- Love and Power: A Midwestern First Lady by Margarita Papandreou
In 2000, I briefly corresponded with Margarita Papandreou, seeking her permission to use extracts from her personal correspondence, which I had come across in my own research. I still possess those letters. In the first, Margarita (first name used to distinguish her from other Papandreous) gave me permission to quote her. In a second letter, she invited me to call on her on my next trip through Greece. While that call was never made, I recall being pleasantly surprised by her warmth and generosity—clearly a sign of unpretentiousness by a former first lady who was willing to give time to someone she did not know. Her personal memoir, Love and Power: A Midwestern First Lady, appears to confirm this character trait and sheds light on the complexity of one of Greece’s most politically active and longest-serving first ladies since the fall of the Greek dictatorship. A memoir of her public and private life, the book focuses on Margarita’s work as a feminist within Greece, her activism internationally, and her personal life, especially her marriage to Andreas Papandreou and subsequent divorce.
Margarita’s work as an activist in the Greek women’s movement began when she and Andreas returned to Athens after the fall of the military dictatorship. There, she founded the Women’s Union of Greece (EGE), the first and, at the time, only grassroots organization for women in the country. In her book, Margarita chronicles EGE as well as her own work to revise the Greek family code and to legalize abortion in Greece. Particularly interesting is her account of the closed-door meeting she and other leading EGE members had with Archbishop Seraphim of Athens, when they endeavored to persuade the archbishop on the issue of abortion. Her memoir is full of such interesting [End Page 101] anecdotes about her work as president of that organization—both the difficulties the organization and she personally faced as its president as well as the divisions within EGE’s leadership and among rank-and-file members.
Readers will find her accounts of the frictions that surrounded EGE revealing of Greek political culture. Margarita acknowledges that the movement was a problem for her husband’s Panhellenic Socialist Movement (PASOK), as it was not under the party’s control. This was equally problematic for many women leaders in EGE who agitated from time to time for EGE to become an organ of the party—something much opposed by Margarita. As a result, and because she refused to be deterred by the electoral pressures of the party—whose cadres were often at odds with EGE’s more socially liberal positions—Margarita became the “target of abuse,” both from PASOK members as well as from the press. She claims that about half of the men of PASOK (and much of the press) criticized her, her friends, and associates for being politically active and for eschewing traditional female roles in Greece. Margarita reports that the press presented her as a power-hungry, overly ambitious woman who was denying her husband the care and companionship of a true wife. More sadly, however, she also reveals that her feminist ideology and lack of conformity to patriarchal expectations came under pressure from her husband. She writes, “I knew Andreas would not be happy. . . . The need to dominate, to be Number One, was surely flowering in his Greek soul. And I, as wife of Number One, was not being what had been ordained by God, by all of the gods: a dutiful wife and mother, guardian of the home and family. As a silent and subordinate political wife, I had a poor report card.”
In addition to being attacked for her activism in Greek politics, Margarita came under fire for her involvement on the international scene, where she was a leader in the international peace movement. She focuses much attention on the work she did during her two terms as president of Women...