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GreekReporter.comGreeceBetween Two Friends: The Tale of Antonis and George

Between Two Friends: The Tale of Antonis and George

Greece's former Prime Minister George Papandreou, front left, PhilipTsiaras, front right, Greece's conservative opposition leader Antonis Samara right and Stefanos Emmanouilides left, pose at the Amherst college in Massachusetts, USA.

From the Wall Street Journal and the Los Angeles Times to Bloomberg, Reuters and Newsweek, global media are hungry to find details about the friendship of the two men that have basically caused the euro its worst crisis yet and shook the global financial markets simply because they weren’t able to communicate effectively despite the fact they’ve been friends since high school. The left-leaning Papandreou and the conservative Samaras that the Associated Press describes as  “the yin and yang of modern Greece” remain bound together by shared private history that dates back to the ’60s.
Children of Pedigree

Both Papandreou and Samaras are products of Greece’s political establishment.  The son and grandson of former leaders, Papandreou is a member of Greece’s most powerful dynasty – Greece’s royals or the Greek Kennedies. His grandfather served as prime minister in the 1960s, a position assumed about two decades later by his father after he founded the Pan-Hellenic Socialist Movement, or PASOK party. Samaras might not come from one of Greece’s three major political dynasties (Papandreou, Karamanlis and Mitsotakis families) but he is the grandson of one parliament member and nephew of another and his family was among the best-connected and wealthiest families of Athens. His great-grandmother, Penelope Delta, a children’s book writer and one of the greatest writers in Greece’s recent history, committed suicide on the day in April 1941 that the Nazis entered Athens.
School Years
As all political scions who respect themselves both Samaras and Papandreou attended Athens College, the most prestigious high school in Greece. The school’s alumni which was co-founded by Samaras’ great-grandfather Stefanos Delta, includes George’s father Andreas, himself a prime minister in the 1980s and 1990s, parliament member Kyriakos Mitsotakis whose father  Kostantinos Mitsotakis was also a prime minister in the 1990’s and as off now, Greece’s most elitist school alumni is counting one more PM who is no other than Lucas Papadimos, Greece’s brand new Prime Minister.   Unlike Antonis who was more of a dynamic socialiser, George Papandreou was shy ad introvert. “It” boy Antonis was the exact opposite. Extrovert, popular with girls he never missed a party and was a tennis championer wining the Greek Teen Tennis Championship at the age of 17. Dinos Arcoumanis, who used to ride the school bus with Samaras and is now deputy vice chancellor at City University of London “I could see he had the qualities of a sportsman. At that critical age, what sports can do is give you self- confidence”.
The Amherst Years
In the early seventies, right after they graduated from Athens College the two friends meet again and live under the same roof at Amherst College’s Pratt Hall. Clean cut Samaras, lives upstairs while more laid back freshman Papandreou’s room is on the ground floor.
Papandreou, at home in the freewheeling spirit of the time, was “more American” and less politically ambitious than the straight-laced Samaras.The two friends along with a handful of other Greek students spent hours condemning the military junta. They held endless talks at the dormitory and over pizza in nearby South Hadley -and no they didn’t’t end up ripping each other heads off says Philip Tsiaras who lived in the dorm room next to Papandreou.  “George and Antonis rarely had arguments. They respected each other deeply. Traditional political disputes seemed irrelevant. Greece’s tragedy during that time left no space for wrangling.”  If only they continued to communicate so effectively now so that they could actually save their country from bankruptcy.
Character Opposites
Tsiaras says the two leaders are the exact opposites both as personalities and as leaders. “Antonis is more passionate and fills more the traditional Greek politician stereotype. He’s charismatic, he knows how to please the crowds and he’s enjoying it. George isn’t like that at all. He doesn’t feel comfortable in a crowd and this is the reason why he ended up isolated with a couple of counsellors around him”.   “Samaras is determined and stubborn,” says Theodore Vardas, head of the Greek retail association SELPE, who has known Samaras for 40 years. “When he believes something, it doesn’t change. He doesn’t compromise.”On the other hand Tsiapras describes George Papandreou as a more low key personality. “George compromises. He always tries to satisfy everyone. As a friend he’s probably better but as a prime minister…You can’t rule a country that way.”
Style Opposites
In the famous old black-and-white photograph that the two friends appear together one wears long hair and a rakish mustache, the other thick-rimmed glasses. The photo that is taken by Tsiaras’ brother Alexander in 1973 at the Tsiaras home in New Hampshire, hints at the forces that shape Greece even today, and the way that history and family shadow the individual efforts of those at the nation’s helm. Papandreou sits with hands clasped, hair unruly. Samaras stands, clean-shaven, in a turtleneck sweater. Tsiaras, now an artist based in New York City, and Stefanos Manouilidis, now an insurance broker, are also in the photo. No one smiles. The poses are formal, the lighting is studio-quality- pure ’70s vintage.
Despite the fact that nowadays Papandreou is the one looking trendier compared to more traditional styled Samaras, according to Tsiaras the trendsetter back in the heyday was in fact Antonis.  ND leader usually sported a double-breasted blue blazer when he went out in the 1970s, when few students were so dressed. Papandreou by contrast, favoured blue jeans and flannel shirts, and instead of carrying an i-pad like he does now, he used to carry around a … guitar.
Separate Ways: From Arhmest to LSE and Harvard
After Arhmest the two friends took separate paths to yet more top-notch educational institutions: Papandreou went on to earn a master’s degree in sociology from the London School of Economics in 1977 after graduating from Amherst cum laude as an independent scholar while Samaras enrolled in Harvard Business School in Boston. They both became ministers in various ministries and in the end were elected as their parties’ leaders. George Papandreou went a step further. He became Greece’s PM but as polls show Antonis will follow his lead and the two friends will have almost identical resumes both when it comes to their educational and professional backgrounds.
The question of course remains. Why couldn’t they actually work together in order to save Greece?  Papandreou was philosophical about his college friend during a July 19 interview at his office in Athens. “We have a longstanding personal relationship,” he said. In politics, “there we do our sparring,” as well as seek consensus, he said. “Sometime, after a decade, or so, we may sit down over a glass of wine and think back and say, let’s assess how things have gone in Greece,” Papandreou said. Tsiaras also believe that in the end the two men will continue to be friends.
Fifty years after they first met in Athens College, the two men  symbolize the split personality of a nation with roots in left and right, chaos and greatness, dependence and rejection. This sets them up for failure. Living to their predecessors’ legacy, both Papandreou and Samaras promised more than they can possibly deliver. From Papandreou’s “There’s money” to Samaras’ “We will renegotiate” they both seem unable to resist deceitful lies in order to come to power.
(Sources: Eleytherotypia ,TIME magazine, Ta NEA, New York Times, AP) 

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