ΕΦΗΜΕΡΙΔΑ NEON MAGAZINE - NEW YORK- Νοέμβριος 2007
Katerina Papakosta: Greek Parliament's Shining Star
Katerina Papakosta, member of the unicameral Hellenic Parliament, or Voule, representing the Second Athens Electoral District for the governing New Democracy Party, has never set foot in the US, and yet she is, in the words of a Greek expert well seasoned in local politics, "perhaps the most 'American' politician Greece presently has to offer." Outspoken, dynamic, stubborn, visionary but down-to-earth, when the situation calls for it, passionate and yet cool-minded and practical, impeccably dressed but not vain, "this gifted woman is Hillary Clinton, Nancy Pelosi and Carolyn Maloney together!"
An elected member of the New Democracy Party Central Committee since 1997, the only woman from the Greater Athens area to hold that office, she was elected to parliament in 2000 (re-elected in 2004 and most recently last September), and she has become a spokesperson for women's rights, especially married women, who, in spite of the legal system's adjustment to the most updated of European standards, still encounter problems in the workplace.
"As a mother of two, I understand the peculiarities, I've faced them myself working as a lawyer and then getting involved in politics," she explained during an interview in the parliament's neoclassical, yet distinctly modern Greek cafe, its walls adorned with portraits of venerable politicians of old and heroes of the Greek revolution. "We've come a long way, but we need to do more to bring change in real terms, affecting people's mentality. I am lucky to have a husband (she is married to Theodoros Sidiropoulos) who has supported me all along and I operate within a political party that understands and promotes change. I would love the rest of the Greek women, the majority of the country's population, to be able to operate in similar frameworks."
From 2000 to 2004, she was also a member of the Athens Women's Movement. Her work was soon noticed and in 2004 Prime Minister Kostas Karamanlis appointed her head of Women Affairs Secretary in New Democracy Party. Two years after, her fame crossed Greece's frontiers and she was elected Vice-President of European Popular Party Women Organisations (EPPW). "Don't think that Greece is unique in dealing with these issues within the European Union. Even the most developed of countries need a lot of work to do when it comes to women," she pointed out, as many colleagues came to shake her hand and wish her good luck on her third term minutes after the swearing-in ceremony, performed with Doric austerity and Byzantine pomp in the impressive parliament edifice, facing Constitution Square, that was built as a palace for Otto, the Bavarian-born first king of the modern Greek State. "I feel very proud that my constituents elected me for a third time," she continued. "Their trust is my major strength when struggling for them and for our country's interests."
Indeed the fighter in her was once more demonstrated when she succeeded for the second time to win more votes than any other woman candidate in Athens' Second Electoral District, a major feat given her lack of any intra-party alliances. "I ran on the issues, without any secret agendas. People understood that what they saw, they were going to get. I have nothing to hide."
Born in the port city of Piraeus and now living in western Athens, Katerina Papakosta has grown up cosmopolitan and is fluent in French, English and Italian, besides her native Greek. Being a member of the New Democracy Party Parliamentary Work Group on Defence and Foreign Affairs since 1997, she is in touch with what's going on in the world, the United States not excluded. "I've always admired the US and its people's sense of freedom. This free-spirited mentality, the motivation to creativity and constant improvement are values that I too hold dear. That's why I consider the friendship between our two countries not only real, but unique as well. It's based on values and not on temporary collusion of interests or circumstances." Here too, there is much space for improvement. "We need to build more on those elements that unite us, communicate more effectively and pass the Americans the message that Greece is their spiritual home."
Regarding the occasional accusations of some American politicians or members of the press of Greece being anti-American, Mrs. Papakosta is eager to dismiss them as baseless. "How can a country each family of which has some relatives in the US be anti-American?" she wonders. "Most of the time they accuse us of being too pro-American. A great part of the music we listen, the movies we watch, the books we read, the trip we dream about, is American!"
That is not to say, however, that differences do not exist. "Sometimes we have distinct views on issues, especially those affecting our extended neighbourhood. America's decision, for example, to recognise FYROM as 'Macedonia' was an unnecessary move that as our government predicted, made the other side more intransigent, going as far as to be disrespectful recently to the United Nations General Assembly. We know better how the south-eastern Mediterranean area works or doesn't work; that's why we are more cautious. Besides, in every friendship there are disagreements, different understandings and sometimes passionate exchanges. But, as friends, we will always find common ground and work on it."
She also took the opportunity to invite Americans of Greek or otherwise descent to visit and revisit Greece, enjoying the beauty, the culture and the unique character of the Greek people, "adjusted, yet unspoiled throughout the centuries. I want you also to see my country as a perfect place to invest. Our government has instituted changes and modernised the legal framework, cutting bureaucracy and expediting the process. There are prime time opportunities in tourism of course, real estate, agriculture, the fishing industry, and you can also use Greece as a stable and secure spring-board to venture in the neighbouring countries, in which Greek entrepreneurs have long ago open the way and hold the key to success."
She is eager to visit the US--"sooner rather than later" - in order to get to know firsthand "that great and beautiful country of yours." And also to see what the Greek communities have accomplished in their adopted land. "Even as a kid I would listen to people talking about Greek Americans with pride and admiration. In times of difficulty and in times of prosperity such the ones we are now living, our Diaspora in America has personified our collective success story. People who left with nothing, sometimes in extremely dire conditions, went to the other end of the world and within a generation's time they knocked on the White House's door as accomplished Americans! Isn't that a modern epic of our people," she wonders, her eyes glowing with emotion. "To me a visit to the US will be more than a dream come true, it will be like visiting another Greece, a pilgrimage to a major point in our cosmopolitan expansion as people."