Power from father to son. With the consent of the voters

Kyriakos Mitsotakis, the new-old Prime Minister, solemnly promised on the threshold of his previous term that he would not entrust government posts to any of his relatives. His words ended there, as one of his nephews became cabinet secretary-general.

The great political dynasties are three in number. For at least a century, the Karamanlis, Mitsotakis and Papandreu families have set the tone of Greek politics. Each of these prominent dynasties has produced several prime ministers, a very large number of ministers, an outright countless number of members of parliament, and one of them - the Karamanlis - even a president. From one generation to the next, with rules of succession and with the full approval of the electorate.

Does this mean that they rule indivisibly? Of course not. They definitely dominate, but there are many other families besides them that are only slightly inferior to the big three. Maybe they are less extended, maybe they were a little less fortunate to seize the moment that would have steered them towards the highest levels of the political hierarchy? More than a few of them have also had their great moments and merits in the past. And it is not impossible that there are many more to come. After all, there is no indication that the promises of curbing the influence of political dynasties will ever be fulfilled.

There is no political will on this issue. Kyriakos Mitsotakis, the new-old prime minister, solemnly promised at the threshold of his previous term that he would not entrust government posts to any of his relatives. His words ended there, as one of his nephews, Grigoris Dimitriadis, became cabinet secretary-general. Although the Prime Minister's relative was not given some important ministry, the position is nevertheless not insignificant.

SIGN UP TO OUR PAGE And Alexis Tsipras, the prime minister at the time of the crisis? This radical socialist, atheist, educated in Greece and not, as is customary in the great families, at Oxford or Harvard, outsider and strong critic of the old systems entered politics without any family background. Today he already has one, as his cousin Jeorjos has meanwhile become an MP.

In the blaze of ethnarchy

For half of the nearly 80 years since the end of the war (one should actually subtract the seven years of the Colonels' dictatorship from 1967-1974, when normal rules were suspended and most Greek politicians went into exile), the government was headed by seven prime ministers from the great families: three Papandreu, two Karamanlis and two Mitsotakis. It is hard to imagine that members of the entire 'big three' could be missing from parliament.

However, the Mitsotakis family is by far the dominant one in the current legislature, elected on 25 June, in an election that was a sequel to the one held in May. This is not surprising, since Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis comes from it. His elder sister Dora Bakojannis, ex-minister of foreign affairs, has also been on the parliamentary benches for many years.

The Papandreu family has an equally prominent representative - Jeorjos, the former Prime Minister, on whose shoulders years ago fell the burden of dealing with the financial crisis as much as with the European Union.
Kostas Karamanlis is out of politics today. In 2008, he was prime minister. Diplomacy in his government was headed by Dora Bakojannis, older sister of current Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis. Photo: Noushad Thekkayil/EPA/PAP
However, there have been changes in the Karamanlis representation. Kostas Karamanlis, another ex-prime minister, decided to withdraw from politics and did not stand as a candidate. He has actually been on the sidelines for the last few years, not unrelated to the disastrous legacy of his government, from 2004 to 2008, the period immediately preceding the collapse of the economy. It was Karamanlis' government that was accused of falsifying economic statistics, making it difficult to discern what state the economy was in and to see that Greece was heading for the abyss.

However, his cousin, also Kostas (Konstantinos is a dutiful male name in Greece), to distinguish the two names, Kostas Achilleas, has applied for the seat. All indications are that he has won it, although the list of MPs has not yet been published on the Greek parliament's website, and Kostas Achilleas is not a figure the Karamanlis clan would like to boast about today. In the previous Mitsotakis government, he was Minister of Transport. The day after the tragic train crash that killed 57 people in February this year, he resigned. His predecessors in the ministry and all previous governments are equally responsible for negligence on the railways, but the scapegoat is usually the latter. In the Serres district, Kostas Achilleas was ahead of the other New Democracy candidates, as Serres is the hometown of the Karamanlis family.

The Karamanlis are the only one of the great dynasties to have a president in their lineage and to this day, although it will soon be 50 years, they still bask in his glow. The blaze is all the stronger because Konstantinos Karamanlis - the uncle of both Kostas - is a man of exceptional merit for Greece, the only one who is still referred to today as 'ethnarch': the leader of the nation. This is a manifestation of inextinguishable respect for a man who not only successfully closed the time of the dictatorship of the colonels, but also built the foundations of a new Greece, democratic and republican.

A fortress given from God

This required experience - which Karamanlis did not lack, as he had been prime minister three times in the 1950s and 1960s - and determination, but also courage. In the summer of 1974, when the Colonels' rule was already in disarray, weak but not so much that it could be ignored, Karamanlis returned from exile as one of the first Greek politicians. It was not safe in Athens, so he set up a command centre on a ship moored in Piraeus.... He founded New Democracy, initiated efforts to join the European Economic Community and - last but not least - made sure that the colonels did not miss their deserved punishment.
It was a typical path. The Mitsotakis family, the Papandreu family and very many, if not most, of the Greek politicians from before the coup on 21 April 1967 began to make a comeback in the summer of 1974. They began their public activities by founding new parties. The conservative right concentrated in New Democracy. The brainchild of Andreas Papandreu, son of Jeorjos Papandreu, the ex-prime minister, was the PASOK party - the All-Greek Socialist Movement. The two parties alternated in government for years until the crisis, when PASOK lost its main place on the left to Alexis Tsipras' more radical SYRIZA.

It might seem that the fate of the 'big three' runs similarly. This is true to some extent. The Karamanlis and Mitsotakis are also united by ideological commonality, as both families are the foundation of the right-wing New Democracy. Each dynasty has also had a foothold in a particular region since time immemorial, which it regards as its natural, almost God-given stronghold. The Karamanlis have the aforementioned Serres region in northern Greece, the Papandreu clan have Achaia in the Peloponnese, the Mitsotakis have Crete. The faithful voters never deny them a mandate.

In detail, however, the accents are distributed differently and each family has a separate title to glory. For the Karamanlis, it is the ethnarch - a bar set so high that no one else has yet managed to surpass it. The Karamanlis family, moreover, has not produced anyone who could even slightly measure up to it. On the contrary, other members of the Karamanlis family have so far been rather insipid characters, who have nevertheless taken advantage of the opportunities created by the magic of a big name.

In the footsteps of grandfather, father, uncle

However, merits and achievements can be more evenly distributed, as the case of the Papandreu clan perfectly illustrates. In each generation it produced prime ministers - meaning that governments were led by grandfather, father and son. The first was Jeorjos, a representative of the liberal centre, a minister already in the 1930s, in the government of Elefterios Venizelos. Jeorjos' son Andreas made an ideological turn, founding PASOK and forming the first left-wing government in Greek history. He ruled intermittently for a dozen years, until his death. His charisma was unparalleled, and he had thousands, no longer supporters but loyal followers, and just as many enemies, who considered his rule - pro-Soviet by the way - a real disaster for Greece. Neither his grandfather's nor his father's charisma was inherited by the younger Jeorjos, Prime Minister during the times of crisis.
Andreas Papandreu, son of Jeorjos and father of Jeorjos. He ruled from 1981 to 1989 and from 1993 to 1996. photo: Ferdinando Scianna / Magnum Photos / Forum
The Karamanlis and Papandreu share humble beginnings, in families of Orthodox clergy or teachers. Against this background, the Mitsotakises are as if from another world because, although in a lateral line, they are descended from Elefterios Venizelos himself, considered the greatest leader of the Greeks since liberation from Turkish rule. Venizelos was Prime Minister on several occasions, from the early 20th century to the 1930s, including during the Balkan Wars, through which Greece superbly expanded its territory in the north, occupying Macedonia and Thrace.

Both families come from the western part of Crete and there they worked together already during Ottoman rule. Not surprisingly, family ties brought them together on various levels. Most important: the marriage of Konstantinos, great-grandfather of Kyriakos, a local politician from Chania, to Katigo, sister of Venizelos. When Crete was incorporated into Greece, members of both families consistently sat in parliament in Athens. The Mitsotakis family therefore has much to boast about.

Let us add that the nephew of the current Prime Minister, Kostas Bakojannis, son of Dora, is today the mayor of Athens. He is thus following in the footsteps of his mother, who also ruled Athens twenty years ago. Will he also follow in the footsteps of his uncle Kyriakos and grandfather, also Konstantinos, prime minister of the early 1990s? It is not certain, but very likely.

A life-and-death relationship

Those who see in the dynastic arrangements in force in the Greek political world only an intriguing curiosity are mistaken. It is not a curiosity, but an invariable manifestation of Greek peculiarity, different from the arrangements in other European countries, where, after all, there is no shortage of political families (especially in Great Britain there are those who are always present in politics in some way, starting with the Churchills). "For the 'Big Three' are not alone. It is surrounded no longer by a garland, but by a whole wreath of other clans, in and out of parliament. This is a manifestation of tradition and of the close ties between voters and politicians, but also of the conviction - not unfounded to some extent - that people who have grown up among MPs and ministers have politics in their DNA. And with this comes a natural ability to navigate its difficult field.

The Greek peculiarity, however, is that the clans here are bound to specific districts to the death. Voters accept this and MPs are sometimes so attached to their constituencies that they cannot imagine that this relationship could be severed. The case of New Democracy MP Joannis Tragakis is even anecdotal: a few years ago, when he decided to leave politics in the middle of his term, he offered to hand over his seat to his son, without a by-election. The manoeuvre failed because it could not work, but it perfectly illustrates the state of mind of many a member of political families.

It works the other way too, by the way. "How can we do such a thing to Andreas' son?" - sincerely worried the members of PASOK when the issue of taking the leadership away from Jeorjos Papandreu was on the agenda a few years ago. Jeorjos walked away at the time, but in the world of Greek politics, losing is never final, especially when it involves a man from a big clan. Jeorjos stepped back, waited it out, founded a new party, the Movement for Change (KINAL), and teamed up with PASOK, his former party, before the election. He is an MP, his prospects are uncertain, but he has not disappeared. His younger brother Nikos has been an MEP for a few months. He replaced Nikos Andrulakis, the leader of PASOK, when he decided to return to national politics.

The largest family political team, however, is not any 'Big Three' family, but the Cretan Kefalogiannis family, which has four MPs - three in parliament in Athens and one in Strasbourg. The latter, Manolis held the position of Minister of the Merchant Navy (very important in Greece) in the government of Kostas Karamanlis. The name Kefalogiannis won't say anything to anyone in the world - but the arrangement that gives such families a permanent place in politics says no less about Greece's political scene than the achievements of its giants.

–Teresa Stylińska
– Translated by Tomasz Krzyżanowski

TVP WEEKLY. Editorial team and jornalists

Main photo: Kyriakos Mitsotakis signs documents during his swearing-in ceremony as Prime Minister. It took place on 26 June at the presidential palace in Athens in the presence of clergy of the Orthodox Church. Photo by YANNIS KOLESIDIS/EPA/PAP
See more
Civilization Previous issue
Is Putin winning in Ukraine?
2023 ends with a territorial loss balance for Ukraine: Russians have gained more than they lost.
Civilization Previous issue
Clues lead to Russia
Valuable books have disappeared from university libraries in Poland, Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia.
Civilization wydanie 24.11.2023 – 1.12.2023
The Red Diva who speaks like the right-wing AfD
Olaf Scholz’s engagement to Taylor Swift wouldn’t attract more cameras than her – joked a German satirist.
Civilization wydanie 24.11.2023 – 1.12.2023
Silent Struggles: Parental Desperation
Anything can be a pretext for taking away a child: denunciation from neighbours, a simple argument between parents, or an illness.
Civilization wydanie 24.11.2023 – 1.12.2023
The horror of the Left and the last hope of the Argentineans
The first libertarian President in the world.