There are times in public life when one must go against the tide in order to move society forward. And it is the duty of the leaders of each society, people who have popular support, especially elected representatives, to find the courage to challenge entrenched attitudes and false beliefs, even if that causes – at least initially – resentment. Even if it costs them votes.
These thoughts were prompted by the Mayor of Thessaloniki, Yiannis Boutaris, who did not hesitate to appear with a six-pointed star on his lapel, on which was written “Jude,” i.e. Jew.
It was a brave and symbolic gesture by Boutaris, who is distinguished by his often subversive acts, to respond to the presence at an event of City Council members affiliated with Golden Dawn by reminding people of the 50,000 Jewish Holocaust victims from Thessaloniki that were murdered by the Nazis.
For years, Greek society – and not only Greeks, but groups all over the world – have indulged in myths surrounding the Jews, such as conspiracies to dominate the world through “dark centers of power,” and certain authorities.
It is no coincidence that even at this time, some people believe that the “usurious rates” at which the country borrows (they don’t see to note that thanks to the memorandum, Greece ’s rates are among the lowest in Europe) were imposed for the benefit of Jewish bankers.
Investing in populism, organizations such as the Golden Dawn, and other parties, publicized these perceptions and have made them their banners, and they have become part of the general atmosphere that now prevails.
Such, however, concepts, no matter how obscurantist, inhibit the progress of Greek society.
It is in this context that the actions of the Mayor of Thessaloniki deserve praise. He dared to remind everyone that the Jews are not as they are described by some in the Right and the Left, and the community in the city of which he has the honor of being mayor paid heavily seven decades ago as victims of the unprecedented and undeniable brutality of the Nazis.
That is the role of real leaders. To insist on the truth and to proclaim it even at the risk of offending public opinion. I need not mention that his example must find imitators.