It was June 23, 1996 when Greece lost its first leftist prime minister and great reformist Andreas Papandreou, a politician who was adored by some and disliked by others.
Like all great politicians, Papandreou had many admirers and equally as many sworn enemies. His followers believe that he modernized Greece by ridding it of some conservative traditions. His opponents believe that he was a cunning populist who degraded Greek political life and built a huge, labyrinthine State.
Born on February 5, 1919, on Chios island, Andreas Papandreou had some hard shoes to fill, as he was the son of Georgios Papandreou, a revered politician of the Center Union who was lovingly called by most Greeks the “Old Man of the Republic”. So, Andreas’ future seemed prescribed.
Papandreou studied in the United States where he lived for two decades, becoming a U.S. citizen. In 1943 he earned a PhD at Harvard, where he became assistant professor in 1947. After that he taught at the University of Minnesota, UCLA and other universities.
In 1951 he married Margaret Chant, a U.S. citizen. It was his second marriage after the one with Christina Rassia. Andreas and Margaret had four children, George, Sophia, Nikos and Andrikos (Andreas).
In 1959, Papandreou returned to Greece for one year with scholarships from Guggenheim and Fulbright heading a research program on economic development. In 1960 he was appointed chairman of the board of directors, general director of the Athens Economic Research Center, and advisor to the Bank of Greece.
When his father became Greece’s prime minister heading the Center Union party in 1963, Andreas decided to enter Greek politics. He renounced his American citizenship and in February 1964 he was elected MP of the Achaia region.
The 1965 political upheavals led King of Greece Constantine II to dismiss George Papandreou. Political turmoil led to the colonels’ coup of April 21, 1967. Papandreou was arrested and imprisoned. However, pressure from political and academic institutions forced the dictators to release him from prison a year later on the condition that he will go into exile. Papandreou moved to Sweden and then to Canada.
In 1968, the exiled politician established the Panhellenic Liberation Movement (PAK), an activist, anti-junta organization that remained active until the fall of the dictatorial regime in July 1974.
The glorious return and the birth of PASOK
Once democracy was restored in Greece in July 1974, Papandreou returned and formed the Panhellenic Socialist Movement (PASOK) on September 3rd. In the first post-dictatorship elections in November 1974, PASOK got 13.5 percent of the vote and 15 seats in parliament.
In the next elections in November 1977, PASOK made a significant leap, doubling its strength to 25 percent and became the main opposition party with 93 MPs.
In October 1981, Papandreou with the slogan “Change” won the ballot and PASOK with 48 percent of total votes and 173 MPs became the first non-conservative government in Greece. Papandreou along with the premiership took the post of minister of national defense.
The socialist government immediately carried reforms that led to wealth redistribution, establishing worker-friendly labor laws, aiding the unemployed, raising the minimum wage and increasing salaries in the public sector and pensions, while at the same time he hired thousands of public servants.
Four years later, Papandreou was elected for the second time. This time with 45,2 percent of the vote and 161 deputies.
In 1988, Papandreou’s first serious health problem appeared. He was rushed to the Herford hospital in London and underwent major heart surgery. In the same year, he divorced Margaret and married air flight attendant Dimitra Liani.
In the 1989 elections, however, PASOK came second 39.15 percent of the vote and 125 House seats. In the repeat electoral contest PASOK again came second party with 40.67 percent of the vote and 128 seats.
In the 1990 elections, PASOK came second again with 38.62 percent and 125 seats. Finally New Democracy became government under Konstantinos Mitsotakis.
In October 1993, following the resignation of the Mitsotakis government, Papandreou won for the third time getting 46.82 of the vote and formed his third government.
In November 1995, Andreas Papandreou was transferred to the Onassis Cardiac Surgery Center with serious health problems, which led him to resign from the prime minister seat in January 1996. On June 23 of that year, he died of a heart attack.
The Papandreou Legacy
Among the important social reforms Papandreou brought to Greece was the legalization of political marriage, the vote at 18, the introduction of the monotonic writing system (1982), changes in Family Law such as the introduction of gender equality and the prohibition of the anachronistic institution of the dowry, the abolition of many laws by dictator Ioannis Metaxas and post-Civil War governments, such as hooliganism and accusation of espionage against left-leaning citizens, a multidimensional foreign policy, reinforcement of the Greek Armed Forces, the recognition of the genocide of Pontic Greeks and permission to return to Greece to the political refugees of the Democratic Army, the leftist Resistance fighters who went into exile after the Civil War.
Papandreou’s opponents criticized the tremendous increase in public spending and public debt in its financial management. They also criticized him of populism because he did not withdraw Greece from NATO and the European Union (then European Economic Community) as he was promising before he won the first election in 1981. His opponents also call him responsible for inflating the Greek State by hiring dozens of thousands employees in the public sector, thus creating a chaotic bureaucratic State. They also called his foreign policy maximalist and dangerous to the national interest.