The Evzones, the ceremonial unit that guards the Greek Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and the Presidential Mansion in Athens, have been wearing masks throughout the Covid pandemic although they stand guard alone — outdoors.
Critics say that Evzones have a tough assignment as it is, standing still for hours in the heat and the cold even without masks. They are not even allowed to blink their eyes. Why burden them with a mask that increases their discomfort without any apparent benefit, they ask.
After all, nobody is allowed to approach the Evzones, who are at a safe distance from the crowds that gather in Syntagma Square to watch the ceremonial change of guard, and they are not allowed to speak to anyone while on duty.
The Evzones have become one of the major tourist attractions in Athens, and, much like in London, the famous ”changing of the guards” is a must-see spectacle for visitors to the Greek capital.
A spokesperson from the Presidential guard told Greek Reporter that “Evzones are adhering to health protocols like every other person in Greece. Nothing more, nothing less.”
Greek Reporter spoke with two Evzones who have recently completed their duty and who have opposing views on the issue. Both agreed that wearing a mask on duty makes it more difficult.
The mask helped during the winter as it protected the Evzones from the bitter cold, but in the summer wearing a mask “was almost unbearable,” one said on condition of anonymity. “It was difficult even to breathe as the mask was getting damp from the sweat.”
He added that most of his comrades in arms think that wearing masks “was a very bad idea.”
However, the agreement ends there. “An Evzone has been trained for this so that he can cope under any conditions,” says Lefteris Tsatsos.
“In all military camps in Greece, the use of a mask is mandatory. The same should apply to the presidential guard. We must comply with this additional measure.
“In these difficult days that our country is experiencing, the protection of the health of all of us is of paramount importance. Therefore, the least we could do, in turn, is to contribute to this project in every way we can and at all costs,” Tsatsos argues.
Compromise of the historic Evzones uniform?
Beyond the taxing requirement to wear a mask during the hot Athenian summer, there is a debate on whether the protocol which specifies the historic uniform of the presidential guard is broken by adding another piece of cloth to it.
Although there are Island and Pontic variants of the uniform, the everyday costume consists of the farion, doulamas, stockings, and garters.
One of the most iconic elements and strongest symbols of the Evzone’s uniform are the Tsarouchi (shoe), which is entirely hand-made of hard red leather. Each pair weighs about 3 kg, with 120 nails in the bottom of the sole.
The Evzone who spoke to Greek Reporter on the condition of anonymity said that adding a mask breaks the protocol. The mask even undermines the symbolism of the Evzone standing guard, he argues.
“People are coming to see a soldier standing guard in absolute stillness honoring all Greeks that fell during the wars to protect the nation…By wearing a mask the soldier compromises the historic uniform.
“By covering his face with a mask, the Evzone also compromises the grit he needs to display. To make people feel the awe and the determination in his face,” he says.
“Political decision” for Evzones to wear masks
“It was a political decision taken by President Katerina Sakellaropoulou to give an example to Greek citizens. To highlight the need to wear a mask. If Evzones wear a mask, everybody else should also do the same,” he told Greek Reporter.
Tsatsos disagrees: “I believe that the importance of the purpose is above everything else. The ideal and the history of the costume cannot be compromised by such an addition.”
The long and honorable history of the Greek Presidential Guard (Proedrikí Frourá in Greek) started on December 12, 1868, in the newly established modern Greek state.
More than 150 years after its official establishment, the Evzones are still there, reminding the entire world of Greece’s glorious military history and proud independence.