Margarita Papandreou: Feminist Summitry

This U.S.-born Greek woman is no longer married to the Prime Minister, but she is one of the most effective and honored leaders of women in her country. She visited Toronto, where she had once lived, on November 4.

By Metta Spencer (interviewer) | 1989-12-01 12:00:00

Metta Spencer: You founded the Women’s Union of Greece?

Margarita Papandreou: Yes, I wanted to work with women because of the blatant sexism in the country.

Spencer: Is the Women’s Union a peace group?

Papandreou: Peace was always one of our key concerns. We took great interest in stopping the purchase of war toys. We had equality issues, we had development issues, and we had peace issues. We were a good school for political training, and were preparing women to move into public office.

Spencer: And are more women running for office?

Papandreou: No, not at all. In fact, I expect that these elections that will be held on Sunday will produce the fewest women in office that we have ever had.

Spencer: In North America, pollsters report a big “gender gap” in the support for militarism.

Papandreou: There is definitely a gender gap on these issues. Women are more pacifist than men. They score high on aesthetic, religious and social values, whereas men are high on technology, engineering, and political concerns. In 1985, after the dynamic changes were made for women, women also attributed it to the socialist government. The increase of women’s votes gave the party the majority in 1985. But in 1989, the June election, women moved their votes from PASOK, mostly to a coalition of leftist parties.

Among the conditions for building a peaceful world, one is certainly equality between the sexes. You can’t have peace in a patriarchal world.

The military establishment is the cultural repository of sexism. Military attitudes have infiltrated the whole citizenry, degrading the language with military terms and promoting the use of violence to resolve conflict. Men are trained in the military to be competitive and tough. These are the characteristics that have kept women down for ages.

I think it’s healthy for the women’s movement and the peace movement to work together as a coalition. So I was pleased that the network of Women for a Meaningful Summit amalgamates these two social movements.

Spencer: Is Women for a Meaningful Summit large?

Papandreou: Of course, only a few women at a time can travel to visit diplomats together, but the network is huge – 300 or more organizations. All of the women’s organizations in Eastern Europe belong to it. The Czechoslovakian Women’s Union, for example, has 3.5 million members. When we plan to meet with the NATO ministers in Brussels we ask them to send a representative. We try to get members from the Third World, too.

Spencer: We ran a story oncecontrasting your reception by the NATO ministers to that by the WTO ministers. Do you feel you had any impact?

Papandreou: No, we don’t make much of a dent in the thinking of the defence establishment. We try to ask them embarrassing questions. We do our homework. We can talk about military hardware if we have to, but some of our questions are of a different sort. We asked NATO ministers, for example, whether the raison d’etre for NATO was still the same. When it was founded, the argument was that it would prepare for the possible Soviet invasion of Western Europe. Nobody believes anymore that the Soviets intend to take over Western Europe. If you talk at a cocktail party with NATO people, they admit that they don’t believe there’s a threat. But they can’t admit it publicly because then the next question would be: Then why do you hang onto a military pact? They squirm in their chairs at such a question because that is getting at the heart of the issue. Why do you keep building up the military and stockpiling nuclear weapons? We also asked them whether they would be willing to put a very small portion of their military budget into an East/West women’s peace institute.

Spencer: Did anybody go for that?

Papandreou: When we met with the Warsaw Pact ministers, everyone around the table said it would be something they’d be interested in; they’d discuss with their governments. We got the same answer from the NATO side. Of course, it was perhaps easy to say; it might be quite different when you actually put out your hand for the money. We intend to push it that far.

When we meet the leaders, we manufacture it as an event, which we can take back with us to our home countries. We can go on radio or television and talk, and sometimes create a public debate. We have some news.

Spencer: Do women from the Eastern side have the same attitude toward what they are doing?

Papandreou: They usually sendknowledgeable women who are trained in armaments, or who belong to the peace committee of the Soviet Union. We see most things alike, but in some areas we differ – such as the question of nuclear power. In the West, a number of us don’t want nuclear plants on our soil. That’s not true everywhere. The French women are mostly quite adjusted to nuclear power. And until Chernobyl the Soviet women wouldn’t take a stand against it.

Spencer: An independent environmental group is growing in the Soviet Union now: “Green World.” In the past, when I have dealt with Soviet delegates to any kind of international event, the people attending have been sent by an official organization. Do you ever have independent, self-chosen participants from the Soviet Union?

Papandreou: Until glasnost and perestroika, the only organizations you could deal with in this kind of network were those official groups. That is true in all of the Eastern countries. Once in a while we would find an individual, such as a feminist journalist in Yugoslavia, whom we have invited to some of our affairs.

However, in Poland and the Soviet Union. there is going to be a multiplication of groups, as we have in the West. It will be interesting to have some of these groups join. We have to be careful how we go about this. The Soviet Union is ready to accept that there are independent groups that we would like to include. They couldn’t have included dissident groups in the past but now the time is ripe.

Spencer: A citizen’s assembly is being planned for Prague and then a major meeting of independent organizations, East and West. If they can’t hold it in Prague, they will regroup in Budapest.

Papandreou: We have some literature from them. We’ll try to send at least one representative of Women for a Meaningful Summit.

We did have a conference in Athens on environment and national security, with funds from Greek ship-owners and a foundation in the United States. The Soviet Women’s Committee had a similar conference. We also called for a summit meeting between the two superpowers on environmental issues. That’s the big issue to address now.

Peace Magazine Dec 1989-Jan 1990

Peace Magazine Dec 1989-Jan 1990, page 16. Some rights reserved.

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