“There’s another one going to Ghadafi”, heat-struck Cretans lazily point to the sky whilst leaning against their beach deck chairs. For the past few weeks, F16 fighter jets have kept flying non-stop over Cretan skies to enforce the no fly zone over Libya, disturbing locals and tourists’ summer relaxation. Almost thirty years ago, Gadhafi along with Mitterrand, was enjoying Cretan hospitality in Andrea Papandreou’s favorite resort in Elounda. But times change and it is from the same island, with the full support of Andreas Papandreou’s son, that NATO has brought the Colonel to his limits.
For George Papandreou and the rest of the EU leaders, Gadhafi’s name, the man who for more than 40 years has ruled Libya with an iron fist, is enough to send shivers down their spines. But there was a time when the mere mention of Papandreou’s name had the exact same effect. Beyond the borders of Greece, Andreas Papandreou- current Prime Minister’s father- was widely viewed as a charismatic lunatic who liked befriending cult world leaders, amongst them, Libya’s tyrant. The tall figure with bushy eyebrows fascinated Greeks with his compelling rhetoric and his volatile ways and couldn’t care less whether his friendship with the “mad dog of the Middle East” pushed Americans onto the verge of a nervous breakdown- as along as he could market it as a part of his populist campaign against Greece being “a client state of the West.”
Andreas and Muammar-An Odd Friendship
In 1977, under the burning African sun in boiling Sahara, Andreas Papandreou was on his way to meet Libya’s dictator for the previous eight years, the leader who, according to Andreas, had managed to revive an ancient Athens-style democracy: Colonel Muammar al- Gadhafi.
The man who arranged the meeting was no other than Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat- yet another one of Papadnreou’s close friends that sent American and European leaders into a fear frenzy. Muammar Gadhafi gladly accepted the invitation to meet Greece’s socialist rising star and Greek Prime Minister hopeful. He was familiar with the Greek culture as he had studied at the Greek Military Academy in Athens and spoke a bit of Greek . He also liked spending his holidays in Greece. In 1969, the 27-year-old Gadhafi successfully organized a coup to overthrow Libyan King Idris I whilst relaxing at Kamena Vourla, a Greek touristic resort near Athens. For Muammar, Greece was familiar territory with only positive connotations.
The two men clicked straight away. They were both power-hungry, loud with a taste for beautiful younger women. Andreas shared with Muammar his vision of radical social transformation and breaking of the cycle of Western dependence that had characterized the history of the Greek state. With his anti-Western socialist oratory and fierce anti- Americanism-despite the fact that he had spent more than 20 years in the United States and had become a citizen, served in the Navy in World War II, taught at many universities and served as Chairman of the Economics Department at the University of California at Berkeley- Andreas had a lot in common with the “maestro of world terror”.
The Third Road to Business
Ignoring CIA reports that dismissed “Jamahiriya” (Gadhafi’s inspired system of government called the “State of the masses” in which the nation is supposedly governed by the populace) as a pure military dictatorship, one of Andrea’s first moves as he swept to power and entered the Maximos Mansion n 1981, was to locate an ambassador in Libya.
A couple of years later, he was still desperately looking for a way to make his poor country rich and free of any Western influence. Arabic petrol dollars seemed like the perfect solution and oil-rich Libya, the perfect place to find them. Andreas paid Muammar his first formal visit as Greece’s Prime Minister and their friendship was revived.
They exchanged revolutionary compliments. Andreas described Gadhafi as a great mind and applauded his “cultural revolution” that removed all traces of former colonial and foreign influence from his country. Gadhafi said Papandreou was a true people’s leader. On their way back, Greek government officials spread rumors about a billion dollar investment plan that would change Greece forever. Andreas had found a friend that would help him to escape from Western economic oppression and turn Greece into a Mediterranean superpower that wouldn’t need to suck up to Europe’s Northern elite or the Americans anymore. After all, his goal had always been not to turn Greece into “Europe’s waiters” and keep “Greece for the Greeks”.
“We’ve assessed you, we’ve tested you and we trust you.” declared Tzalount, Libya’s Prime Minister. Greek Government officials returned to Athens, all excited, with the Green Book in hand- Gadhafi’s 21,000 words tome laying out his utopian quasi-socialist vision that he called the “Third Universal Theory”.
The Elounda Agreement
On November 16, 1984, braking news reported an unexpected -some would say odd- meeting. Mitterrand met with Gadhafi in Crete, under Andrea’s auspices, to talk about the withdrawal of Libyan and French forces from Chad. Of all the mutual back-scratching between Papandreou and North Africa’s strongman, this meeting stands out.
“You say you are a socialist, but even Pompidou was more of a socialist than you! How can you support those Chad Fascists!” Gadhafi says to an astounded Mitterrand. Meanwhile, Andreas, living up to his reputation of being a tireless womanizer, had his eyes on Gadhafi’s chief Amazon (the head of the virgin female bodyguard squad the Libyan leader carries with him at all times). “What’s her name?” he whispered in Gadhafi’s ear.
Gadhafi and Papandreou’s relationship reached new levels of chumminess after this meeting. The Libyan tyrant was all smiles in front of the cameras while the French President’s enthusiasm was restricted to an enigmatic “Vive La Grèce» statement. Andreas had achieved what he wanted. Greece wasn’t an insignificant Mediterranean touristic country any more. It was an international diplomatic superpower that brought France’s President and one of America’s most hated men together at the same dinning table, right there, at his favorite resort in eastern Crete, where he used to spend his summers, with his then busty blond mistress and later wife, Dimitra Liani-or as Greeks like to call her, Mimi.
As the friendship between the two leaders was getting stronger, concern ran high in Western capitals. But then, everything went wrong. In order to seal the one billion dollar deal, Gadhafi not only wanted to make an appearance in the Greek Parliament but he also requested to address the Greek people in Syntagma Square! Papandreou wasn’t the type of leader that would give in to blackmail- even if the blackmailer was oil-rich Libya’s leader. He realized that there was nothing more to be gained and stated, “That’s it. We are over with Gadhafi.”
Muammar and Mimi (Andrea’s widow)
Almost a decade and a half after Andrea’s death, Gadhafi decided to help his old friend’s widow, Dimitra Liani, the airline flight steward with whom Andreas had conducted a highly public extramarital liaison and who later became his third wife. Mimi, who was one of the main reasons Andreas became a target of snickering and outrage, after failing to fulfill her political ambitions, went for her plan B: launching a television career. She called up Andrea’s good old friend Muammar and asked for an interview. He responded positively. The interview was directed by Andrea’s exclusive director/magician, Tasos Birsim, and the result was hilarious. Sitting in a white plastic chair and holding a fly swatter throughout the interview, Gadhafi unfolded his political views, while Mimi gazed at him with great respect and listened carefully to every word he uttered-even when he explained the reason for holding the fly swatter: “Camels parked outside the tent bring in flies and irritate me.”
Muammar and George Papandreou (Andrea’s Son)
“How’s your mother’s health?” the Colonel asked his old friend’s son and then started narrating stories and funny incidents with the Prime Minister’s parents. George Papandreou- whose mother is American, and Americans themselves see him as as miracle antidote to his father’s anti-American passions- even brought a photo from the “Elounda Agreement” era, depicting Mitterrand, his father and the Libyan leader himself. Gadhafi signed the photo in Arabic and declared he would use all his powers to help Greece.
Despite being a bit too Westernized for Gadhafi’s taste, Papandreou the third (grandson of Georgios Papandreou and son of Andreas Papandreou) whose enemies back home describe him as a pale shadow of his dynamic father, discussed potential investments by Libya’s sovereign wealth fund and its state-owned energy groups and signed a memorandum to develop closer economic relations. Libyan Prime Minister Al-Mahmudi said Libya planned to spend as much as €200 billion on a huge leap in development and Libya’s relations with Greece would also see a huge development.
But history repeats itself and as it happened back in the eighties, it all went downhill. A year later, the vague promises of financial help are well forgotten as Gadhafi is a step away from his political-or even physical-death. Instead of doing business with the Colonel, Papandreou allowed NATO forces to use Greek bases in Souda and Aktio for military operations, sent four F16 fighter jets to help enforcing the no-fly zone, a flying radar and two Super Puma helicopters, stating that he “will enforce the decisions of the United Nations, especially for the protection of human life in Libya.”