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biographies, history, parliamentary politics

Who is Who: Giorgos Papandreou

Giorgos Papandreou (Γιώργος Παπανδρέου) was prime minister of Greece between September 2009 and November 2011, leader of PASOK from February 2004 to March 2012, and president of the Socialist International from 2006 to the present. Under his premiership Greece entered officially the crisis.

He was the third Papandreou to become prime-minister of Greece. His grandfather – whose first name was also Giorgos – was the first prime minister of post-Nazi Greece in 1944, when the country took its first big steps towards civil war. His father, Andreas, was a highly charismatic politician, more leftist in his speeches than in his actions, and very populist. Andreas dominated Greek politics in the 1980s, when – as it is widely acknowledged – Greek economy and society acquired the particular features with which it entered the late 2000s crisis.

Giorgos Papandreou junior is a typical example of dynastic nepotism in Greek politics – like his predecessor Konstantinos Karamanlis junior. Although he held a senior ministerial position in his father’s cabinets, for long he was considered more of a liability – mainly because of his lack of acumen and his American-ness.

What is a challenging question for the historian-detective is Giorgos Papandreou’s rise to prominence first as a foreign minister in the late 1990s (he led a widely celebrated rapprochement between Greece and Turkey following consecutive deadly earthquakes in both countries), and then, a decade later, as Greece’s prime-minister. Soon after he became premier in 2009, and despite the rapidly amassing clouds of the crisis, Papandreou was repeatedly hailed in Greece and abroad as ‘charismatic’, as an enlightened leader, a new model of a politician. As the Greek crisis burst on the global scene, a hard core of public figures persisted in believing and advertising Papandreou’s abilities not only to manage the immediate problems he was facing, but to use the crisis as an opportunity to change the nature of politics in Greece. The circle of his admirers contained many important names, from the Nobel Laureate Joseph Stiglitz to the Guardian’s Athens correspondent Helena Smith.

Ultimately Papandreou did not manage to control the crisis which many in Greece accuse him of precipitating. Conflicting testimonies have already started emerging on this, building an interesting early repository of historical material. But possibly Papandreou will be best [?] remembered in history for the highly dramatic and humiliating way he was forced to resign in the Cannes EU summit of November 2011 under the double pressure of Angela Merkel and a furious/comical Nicolas Sarkozy, after announcing a referendum on a new round of measures and – crucially – on the question of whether Greece should keep the Euro.

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