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Can the real PASOK please stand up?

My Big Fat Greek Week

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08 September 2017

- There is a certain kind of melancholia that looms over Greece this time of year.

- September marks the end of summer, the start of the schoolyear, the drop in temperature, the first drops of autumn rain. It serves as a stark reminder that winter is coming.

- September is also forever associated with the annual celebration of the founding declaration of PASOK, the socialist party that ruled the country for the better part of the past three decades.

- Every year, around the 3rd of September, Greek media are flooded with vintage photos of hairy men clad in turtlenecks, following their charismatic leader, Andreas Papandreou in his path to claiming power in the name of the people.

- This time round, the anniversary coincided with the party immersed in introspection. A shadow of what it was, PASOK - now trading as 'Democratic Coalition' - is the party that suffered the most since the beginning of the Crisis.

- It is hard to believe that as recently as six years ago, PASOK was the governing party and its founder's son, George Papandreou was still Prime Minister, having just all-but declared the country's default and called for the IMF and EU to intervene, resulting to the current situation of the country.

- George Papandreou is now leading another minor (i.e. insignificant) party, which is one of the parties comprising the Democratic Coalition, of which PASOK, led by another founding member's offspring, Fofi Gennimata, is the main component.

- Daughter of one of the most respected and beloved politicians of the party, Giorgos Gennimatas (the Health Minister who created the Greek National Health System, significantly ameliorating the lives of Greek people, especially those outside Athens), Fofi Gennimata has a great double-sided task at hand. First, to preserve the PASOK brand from further damage, and continue the legach bequeathed to her. And then effectively rebrand it, under the Democratic Coalition moniker, as the point of reference and main guarantor of Centre-Left politics in Greece.

- It is thus very ironic that during the same period that people remember Andreas Papandreou, his flaming rhetoric and larger-than-life personality, others in admiration, others accusing him for being a populist leader, responsible for the policies that led to the country being crippled by debt, several people are set to fight for his legacy, that is the leadership of the Centre-Left.

- A new initiative to unite the fragmented parties under a new, strong leadership is underway, orchestrated by an esteemed Professor of Constitutional Law, Nikos Alivizatos, and it seems that a new contender appears every passing day. Among them, former ministers, rising stars and wannabe stars of politics, one mayor and one former journalist who became yet another political leader.

- As these people try to claim the space between the leftist governing party of SYRIZA and the centre-to-far-right Opposition party of Nea Dimocratia, all the while defining themselves against the legacy of PASOK and Andreas Papandreou, another politician came to troll them: Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras.

- In an article, published on a Sunday (pro-government) newspaper, Alexis Tsipras offered his thoughts on PASOK and Andreas Papandreou on the occasion of the anniversary.

- Praising the party which emerged from the ranks of the anti-dictatorship movement, comprised of people the junta labeled as 'terrorists', the current PM reminded the distance that his party (or rather its core component, the 'Left Renewal') kept from PASOK, and repeated the well-known critique; that the PASOK governments of the '80s, after an initial refreshing wave of progressive policies (i.e. modernising family law and work relations), was eager to slide into corruption and become part of the system.

- But in his account of this journey of PASOK "from eternity to zero", the current PM did not repeat the usual 'populism' accusation. Instead, he addressed the real issue, the 'elephant in the room'.

- "Today, many accuse SYRIZA of being the continuation of PASOK. (...) However, if someone clears this campaign from the mud of populism, demagogy and lies, which allegedly are the common groudn of the old PASOK and the new Left, it is clear that behind it hides the same fear. The fear of the establishment that the great, standing demands of national sovereignity, social justice and democracy, which truly allows the people to come to power, might come back. If SYRIZA is accused of being the party which has reattached the thread of these targets, then the charges are accepted. And proudly so."

- For some, this is history coming full circle.

- Andreas Papandreou was often accused of hijacking the Left's rhetoric to come to power, only to abandon any radical marxist idea after getting to power.

- Tsipras is accused of imitating Papandreou to the t - even in his enunciation. In a way, some analysts say, he is taking revenge.

- The answer is more pragmatic than that.

- PASOK is not a party; it's a national state of mind. Tsipras is not the only leader to understand this. Kostas Karamanlis became PM in 2004 by also imitating his party's arch-nemesis.

- In fact, the only PMs who did not steal pages from the Papandreou book, did not last long in Power (Konstantinos Mitsotakis being a perfect example, as well as George Papandreou) - with the notable exception of Kostas Simitis, who is bound to go down in Greek history as some sort of irregularity.

- This is something that all these prospective leaders of the Centre-Left should take into account.

- Alongside with the fact that their constituency is in decline.

- Something proven beyond doubt by a very terrifying fact. Whiskey consumption in Greece fell by a staggering 6.8 percent in the first half of 2017.

- The data was presented in a report of an opposition-friendly TV station, which also presented such decline for milk and bread. All three were labeled as 'basic goods'.

- Whiskey being labeled a basic good.

- If this is not the legacy of PASOK and Andreas Papandreou, I don't know what is.

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