Athens, Greece, May 29 – Former Greek Prime Minister Constantine Mitsotakis, an early proponent of austerity cuts that Greece eventually had to adopt during the economic crisis, died Monday aged 98, his family said.
A patriarch of one of Greece’s most influential political families, Mitsotakis quit politics in 2004, aged 85, after serving as the country’s longest-serving parliamentarian.
“He died at 0100 (2200 GMT) surrounded by the people whom he loved and who loved him,” a family statement said. It did not indicate the cause of death.
The conservative politician was prime minister from 1990 to 1993 and served without interruption as an MP from 1946 on the ticket of several different parties, except for a ten-year break during and immediately after Greece’s 1967-1974 military junta.
He was head of the conservative New Democracy party from 1984 to 1993 — which is today run by his son Kyriakos — and had epic battles with Andreas Papandreou, head of the socialist party Pasok.
One of Greece’s few openly pro-US politicians at the time, Mitsotakis cultivated close ties with the family of former president George H.W. Bush and frequently hosted them at his home in Crete.
This did not prevent him from also forging close relations with Serbian strongman Slobodan Milosevic and supporting him during the wars that tore apart Yugoslavia in the 1990s.
On the domestic front, Mitsotakis championed a tight budget and privatisations that sparked major union strikes and protests.
– ‘Ahead of his time’ –
In later years, he insisted that Greece would have avoided the economic crisis that erupted in 2010 if his policies had been adopted earlier.
“You were always ahead of your time,” New Democracy press chief Makarios Lazaridis said Monday.
His support for budget cuts earned him the nickname “Dracula” from his enemies. To his friends, he was often known as “the tall one” due to his imposing height.
His government eventually collapsed over a name dispute with Macedonia that continues to poison relations with the neighbouring country.
A lawyer by training, during World War II Mitsotakis was active in the resistance against the Nazi occupation on his native island of Crete.
He used his knowledge of German to help free locals arrested by the occupation authorities. This would later lead his opponents to accuse him of collaboration.
In 1967 he was arrested by the junta but managed to escape to Paris, where he lived in exile until his return to Greece after the re-establishment of democracy in 1974.
But despite his democratic pedigree, Mitsotakis became a hate figure for Greece’s centre-left after defecting from the government of George Papandreou in 1965, which subsequently collapsed.
The political instability that followed culminated in a takeover by the US-backed army junta.
A grandnephew of Greek early 20th century statesman Eleftherios Venizelos, Mitsotakis belonged to a powerful Crete family.
His father was a lawmaker and other relations included a minister and a local mayor.
Two of his four children followed him into politics and parliament.
His son Kyriakos took over the party in 2016 while his daughter Dora has served as mayor of Athens and foreign minister.
His grandson Costas Bakoyannis is a regional governor in central Greece.