President of the Hellenic Republic Katerina Sakellaropoulou spoke of her role as Greek president, the relationship of politics and law, and of her ties to her birth and childhood city of Thessaloniki when she was awarded an honorary doctorate by its university's law school on Wednesday.
Her goal as president, she said, was to contribute to empoweringthe relationship between the ruling and the ruled, especially after the economic and health crises and the "stunning blow" they delivered to the credibility of the political system.
Reflecting a criticism that she had had no political experience when proposed for the presidency, she acknowledged that "although I come from a non-political world, I hope to contribute to the noble aim of safeguarding and empowering this relationship" of trust between ruler and the ruled, she said, "as the deeper meaning of politics lies in this relationship."
Addressing a small audience - due to pandemic precautions - at the University of Thessaloniki Law School, Sakellaropoulou spoke of the transition from a judge to a leading politician and said that it was exactly the role of a law expert that made her constitutional duties and their exercise more familiar, and cited her career at the Council of State, where she was also its first female presiding judge.
Separation of powers
"The president of the republic, just like the judge, ought to listen carefully to all sides, and piece together differences," she said, linking politics to law. "I do not represent any party, but all Greeks. As president, at the end of the day I remain exactly what I was as a judge: a public administrator, focused on the general and national interests, away from the private and self-serving understanding of the institution and from petty political standing."
Although she expressed appreciation that the public addressed her for the resolution of issues, she said that respecting the separation of powers "is critical to our democracy's smooth functioning," and noted that "the good jurist and the ethical politician share the same core principles, their devotion to liberal democracy."
Describing the Greek public sphere, however, she said that "in Greece we politicize legal issues more than we should, using a vocabular of war, or we turn political issues into legal ones, depending on circumstances or someone's interests." When the separation of right and politics is not observed, she warned, "we weaken democratic concensus. We undermine the foundation of our social contract, which is respect of the compact, of our freedom to agree, but also to disagree in an orderly way."
The Greek president said that her presidency's priority was to ensure that "the Other, espcially the weaker one, is included in our social and political coexistence," and said that her selection as president was part of the inclusion of women in public roles. "The opportunities and open choices that a modern cosmopolitan worldview provide us must be in step with the provision of equal rights and with corrective and redistributive justice," she said. "Our life plan is not simply an issue of personal responsibility, or a product of state intervention - it is a promise that the state provides to each of us in order to fulfil its own independence."
Besides academics, the event was attended by Deputy Minister for Macedonia & Thrace Stavros Kalafatis and Thessaloniki political and religious leaders and MPs of several parties, among others.