*The New York Times
June 27, 2010
ATHENS — Dora Bakoyannis knew that voting for the Socialist government’s austerity measures last month meant that she would get kicked out of the conservative party that her father, a former prime minister, helped shape.
Mrs. Bakoyannis, a towering, charismatic former foreign minister and current Athens mayor, is now considering forming a new party. But she acknowledges that her lineage, as well as her years of political exposure, may hurt her at a time when Greeks have lost trust in their political institutions.
“Believe me, there is no DNA which can save any politician, especially now,” Mrs. Bakoyannis, 56, said during a recent interview.
“At the end of the day, you are going to be judged alone.”
Many Greeks, worried about their country’s future, remain cautiously behind the reform efforts of Prime Minister George Papandreou, the scion of Greece’s most influential political family. But recent polls show that Greeks also believe corruption fostered by their politicians has led the country to economic ruin.
As a result, they are questioning their most familiar political brands, said Kostas Ifantis, a political science professor at the University of Athens. “The country’s political families are easy targets,” he said. “They represent the state, which has been so dominant in Greece for so long, and which Greeks have grown used to being responsible for everything.”
In the last half-century, three main families have dominated Greek politics.
The center-left Papandreous have produced three prime ministers: George; his powerful father, Andreas, who founded Pasok, the governing Socialist party; and Andreas’s centrist father, also named George.
The previous prime minister, Kostas Karamanlis, is the nephew of Konstantinos Karamanlis, a four-time prime minister who founded the New Democracy Party and led Greece in 1974 after the fall of the seven-year military dictatorship.
Mrs. Bakoyannis and Kyriakos Mitsotakis, a member of Parliament with New Democracy, are the children of former Prime Minister Konstantinos Mitsotakis, who led New Democracy in the 1980s and early 1990s and who often sparred with Andreas Papandreou.
“These personalities” — especially Andreas Papandreou and Konstantinos Karamanlis — “helped Greece’s development in recent decades as much as they obstructed it,” said Dimitris Sotiropoulos, a political scientist who has written on post-junta politics in Greece.
These governments helped rebuild a traumatized country, but they also hardened the system to serve their own cadres and supporters, Mr. Sotiropoulos said.
Andreas Papandreou, for instance, transformed Greece’s political landscape in the 1980s by introducing social reforms for the poor. But many critics said he also squandered billions of European Economic Community loans on a bloated, inefficient public sector and political favors.
Each major party gave perquisites, benefits and tax breaks to its supporting groups. The system also made it easy for many Greeks to evade taxes, further unbalancing the budget.
“Greece started borrowing money to keep up, and the end of the story is now well-known,” Mr. Sotiropoulos said.
Over the years, leaders from each of the families have promised to end corruption. Kostas Karamanlis, a cigar-smoking lawyer with a doctorate in international affairs from Tufts University in the United States, led New Democracy to victory in 2004 on the promise that he would make government transparent, efficient and clean. Five years later, he left politics in disgrace, after his scandal-ridden party lost to Mr. Papandreou and Pasok, who have also promised to stamp out corruption.
“Greeks really identified with Karamanlis, and when he disappointed them, they looked for someone else, and there was George” Papandreou, said Alexis Papachelas, managing director of Kathimerini, a prominent daily. “There was no one else.”
A survey this month by the pollster Public Issue showed that 40 percent believed that neither Mr. Papandreou nor the New Democracy leader, Antonis Samaras, was up to the job of dealing with Greece’s problems. Other surveys show that most Greeks do not trust the country’s two main political parties. At dozens of protests outside Parliament, thousands of angry Greeks gather to chant “kleftes,” or “thieves.”
“I am not a political person, and I want to believe that the government and Mr. Papandreou will be different, but over the years I have lost faith,” said Grigoris Antoniadis, a 48-year-old aircraft mechanic who was at a recent protest against changes in the pension system.
This sentiment, which pollsters say is widespread, shows just how fragile trust in politicians is right now, said Yiannis Tsarmougelis, an economics professor at the University of the Aegean who is a longtime Pasok activist.
“If the government gets involved in one scandal — just one — I’m afraid our politicians won’t be able to walk out in public,” he said. “People can’t take any more corruption or broken promises. They are desperate for results. If you can’t produce them, your name and stature won’t matter.”
Though Mrs. Bakoyannis does not support Mr. Papandreou’s policies, she said she voted for the austerity measures on May 6 because she believed they were the best way to help Greece avoid bankruptcy. Mr. Samaras, to whom Mrs. Bakoyannis had lost a fight last autumn for leadership of the New Democracy Party, responded by expelling her.
The austerity measures passed that day are the toughest the country has ever seen. They included drastic cuts in public spending, as well as tax increases, that are supposed to help Greece bring in about €30 billion, or $37 billion, in three years.
By the fall, Greeks will start to feel the bite of those austerity measures. “Maybe there will be social unrest,” Mr. Tsarmougelis said. “People will want someone to give them a clear vision about why this is happening and why they have to pay the cost.”
If Mr. Papandreou’s government fails at that, Mrs. Bakoyannis hopes to offer an alternative. She says that if she does form a new party, which could happen this autumn after local elections, she wants to draw in Greek centrists who have historically felt like outsiders in Greek politics.
Mrs. Bakoyannis said she considered herself an outsider as well, despite her family history. Her father is a controversial figure in Greek history, and she rose in politics after her husband, Pavlos Bakoyannis, a journalist and New Democracy politician, was assassinated in 1989 by the terrorist group 17 November.
Though she says she was a reluctant public figure at first, she soon became one of Greece’s most prominent politicians. At the height of her popularity a few years ago, commentators were speculating that she might one day become Greece’s first female prime minister.
But as Greece enters uncharted political waters, her fate — and the fate of many other name-brand politicians — is uncertain, experts say.
“The question now is,
will we politicians, who are a product of the old way of thinking,
get the message right and change ourselves?”
Mrs. Bakoyannis said.
“That’s the big question all of us are asking.”