Southern Europe marches to the left

Marci McDonald November 2 1981

Southern Europe marches to the left

Marci McDonald November 2 1981

Southern Europe marches to the left


Marci McDonald

The shouts of disbelief came first; then a hallelujah of car horns shattered the soft autumnal dusk. Constitution Square erupted into a delirious arm-locked syrtaki dance of thousands. In the streets, tears flowed and strangers embraced. In tavernas, plates were smashed with joy. Barely 20 minutes after the polling stations had closed, the grave face of outgoing Prime

Minister George Rallis appeared to concede what the ecstasy of Athens had already made clear: with a stunning tidal wave engulfing 174 of parliament’s 300 seats, Andreas Papandreou’s Panhellenic Socialist Movement (PASOK) had swept Greece into a brave new epoch, as little known as it was longawaited. Socialism came to the Republic of Plato; and with its coming, the country had triumphed in its greatest recent test.

After decades of kings and colonels, oppressors and occupiers, Greece had

put its newly installed constitution on trial and found it capable of sustaining change, even to the extent of installing a social democratic government in the heart of one of Europe’s most traditionally conservative nations. Democracy had been confirmed, like some stubborn late-blooming flower, in the very soil in which it was first seeded. Crowds hoisted a flower-decked coffin through the streets to Omonia Square chanting, “Tonight the right has died.” Crowed the Athens daily Kathimerini: “Democ-

racy is now functioning in our country as perhaps at no other time in its history.”

If there was gloating in some quarters, however, there was none at the spacious white stucco villa in suburban Kastri. There the charismatic 62-yearold economist who orchestrated the feat learned of the triumph of the party he had first spawned on the bitter rock of exile little more than a decade earlier (see box). As 25,000 supporters crowded under his balcony and chorused PASOK’s anthem Kalimera Helios (Hail to the

Rising Sun), Papandreou emerged to set a tone of moderation. His would be a government "of all Greeks," he said, bent on reassuring those at home who were nervous about his "socialization" programs. For Greece's allies abroadaghast at his planned exit from the Eu ropean Community and NATO-Papan dreou also had comforting words. "In no way shall we lead the country into any adventure," he promised.

Just what he meant-and how much he will further dilute the platforms he had already watered down during the last weeks of his campaign-only the coming months will tell. His immediate installation of notably moderate, likeminded cabinet ministers, most of whom-like him-had endured jails and exile of an earlier military junta, was taken as an auspicious sign.

But as Washington tensed with wary discretion at the news of a victory founded at least in part on unabashed anti-Americanism-sending U.S. nu clear missiles and four military bases packing-throngs in other capitals across Europe linked arms with Athens in jubilation. It was to them that Pa pandreou addressed himself during the flush of election-night celebrations. At one point, he turned to French televi sion cameras waiting among his wellmanicured rose gardens to proclaim that his win was not just a fact for Greece but an omen of a far wider phe nomenon to come.

"We have chosen the road leading to socialism," he said. "France in the west, Greece in the east. Together we shall change Europe." That vow acknowl edged what socialists across the conti nent were thinking as news of PASOK's landslide electrified the airwaves. "It seems that the socialist wave registered in France last June has crossed the Mediterranean," exulted Véronique Neieitz, the French Socialist Party's secretary for international affairs. The Quotidien de Paris hailed Papandreou's upset as a victory "a la française," and the leftist daily Le Matin boasted that it had been inspired in part by the ex ample of his close friend, President François Mitterrand.

In fact, Papandreou and his flam boyant new minister of culture, Melina (Never on Sunday) Mercouri, had pil grimaged to Paris for front-row seats of honor at Mitterrand's inauguration last May. From her home seat of Piraeus, where she had seen what had never be fore occurred in Greek history-a transfer of power to the left-the ac tress-cum-MP threw a lusty embrace of thanks "to the French people who opened the way toward the Socialists and our victory."

Just how strongly the two socialist sweeps were linked was impossible to measure, though Mitterrand had sent his own minister of culture and close friend Jack Lang to Greece three weeks earlier to drumbeat for Papandreou. In both countries, growing disgust with the stagnation and corruption of en trenched power-as well as an overrid ing economic malaise-had undeniably been the major factor in the turnabout. Along with a massive psychological boost, the French Socialists' win had provided battle tactics for their Greek comrades to follow. Adopting Mitter rand's assured "quiet force" image, Pa pandreou had also borrowed his rally ing cry: "The time for change has come"-Irthe I ora tis allagis.

In Madrid, where PASOK's triumph buoyed up the four-day 29th annual congress of the Spanish Socialist Workers' Party last week, party leader Felipe Gonzalez underlined that France and Greece were not isolated electoral flukes. He also put his finger on what may be the character of a new political tide overtaking Europe. "Perhaps we are experiencing an historic phenome non," he declared, "a transfer of the socialist centre of gravity from the north of Europe to the south."

Gonzalez had every reason for wanting to highlight that drift. The fate of his party in Spain's 1983 general elec tions will either cement or refute the trend. But with Spain's pollsters a! ready touting him as a favorite in the race, he showed that he had more than a spectator's stake in Papandreou's show ing. In the last week of the campaign, the dashing 39-year-old Spanish labor lawyer went campaigning in Greece. Against the heart-stopping seascape backdrop of Salonika, he had heard Pa pandreou salute his testimonial before 200,000 PASOK faithful assembled in Ar istotle Square with the prophecy: "Yes terday France, today Greece, tomorrow Spain."

With two-thirds of that formula now in place, political trend-watchers are fo cusing on what indeed may be a rare new hybrid signalling its arrival on the continent. Dubbed everything from Mediterranean Socialism to Southern Socialism, it is a particular species. It has flowered on the volatile, economi cally oppressed southern European shores while the world focused on the sophisticated social democrats of the industrialized, largely Protestant north.

Born out of mainly agricultural and heavily Catholic societies, the new so cialism's distinguishing marks and col oration are taken not so much from any purposely shared ideological pact as from a concerted will to recapture con-

trol of each country’s individual foreign policy. At the same time, it is part of a drive to turn a collective face toward the Mediterranean, where socialism recognizes itself as a potentially powerful community of concerns and culture. As González told the cheering crowds in Salonika: “The Mediterranean does not belong to its people, but to others. It is endangered by the presence of a powerful military force that menaces the world with atomic weapons and neutron bombs.”

Believing that they are impotent against a muscular NATO, the new Eurosocialists of the south seem to be struggling to exert their own measured independence. González, like Mitterrand and Papandreou, opposes his country’s membership in NATO. And when Papandreou recently revised his initial campaign promise to drag Greece out of the alliance—it only rejoined last year after a six-year protest at the “betrayal” of NATO’s inaction when Turkey

invaded Cyprus—he proposed instead a looser tie based on the French model.*

Unlike Papandreou and González, Mitterrand espouses the U.S. determination to maintain nuclear warheads in Europe to scare off the Soviets—and is even going ahead with the development of his own neutron bomb to prove it. But that may be partly because France is as much an Atlantic as a Mediterranean nation. “You can hardly call France a wholly Mediterranean country, nor Mitterrand a Mediterranean man,” notes Le Monde's diplomatic editor, André Fontaine.

Nevertheless, for all his coolly contained northern European air, Mitterrand, who was born in France’s southwest, has played perhaps the leading role as godfather to the Mediterranean

* While France has not been a member of NATO’s high command ever since President Charles de Gaulle stalked out in 1966, it remains a member of the treaty organization.

socialist alliance. In March, 1980, he invited his fellow southern socialist leaders, including Bettino Craxi of Italy and Mário Soares of Portugal, to a think-session in Paris. The following September he directed Jack Lang, then the socialist master showman, to or-

chestrate a vast conference at St. Maxime on the Riviera. The purpose, ostensibly, was to protest the insidious Americanization of their cultures. The conference brought together artists, architects and, not incidentally, socialist politicians to affirm what Lang called “a Mediterranean consciousness—a will to live Mediterranean.” In the closing extravaganza, staged on the historic Old Port of Marseilles, Mercouri sang while Papandreou and Mitterrand mounted the podium to embrace in a final, prophetic electoral troth. At the time, both were out of power—a bond that has wrapped most Mediterranean socialist chiefs in a shared sense of underdogism. It has not harmed their personal ties either that so many have been imprisoned as resistance fighters—against the Nazis or national dictators—as have others even further to the left, like composer Mikis Theodorakis, elected in northern Greece as a

Communist. Those battles have given the socialist parties another distinctive marking: youth. Mitterrand created his socialist force only 10 years ago from the flotsam of disparate leftist currents. It is barely five years since González led Spain’s socialists out of their long clandestine march under Franco.

Papandreou’s party, first forged as the Panhellenic Liberation Movement (PAK) to oppose the junta after his 1967 imprisonment, was only reborn as the socialist PASOK in 1974. Says Robin Sears, the Canadian New Democrats’ federal secretary: “What did not even exist 10 years ago has suddenly become, if not the major force, at least one of the two major parties in these countries. Partly because of their youth, the parties of southern Europe share an incredible determination, zeal and dynamism.”

The Italian socialists are the exception to that rule. They polled a scant four per cent in the last municipal elections and they labor in the long shadow of Europe’s largest, least dogmatic and most successful Communist party. But elsewhere the mushrooming

strength of the Eurosocialists has been at the expense of that much headlined phenomenon, Eurocommunism. “In the 1970s a lot of socialists were biting their fingers about it,” says Sears, who is about to take up a new post as assistant general secretary of the Socialist International in London. “Now what is being shown is that the Communists are not the only chosen party of the left in Europe.”

That fact has not escaped notice in Moscow, where commentaries welcoming Papandreou’s victory were noticeably restrained.

For their part, Mário Soares’ Portuguese socialists currently seem unlikely to win a second run at government after their tumultuous 1976 to 1978 fling. But they did bequeath their fellow Mediterranean socialists a blueprint for a vast nationalization program. And their lack of success has failed to discourage either Mitterrand or Papandreou, who swears to “socialize” Greece’s banking, shipbuilding, pharmaceutical and ce-

ment industries. Papandreou, in turn, is unlikely to have second thoughts as a result of Friday’s shambles during the French parliament’s nationalization debate, when proceedings became so ugly that security guards had to separate the socialist majority from the opposition.

In Spain, González has neatly excised all references to Marxism or nationalization from his platform in a determined push toward moderation. It cost him his left wing’s presence at last week’s congress, but it has won mount-

ing popularity for the party. In general, however, the Mediterranean socialists share a willingness to chart more radical courses than their northern counterparts. Their socialism is distinctly nationalistic—as evidenced by Papandreou’s call to rid Greece of the American military presence—and stems from long-standing resentment of an economic and military domination which has produced few tangible returns. That shared sense of exploitation has also planted them closer to the Third World and it spilled over into last

week’s North-South summit at Cancún (page 39). There, Mitterrand not only argued the South’s case with particular conviction but claimed the personal credentials of a fellow socialist to scoff at American accusations that Salvadoran revolutionary leader Guillermo Ungo is a Communist.

Even Europe’s northern socialists have taken heart from Papandreou’s victory which, ironically, comes just as the obituaries for the continental left were being written. Some analysts even saw it as a portent for Britain’s new Social Democratic Party and Liberal Alliance (see box). But Papandreou’s pledge to lead Greece out of the European Community, which it joined only 10 months ago—recently modified by his promise to hold a referendum on the subject—could augur trauma for them. Even if he manages merely to secure renegotiation of Greece’s terms of entry, his example might make it more difficult for the Spanish and Portuguese to convince the EC that they could be counted on as reliable members if they are granted community membership eventually.

However, for Edmund Stillman, director of the Hudson Institute in Europe, Papandreou’s victory is not particularly disturbing in itself. What would cause “real trouble,” he says, would be the installation of “other radical regimes.” Such a development, in Stillman’s view, might polarize the continent against an increasingly conservative Germany— not to mention Ronald Reagan’s United States.

But if the stamina and sweep of Mediterranean socialism still remains to be tested as a far-ranging force, one thing is certain: whether it is spelled allagi, as it is in Athens, or le changement as in Paris, change has come to the shores where Hellas’ ships once spread their utopian visions over the known world. As the centrist Quotidien de Paris put it, bannering Papandreou’s triumph: “A new wind is now blowing over the Mediterranean.”

Jacqueline Swartz

Michael Skapinka

David Baird

Michael Posner