Citizen George
Athens Plus, 9 October 2009

Prime Minister George Papandreou is already making his mark, just days after coming to power in a landslide victory last Sunday. Polite yet steel-willed, he has presented a Cabinet that combines fresh, untried faces with the seasoning of some old hands from PASOK’s past life in government. He has also gone directly to the heart of Greece’s problems - the sterility and stagnation created by a culture of unaccountability and corruption, which, he said, "has taken on pandemic proportions." Others have said similar things, including his predecessor Costas Karamanlis, but Papandreou has shown over many years that he believes in transparency, in using the benefits of the Internet to ensure accountability, in empowering citizens. And, most notably, he underlined this on Wednesday by summoning Ombudsman Giorgos Kaminis to address the first Cabinet meeting on the many failings and hidden strengths of the public administration. "We must become the catalysts for change and not apologists for those who exercise power," Papandreou said. "The mandate we received is a mandate to turn things around."

And Papandreou does seem set to shake things up. The leaner Cabinet, which, in a first, includes nine women, is made up of people who owe personal allegiance to him. It is very much a reflection on the prime minister himself. George Papandreou embodies both the brashness of ideas that have not been tested here, which fit more comfortably with the liberal democracies of Western Europe and Scandinavia, and yet he has been in the rough and tumble of Greek politics - and held several Cabinet posts - for decades. PASOK’s 10-point majority in the polls and its 160 seats in the 300-member Parliament, combined with Papandreou’s having beaten back a challenge for the party leadership after an election defeat in 2007, means that the prime minister has had to make no compromises within the party to satisfy dissidents or rivals. He is, therefore, in a position to make radical changes.

Just as significant is the fact that Papandreou says - and no doubt believes - that he is beholden to no business or media interests. Indeed, the fact that he has been a prince of Greece’s leading political dynasty all his life, and the fact that he was largely regarded as unassuming and a political mediocrity, allowed many players in the political/media complex to dismiss him with the contempt borne of familiarity. Papandreou, though, is a curious hybrid: the scion of a political family, groomed for power, yet at the same time a man who has had to struggle to shape his character in the shadow of a powerful father, who was, by all accounts, totally self-absorbed and selfish. Furthermore, he had the great fortune of growing up and studying in countries where no one is anything unless they prove themselves. His pedigree, therefore, gives him the authority of the ultimate insider, while his experiences here and abroad make him an inspired loner. His five years as leader of the opposition were not rosy - which is fortunate, because the challenges to his leadership and the slings and arrows of political and media interests that now court him, toughened him up and gave him the personal legitimacy he needs in order to control them.

One could argue that just making it to the post of prime minister would be all that George A. Papandreou needed to do, being the son and grandson of prime ministers. This says much about the sorry state of Greek politics but, looking at Papandreou in his first couple of days in office, it is clear that he is driven by a desire to be his own man, to put his own stamp on Greece. And if that means shaking up preconceived ideas, the government, the bureaucracy and the rest of society, so much the better. Papandreou must now show whether he is just full of words and ideas or whether he actually has what it takes to slug it out with the monsters that have bankrupted Greece in every way. lf he shows guts, many will rush to his side. If he balks, a nation of cynics will become even more cynical.