It is truly very, very difficult for someone to understand what is going on in Alternate Health Minister Pavlos Polakis’ head. The “proud” Cretan publicly embarrasses a man with disabilities with disturbing ease. The total lack of humanity – much less manners – is shocking. Such pettiness brings into question the moral compass of the Left.
Even when the minister brings to the fore real problems facing the Greek political system – often finding an audience among his voters and occasionally beyond them – his manner insults and appalls many in society at large, not just his committed adversaries.
In the case of Stelios Kymbouropoulos, the wheelchair-bound New Democracy MEP candidate whom Polakis appeared to accuse of using his disability to get a job in the public sector, the minister crossed every line.
On a human level the attack was unacceptable to the point of vulgarity. But even if one were to examine the comment in purely political terms, it was a move that irritated the great majority of SYRIZA supporters, angered moderate voters and certainly alienated every undecided citizen. In other words, he hurt his party.
I will not go into Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras’ attempt to take political advantage of the incident by turning it into a vote of confidence in his government after New Democracy said it would file a censure motion against the minister. Nor will I touch on the implications from the legal action threatened by the National Confederation of Persons with Disabilities, which accused Polakis of discrimination.
Instead I will focus on the saddest part of the incident, which is that the prime minister was not able to get past his personal relationship with Polakis and distance himself from the unfortunate comment.
People – at least those with a sane thinking – appreciate politicians who have the courage to recognize mistakes, either their own or those of their associates. Was it so difficult for Tsipras to say the obvious? The least he could have done was to admit publicly that his minister committed a faux pas, to distance himself from his comment and ask him to apologize.
He should have followed the example of former education minister Nikos FIlis, who largely expressed the collective consciousness of his party. This is not the first time Filis has done so, and that behavior has won him, albeit tacitly, the recognition of many – not only like-minded people but also his opponents. And of course he was not alone. SYRIZA MEP Stelios Kouloglou even telephoned Kymbouropoulos.
Then there is the possibility that the prime minister agrees with Polakis’ vulgar remark, which would be really sad. There are some things that simply must not be said or done. There are many opportunities for political confrontations, even with the arrogant manner that some have, but they do not and must not include speaking to a person like Polakis did to Kymbouropoulos.