Political Development

Party Affiliation

Profession/ Current priorities

Political Aims/ Priorities/ Assessments




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[ European Commission, DG V ]

© Jan 2001

European Database: Women in Decision-Making

Elissavet Papadimitriou

Political Development

1. What made you decide to go into politics?
When I come to think of it after all those years, it feels like my political path was purely dictated by the way I grew up. It was something I've always wanted, a goal inculcated by my father who had chosen me - in the place of the son he never had - as his successor. I added a lot of good will, as the duty of the honest citizen I believe I've always been. It also fit with my gender when, while working in a field dominated by men and teaching in an establishment dominated by men, such as the school of architecture in America, I realised that I could help both my gender and society if I worked as a woman in politics. Because I believe that politics is a full time job, I wanted to do it when I would be less occupied as a mother, that is when my only daughter would graduate from high school and when I would be financially independent. The reason also was that I was determined never to give in to any kind of pressure. I got into politics at the age of 46 after having earned acknowledgement of my work. I was ready to enter, learn, work and face a new challenge.

2. Is there a tradition of political involvement/policy - making in your family?
The role model I had, still have and don't think I have the time to change, and in any case wouldn't want to change, was my father. If there have been any politicians who went into politics with something to offer, he was one of them. He believed that in Greece huge mistakes have been made because people went into politics more to cover their insecurity than to offer substantial help. I think I owe him credit for everything good I have as a politician. Many times, I consult the proceedings of the Parliament to see how he had dealt with certain situations.

3. Did/Do you have a mentor?
Yes. My grandfather from my mother's side, a conservative with an aristocratic approach (which I never adopted) and because of a father-to-son involvement in politics. My father, who was born in the most mountainous and poorest village of the Argolida prefecture, also managed, at the age of 36, to get successfully involved in politics as a member of the Centre Union party.

4. Have you been engaged in political grassroots activities before your involvement in party politics - e.g. in a citizens' rights, parents or other initiatives? What were important experiences you made?
I believe I was - if I may say so - involved with politics from the day I was born. As early as my school days and long before any school unionism something I pursued in one way or another I always presided in any school movement which aimed at its upgrading. I believe this too is politics. As a student, I was lucky to be in Berkeley during the years of the Free Speech Movement, which I think was the first significant student movement. I was actively involved with the European students and realised the political aspects of my profession. During my studies in architecture in the optional courses, I would choose courses related to social sciences. In these courses, architecture and land planning were considered as social functions, as tools for elaborating and upgrading social standards. Since I started my professional practice, I dynamically entered the Technical Chamber of Greece and the Architect's Union. It is part of my nature to undertake any task with exceeding energy and focus on one thing at a time. I left this organisation quickly after I realised that the unions should pursue other goals than becoming centres of power and satellites of the political scene (period 1966-67). Even today, this remains as such. The difference is that today there are more people who are willing to stand up against the status quo, this way of forming satellite centres, and mainly against the way of achieving majority votes in all political parties. There are still too few, but more exceptions exist than any other time. I never occupied a high-ranking post in any organisation in civic society, since I believed they served the political parties' interests. I would join and soon leave. My major occupation was politics. Parliamentary politics. Even as a member of the party, I have never had anything to do with its procedures. Many times I didn't even vote, even today as a Member of Parliament. Many times during party elections, I have publicly stated my discord about the way majorities are formed. I cannot stand the parties' hypocrisy and I feel it's my obligation as a citizen and a politician to say "no" and not to contribute in any way to any of these procedures, even with the one vote I possess, and of course not to interfere in the forming of majorities I consider non-democratic.

5. Where there disruptions in your political or in your personal life that have/had an impact on your career?
By the will of the people no, there haven't been. Since my first election, I have been re-elected ever since. But there were in my personal life. I went into politics after my divorce. I believe it would have been very difficult, perhaps impossible, to be the politician I am if I continued to be married. Of course, I did not get a divorce because I wanted to get involved in politics, but I believe that I finally came to my decision to get into active parliamentary politics because all of a sudden I became the master of myself - literally speaking. Not that I wasn't before, but I don't think I would have been able to act politically as an independent individual.

6. Did your objectives change during your political career?
I think they haven't changed. Of course, I am fairly different from the day I entered into politics. I have tried to become smoother, to lower the tones, to take into consideration the other point of view. Finally, after ten years, I can say I have simply consolidated what I believed in. I think that politics is a very important field, the most important, since it allows you to fight evil at its very source and to set a very good example for society. However, it must happen under two conditions: the minorities must have a role both among and inside all parties, and politics must not constitute a single goal. This means that you must be prepared to miss the opportunity of getting into power centres. After I had decided upon these two requirements, I consolidated my views and strengthened my voice. One of the satisfactions my career had to offer was that I was given credit for a great many things, which I approached almost only from an emotional and intuitive aspect.

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Party Affiliation

1. What was your motivation to join a political party?
The system. Unfortunately, it is not accidental that no independent Member of Parliament has ever been elected. This is contrary to countries that are considered developing or underdeveloped. Anyone who wants to offer their services through politics must be part of a political party. This could be very good if only it meant that from the service one offers at personal level you pass on to a collective one, but that is not the way it works. I believe it would be exceptionally useful to have in the Parliament certain people who are not bound by political party lines. It's just that the system won't allow it. With the various election systems applied in the last 50 years, anyone can run for Member of Parliament as an independent, but he or she does not stand a chance of being elected.

2. Which party and when?
I belong to New Democracy. I started to support the party in 1985 when Mr. Mitsotakis was elected for the post of president. Before I was affiliated to the centre and I believe I still am. However, I started to help the president of N.D. and in 1989, my name was included in the party's ballot papers. In the period from 1990 to 1993, I served as General Secretary of Sterea Hellas Region territory and General Secretary of the Ministry of Environment, Zoning and Public Works. In the general elections of 1993, 1996 and of this year I was elected Member of Parliament of the Argolida constituency.

3. Does your party have equal opportunity regulations?
All parties do manifest their commitment to equality, equal opportunities and all of these. I believe, however, that actions qualify theory. In practice, the whole political system falls short. The party's program in this field is exceptional and anyway we must give credit to N.D. for the concept of equality that was included in our Constitution in 1975 under Mr. Karamanlis. The party's convention has adopted a 20% quota for all party bodies. As for the Parliament, such a thing does not exist. We try for the best through the Political Association of Women. In any case, N.D. through me and other women deputies overbid for the impeding amendment of article 116 of the Constitution (which allows deviations from the concept of equality). The women deputies of N.D. have done a lot for equality. I was vice-president of the informal parliamentary committee, which operated in the period 1996-97. I am one of the women who constantly yell and intervene in the Parliament in order to establish a permanent committee for the improvement of the position of women. Such a committee would function as an antenna for the integration of mainstreaming in all drafts of law, as signed in Beijing. However, it is mainly constructed so that the men deputies can get familiar with the issue, since this is the problem. The main problem of the women's struggle is that it goes on without the participation of men. This means that one day certain things will be won both institutionally and in practice, which concern men who don't even have a single clue!

4. Which office/function did you hold in your party at the beginning? How long after joining? How did you get into running for office?
I joined the party as soon as I entered in the political process. I believe it is very important to join or leave a political party. Later on, I was elected as a Member of Parliament and then to the Central Committee. This happened in June 1994, in the Congress. I remained in that post for a single term and never sought to be re-elected. I never ran again for that post. In the parliamentary group of the party, however, I have chaired certain thematic committees. For three years, I chaired the committee for the environment. I have been chairing the committee for culture for four years now. I was vice-chairperson, elected by all parties of the parliamentary committee for equality; I am vice-chairperson, elected by all parties in the parliamentary committee for technology impact assessment. Being a technocrat, I approach my views on politics and political parties in a broader way than the narrow party-linked views, through issues I know best. In politics you can perform beautifully through the fields you are familiar with. I know about the environment, land planning, and culture. It's in these exact fields I had both the honour and the pleasure to be elected as the chair. I thought I could make it - and I did make it. I ran for chairperson in the fields I have worked in at a professional level. I am one of the few deputies who have exercised their main profession - 27 years before I went into politics. I had the pleasure and the great experience, which I owe to the Greek citizens who yield executive power, - something I consider as management skills necessary for every Member of Parliament.

5. Did you ever change party affiliation?
No. I was credited with the fact that I was a prominent co-operator with the prominent ex-president, Mr. Mitsotakis, and a friend of Ntora Mpakogiannis. Undoubtedly there is a significant political affinity, beyond my personal relations with both of them, but I have never adopted the mentor's mentality.

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Profession/ Current priorities

1. How does your profession relate to your political work?
My profession has offered me satisfaction, a nice way of life, the means (I earned money and raised my child with no problems). In addition, I am grateful that it taught me how to think. I still use it and keep my knowledge up-to-date because I want to keep on working from this post, but I don't exercise it since the day I went into politics. Long before I was elected, I realised I couldn't do two things at a time. I believe that no one should. I do not accept it from a practical and moral point of view.

2. What kind of qualifications do you have?
I studied architecture and urban planning. My post-graduate studies were completed in industrial architecture. I speak five languages fluently.

3. Which were the main stages of your professional career?
I have worked hard and efficiently. In America, I worked as a professor in Berkeley. For 2.5 years, I was in the San Francisco central bureau of the multinational BECTEL Corp. Afterwards I returned to Greece, worked for 3 years as a tutor at the National Technical University of Athens and as a consultant for private enterprises. For example, I worked with an Italian company that had projects in Libya and elsewhere. At the same time, I set up my own consultancy, and designed architectural projects. For the last 15 years of my professional career, I was a businesswoman, that is I ran a technical company, which undertook and negotiated private works.

4. In which areas do you see your special competencies? What are your political priorities?
It goes without saying. I believe my work, which I also practised on a scientific level (in architecture conferences etc) has helped me in forming and solidifying my political views on the collective aspect of our life, which is a political process par excellence. Architectural movements have a philosophical background on how people live. They determine the mood and social action of the place they live in, as a cell, a family shelter, a city, a country: a developmental framework in conjunction with administrative areas (territories, regions etc). Therefore, architecture has played a decisive role in terms of my political choices. I have chosen to belong to N.D. and I believe that architecture has greatly influenced me in my decision insofar as politically I moved to the right from the family tradition and socially to the left.

5. Main fields of action?
Until now, it has been: culture, environment - land planning, and women. I have entered again for environment and tourism. I believe it is an exceptionally challenging field for a technocrat Member of Parliament who does not have to follow already formed political lines. Therefore, I joined this work group of the N.D. Moreover, during this parliamentary period, I would like as a person to focus on international parliamentary networks. I am a member of the GLOBE (Global Legislators for a Better Environment) and take part in its European department where all states of the Council of Europe participate. The fact that all deputies there work under no national or political identities is a blessing. In Kyoto for example, this Network won a lot more than global agreement. In addition, I believe that the persons who are elected in the higher levels of democracy must exert somewhere their right to work beyond party lines if need be. I am also a member in some international women networks for which I want to find time to work.

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Political Aims/ Priorities/ Assessments

1. Which objectives would you like to achieve through your political work?
My main priority at this moment, as utopian as it may sound, is to prove that in the end, political parties, politicians and politics can advance without influence and without serving the interests of specific non-political groups. The fact that I am elected despite the fact that I have to confront these extra-political lobbies means that it is possible. My second priority is to win over and involve young people with politics. I believe that the period of abstention from politics was positive because it gave young people the possibility to start from a politically virgin ground. My third priority is to supply all conditions that render politics attractive to women. Finally, I want to create a suitable background for achieving synthesis and consent in certain self-evident issues, a background which in Greece still seems far out of reach. I believe that the way the government and the opposition work is not only old-fashioned or obsolete but also hazardous. Apart from the great national policies, there are certain sectors like the environment, women's issues, education and administration, that are not approached on an everyday basis, and must be regarded as fields of research. They must be included in the context of specific national policies, set out in collaboration with all political parties, so that we can establish a common framework. This way none of us would be forced after being elected to start all over again, to square the circle.

2. Which are your political priorities?
One and only. I love my daughter a great deal and I believe I can help, mostly with my friends from all fields who do not have just visions, but can show the way of building a better world for our children. A braver and more sincere world.

3. Did your objectives change during your political career?
They have not changed, but I have no objections in changing my goals. I believe it shows political maturity and bravery and it is a proof of our human nature. Changing goals is the most attractive element of the anthropocentric party to which I belong. I am ready to change my goals if I find something better or if I accept that the goal I am serving is not good, not possible or if for my remaining time in active politics there is something more urgent to resolve.

4. Do equal opportunities strategies in your opinion have an impact in your country in the promotion of women in decision-making- please specify?
The fact that the political parties have adopted it, that there's a lot of talk about it or that from 19 women deputies we are now 31 is not of minor importance. I believe, however, that legislation is not the main issue. That too. It is how the other gender perceives this progress, not as democratic evidence, but as a social need. Besides, what matters is not how many women we are but who we are. At least in the composition of the previous parliament - for I do not know the new ones - most of us were politically raised on man models. We are equally if not more competitive than men, show little solidarity to one another and offer too little to other women. Furthermore, in a field such as the Parliament, which is dominated by men, the qualifications needed from us are not the same as for men. For example, there are men deputies who are farmers or employees of the Public Power Company. This promotes democracy, but no Greek citizen could ever imagine a woman in the Parliament as a simple employee, a high-school graduate or a farmer. This is just one undemocratic example. Therefore, I believe there aren't equal opportunities. Women have no right to mediocrity and that in a Parliament consisting of a majority of greatly mediocre men. This is the reason why I believe the number of women must increase and why they must be more representative of the women's average.

5. Do you see direct or indirect discrimination in conventional policy-making? What is it that keeps women from committing themselves to politics?
I have already mentioned the fact that women are asked for excessive qualifications and that the right for a mediocre citizen to participate in public affairs is not acknowledged for women. As far as Greek policies are concerned, there are no discriminations in their elaboration. Still, they might lead to discriminations. The main and unfortunate issue is that the shaping of policies is made without ever taking into account that they concern two different genders, each which must be approached in a different way, or that one gender has suffered a series of on going discriminations, so positive measures are needed. Policies are made for men. Even these that are designed by both men and women concern a society where only men live and work. For example, a woman who has to pick up her child from the nursery needs a different amount of time than a man whose sole occupation is politics. When other countries take into account the time of the woman citizen, the workingwoman, the mother, the wife, we provide land uses, construct means of transportation, and build parks without even considering the need of considering women's time. Therefore, policies are not bad, unfortunately, they don't exist! What keeps women from devoting themselves to politics? First, they do not feel welcome in the process. Moreover, the ones who are invited in one way or another feel that they are invited to something distant, dangerous and hard to reach. There are also the women who identify themselves with the image that men have created for women, this magnificent mixture that men call femininity, which is inconsistent with politics. Why should they go into politics? They're just fine! In addition, the ones who have got into politics I don't think we leave the ladder for others to climb, as an outstanding African woman said. The first thing we do is to pull up the ladder so that we can stay alone. It's a vicious circle of conscious and unconscious actions, which keeps the rest of the women out of politics.

6. What are the major obstacles that women need to overcome?
Apart from the obstacles that require institutional intervention, I will keep to the main one: women must overcome themselves! Men, of course, never had to overcome themselves, but frankly, I feel sorry for them because in some years they will be left out of the political centres. Moreover, I'm literally speaking. In all societies there is a growing need of qualities men have not acquired and which women possess by their nature. The time of chiefs has ended. The time of leaders approaches and there is no doubt women make far better leaders. A chief needs power. A leader needs imagination and vision. However, men are still power managers. Therefore, I believe that in 10-20 years women will govern all countries. In addition, I wish that the governing models will be women too, female women!

7. What obstacles have you had to overcome in your own career?
I had to fight the stupidity of those who judge people by their gender or their father's political identity and against those who take certain things for granted or those who don't want to rediscover certain simple concepts necessary in a new era. In politics, I fight tricky politicians, people who seek power for power and achieve their goal by forming small groups in different centres, which promote the mentality of herds. I believe that the main source of power of all collective formations is the presence of self-luminous, enlightened people and this is why I fight against this mentality. Besides, my primary goal in the women's movement is to show that our struggle for equality is not a struggle for equalisation. For heaven's sake! Unfortunately, I see that the political presence of women in the decision-making centres has become a struggle for equalisation. Moreover, it entails great risks. I believe in the unhindered, totally free and decent dialogue, in considering the other point of view and not only tolerating it - something that seems too difficult for political parties. I believe in bravely expressing any discord and thus serving democracy, in synthesis, this marvellous synthesis, Greeks never seem to apprehend. You accept the majority's opinion if it's formed with respect to the other side, you must let other people express their opposite views and remain open-minded. This is the core of democracy, but it's out of service. Because of my gender I have faced huge obstacles everywhere and anytime. If I look at the past now with my present experience and knowledge, I realise that while in the beginning you spit blood to get accepted, in the process you assert yourself exactly because you're a woman. Maybe it was a man's complex to conform to the idea of having to associate with a stupid female. I don't know how it has been for them, I know how it has been for me. For a woman who makes it, maybe even today, after a certain point society works for her. It is extremely difficult for a woman to be elected as a Member of Parliament. When I first went into politics everyone would say ''she's the most educated, the best etc. BUT she's a woman". However, when they realised I could undertake "manly tasks", stand up against the powerful, then I reached an unprecedented majority. In addition, they wouldn't say "I vote for Elsa"; they would say "I vote for a woman". However, we were at a point when they felt that society would allow it, maybe even impose it. Our behaviour changes too, unconsciously. It is something inflicted upon us, not chosen. Perhaps because one way or another you must prove yourself better than any man. Then the system works for you. Men may not yet understand the women's issue, but the fact that not having many women in the decision-making centres renders society antidemocratic is something we have imprinted in their mind. Therefore, when they find a capable woman they tick her name in the ballot paper. Psychologically, 'discrimination against' becomes after a certain point 'discrimination for'.

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