George Papandreou's dilemma

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Greece's Prime Minister faces an enormous challenge to rein in his country's enormous debt. But to do that, George Papandreou has to rise to another challenge he has to overcome the legacy of corruption widely identified with his father, who was himself a Greek prime minister. Joanne Kakissis reports from Athens.

MARCO WERMAN: Few world leaders are under more pressure these days than George Papandreou. The Greek prime minister is trying to rescue his country from its worst economic crisis in recent memory. To do that, he has to calm an angry Greek public and kill the corrupt political culture his father helped foster. Joanna Kakissis has this story from Athens.

JOANNA KAKISSIS: Early this spring, everything was falling apart for George Papandreou. His country was broke. He had to impose tough austerity measures that would cut the debt but bring years of recession. Economists predicted that Greece would default. So the American-born Papandreou tried to calm the world by playing diplomat.

GEORGE PAPANDREOU: I'm in a position to reassure the world that we are doing our part. We're doing what is necessary and we are doing even more than what is necessary to guarantee that we are cutting our deficit, making our economy viable, moving into the type of investment which will make our economy competitive such as the green economy, green tourism, green agriculture. So we are modernizing our economy.

KAKISSIS: World leaders praised Papandreou. But at home his popularity was tanking. Greeks said Papandreou had sold Greece out by taking a 138 billion dollar bailout from the European Union and International Monetary Fund. Many protested outside parliament and yelled ?Burn down the whorehouse!? Then on May 5, a protest turned deadly. A bank was firebombed and three people were killed. Papandreou called it murder.


PAPANDREOU: No one has the right to violence, especially violence that leads to the murder of our fellow citizens.

KAKISSIS: The unrest of the spring has settled down this summer, but Greeks are still very anxious about the tough economic times ahead. Polls suggest about 40% support Papandreou. But some also believe the prime minister, who hails from Greece's most prominent political family, doesn't care about their concerns. Schoolteacher Afroditi Braza took part in a recent demonstration.

AFRODITI BRAZA: Maybe he's handling the problem well for the rich people. For the capitalists, but not for us. And he was telling us lies all the time before the elections.

KAKISSIS: Now George Papandreou must play diplomat at home. But many say Greece's problems are far bigger than the debt crisis. To save Greece, Papandreou must undo his late father's legacy of corruption. Andreas, as the Greeks still call him, was a mercurial and charismatic prime minister. Greeks loved him. Tens of thousands turned out for this election rally in 1981. Andreas founded the Panhellenic Socialist Union or Pasok party, which George now leads. Andreas spoke to Greece's poor and disenfranchised, promising them they will rise up after years of autocratic politics. Andreas became a hero by fighting the military dictatorship of 1967 to ?74. The experience also defined his son, who was 15 when the colonels took over. Here's Stan Draenos, an Andreas biographer.

STAN DRAENOS: When Andreas was arrested on April 21, 1967, George helped him to try to escape. He was threatened. They held a pistol to George's head to get Andreas to come out of hiding and so on. And there is ? he had a very powerful attachment to his father.

KAKISSIS: George Papandreou grew up in the Pasok party and served as a junior minister in his father's administration in the 1980s. But he became a very different kind of politician. Andreas favored drama and populism. George liked low-key deliberation. Andreas introduced social reforms for the poor, but squandered billions on a bloated public sector and political favors. The son must now face down his father, says journalist Alexis Papachelas.

ALEXIS PAPACHELAS: It's like an ancient tragedy, basically you have to kill your father and whatever he created in order to succeed.

KAKISSIS: Though the Papandreous are like the Kennedys of Greece, George remains an outsider in many ways. Greeks complain that George speaks Greek with an American accent. He rides a bike and drives a Prius. His predecessor as prime minister derided his as a ?tourist.? Again, Alexis Papachelas.

PAPACHELAS: It's hard for the average Greek to associate with George because if his name wasn't Papandreou I think it would have been much more difficult. They feel some familiarity just because of the name and the dynasty dimension. In terms of his style, the way he lives, the way he is, I think no, he's too aloof for Greeks.

KAKISSIS: But Nikos Zarganis, a civil engineer in Athens, say he wants to give Papandreou a chance.

NIKOS ZARGANIS: We need people like George. And I don't care if you call him Greek or not Greek, he's a valid figure. We don't have the options, we don't have the luxury to try and say that he's not good for the job. I think he's the only one we have at the moment.

KAKISSIS: Because if Papandreou fails, Zarganis says, all Greeks will feel the pain. For The World, I'm Joanna Kakissis in Athens.