I do not know Christos Stylianides, the Minister of Climate Crisis and Civil Protection, personally. All I know about him is from articles dating back to his tenure as a European Union Commissioner and his time in the government of Kyriakos Mitsotakis.
Few will probably disagree that given the problems that the country sometimes faces – fires in summer, snow in winter, earthquakes, etc. – the establishment of such a ministry was a good idea.
And because it is a ministry that has just set up a “bench” of suitable candidates for ministerial positions, it is small. So it was logical that Prime Minister Κyriakos Mitsotakis would look for someone abroad who has the qualifications that Mr. Stylianidis meets.
However, as it seemed from the very beginning, Mr. Stylianides was loaded with two pieces of “baggage”: First, that he is a Hellene living abroad and, second, that he is a Cypriot.
How short-sighted? What a pity!
Such an attitude – which is not rare in the Greek capitol – is not only tragic, but is also anti-Greek. It is as if the Greek Cypriots are not considered members of the Greek nation. It is as if expatriates and their descendants are not members of Greece.
The consolation is – if there is one – that this is nothing new. It happened in the days after Greece’s War of Independence when they said the same thing about Ioannis Kapodistrias, the brilliant first governor of the new Greek state who, when he tried to build a proper system of administration, was assassinated.
Something similar would be said even about Eleftherios Venizelos when he first arrived in Athens and after a while became Prime Minister, because in a sense was also a ‘Hellene Abroad,’ since Crete had not yet been united with the motherland.
Perhaps the only one who was accepted from ‘outside’ was Andreas Papandreou, who lived in America for about 20 years.
In any case, the recent heavy snowfall in Greece with the many and unusual problems it created, such as the confinement of hundreds of people in their cars while stranded on the road, gave the SYRIZA leader the opportunity to raise the issue of confidence in the government. That is fine – it’s his right.
And because Mr. Stylianides was responsible for dealing with the crisis, part of the outcry of the opposition – and public opinion – turned against him. Thus, he was among the speakers who took part in the debate in Parliament prior to a vote on the motion to censure the government. (The government won).
His speech was impressive –memorable. (See below). Not only for the level of discourse, but also because he spoke as a Hellene Abroad. In other words, he spoke from a national perspective, that is to say, he gave an honest report to the Nation about the condition of the machinery of the Greek State. And in addition to criticism, he praised not only previous ministers of the Mitsotakis government, but also ministers of the previous government under Mr. Tsipras.
He said the obvious, but which is not spoken in Greece – “snowstorms, fires, rainstorms have no political color.” All citizens, regardless of politics, are equally affected by these phenomena.
But that is not all he said. He also presented a solution, noting that he has secured 1.7 billion euros from the European Union to modernize the state apparatus – because, make no mistake about it, the state machinery is the great ‘sick man’ of Greece.
He also said that he did not accept the appointment because he needed a job. He said he responded to the Prime Minister’s call because he wanted to make a contribution – because he is a Hellene who happened to have experience with similar problems when he worked abroad.
I do not know how credible these statements sounded to the political opposition or even to part of the public opinion. Most likely they are treated with skepticism, possibly with cynicism.
But we expatriates both understand and believe in him. We understand his longing to contribute something to his motherland.
And we hope that the attacks he receives – and I mean the personal attacks, not the ones that have to do with his work – will not bother him. It would be understandable if they did – but we hope that they do not.
But the main point I would like to make is this:
Even if Mr. Stylianides decides to resign from his position, he has already left his mark. He has already succeeded. He has introduced a know-how and a mentality that his successors would not be able to ignore, even if they wanted to.
He will have laid the foundations for something more professional. More effective. And his love for the country and its people will have been noted by at least a portion of society.
And it will have left a point – and this is exactly what many fear – of comparison. Hopefully in the future, politicians and journalists will be able to ask of appointees: “is he or she qualified for this very important position” while having Stylianides in mind.
To the extent that this was his goal, then he succeeded. The attacks he endures from the government’s opponents are irrelevant.
After all, in the end, he was not the real target. He was just an easy target.
Here is a small part of his speech. It is worth reading:
“I accepted the honorable invitation of the Prime Minister to undertake this difficult task. And I thank him for the honor and the trust.
I accepted it, as I said before, knowing the difficulties and pathogenesis of an entire system. And recognizing, of course, at the same time my own possible weaknesses, related to my lack of experience and knowledge of the Greek state mechanism.
“I accepted the offer, not because I was unemployed, not because I was definitely looking for a job, nor to become a minister. I accepted because I felt that this was my duty to the Nation.
“I grew up on the Green Line of old Nicosia. I know what supporting the Nation means. When the Prime Minister called me, it was a national duty for me. Especially a Prime Minister about whom I know very well – from my European experience – that he has upgraded the prestige of the country. I could not say no.
“I did not come here to redeem anything. Nor to launch a new political career. I did not come to Greece as a ‘Messiah’ and I am not infallible… I am a person who has lived and studied in Greece, and I came back with the know-how I acquired as a European Commissioner and as a European coordinator dealing with the Ebola epidemic – and I think I did well there.
“So I see my involvement in this government as a contribution. As a service to the Greek citizen. And I ask to be judged by them – now and tomorrow – but also at the end of this journey. Crisis management is not done by jurors.
“The goal that we have set together, I firmly believe, is a national issue. It has no political elements. Snowstorms, fires, and rainstorms have no political color. Without everyone’s contribution, we will only get halfway there.”