Greek-Canadian social entrepreneur Andreas Souvaliotis* pens an open letter to Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras after Greek MP Nikos Nikolopoulos wrote a homophobic Tweet to the Prime Minister of Luxembourg Xavier Bettel.
The Hon. Antonis Samaras, Prime Minister of the Hellenic Republic
Honourable Prime Minister:
As you may be aware, earlier today a member of your national parliament and recent founder of the Greek Christian-Democratic Party used an extremely derogatory term (the Greek equivalent of the word “faggot”) in a Twitter reference to the Prime Minister of Luxembourg. Apparently, your fellow parliamentarian’s tweet was nothing more than an expression of his profound disapproval of the Luxembourgian Prime Minister’s engagement to his same-sex partner.
As a proud Greek expatriate, living in a society where bigotry is broadly condemned, I was disappointed but perhaps not entirely shocked by your colleague’s remark. Having escaped the pervasive and often overt homophobia of Greece in search of a fairer society where I could also have the right to do what your Luxembourgian counterpart did, I am not surprised by such offensive expressions. I did, however, see this particular outburst as a unique opportunity for an enlightened leader to trigger a process of positive reflection and genuine dialogue among the citizens of my beautiful birth country.
You see, Prime Minister, while a vocal minority of modern day Greeks may be already expressing their disdain and embarrassment over your colleague’s offensive remark, a very large silent majority of your fellow citizens will go to bed tonight entirely unconcerned and unaffected by today’s incident. Their reaction, if they even heard or read about your colleague’s public slur, would range from complete apathy, because apparently the country has more serious issues to grapple with, to thinly disguised support for that bigoted MP’s views. And that is precisely where a terrific leadership opportunity lies for you: If you were to express your disappointment and communicate your genuine remorse to your Luxemburgian counterpart on behalf of an entire nation, you would automatically trigger that important adult conversation among your citizens. You would help expose and challenge some of their thinly disguised prejudices; you would start a more intelligent dialogue about some of the less obvious causes of Greece’s brain-drain and brand-drain; and you would be using a small dose of national shame to begin a snowball of debate on what it means to be a truly democratic nation, based on the ancient Greek definition of freedom.
Bigotry is not easy to erase and it will certainly take a while to enrich an entire nation with the same fundamental values of equality and unconditional mutual respect, which define and guide some of the more advanced western democracies like the one I chose to make my home. But today’s incident was a perfect example of an opportunity to at least start that process. The power of your elected office, combined with a strong dose of moral courage on your part, can be harnessed to trigger a national dialogue. And once people start talking and reflecting, the layers of bigotry will gradually fall away.
Good luck, Prime Minister. This could well be one of the simplest and most rewarding leadership opportunities of your tenure. By shaming, exposing and ultimately reducing intolerance in modern Greek society, you would be honouring our proud ancient democratic heritage while also creating a unique legacy for yourself.
*Andreas Souvaliotis is the founder of Green Rewards and later AIR MILES for Social Change, the world’s first national environmental and healthy lifestyle incentive programs. His achievements in influencing and rewarding behaviour change on a mass scale have been recognized by global social responsibility leaders, including The Prince of Wales. As a leading social entrepreneur in Canada, Souvaliotis writes and speaks across the country about social change and innovation as well as the emerging shared-value model. He was trained twice by former US Vice President and Nobel laureate Al Gore and chairs the national advisory committee on climate change for WWF Canada. He also chairs the advisory board of the Centre for Responsible Leadership at Queen’s School of Business and serves on several other academic and non-profit boards. He is a very active member of the Young Presidents’ Organization, where he has served as national membership chair for Canada and chair of the Toronto chapter. He holds an MBA degree from McMaster University and a Bachelor of Science degree from Brandon University. He is the author of Misfit.