A controversial right-wing politician who once argued in court that calling for Auschwitz to reopen was not incitement and also previously suggested that migrants at the border with Turkey should be shot has been named as Greece’s new minister of health.
Thanos Plevris, who joined the ruling New Democracy Party-led coalition from an ultra religious and nationalist political group whose supporters have frequently denounced COVID measures and vaccines, is now responsible for Health Ministry operations during both a pandemic and an ongoing refugee crisis that could escalate after the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan last month.
On Wednesday, Plevris was forced to apologise for statements he’d made in court as a defence counsel for his Holocaust-denying father after Greece’s Jewish community pointed out that he had once argued that Konstantinos Plevris’s public desire to see the return of Nazis and the reopening of the Auschwitz concentration camps should not count as hate speech or incitement under Greek law.
“You are concerned about the reference to Auschwitz,” he said, according to the court transcripts in 2009 provided by the Central Board of Jewish Communities in Greece. “That the defendant by this reference means: ‘Keep the camp of Auschwitz in good condition because I want, at some point, the national socialist regime to come back, Hitler to come back, take the Jews and put them in Auschwitz.’ What kind of instigation is this? What incitement is this? Is one not allowed to believe and want to believe ‘I want to exterminate someone’?”
In a tweet, Plevris said the objections to his court comments were “understandable,” and added that he "fully disagrees" with his father’s views.
"I never wanted to insult the Jewish people, and I apologise if I did," Plevris said.
Plevris immediately came under additional criticism for statements he made that appeared to endorse requiring border guards to fire on migrants attempting to cross the border with Turkey.
There are no guards, "if there are no dead,” he said on a 2013 television appearance available on YouTube.
In the same TV appearance, he went on to argue that all migrants should be banned from basic essential health and education services, even suggesting that they be denied food until they leave.
“When you are here there will be no social benefits,” he said “You will not be able to eat, drink, you will not be able to go to the hospital. […] They must have a worse time – from their countries – they will live here!"
Civil society activists argued it was completely inappropriate to name a minister, who would literally be responsible for migrants' health and safety, to such a role.
Greece’s overall COVID vaccination rate lags behind many other EU countries, but in a July op-ed titled “The Government has no obligation to enforce vaccinations,” Plevris wrote: “If the citizen does not want to be vaccinated, is it my responsibility to convince him or to go and be vaccinated himself?"