Yiannis Boutaris will be missed from Greek politics. Whatever one’s ideological preferences – Thessaloniki’s outgoing mayor defies easy political catagorization – few would disagree that Boutaris is one of the few (in fact very few) politicians who dares to speak the truth, unpleasant as it might be. He never hesitated to express his opinion, even if it went against that of the mainstream.
It is no coincidence that Boutaris managed to attract support from different political currents, even among rival parties. It was not a question of political background or partisan equilibrium, but rather one of personality and principles. His honesty and directness are rare traits, and Greece needs such qualities today more than ever.
It’s hard not to be impressed by these characteristics when you come across them. They provided a ray of hope in today’s cynical politics where common sense has been hijacked by populism.
Boutaris has never been guided by re-election concerns. He has had the luxury of independence and the freedom of defining himself instead of allowing others to do so. With Boutaris everyone, not just Thessaloniki voters, got what they saw. He has never been one for ingratiation. He isn’t intimidated by the fear of paying a political price. He is authentic, a rare quality, and not just in Greek politics.
For most politicians, concern over political survival limits their freedom of action. Like the conservative official in northern Greece who referring to the stance he took on the name deal with the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM), told me the other day with a sense of guilt that, “unfortunately, given the way things have developed, I could not have said something else as it would have amounted to political suicide.”
Boutaris had an opinion, on everything from the big to the more delicate issues – the Turks, the Jews, the FYROM name deal. It’s not that important whether he was right – in most cases he was – but what made him stand out was that he has never taken the beaten track, as more conventional politicians usually do. His actions weren’t driven by narrow political calculations. He spoke his heart.
A businessman, not a professional politician, an active citizen without a party tag, an open-minded cosmopolitan who might have occasionally erred, but resisted populism and demagoguery in a way that very few people have done, Boutaris in his own special way, opened the gates and has left his own mark on Thessaloniki’s renewal.
His common sense, his spontaneity and, yes, his youthful spirit will be sorely missed.