The government has scrapped a long tradition of honoring top pupils by selecting them to carry the national flag in school parades. From now on flag-bearers will be chosen by lot. Opposition parties criticized this as part of the SYRIZA party’s assault on excellence.
A presidential decree published in the Government Gazette on Tuesday sets out the new procedure for selecting flag-bearers, and those flanking them, in primary school parades. Two pupils in sixth grade (the final year of primary school) will be chosen by lot each year, with one serving from the start of the academic year until January 31 and the other from February 1 to the end of the school year.
This means different pupils will carry the flag in parades to mark Independence Day on March 25 and Ochi Day on October 28, which commemorates Greece’s response to an Italian ultimatum in 1940 and the country’s entry into World War II.
The pupils will be selected by lot, with all class members being eligible. Until now, pupils with the highest marks in their class were selected. After 1990, when many immigrants came to Greece, there were loud debates when the top pupils were children of immigrants, with the public being split between those who saw these flag bearers as validation of a culture of tolerance and others who wanted only Greeks to carry the flag.
New Democracy’s spokesperson for education, Niki Kerameos, accused the government of “overturning a decades-long tradition,” and added, “The message that we give our youth is that they don’t need to make an effort to achieve success, they need only luck.” The Potami party declared that “each day, the SYRIZA-Independent Greeks government shows in word and deed its ideological allergy to all forms of achievement and excellence.”
Shortly after the coalition was formed in early 2015, its first education minister, Aristides Baltas, told Parliament that “excellence is a stain.” On Wednesday, Education Minister Costas Gavroglou declared that every pupil “should have the opportunity to honor the flag and to be honored by it.”