Margarita Papandreou (WTO foreign ministers), 1990

in Prague, October 22, 1990 at the founding meeting of Helsinki Citizens Assembly
(continuation of an interview, first part is on other disk)
Interviewer—Metta Spencer
Margarita was former first lady of Greece and had organized a group of feminist peace activists who visited diplomats in both blocs.

Margarita Papandreou: …that maybe their legislative bodies — in this case Congress — sometimes some special disarmament agency that is next to the president, or the security council, or the Politburo in the case of the Soviet Union, and the scientific community, the laboratories, the places where these things are made.

So we obviously wanted and tried to meet with, starting at the top and going down through the hierarchy, at that time Reagan and Gorbachev, and we had the fortune to meet with Gorbachev, but we never met with Reagan and we never met with Bush. We have met with Secretaries of States, we have met with Shultz, we have met with Shevardnadze, and we have met also with Ministers of Defence and we have met with a number of NATO officials and Warsaw Pact Ministers of Foreign Affairs. Now I can’t say in terms of our contacts with NATO we had any feeling that by the questions that we raised in our meetings and by the statements that we made as to the way women look at these issues that we felt that we were making changes in attitudes that military alliance. We did sometimes occasionally find representatives in various countries who were in somewhat similar thinking as we were, those tended to be the small countries, basically, Greece was one of them, the Netherlands sometimes, Ireland and Denmark. In fact, some of these nations got the title of being the asterisk nations because when a communiqu© would come up from a NATO meeting there would always be asterisks down below, footnotes which would say that Denmark took the following somewhat different position or Greece said under no circumstance could it totally agree with this paragraph, so that’s why they became the asterisk nations. That was an order to avoid, to be able to get a communiqu© out because they couldn’t come to quite a common agreement on some of the issues. And I would say that those nations tended to be the, let’s say, the most pacifist nations, the nations that were really interested in demilitarization, the reduction of nuclear weapons and so forth. Now, when we had a meeting with the Warsaw Pact countries, we went to Soviet Bulgaria, we always brought with us NATO, well not at the beginning just NATO women went, until a certain period of time, and I’ll explain that. When we went to Sophia we had with us women from western Europe and women from Eastern Europe, and we sat down with the ministers and the first stage of their regular 2 or 3 day meeting that they had. (That was when the Warsaw pact was still intact.) And we presented and asked them a number of questions. Now, one of the questions, which I would say they kind of stumbled over in terms of response, was that we had found that training booklets that were used for training soldiers in the Soviet Union were based on more of a aggressive military posture rather than a defensive. And we said since you claim this is a defence system and has no aggressive intent, why are your soldiers being trained for aggressive action? The response at that time was that that was not really so, but there was not, let’s say a convincing response, there was kind of a thoughtful response on their side. We asked them also…

M.S. – Now these were the Foreign Ministers?

MARGARITA PAPANDREOU – Ministers of all the Warsaw Pact Countries.

M.S. – So it would have been Shevardnadze that would have made this response?

MARGARITA PAPANDREOU – Shevardnadze, this particular response and I think one of the other ministers made, Shevardnadze played the role of moderator although he answered a lot of questions, but some times he would say, “Would you answer that question,” and turn to the Czechoslovakian or to the Bulgarian minister or something like that.

M.S. – This question about their training book manuals referred mostly to the Soviets?

MARGARITA PAPANDREOU – The Soviets, yes. You see we asked them questions about their military situation. When we went to Nato we asked questions about theirs. Sometimes they overlapped, in NATO for example, we asked them why thay hadn’t picked up on the Soviet proposal to sit down and discuss the military doctrine together. The military doctrine of NATO, the military doctrine of the Soviet Union, which obviously if that had happened, it would have opened up, there would have been a different kind of relationship, and we were very keen on their doing this. And it was a proposal made by Gorbachev on visit that he made to Yugoslavia, which occurred about the same time that we were going into a NATO meeting. We tried to push them on the issues and show them that we were following up on what was going on, that we were informed and that we were determined to try to push things in a certain direction.

What was interesting with our meeting with the Warsaw Pact was at the end of the meeting, Shevardnadze said that first of all he congratulated us on the kind of, let’s say information and knowledge we had about issues, and I must say that was not paternalistic, we did not have any sense that we were being sort of flattered or anything of that sort. Not by any of the ministers, they listened to us very seriously. He said, you know what we would find very interesting would be at some point, a group of your representatives to sit in, totally, at one of our meetings and to listen to what we discuss and what we are concerned about. And then at the end of the meeting we would like to have a kind of critique from your group of women.

M.S. – How amazing!

MARGARITA PAPANDREOU – It was just unbelievable.

M.S. – I mean, those things are not open.

MARGARITA PAPANDREOU – Of course, our mouths just fell open. We said, look, if you can arrange that we’ll come running because we would find this extremely interesting and extremely important in a kind of authentic peace process because there’s constant opening up, there’s constant democratization of this process. Now, that we did not get to that stage because after a certain period of time of course things were changing. The Warsaw Pact right now is really virtually non-existent.

But, we told him that we had a series of questions which we had written which we did not have time to present to them because this is a give and take and there were other translations that have to go on, well they’re mostly simultaneous translations. Could we send to each minister our list of questions and get their response later and they agreed to that.

Now, the responses started coming in from the various ministers and about that period of time a group of us went to Moscow to attend a women’s peace conference or it could have been possibly, I think it was the first summit meeting between Reagan and Gorbachev. Our organization was always with the delegation at those meetings. So this is one of those meetings, and we had arranged ahead of time to again see Shevardnadze and to see some of the higher ups in the defence and foreign affairs ministry and some military figures. When we saw Shevardnadze he handed us the answers to our questions. He said that they had discussed them very thoroughly and that in fact we would see that a number of the issues that we had brought up they had started taking care of and addressing in their own policy decisions. We had stimulated discussion and they were moving ahead to make some of those changes. And the one thing he pointed out was that as far a military training was concerned, they were in the process of writing a new military manual for thier soldiers. Which means they were in the process of changing, more broadly of course, it was’t just the manual because other things had to be changed, but they were making sure that whatever kind of military establishment, that it was defensive and it was not meant in any way to take any kind of aggressive action. Later after that, we took the first group of eastern European women to NATO headquarters. It was the first time that eastern European women and peace activists, at that, had entered those quarters. In fact we had a feeling that there was a kind of nervousness on the part of some of the NATO security people, which we thought was nonsense of course. But we walked in with a great deal of excitement because we considered this the breaking of a barrier and we like to think that we were the first to break the barrier. After that started, some of the negotiations exchanged so further until I finally believed Shevardnadze himself walked into the NATO headquarters. We were a small part of, let’s say a peace process, we probably couldn’t have done it, not as quickly, if there weren’t other conditions set up, particularly conditions in the Soviet Union. There, you could say that if you asked a question, do we have any impact or effect, this is one example.

M.S. – Oh yes, that’s the clearest example I’ve come across yet. I’m really delighted that. Did you keep a list of questions that you asked them and their responses? Is it possible to get those?

MARGARITA PAPANDREOU – Sure, I can send those to you

M.S. – Fantastic, that would be excellent. Is there anything indicating the names of the Soviets who participated in the discussions, these would be their military, just the Soviets?

MARGARITA PAPANDREOU – I can send you some of our newsletters with all of the names of the ministers that were there and also the names of the women that participated.

M.S. – Who were some of the Soviet women or the Warsaw treaty women who may have gone with you into the NATO quarters?

MARGARITA PAPANDREOU – One was Stanislava Hybernova, who is here in Czechoslovakia. I’m afraid I’ll have to get that to you.

The Russian Quest for Peace and Democracy, by Metta Spencer, published by Lexington Books