George Patoulis is undoubtedly the most successful Greek mayor. He heads Maroussi municipality in northeastern Attica, which is one of the largest municipalities with its 70 thousand inhabitants. Every day you can see him tirelessly tour the streets on his motorcycle. So, his fellow citizens re-elected him for a second term giving him the overwhelming 57% support. While other public figures in Greece are afraid to appear in public, George Patoulis as Chairman of the Medical Association in Athens is on Syntagma Square whenever demonstrations are held to provide first aid to injured people. Observers consider him one of the new faces of New Democracy and predict a great political future for him.
Interview by Maria S. Topalova
- Mr. Patoulis, the violence during demonstrations in downtown Athens is absolutely inexplicable to foreigners. You were there on 12 February when over 100 buildings were burned. How would you explain this inexcusable aggression?
- Yes, let me first clarify that I was there as the Chairman of the Medical Association in Athens to participate in the makeshift first aid centre in case it came to the usual clashes. At the beginning, I actually saw a peaceful protest of the Greek people there, of those who believed that the austerity measures required by the supervisory Troika should not be voted. So, a little later, I saw the use of a lot of chemicals, tear gas, against the peaceful protest, which made many participants in the protest run to save themselves because it was impossible to breathe. Thousands of demonstrators fled because tons of chemicals were used without any reason. As a result, few people remained in Syntagma Square and street clashes between hooded youths and riot forces started after about two hours. These clashes have been happening in recent years, as long as I can remember my involvements in demonstrations, and those who have gone to protest peacefully know that other known or unknown persons captured by no one could take part at the end of the protest. In this sense, it could be said that the accidents began after the withdrawal of thousands of demonstrators - employed, unemployed, heads of households, and once they scattered, clashes between hooded youths and riot forces started. And we saw the results - how Athens burned, the destruction in some places because marble pieces were broken and, of course, we wonder why the police are constantly trying to cope with this handful of people and are failing.
- Do you see any solution?
- I think it is one thing to protest with your physical presence against any measure that you think should not be accepted as a kind of pressure on political parties and quite different when some attempt to impose their opinion by force. I am a democrat to the core, I believe in democracy, I believe in the democracy of the majority and whoever wins a majority through his or her beliefs should play a leading role on the political scene. In this sense, I think we should all prevent such things from happening. At one point, we all ask ourselves who benefits, who takes advantage from not capturing these people? Does it help an ordinary citizen who goes to protest? No, it does not. Perhaps it helps to transfer our attention to these incidents and not to the solutions to the problems we face in our everyday lives? I think it is just that. Therefore, the solution will have to come from those who find it advantageous this scenario to be repeated almost every time, during every protest of citizens.
- We are witnesses of the emergence of a huge anti-European wave in Greece. Ordinary citizens whose protests are full of anti-European slogans have started it and it has reached the President as well. How dangerous is that wave and how could the state restrict it?
- First, I believe that there should be elections in order to have a clearly expressed will of the people. What is certain is that people's lives have changed radically in a very short period of time. And if optimism reigned before, now people are mainly pessimistic about their future. Surely, there is a lot to be corrected in the country. Because there was no control and there were no rules, many things went out of control, a vast government apparatus was created that wasted money, had no principles, left anyone and everyone hide taxes and because of all this, we ended up here. It is logical and correct that we all must correct ourselves through self-criticism and self-government. What is not right is that our creditors, Europe, want things that have not happened in the last 30 years be implemented in an extremely short period of time, in several months. This cannot happen. We will have to look at reality with realism, to understand that things need to be corrected and they will be corrected, but not in such a violent way, because this will cause more violence, will lead to uncontrollable events, and if Europe really wants Greece, then it must pay attention to this. Because the changes will be made, but let them be made in a reasonable time that will not allow us to reach poverty level, which will lead to violence.
- So, how do you see it over the time? When will the privatization start, for example, when will the cuts in the public sector start, when will the market as a whole, not only of closed professions, be liberalized?