I don’t believe it was just me who felt as I did, so I’ll be honest: I was intensely embarrassed by the sight of Greece’s prime minister standing with his legs wide apart and his hands linked below his belt as the national anthems of Greece and France played during French President Francois Hollande’s visit to Greece last week at the wreath-laying ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Athens.
Hollande is standing to attention and looking serious, with the complete awareness that he is paying tribute to his host country’s history and tradition. Beside him, Alexis Tsipras looks just as I described him above. He also has an awkward smirk on his face, while the position of his hands is reminiscent of a soccer player protecting his delicate bits during a penalty shot.
I am poking fun simply to blunt the shame I felt. Yes, I know that this may seem exaggerated, but in the past few months I have often felt that same chagrin at the style adopted by Tsipras and his associates, and particularly when they are meeting foreign dignitaries and appear completely unaware of the fact that they are representing the entire country. Here’s another example: Standing beside Hollande in Parliament, House Speaker Nikos Voutsis looked like a taverna cook in his black, open-necked shirt.
Anyone who thinks I’m being old-fashioned or too conservative, consider this: How progressive can the prime minister of a country be when his manner of dress is so amateurishly casual? I can already hear SYRIZA supporters moaning that I’m about to go on about Tsipras’s aversion to ties. Yes, I will mention the tie because I can’t imagine that Tsipras still hasn’t realized that his counterparts feel insulted by his look even if they don’t mention it for reasons of propriety.
So let’s call it like it is and hopefully all those progressives who govern us will finally get it. Neckties were not established by the Greek right wing nor are they a whimsy of all the Western leaders who wear them. They are part of a dress code which, in turn, is part of international protocol. To put it simply enough that even Education Minister Nikos Filis, with his garish polo shirts and wrinkled jackets gets it, to international leaders, protocol is a code of communication. It is part of a series of rules on rudimentary manners and behavior, which all foreign officials take for granted, out of respect for the institution they serve and the citizens who elected them. Therefore, when Tsipras does not follow these rules, he appears nothing short of odd or ridiculous to his counterparts.
Just as he would obviously not wear white socks with black patent leather shoes because he knows it would be naff, so his counterparts look at him askance when he wears expensive suits with a dress shirt unbuttoned at the neck. Let him at least consider the various leaders who don’t/didn’t hold to the code. He’ll note that many of them are/were loons or dictators.
Let’s be serious. Tsipras should, finally, recognize the need to follow a few of the rudimentary rules dictated by his position. If he doesn’t know what they are, he should ask. When the national anthem plays, for example, you stand to attention. When you’re escorting a head of state, you don’t plant your defense minister next to him just because he’s your buddy. When your guest is making a public statement to the cameras, you don’t stand behind him looking bored or indifferent. And when you don’t speak a foreign language fluently, use an interpreter, particularly when addressing an international audience.
I would really like to believe that the 41-year-old prime minister has simply trapped himself behind a “revolutionary” look. But now that he’s realized that Europe is not about to change simply because he came to power, let him also understand that protocol is not a leftist or right-wing thing, but a common language shared by most of the world’s politicians. And when he does realize this, maybe he’ll tell his colleagues, so that Parliament stops looking like a taverna. Maybe they should start viewing the necktie as revolutionary. After all, it would shock the world and do nothing but good.