I believe that I would offer just as much to my country if I were a backbencher, or a Member of Parliament for the opposition. My ultimate goal is to offer whatever I can.
?THNOS: More and more of your party members (such as Paraskevas Avgerinos) are calling for more co-operation with the Left. They have even proposed a change in the electoral law, and argue that the days of one-party governments in Greece are numbered.
G. PAPANDREOU: I whole-heartedly agree that we should work with other Left wing parties. In fact, I believe that this kind of dialogue should begin immediately, while PASOK holds the majority. Indeed, I would say such co-operation should have begun as early as 1996. However, I have reservations about making changes in the electoral system under the pretext of upcoming elections. The basis for this co-operation must be real, not simply expedient.
ETHNOS: To serve the division of power.
G. PAPANDREOU: Exactly. In my opinion, that is a recipe for disaster. In general, I would like to see closer collaboration with the Left, not just in terms of policy but, if possible, on a governmental level also. That is why an open, public dialogue should begin right away, without prejudices or preconditions.
Neighbourly Relations: Greece and the Former Yugoslav Republic Of Macedonia "Both sides must show willing"
ETHNOS: Mr. Papandreou, how are your relations with FYROM at this stage? Are negotiations about the name still underway, or has that issue been forgotten?
G. PAPANDREOU: Our relations with FYROM have improved enormously since the interim agreement some years ago. At the same time, we are also working together on joint economic ventures and we are still negotiating the issue of the name within the framework of the United Nations.
?THNOS: How long will that take?
G. PAPANDREOU: The sooner the better. But of course both sides must show willing.
GREEK TURKISH RELATIONS Why we should not fear discussions with Turkey
?THNOS: You are charged with being the "favorite" foreign minister of Madeline Albright. How are your relations with the US Secretary of State?
G. PAPANDREOU: Our relationship is an open and honest one. Having said that, in all our dealings with each other we are naturally careful to use the language of diplomacy. But I do not think that anyone seriously believes that a PASOK minister - especially one who has been nurtured in a very different climate in terms of Greek foreign affairs - would ever be dependent on any other country.
?THNOS: Meetings between high-ranking Greek and Turkish officials are due to begin shortly. How risky is it to discuss terrorism with Turkey given the well-known Turkish position on this issue?
G. PAPANDREOU: I have an objection to that question. We should not be fearful of negotiating with Turkey per se. If we sit at the negotiating table with the Turks and they pose a problem that we disagree with, does that automatically signal disaster? Of course not…To meet and exchange views, even to disagree, is far better than not discussing anything at all. Of course, there is a real dispute at stake, but the time has come to distinguish between what is myth and what is reality when it comes to our relations with Turkey. There are not only issues that divide Greece and Turkey: there are also issues that unite us. As for terrorism, Greece has never said that we support terrorism. Of course there is a difference in approach between our two countries regarding what constitutes terrorism, or rather how we define a terrorist and how we deal with political refugees. These are issues we will discuss with our Turkish counterparts. Perhaps we will agree on some issues and disagree on others; but unless we sit down and talk to one another, we cannot anticipate the outcome in advance. I genuinely believe that we can talk to one another as equals, despite the fact that we have enormous differences and problems - Cyprus, conflicting territorial claims in the Aegean, and so on.
?THNOS: Do you insist that in order to make progress in Greek Turkish relations we must first resolve the Cyprus issue?
G. PAPANDREOU: I do believe that in order to re-establish Greek relations with Turkey, the Cyprus issue must be resolved. However, there can be a degree of improvement as long as Turkey stops making claims on the Aegean, or agrees to deal with these issues within the framework of international treaties and laws, as Greece has suggested.
?THNOS: If Turkey complies, does that mean Greece will lift its veto on EU funding to Turkey and Turkey's candidacy for EU membership?
G. PAPANDREOU: We have made no such promise. I believe that we must see this process carried through, and make our decisions accordingly when the time comes.
?THNOS: How quickly do you think the reconstruction of the Former Republic of Yugoslavia can take place, given that our NATO allies insist that Slobodan Milosevic must be removed?
G. PAPANDREOU: I think that gradually, as a result of a series of Greek proposals, there is now a greater consensus about getting mass humanitarian aid into Yugoslavia immediately. On the other hand, it is logical that many countries are insisting that FRY meets certain criteria - such as improved human rights, free media, and so on - before they agree to increase humanitarian aid. However, the absolute isolation of FRY is unthinkable: this would create an enormous humanitarian crisis, and would isolate the Serbian people who after all are not to blame for the atrocities committed by Milosevic.