There was something so refreshingly familiar about the appearance on Friday of the new president of Greece, Katerina Sakellaropoulou. The official character of the ceremony in which she was sworn into office did nothing to detract from the simplicity of her manner, though she did appear slightly nervous. All in all, she gave the impression that she is ready to embrace a new reality without losing sight of her previous life. It is quite a leap to go from the judicial bench to the country’s highest office. It is a position that comes with an entirely different set of rules, an entirely different reality, of which she is unfamiliar – but she will learn.
Sakellaropoulou does not come from the world of politics and is unfamiliar with having her every move scrutinized under the lights of publicity or expecting them to be turned upon her. She was dressed simply and appropriately, without trying to make any sort of statement with her fashion choices. She was dignified as she stood between the prime minister and the speaker of Parliament, and her speech at the Presidential Mansion, after the handover from Prokopis Pavlopoulos, showed the compassion and strength that we can expect from her. She spoke of a new kind of patriotism that does not challenge cosmopolitanism but is a fundamental cornerstone of it; she spoke of the recent exacerbation of the migrant/refugee crisis and the exploitation of human suffering; she stressed the need for citizens to abide by the instructions of the competent authorities in the battle against the coronavirus epidemic.
“I hope that the election of a woman for the first time to the country’s highest office becomes a springboard for improving the position of all women, both in the family and in society,” she said. “It is time for the women of this country to realize that they can make their dreams come true with their own worth, without facing obstacles simply for being born women.”
It was an important statement, not from the perspective of an exaggerated politically correct feminist standpoint, but because we need to hear such messages from high places, from people who serve as paradigms, messages in support of the value of women for their own sake, not for their position or place in the family. The prime minister’s decision to nominate Sakellaropoulou was a first step to this end. Now it is time for her take on the role of president and imbue it with her values and character, as they are shaped by the experiences and professional accomplishments of a working woman and mother.