The tall woman in widow's black lights up a Rothman and takes a sip of cold coffee. The cup trembles in her hand. Her dark eyes shift about the room, finally settling on a window. "Then we went to the hospital," she says, staring into the middle distance. "Then he lived for half an hour. He had five shots in the back. Then the children arrived. Really, there are no words. I cannot describe that. I felt nothing. I was completely lost."
Theodora Bakoyannis needed most of all, in that terrible time last September, the advice and consolation of the very man whose loss she grieved, her husband, Pavlos. Gunned down by members of the November 17 terrorist movement, this conservative member of the Greek parliament became in death -- as did the tragic figure of his widow, Dora -- a rallying point for the New Democracy Party, which squeaked into power after elections two months ago and has already pushed the country toward the right and into closer alliance with the United States.
Yesterday Dora Bakoyannis, 35, who had gathered herself to emerge from her pain and seize an elected seat of parliament on her own last November, and again this past April, began a series of meetings with officials in Washington at the side of her father, Constantine Mitsotakis, the first Greek prime minister to make an official visit here in more than two decades. Tomorrow they will meet with President Bush to press on him their message that Greece is undergoing what Mitsotakis, 71, calls "a political transformation after eight years of socialism."
His daughter, he says, relaxing in his suite after a meeting yesterday morning with Secretary of State James A. Baker, is one of his key political advisers. "She has an instinct for politics," he says, "and great humor and warmth -- an instinct for relating to people. She's built her own political life outside her husband and father."
Which, in the Mediterranean country of 10 million, is no small accomplishment for a woman. If her father's ascension signals a shift in the direction of Greek politics, his daughter's rise reflects changes in a tradition-bound culture.
Last November, says Bakoyannis, she was elected to fill her husband's seat from his poverty-stricken district in the rugged Pindus Mountains 200 miles northwest of Athens "as his wife and nothing else. Then, when I was reelected two months ago, it was on my own and I got an even bigger percentage of the vote -- 52 percent. I went around from village to village, and they came to know me as a person. It's one of those places where you might say no woman would get elected, but that didn't stop them from accepting me completely."
She was steeped in politics almost from birth, part of a family whose defeats and triumphs limn the roiling politics of postwar Greece. Mitsotakis, son of a prominent politician on Crete whose brother was a three-time premier between 1910 and 1932, was elected to parliament in 1946 when he was 27. He served in many government posts before the 1967 military coup of Col. George Papadopoulos landed him in prison and then drove the family into exile.
"I was 13 when he was arrested and it was a big shock," says Bakoyannis, the oldest of three daughters and a son. "I was always interested in politics. I had gone around with my father when he campaigned and I liked it." He was in and out of prison, the family was subjected to house arrest and surveillance, and finally they all fled to Paris, where they remained for five years.
Dora was educated there in an international school and met, among the many Greeks in exile, Pavlos Bakoyannis, a journalist and ardent opponent of the junta, who was 19 years her senior. They fell in love, and when he became head of the Greek section of the German radio agency Deutsche Welle in Munich, she followed him there.
The rest of her family returned to Greece during the amnesty in 1973, and her father was again thrown into prison. He was later freed and, after the restoration of democracy in 1974, Dora and Pavlos returned home and were married in St. Denis Cathedral in Athens in what turned into a major social event for Greek exiles returning from points around the globe.
"There were 500 people at the wedding, even though only 300 had been invited," recalls Bakoyannis. "It was the first big social event after the dictatorship. Everybody had worked against the dictatorship, and people came who had been in prison or in exile. It was a really good feeling -- it was important psychologically. I remember one friend who had been five years in prison met another who had been five years in exile."
She continued her studies in political science and public law. In 1976 the couple had their first child, Alexia, now 14, followed two years later by a son, Constantine. Her husband continued in journalism and she began working for her father, first as his secretary and later in more responsible positions as he joined Constantine Caramanlis's New Democracy Party, becoming minister of economic coordination and later foreign minister.
In 1984 Mitsotakis became party chief, leading New Democracy through three general elections against Andreas Papandreou's Pan-Hellenic Socialist Movement (Pasok), which came to power in 1981, took steps to socialize the economy and set such an anti-American tone that Presidents Reagan and Bush never bothered to invite Papandreou to Washington.
Mitsotakis and New Democracy finally prevailed in the elections last April 8, capturing 150 seats in the 300-member parliament and then adding one vote from a small conservative splinter party that enabled them to form an effective government.
Immediately, the new conservative government embarked on an austerity program -- with steep price increases in public services, higher indirect taxes, abolition of automatic cost-of-living wage increases -- designed to correct the growing budget deficit and 16 percent inflation. The new program also includes selling or liquidating more than 40 deeply indebted industrial firms now under government protection.
The murder of her husband, Dora Bakoyannis is convinced, was designed to prevent such changes.
"Pavlos was elected in June of 1989," she recalls, "and that was a great triumph for my husband, because Pasok had controlled Evritania for eight years. Everyone thought it would be a lost cause. I tried to campaign with him as much as I could, and it was very difficult. It's high in the mountains, and takes three hours to go 13 kilometers from one village to another. I also had to keep up with a very demanding job with my father."
"She had to help two men," Mitsotakis says later, "her husband and her father, more her father than her husband. She had never started with any intention of pursuing a political career, but she was born into a political family and lived that kind of life, with all the pluses and negatives ot it. The negatives outweigh the positives, but we are a strongly bonded family, and we've been brought even closer by the difficulties and struggles."
His daughter, seated nearby now as they wait to have a photo taken, listens as he says this. Her eyes are sad.
In the election that brought her husband into parliament, her father didn't have enough votes to stitch together a clear majority, so his coalition was hobbling along at the time of the assassination in September. Mitsotakis, with his son-in-law's help, had been able to bring communists and other left-wing members of parliament into his camp -- at least temporarily -- because of their outrage over a corruption scandal that had resulted in the indictment of Papandreou.
Why was Pavlos Bakoyannis killed?
"This is a very difficult question," says his widow. "My husband was not a normal target for a terrorist group. He was a self-made man, and came from a poor village. He started working when he was 12 years old. He had a strong record against the dictatorship, and also he was known as a very open person. He had always tried to avoid polarization, and to put up bridges. He had played an important role in the link-up ... with the left."
On the other hand, she goes on, "my husband was one of the closest collaborators with my father. I think the main reason they killed him was to strike a very hard blow against our family -- against my father and the whole family, because they know how close we are. It was a personal and political blow struck just before the November election."
She is staring out the window now.
"The people in the district," she muses, "they believed very much in my husband. It's very beautiful there. It's way up in the mountains with a lot of trees ... "
Her voice trails off. For two years, Dora and her husband had worked hard on an economic development plan for the district -- tourism, industry, education of the children. "When he was killed, they felt it was a blow against them."
Bakoyannis was shot by two gunmen as he entered an elevator in the building housing his private office. The gunmen escaped in a car with two accomplices, tossing out leaflets as they fled bearing the sign of November 17, the group that in 1975 murdered CIA Athens station chief Richard Welch. Defense Minister Yannis Varvitsiois called the murder an effort to bring about "the destabilization of our democracy."
For Dora Bakoyannis, it was far more than that. At 8 that morning, when she'd just got the kids off in their school bus, the phones in her home began ringing with people asking if she knew where her husband was. Then friends came running over on foot to tell her that Pavlos had been attacked. It was on the news.
"The children heard it on the radio," she says. "That was the worst."
At first she was numb.
"People think this can only happen to others," she says, shaking her head. "Everyone was shocked. They were devastated. There was a very big reaction in the party, and my father had to go to parliament and try to bring things under control. He told them that we must deal with our problems and that the blood of Pavlos must be the last blood spilled unjustly."
At first she "wasn't even angry. I couldn't even feel anything because the loss was so big." She decided that she could either "stay in the corner of my house and feel sorry for myself" or "start working like a madman."
She had a long talk with her children, who urged her to continue their father's work. "My son told me, 'If you were a woman who never worked, that would be one thing, but I know you can do it!' My father didn't urge me, he didn't say anything. He believes these kinds of decisions should be taken by ourselves -- it's a major life decision, and you have to really feel you want to do it."
According to Mitsotakis, "We all came to the conclusion she had to continue her husband's work in his district. That's how she finds herself directly involved, and no longer in the shadow of her husband. And she's done a magnificent job."
Relations between Greece and the United States are improving: After a year of contentious negotiations, the two countries agreed May 30 on a new defense pact that will allow U.S. air and naval bases to remain in Greece for the next eight years. On another ticklish issue, sources say that Mitsotakis told Baker yesterday that he will study the possibility of extraditing to the United States Mohammed Rashid, a Palestinian guerrilla whom the Bush administration wants to stand trial for a bomb blast on a Pan Am airliner over Hawaii in 1982 that killed a Japanese teenager and wounded 15 other passengers. Tomorrow the prime minister reportedly plans to discuss with Bush Greek concerns over Turkish military power.
And Bakoyannis and her father are talking the kind of language they like to hear in the Bush administration. What Greece needs now, she says, is "less government" in order to attract American investment. "There's no sense in having the state running industries, because they do very badly at it. Like Eastern Europe, we had the state believing they could do everything, and every Greek thought it would be a good idea to be a civil servant."
Yet she considers herself a politician of the center, not the right. "You can't say I'm right or conservative, not with the changes that are taking place in the new Europe. It will be different. Something new is born, and it's fascinating."
Greece, she says, will be part of that Europe, more "Western" now, with a "new spirit" of enterprise.
While here, Bakoyannis will go with her father to New York and Boston, where her brother is graduating Harvard, then to Charlotte, N.C., where it happens that 1,500 emigres from Evritania and their children live. "It's easy to see how it happens that they all live in one place," she says. "One goes and finds a job, then others come, and they have families."
And then, finally, "You will laugh, but I promised my children that after Harvard, and Charlotte, I will take them to Disney World in Orlando, Florida."
And she laughs.