Greek President Sakellaropoulou: Democracy ‘a difficult, demanding exercise’

Democracy today is often the focus of sharp criticism, especially by populists and extremists, President of the Hellenic Republic Katerina Sakellaropoulou said on Friday, during the annual reception for the restoration of democracy following the junta’s fall in 1974, but nobody has the right to trivialize it.

In a strong message to “populists and extremists of every political side,” Sakellaropoulou said that “our democracy has a historic and social depth, and nobody may belittle it and trivialize it. The comparisons some people attempt with the dark era of the dictatorship are not simply historically ignorant, they are also directly antidemocratic. We all know there is no perfect democracy.”

The president said that a lot needs to be done continuously to maintain democracy, “a difficult and demanding exercise,” as she called it. She added that “respect of democracy and focus on defending our country is the strongest message of unity and a responsibility” of all Greeks, and included among democracy’s demands the safeguarding of the state of law, managing the economic crisis, development, environmental protection and better prospects for young people.

July 24 is a date that also entails a sad anniversary, that of the Turkish invasion and occupation of Cyprus, and a rising Turkish aggression, Sakellaropoulou said. “Today, circumstances are even harder and emotional for all of us. For the first time in 86 years, a Muslim prayer was held at Hagia Sophia,” she said of today’s formal conversion of the monument to a mosque.

The event, she added, is “deeply hurtful” and goes beyond Christianity, to deliver a blow to Turkey’s relationship with Turkey, the EU and the global community. “Turkey is removing itself from the principles of the secular state and the values of tolerance and religious pluralism,” Sakellaropoulou noted, but the monument itself will shine as “a symbol of religious cohabitation and a monument of world cultural heritage.”

Greece’s president also referred to the restrictions on the number of guests to the annual celebration at the Presidential Mansion gardens due to the coronavirus pandemic and noted that some of those who were in the front lines of the pandemic crisis were present. “The pandemic proved once more in our history that we can overcome individualism and selfishness, rally together and work towards a common goal for the common good.”

Guests totalled 500 this year, and besides party leaders, ministers, and a selection of MPs and representatives of the arts and culture, they included health and services sectors staff.

For the first time, and in addition to doctors and nurses, invitees included staff from supermarkets, cleaning services, delivery services, ambulance drivers and firefighters – all services that bore the brunt of the pandemic crisis and supported Greek society during the lockdown of nearly seven weeks.