Papandreou to Greeks: End 'Lurking Insecurity' Toward 'So-Called Enemy'
Promoting what she calls a feminine approach to crisis management, the former wife of a late Greek prime minister has called on Greek and Turkish women to join together and work for peace.
Margaret Papandreou, an American-born feminist noted for revolutionizing the Greek women's movement in the 1980s, conceived her peace plan after the two nations came close to war last year. Greece and Turkey flexed their military muscle during a dispute over a crop of Aegean rocks inhabited only by goats, rabbits, and sheep.
The wife of the late Socialist leader Andreas Papandreou lays much of the blame for that type of confrontation on male-dominated militarism.
"They're still thinking in terms of an anachronistic patriarchic society; the man who has to guard and protect his wife, family, and home," says Ms. Papandreou. "Women, on the other hand, tend to resolve conflict without the use of violence - except, of course, for politicians like Tansu Ciller [likely to return as Turkey's prime minister] and Margaret Thatcher, who rose to power because they suited the criteria of male decisionmakers."
Though her efforts are still embryonic, dozens of intellectuals, activists, and journalists from both sides of the stormy Aegean have welcomed the idea.
The challenge: Overcome the centuries-old rivalry dating back to the 15th-century Ottoman Empire - at the center of which is now Turkey - and its occupation of what is today modern Greece.
Tensions over Cyprus peaked when a coup on the island triggered the arrival of Turkish troops in 1974. They eventually annexed about 40 percent of the island; some 35,000 troops remain to this day.
"The aim is to establish a nongovernmental group that can help produce confidence-building measures between Greece and Turkey," says Papandreou.
"It can help open the eyes of many people whose perception of the so-called enemy may be distorted," she says.
Top on the group's agenda is a so-called perception poll among the two nations' women - the first move before two sets of face-to-face talks begin this fall on Greek and Turkish isles, respectively.
The first meeting is tentatively set for the remote southeast Greek island of Kos, where minarets and palm trees tower above extensive Greek and Roman ruins.
A recent poll showed 62 percent of the surveyed Greeks in favor of direct talks with Turkey in a bid to settle age-old differences. The United Nations hopes to launch talks over Cyprus next month.
Still, a hard-core political nucleus opposing such a reconciliation exists.
Among them, 32 deputies of the ruling Panhellenic Socialist Movement, or PASOK, who have vowed to strip the government of their support should it enter into any direct negotiation with the neighboring state. PASOK was Papandreou's husband's party.
But for the feisty Papandreou, peace supersedes politics.
"Conflicts and differences of opinion will always exist. But the objective is to do away with this lurking sense of insecurity and avoid waking up to a cataclysmic war," she says. "Women can easily be shouted down in these societies, but they've also proven to be very courageous. They can trigger a start."
Born in the United States, the tall, lean activist now leads the international Women for Mutual Security network, a global peace organization based in Kastri, Greece. The group led failed efforts to place a woman as UN head last year.
"Changing people's attitudes and suspicions is one of the hardest endeavors," she says. "But the cold war has thawed and two committed enemies - the Palestinians and Israelis - have agreed to forge peace, regardless of the difficulties they presently face. If this does not render pragmatic hope for Greece and Turkey, what does?"