A plea for heroes in peacetime

President Costis Stephanopoulos, in a speech commemorating Greece’s entry into World War II on October 28, 1940, made an impassioned plea for Greeks to show the same heroism in peacetime as they have displayed in war. The president, whose role is mostly ceremonial, appealed for accountability in the public sector, for everyone to do their jobs well for the public good, and, in a nod to the current wave of strikes, he called on organized interests not to abuse their power and so harm the social whole. «True patriots can be virtuous at any moment, not only when reaping military laurels,» Stephanopoulos said at a dinner held in his honor by the Third Army Corps in Thessaloniki Monday. «The good teacher, who cares about transferring knowledge to his pupils and is keen to shape moral character in them, has the right to be called a patriot,» he said. «The indifferent teacher, who does not care or tries to avoid the effort, who does not care about what society expects of him, is not worthy of the honor.» Describing problems in the public sector, the president used harsh terms such as «insatiable parasites of the public wealth,» «immoral exploiters of the office they hold,» and «selfish individualists indifferent to the public interest.» He stressed that it was no excuse to blame everything on the fact that when Greece became independent 170 years ago, the country had been ravaged by an eight-year war of liberation. «We tolerate the blameworthy easily. We do not seek the guilty. We have not set up effective systems of prevention and reaction. There is no accountability in our country,» Stephanopoulos said. Among those he blamed were the news media, which, he said, often chose to focus on what benefited their partisan position. In a comment that could be seen as an echo of Prime Minister Costas Simitis’s criticism last week of garbage collectors whose strike had raised concerns about public health, Stephanopoulos said, «Organized groups are more effective in pursuing their aims and for that reason they should weigh the situation and not act to the detriment of the general interest.» He acknowledged that unions had to protect their interests, but added: «There are always limits that we should not exceed. And the limits are drawn by the need to accommodate the individual as well as the general interest at the same time.» Appealing for public sector appointments to be based on merit and for those hired to be accountable for their actions, the president spoke also of Greece’s «infamous bureaucracy, which harasses citizens and acts against them with sadistic pleasure.» Saying he realized it was not easy for everyone to make the effort, Stephanopoulos pleaded, «At least let us not worsen things with our own behavior.» Stephanopoulos does not usually make such outspoken comments. But recent weeks have seen a wave of strikes that have paralyzed large parts of the public sector. University professors are into the seventh week of a strike and will decide on Friday whether to continue. They are demanding more pay and more funds for universities. State hospital doctors have been holding strikes for the past few weeks. On Monday, Stephanopoulos attended the unveiling of a monument in Thessaloniki commemorating Greek Jews who died fighting Italian and German invaders in World War II.