Professor set to put environment back on agenda in Thessaloniki

Tassos Kourakis, assistant professor at the Aristotle University Medical School, is something like the Ralph Nader of Thessaloniki. Not only is he an outsider in the local elections, but he is a genuine environmentalist. He and a group of left-wingers and ecologists have created a new municipal movement which wants to introduce ecological ideas and perspectives into the city council. The group rejects the notion that the city need only consider the needs of some residents and not others. In particular, they reject the idea that the only person whose needs have to be met is a healthy, successful, male car owner. Basic approach «We haven’t even chosen a name for our movement yet,» Kourakis told Kathimerini, «because we have deliberately left lots of issues unresolved, so that the people who get involved can participate at all levels. People send me faxes and e-mails with proposals for our movement and its name. There is a high level of participation.» The main thrust of the movement is ecological, with an emphasis on improving the quality of life in the city and on social solidarity. They want more green areas, the Thermaic Gulf cleaned up, and an end to smog and traffic jams. They want to reduce social inequality, support women’s participation in city life, solve the drug problem without bans, support and promote artists from northern Epirus, and and to see an environmental policy imbue every aspect of municipal activity. One of the first measures this new group wants to get implemented is a policy of discouraging the use of private vehicles downtown. They are in favor of building a metro and of introducing trams. In general, they adopt an alternative approach to the city’s problems. Against modified food This is not at all surprising, considering Kourakis’s involvement, who is a prime example of an alternative movement type. As a geneticist, he opposes some modern applications of his own field, such as genetically modified food. «I am not against genetics,» he explains. «I am against some of its applications. I adore genetics and I believe the knowledge we possess can be used in another direction, so that the relation of genetics to the environment can be understood and can guide preventive medicine.» Asked whether he is an exception at the university, Kourakis replies: «I think I am, in many respects. «At the beginning, they treated me strangely, fearfully, but now they treat me with respect, though they don’t necessarily agree with me.» At the university he gets on best with his students. His lectures are always jam-packed, which he describes as his «greatest reward.» How do his students see his viewpoint on genetics? «I ask them to see that current applications of genetics are not a one-way street; they are not an extension of genetics, but only one of its directions, and there may be others. «The students are always close to me. At every lesson we devote 10-15 minutes to discussing issues that affect their future, their social status and their union activities. I advise them not to submit to everything that we tell them.» Poetry and gardening Apart from being an assistant professor at the university, Kourakis is also a pediatrician, but does not practice this profession. As a devotee of leisure time, he prefers to do things that interest him more, «at the time everyone is dashing off to their surgery.» Among his favorite pursuits is spending time in the garden of the farm where he lives with his wife and their three children at Elaiones, in Peraia. The flowers, vegetables and animals are all raised organically, of course. «I produce all the oil I use,» he says proudly. Kourakis loves poetry, and has already published three collections of verse and a book of essays. He has also written numerous articles on genetically modified foods, drugs and bioethics. He frequently appears in court on behalf of ecological organizations; he attends anti-globalizations demonstrations (he went to Prague and Genoa); and he also led opposition to the conferment of an honorary medical degree on Christodoulos, Archbishop of Athens and all Greece. He has been actively involved in trade unionism for many years, and as secretary of the Medical Association he personally undertook to train 4,500 doctors in Thessaloniki to use computers. «People who didn’t have a clue about computers pay a symbolic sum or nothing at all and learn to use a computer. This is the fourth year, so we have already achieved results.» Asked how people have reacted to his decision to run for election, Kourakis says: «This is not the first time I have been involved in politics. I ran for election twice as a candidate with the Left Coalition, but now I am stunned because I see people who support New Democracy come up to me and say they are on my side. I think people see that traditional viewpoints are getting nowhere and they want to try something different. That’s what I’m basing my candidacy on – saying certain things that affect all of us.»