‘Bad Prime Minister’ Phrase Censored From Text in Greek Language Exam

Greek Ministry of Education. Photo by Dimorsitanos via Wikimedia Commons. CC BY-SA 3.0.

Another apparent slip-up by Greece's SYRIZA government has left the public reeling as the school summer holidays begin.

June is the month of National Examinations at high schools throughout the country. This year, candidates from Vocational High Schools (EPAL) sitting the Modern Greek Language national examinations on June 6 were given an altered version of the original text by Georgios Theotokas to write a response to.

Theotokas was a major figure of the Greek “Generation of the Thirties”, a group of influential writers, poets and philosophers that brought radical changes to Greek literature.

The original phrase from Theotokas’ essay book “Reflections and Τheses” (1956) read:

«Ένας άξιος μαραγκός που κατέχει καλά τη δουλειά του και πιστεύει σε αυτή είναι πολύ πιο ολοκληρωμένος και αξιοσέβαστος άνθρωπος από έναν κούφο πρύτανη ή έναν κακό πρωθυπουργό».

A worthy carpenter, who knows his job well and believes in it, is a more whole and respectable person than a deaf chancellor or a bad prime minister.

But the text featured in the examination saw “a deaf chancellor or a bad prime minister” replaced with “a bad scientist” (από έναν κακό επιστήμονα). Adolescent candidates have to pass these national exams in order to get into university.

Τhe National Examination Committee commented that according to the law, the texts selected for the Modern Greek Language exam can be altered and this is not the first time that a change like this has happened. The Committee added that texts can be adjusted and adapted to the candidates’ level. After all, it was explained in the end of the extract the candidates were given that the extract was an adaptation of the original Theotokas text.

Both the National Examination Committee and the National Examination Organisation, who choose the content of the exams, are branches of the Ministry of Education and effectively under government control.

Why the change?

With leftist Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras’ popularity plummeting, it would not be surprising that someone saw fit to change the potentially damaging phrase. Another theory is that left-wing ideologues specifically sought to elevate the carpenter over the scientist in the name of class struggle.

A Twitter user aptly remarked:

When leftist Ministry of Education censors a text by Theotokas just because it doesn't like it, you surely name it “Fascist Ministry of Education”.

Elena Akrita, a well-known Greek journalist and novelist, wrote on Facebook:

Δεν μ’ αρέσει η ‘Αργώ’ του Θεοτοκά θα την ξαναγράψω.


I don't like Theotokas’ “Argo”, I will rewrite it.

Censorship attempts

This isn’t the first time that the government has flirted with censorship. In 2016, the government coalition of radical left SYRIZA party and conservative right ANEL party tried to pass a law that would have allowed only four TV channels to be broadcast nationally in a country of 10 million people. The law was eventually shot down by the Council of State.

After the failed attempt to control television, SYRIZA started a crusade against newspaper owners. Taking advantage of the financial problems at one of Greece’s biggest TV channels, MEGA, and of print colossus DOL, the government struck deals with the owners of both of establishments. DOL’s newspapers and magazines have already adopted a SYRIZA-friendly policy and it is safe to assume that once MEGA reopens, it will lean more towards Tsipras’ party.

The tweaking of a phrase from Theotokas’ essay might have been a minor accident. Or, it could have been a minor component in SYRIZA's ongoing drive to improve its badly damaged brand and consolidate power.

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