Political Rift Uproots Olive Tree Movement



PASOK chief Evangelos Venizelos speaks at the Olive Tree congress
PASOK chief Evangelos Venizelos speaks at the Olive Tree congress

The founding congress of Greece’s new Elia (Olive Tree) movement trying to unify the country’s fractured left broke apart as it began when forces loyal to former prime minister George Papandreou refused to back current PASOK Socialist leader Evangelos Venizelos in trying to align the party with other forces.

The Olive Tree is an attempt to prevent the center left and PASOK from becoming extinct as the party is hovering at 3-5 percent in polls ahead of the May elections for Greek municipalities and the European Parliament.

Venizelos noted that Papandreou himself had snubbed the attempt to tie PASOK to the Olive Tree. “I regret the absence of those who ought to be here today,” Venizelos told the conference. A number of socialist cadres close to Papandreou also abstained.

In a shot at Venizelos, who had tried to wrest control of PASOK from Papandreou before the 2009 elections and failed, the former prime minister said the PASOK leadership had not defended the party’s reformist legacy of 2009-2011, which ended when Papandreou was hounded out of office by protests, strikes and riots against austerity measures he imposed on the orders of international lenders.

He also criticized the Olive Tree initiative as an attempt by PASOK to end its existence as a party, which was founded by Papandreou’s father, the late prime minister Andreas Papandreou.

PASOK is a partner in Prime Minister and New Democracy Conservative leader Antonis Samaras’ government and was named Deputy Premier/Foreign Minister after backing more pay cuts, tax hikes and slashed pensions which have further eroded the Socialist base.

Apart from undermining efforts to present a show of unity, the tension between the two men now means that Venizelos will have to draw up a candidate list for Euro elections without any of the ex-premier’s allies.

This was another setback for the Olive Tree. Late last month, the so-called Initiative of the 58, a collection of center-left figures said it wouldn’t join the movement either.

Olive Tree now essentially is just part of PASOK and its splinter parties formed by ejects and rejects, such as Pact for a New Greece, led by Andreas Loverdos, and Ilias Mosialos’s Dynamic Greece, as well as on other smaller groupings, none of which even register in surveys.