New 'Government of hope' is sprinkled with academics

A breath of restrained optimism is blowing through the ranks of the academic community as a result of many university teachers and professors being appointed members of the new government.

Hope, respectability and growth was the slogan behind the radical left-wing party SYRIZA’s resounding victory in last week’s general election in Greece.

The outgoing government’s right-wing campaign of fear and uncertainty was rejected by the electorate.

SYRIZA, with 36.5% of the vote and 149 seats, remained two seats short of the absolute constitutional minimum of 151 seats in the 300 seat parliament in order to form a government – a difficulty which was easily overcome by the formation of a coalition with the Independent Greeks, a small right-wing party with 4.6% of the vote and 15 seats.

Leading a select team of financial experts, university professors and tested veteran politicians with many years on the opposition benches, Alexis Tsipras, not yet 40, is the youngest prime minister since 1867 (yes, the middle of the nineteenth century)!

Hammering home the emphasis on youth, the new prime minister has selected as his right-hand man his contemporary Nikos Pappas as state minister and the 35-year-old Gabriel Sakellaridis, as under-secretary of state and a spokesperson for the government.

First moves

Conscious that his every move will be watched, analysed and criticised, Tsipras has delighted the masses who have trusted him with their vote by his calm appearance and energetic and decisive manner, as well as his first moves as prime minister, which have sent strong signals that he intends to keep his promises and do all he can to alleviate the suffering and the negative effects of the past five years of extreme austerity.

He first visited the Archbishop of Athens in order to inform him personally that he would not be taking the traditional religious oath but would be sworn in as the head of the new government by taking only the required political declaration to honour the Constitution and the state laws, signifying that the relationship of church and state remain on the agenda for reform.

Afterwards he went to a suburb of the capital in order to place a bunch of flowers on the headstone of the communists executed by the Nazis in World War II, a move of immense emotional significance to many people in Greece.

Hopes raised

The hopes of the higher education sector have been raised by the appointment of university teachers and professors to the new government.

At the Ministry of Education and Religious Affairs, which has been expanded to include the Culture Ministry and the Athletics General Secretariat, Professor Aristides Baltas has been appointed secretary of state; Nikos Xidakis as under-secretary of state for culture; Tasos Kourakis as under-secretary of state for education; Kostas Fotakis as under-secretary of state for research and technology (an area completely neglected by the previous government), and Stavros Kondonis as athletics minister.

Baltas is professor of natural sciences at the National Technical University of Athens, president of the Nicos Poulantzas Institute and a member of the SYRIZA central committee.

He is a follower of Louis Althusser and the so-called French School of Epistemology, as well as the Anglo-Saxon philosophy of science within the framework of a wider philosophical theory of the world and knowledge on the basis of the works of Wittgenstein, Nietzsche, Spinoza, Derrida and others.

In 2002 he was awarded the state award for essay-criticism for his book Objects and Faces of Self and in December 2010 he was given an award for excellent university teaching in memory of Vasilis Xanthopoulos and Stephanos Pnevmatikos, two young teachers who were shot dead while teaching at the University of Crete by a mentally disturbed student who later shot himself.

Baltas will no doubt be responsible for the overall policy, the co-ordination and the supervision of the various departments of the new super-ministry reporting directly to the cabinet. He is expected to probably lead the delicate negotiations for the overall reform of the relationship between church and state.

Kourakis, the under-secretary of state for education, is an associate professor of medicine at the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki. He was responsible for educational matters while in opposition so is well versed in the subject. As a councillor in the municipality of Thessaloniki, he is a well-known activist with a history of participation in social movements.

He is expected to be given responsibility for disseminating policy and finding realistic solutions for the many problems which have beleaguered higher education, particularly in the last five years of austerity.

These include restoring state grants to the previous level, increasing education spending from the current measly 1.8% of gross national product, or GNP, to something a little more respectable for a European country, reforming law 4009/11 affecting the governing bodies of universities, restoring the lost prestige of the institutions, and most of all safeguarding article 16 of the Greek Constitution, which guarantees free state education and the public nature of the universities.

Article 16 precludes the foundation of private universities which the previous government attempted, fortunately unsuccessfully, to abolish.

With regard to the other two under-secretaries, Xidakis will be responsible for culture (theatre, cinema, book, galleries), while Fotakis will be responsible for research and technology, a field which he knows well because he was the president of the Technological Institute.

Kondonis, the minister for athletics, will be responsible for the very important sports policies, which involve so many young people. Kondonis, a lawyer, will have difficulty in his task to identify, control and eventually eliminate the corruption which has taken root in the last few years in Greece.