Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras said Thursday that criticism of his government’s decision to scrap the tradition of honoring top pupils by selecting them to carry the national flag in school parades smacked of “populism.”
Speaking in Parliament Thursday and responding to accusations that the government has launched an assault on excellence, Tsipras said the initiative seeks to establish notions of equality and that “everyone should have the right to hold the flag.” He added that his government’s definition of excellence and priority is to ensure that schools open on time this year, to give academics enough incentives not to leave the country and to increase the budget for research.
According to the presidential decree published on Tuesday, flag-bearers will from now on be chosen by lot.
But the decision drew a storm of protests, with the opposition conservatives saying it reflects the leftist-led’s government’s general philosophy with regard to meritocracy, which lowers the bar for students.
In his response to Tsipras in Parliament Thursday, New Democracy leader Kyriakos Mitsotakis lambasted him for “insulting society.”
Other opposition parties also vented their dismay. Socialists Democratic Alignment bemoaned that the concept of excellence was being compromised “by a lottery procedure,” while centrists To Potami said the government was “allergic” to concepts regarding achievement.