Greek President must balance high expectations and declining quality of life


Greek President-elect Katerina Sakellaropoulou, elected in 2020, is gradually changing the role and perception of the presidency, which until now has been largely symbolic and ceremonial.

The office was occupied almost exclusively by former government ministers from one of the two major political parties. A major sign of change came last month when Sakellaropoulou led the memorial parade “Never Again: Thessaloniki-Auschwitz,” commemorating the Nazi expulsion of the city’s Jewish population.

Where previous heads of state and other politicians have taken part in the parade, it was Sakellaropoulos decision to actually lead them that indicated their intention not to stand on the ceremonial sidelines.

Later in March, at a dinner held in her honor at Athens’ Onassis Cultural Center, Sakellaropoulou spoke forcefully about the Russian invasion of Ukraine: “It’s not just about geostrategic power. It is also a direct and dramatic conflict of values ​​between freedom and authoritarianism.”

Since her election, Sakellaropoulou has, perhaps predictably, championed the woman’s role

Commenting on this, Antonis Manitakis, a former minister and professor of constitutional law, noted that the President had “brought about a radical change in the symbolic role of the institution by shattering certain stereotypes”. Their intervention, he argued, “unites the US with the rest.”

The election of Sakellaropoulou as president was in itself a stereotype-busting: the first female president in a country that is still decidedly patrilineal was not a politician, but president of the country’s Supreme Court. It is also significant that she is divorced and living with her current partner.

It was a bold nomination from otherwise conservative Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis. Since her election, Sakellaropoulou has, perhaps predictably, championed the role of women: at her inauguration, she declared: “It’s time the women of this country realized that they can achieve their dreams on their own, without just putting on.” Having to face obstacles because they were born women.”

The two Marys

This reminds us of the landmark presidencies of Mary Robinson and Mary McAleese in Ireland, which set an agenda for an inclusive, inclusive society. As “us and them” become increasingly divisive around the world, Sakellaropoulou is operating very strongly in this area of ​​thought and concern.

During his two official visits to Greece in 2018 and 2019, President Michael D. Higgins has demonstrated his willingness to speak on behalf of smaller nations on ethical issues that border on the political. This was certainly seen as an act of wise friendship by politicians here, and it is possible that Sakellaropoulou’s speeches set a compelling example of a head of state willing to speak out on ethical issues. (They have since met at the annual “Arraiolos” meeting of EU presidents held in Rome last year, where the heads of state of the democracies informally discuss their views on the future of Europe.)

Since taking office, Sakellaropoulou has pointed to the growing inequalities within Greek society, highlighted by the fact that nearly 30 percent of Greeks live below or near the poverty line, a level threatened by the rapidly rising cost of living there. where the vast majority have little discretionary spending available for meager net rewards (by Irish standards).

In a similar vein, it was officially recognized by the country’s Minister of Tourism, Vassilis Kikilias, that tourism accounts for 25 percent of Greece’s GDP. This contrasts with the previous official statistic of 20 percent and is partly explained by rising tourist numbers and spending and partly by the contraction of other sectors of the economy.

Tourism, from luxury cruise lines, one-stop resort hotels, smaller hotel companies and Airbnb to self-starter tourists and backpackers, permeates Greek society.

High expectations

It has also been claimed for decades that tourism accounts for 20 percent of the Greek workforce, which is another statistic in dire need of an update: during the season (from March to November), in taverns, bars and smaller hotels, every family member, from small From children to elderly grannies, is involved in some aspects of tourism: serving a table, washing dishes, driving a taxi, making traditional goods. It underscores the essential contribution of tourism not only in financial terms but in the whole fabric of Greek life and its contact with cultures elsewhere.

Sakellaropoulou is concerned that some Greeks have zero “quality of life“.

The new aspect of the presidency and official tourism statistics don’t seem to have much in common. But Sakellaropoulou has proclaimed Greece “a society with high expectations” and, particularly after 10 years of crippling hardship and the Covid pandemic, an economy in recession is likely to exacerbate the inequalities it bemoans.

Tourism, climate change and its environmental impact in the form of deadly forest fires, the long-term consequences of the Ukraine crisis and social imbalances are interrelated factors affecting Greek quality of life, and Sakellaropoulou is concerned that some Greeks have zero. Quality of life”. Greek life in all its forms needs the radical ethical approach that Sakellaropoulou represents.


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