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Columnists

Letter from Athens: Setting a Bad Example: Greek Politicians Cut COVID-19 Vaccine Line

January 10, 2021

There’s a scene of sterling leadership in the film We Were Soldiers Once … and Young about the 1965 Battle of Ia Drang in which American forces outnumbered 10-1 in that early clash in the Vietnam War hung on, thanks to the command of Capt. Hal Moore. 

Before the battle, Moore – played by Mel Gibson – is talking with his First Sergeant, the inimitable Sam Elliott, discussing how two young Second Lieutenants are dealing with their platoons welfare. 

One is screaming at his men, and  the other tells them to take their socks off so he can check their feet to make sure they’re okay. “That’s a leader,” says Moore of the officer more concerned for his men than himself. 

Moore said he would be the first off the helicopter into battle and the last off the field but Greek politicians were elbowing each other out of the way to get in line for the first arrivals of a short order of the COVID-19 vaccine, caring about themselves. 

It was expected that there would be some symbolism to show reluctant Greeks – half of them don’t think the vaccine is safe or effective – to not be afraid and that the miracle arrival, even with side effects, is better than being on a ventilator. 

That example was set by Prime Minister and New Democracy leader Kyriakos Mitsotakis, a young man who, as Head of State, rightfully needed to roll up his sleeve and get the shot. 

So too for Greek President Katerina Sakellaropoulou, a humble woman who has elevated herself gracefully and graciously into the position. But the line should have stopped there. 

While people in nursing homes, the elderly, those with multiple and underlying conditions who were afraid and praying to get the shot, another 64 politicians got it instead, claiming they, too were symbols. 

They were, of course: of selfishness, fear, and cowardice, because they deprived 64 people who needed the inoculation, hiding behind the pathetic government excuse they were essential personnel, some of them at levels right around serving as the Under Assistant West Coast Promo Man. 

Next came the leader of the major opposition SYRIZA, former premier Alexis ‘Give Me a Shot’ Tsipras, who as soon as he felt protected – two shots are needed three weeks apart for the Pfizer-BioNtech version Greece first got – said the vaccination campaign was a government fraud. Scratch one more elderly person. 

Then the underlings started lining up as well, as did Yanis Varoufakis, SYRIZA’s former finance chief before he was ousted, head of the useless MeRA25 party that should be called MeRA9 because that’s how many lawmakers they have. 

Guess he wanted to send a message to his followers too although they couldn’t hold a march because one of them was busy and the other didn’t want to show up alone. Dimitris Koutsoumpas, head of the KKE (aptly pronounced Cuckoo-A) Communists made sure he got one but his name should be Kolotoumba (making a somersault) because he needed to spin fast to make his rationale. 

Guess he, too, wanted to show his party’s hardy band of 14 Members of Parliament it was safe, and apparently that’s the excuse used right down the line to all those politicians who made sure they were safe, depriving the most vulnerable. 

It’s not just the 66 who got the shot, it’s the principle. A leader takes care of his people first, not himself, but that’s a concept lost on these hypocrites who spout support but want it only for themselves. 

When Mitsotakis allowed this to happen, he gave Tsipras a chance to take another shot at him and he deserved it because the Premier should have set a limit on how many examples could be made. 

After a furor properly developed, a stop was put to this charade before every politician in the country could be served first after New Democracy lamely said it was a “matter of priority” for them to be inoculated first. Tell that to someone who thinks they’re going to be a ventilator because they didn’t get one. 

Deputy government spokesperson Aristotelia Peloni was rolled out to take the heat and told radio station Parapolitika that there was a "fundamental misunderstanding" concerning the vaccinations for symbolic reasons, in order to send a message of unity to all Greeks that the vaccine was safe. 

She lamented some politicians went on social media to show off themselves being vaccinated which was boastful and in-your-face-sucker, not a good example, and said it was ill-advised as “some exaggerated the image.” 

Then she, too, fell back on the sad excuse that these people, most of whom couldn’t hold a job in the real world and are irrelevant, were essential because the state couldn’t “operate on automatic pilot” without them. Yes, it could have. 

SYRIZA spokesman Nasos Iliopoulos pounced on that and properly said – without noting Tsipras cutting in line – that the government had turned the vaccine from “a right to a privilege, young government officials getting the shot and taking selfies. 

Don’t take his word because it’s not good, but workers at Sotiria Hospital in Athens, the country’s top pulmonary center, said 21 government officials were given priority over healthcare professionals so Mitsotakis should have checked their feet, not those of politicians, which were already in their mouths. 

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