An American success story

January 18, 1996|By Gwinn Owens

ANDREAS PAPANDREOU, the Greek prime minister whom illness forced from office this week, was an American success story: As a youth he came to the United States, fought in World War II, earned his citizenship, graduated from Harvard and rose to the most prestigious levels of academe.

Then he returned to his native Greece to become the most anti-American prime minister of this century.

His ascendancy in Greece was a direct reaction to America's overzealous anti-communism. By opposing him, Washington in fact empowered him.

Mr. Papandreou was always controversial. As chairman of the economics department at the University of California, his admirers included Harvard's John Kenneth Galbraith and other prominent economists. But the late Paul Seabury, chairman of Berkeley's political-science department, in a letter to me, called his former colleague ''a congenital four-flusher,'' Some of his Greek opponents would agree.

Mr. Papandreou's father, George, was a Greek center-left political leader who headed the government-in-exile during the Nazi occupation of Greece. In 1944 he wrote a book predicting a post-war struggle between ''communist pan-Slavism'' and ''Anglo-Saxon liberalism.'' His sympathies were totally with the latter.

The civil war that prolonged the agonies of World War II for long-suffering Greeks was, in the late 1940s, being won by communists. Fearful of losing Greece -- and thus control of the eastern Mediterranean to the Soviet Union -- President Truman in 1947 ordered massive military and economic aid to Greece and Turkey. The so-called Truman Doctrine helped to tip the balance; the communists were defeated.

The procession of post-civil war governments that ruled Greece was dominated by an industrial-military oligopoly and a conservative monarchy friendly to Washington. Historically, this was nothing new. As Europe's bulwark against the East, Greece had endured control and manipulation by foreign powers since its escape from the 400-year rule of the Turks in the 1830s.

Forced into exile by the right-wing Metaxas dictatorship, Andreas Papandreou had come to the U.S. in 1939. His post-war academic career set forth his belief that poor countries tend to be dominated by ruling elite unconcerned for the common man. But he was not an authoritarian. ''Personal liberty and popular sovereignty cannot exist without each other,'' he wrote.

In 1959 Andreas was invited by then-Premier Constantine Karamanlis (a respected conservative) to return to Greece as part of an economic study group. A taste of his native land persuaded the exile to stay. After his father became prime minister, Andreas renounced his American citizenship in 1963 and was elected to Parliament.

Unlike his moderate father, Andreas believed that America was exploiting Greece for strategic and economic advantage. He also implied that there was a moral equality between the U.S. and the Soviet Union.

Sinister Svengali

The Lyndon Johnson administration came to view Andreas as a sinister Svengali behind his aging father. Before a scheduled 1967 election, virtually the entire U.S. diplomatic, military and intelligence community was mobilized to keep the Center Union from power. The CIA was authorized to provide campaign funds for anti-Papandreou candidates.

The election was aborted on April 21, 1967, when a triumvirate of rightist army colonels staged a coup d'etat. The junta, which suppressed constitutional freedoms, first got backdoor and then public support from Washington, which was worried about NATO bases in Greece. Andreas was again imprisoned and exiled, this time to Sweden and Canada.

The dictatorship collapsed in 1974 when it foolishly tried to seize the mixed Greek (85 percent) and Turkish (15 percent) is

land of Cyprus. Turkey invaded Cyprus with U.S.-supplied NATO weapons. Faced with an unwinnable war, Greek generals mutinied and called on the exiled Karamanlis to restore a democratic government.

Karamanlis did so, and steered Greece into the European Community. But Andreas Papandreou (his father had died in 1968) returned angry and determined to win control of Greece.

He crusaded against America's coziness with the junta, its failure to challenge Turkey's invasion of Cyprus. He came to power in 1981 promising Greeks that for the first time they could be masters of their own destiny. ''At last, we are ruling ourselves,'' a young Greek woman told me.

Mr. Papandreou's political achievements -- nationalizing industry and enlarging the civil service -- worked well for him until inflation, economic chaos and corruption brought about defeat in 1988. A split among the conservatives provided him with a shaky return in 1993, but by then communism was dead and socialism was in retreat all over the globe.

His desire to crush the right-wing elite can be justified, and his anti-Americanism, in view of the dismal U.S. policies of the 1960s and '70s, was understandable and perhaps even necessary for Greek self-esteem. But by the time of his resignation this week, his cause had exhausted itself.

Gwinn Owens is a retired Evening Sun editorial writer.

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