Greece: After the Junta
Andreas Papandreou’s PASOK victory in 1981 marked the beginning of the first socialist government in Greece.
The promises made by the new government were many: power to be decentralized to the local level, heavy industry, nationalized, social services improved, and corruption (including the ubiquitous custom of bribery) ended, and bureaucracy made more efficient, closing of US bases and withdrawal from NATO and the EC.
The party was to be anti-authoritarian (unlike its predecessors), based on principles and ideology rather than on the power of charismatic leaders. Things started well.
ELAS received recognition and permission to participate in ceremonies to do with the Resistance in the war. Women’s rights were furthered with the legal abolition of the dowry system, civil weddings, divorce, and abortion legalized, and village women given pensions equal to those of their husbands. Family law was amended in favor of wives and mothers.
But NATO and the US bases remained after seven years (though with some reduction of the US military), unemployment was high and welfare and education reforms unimpressive.
The shipping industry was in terrible straits due to the world recession, this industry heretofore the main provider of foreign currency, and foreign remittances from emigrant workers dropped severely due to unemployment abroad.
The warning to tourists to stay away from the Athens airport because of potential terrorist related danger, didn’t help matters economically. Domestic production was totally unequal to imports and the foreign debt was huge.
During Papadreou’s second term, achieved with a smaller margin than the first one, PASOK initiated a two year wage freeze and restrictions on imports, devalued the drachma and did away with the wage indexing program.
It was the European Community which saved the day, offering a loan, to be delivered in two stages, and conditional on an austerity programme. These moves, along with the soliciting of foreign investment, soured both the Communists and even the inner circle of PASOK.
Dissent was met with the firing of trade union leaders and the expulsion of three hundred members of his own party by Papandreou, actions quite contrary to the socialists principles he had espoused so strongly, and strikes multiplied.
Nea Dimokratia won the mayoralties in Athens, Thessaloniki and Patra, Greece’s three chief large cities. After that, with changes in cabinet makers that included none of the old PASOK contingent, all pretenses to socialism were gone.
As to foreign policy, not only did U.S. bases remain in Greece (this till 1994), based on fear of the Turks, should Greece shun NATO, which continues to be a main uniting force among Greek parties to this day.
The loan money doled out by the EC (on the verge of becoming the EU), has already been mentioned. By the late 1980s, despite all of the above, there seemed no viable alternatives to the PASOK administration. Scandal deepened Papandreous unpopularity, with his divorce of his American wife for a young Olympic airlines stewardess, whose company made him neglect public meetings and the like.
Even more serious were scandals involving illegal arms deals and embezzlement by the Bank of Crete.
Left wing parties, including the KKE and Elliniki Aristera (Greek Left), formed the coalition Synaspismos in response to government corruption.
A three month coalition followed the first inconclusive 1989 elections, under a strange combination of conservatives and communists, under the leadership of Ioannis Tzanetakis, a naval officer who had led a mutiny against the junta, followed by another temporary government after the second inconclusive elections under a man who had been rector of Athens University.
The elections of 1990 finally had a conclusive result: the return of Nea Dimokratia to power, under Cretan Constantine Mitsotakis, as prime minister.
Austerity measures including a wage freeze for civil servants and hikes in costs of utilities and basic public services, though given the world recession, inflation and unemployment remained very high.
Mitsotakis responded to the terrorist threat of the Dekaefta Noemvriou (November 17th ) group, named for the date of the 1973 junta attack on the Polytechnic in Athens, and who had since committed some 24 assassination, by censoring newspapers which printed the speeches of the group’s leaders, and jailing two newspaper editors for several days who had defied the ban.
The public wasn’t having any of this type of thing, nor was it amenable to the anti-strike laws instituted by Mitsotakis.
In early 1992, Papandreou was acquitted in his much televised trial for corruption connected with the Bank of Crete (by a margin of one vote), though two of his ministers were convicted and given jail sentences, which they bought off with stiff fines, though they could not hold public office for awhile afterward.
The trial aroused sympathy for Papandreou and increased discontent with Mitsotakis, which deepened over the conflict concerning the new republic that called itself Macedonia after the breakup of Yugoslavia in 1991 and even more over attacks leveled at him concerning theft of Minoan art, corruption related to the national cement company, and illegal phone tapping.
His ill health caused him to leave his post in 1996, and he died six months later. Papandreou was relected as prime minister in 1993, now in his seventies, and died in 1996, with PASOK taking over, electing the economist and lawyer Kostas Simitis as prime minster.
After the death of Papandreou in PASOK had turned quite a bit right from its original extreme leftish orientation. Simitis ruled for eight years, and, strongly in favor of deeper integration with Europe, saw to the Greek adoption of the Euro, which was accomplished in 2002.
Another switch back to the Right followed, with the New Democracy’s Konstandinos Karamanlis elected as prime minister. Responsibity for the upcoming Olympic Games of 2004 in Athens fell to the ND in 1997.
However, during Simitis’ first term, in December of 1996, there was a blockade of several weeks by irate farmers of Greece’s main road and railways. The protest had to do with ongoing austerity measures.
In 1997, both teachers and students were striking over proposed reforms in education, mostly about the need for dealing with the laxity of school regimens. Simitis was faced with the task of shaping up the Greek economy, by coming down hard on massive problem of tax evasion. He succeeded in curbing inflation. Improved relations with neighbors in the Balkans were seen during his first term, as well as a very impressive easing of old tensions with Turkey.
in large part due to the Athens earthquake of September 7th, 1999, which hit less than one month after the far more devastasting earthquake in Turkey, during which Greek rescue teams arrived in Turkey before any other foreign ones, and sent enormous aid, in forms of food and blood to the victims.
Turkey, in turn, sent the first disaster relief teams to Athens during the quake there. Not long after, Giorgos Papandreou, the Foreign Minister, announced that Greece would end its long term insistence that EU financial aid to Turkey be given only on condition that a solution first be found for the Cyprus and Aegean disputes (the latter exacerbated in 1996 when shooting between the two powers broke out over territorial possession over two islets inhabited only by goats).
Papandreou also announced that Greece would not oppose was the Turkey’s candidacy for EU accession.
The early elections of April , 2000, saw not only Simitis reelected, but PASOK in a third consecutive term, an unpredented event. In June of the same year, at an EU summit, Greece entered into the euro currency zone, which would put an end to the old drachma by 2002 (though many Greeks still name sums in the large figures of the old currency).
The adoption of the euro was seen as a positive move in terms of Greece’s international reputation, which was suffering from the assassination, early in the same month, of the UK military attaché, Stephen Saunders, while he was driving in Athens, by the terrorist group known as ‘November 17’, which had aroused fears abroad that the upcoming Olympics in Athens would not be safe to attend.
The following month another EU related matter manifested the growing erosion of another old cornerstone of Greek national identity when the Orthodox Church failed in its attack on the new national identity cards that did not state the religion of the bearer. Under EU regulations, the old cards were illegal, and though the ND sponsored a bill allowing for optional statement of religion on the cards, it was defeated in parliament.
The scales tipped again in 2004, when ND overturned the socialist cart, and ND’s Konstandinos Karamanlis was elected as prime minister.
Responsibility for readiness for the upcoming Olympic Games in August was taken over by ND, the preparations marked by a stereotypically Greek type of chaos, with noone sure that all necessary preparations would be pulled off in time.
Things went well in the end, though the cost was daunting. The euro, quite predictably, brought a rising cost of living, with food costs steadily rising, the price of bread double that of 2001, and milk now typically selling at 1.40 euros per liter; rents and utility can also seen to be quite visibly increasing.
An interesting letter to the editor sent to the Odyssey magazine (an English language glossy that deals with Greek issues, both inside and outside of Greece) a couple of years ago, gives a good picture of some of the tensions between the old and new Greece of the early 21st century.
The author of the letter, an expatriate Greek who was paying a visit every seven years or so to his native country, complained quite bitterly in the letter that Greece was no longer as it had been. Civil marriages had replaced the old Orthodox Church weddings, cappuccinos were being drunk by everyone instead of the old ‘Greek’ coffee (which was known widely in Greece as ‘Turkish coffee’ until the 1970’s, when tensions over Cyprus gave it a new name), and so forth.
The editor of the magazine (and Englishman), responded by verbally raking the embittered man over the coals, basically telling him to wake up to modern reality. But Greece is still a mixed bag. On the one hand many of these ‘modern ways’ seen everywhere, since every villager has relatives in Athens or Thessaloniki, or grew up there and then came back to the village, and television is everywhere, with female newscasters dressed like models, soap operas watched by villagers, pornography easy to find on some stations anywhere, automobile and mobile phone commercials mirroring the everpresent obsession with these items. In many places, perhaps most, everyone has a mobile phone, including teenagers, who are seen sending text messages or talking on them whether at the bus stop, on the bus or metro, or on the beach.
On the other hand, there are still those who grow fodder for their animals and slaughter them themselves, villagers who make their own cheese, wine, raki (also called tsipouro), and who grow most of their own vegetables, tend and harvest their own olives, cook on wood fires, mend their clothes rather than throwing them away, and who stay at home most of the time.
Some of the people who still do these things also rent out a room or hotel built for the tourist trade, or serve the food they produce in their own tavernas, earning the extra money needed to live in an upwardly mobile world, but also enabling them to stay in the villages and out in the countryside or hinterland.