Greek MP Pavlos Polakis was silenced in Parliament on Monday as his microphone was switched off by the chairman during a debate on a new development bill.
The incident occurred as Polakis, a former deputy Health Minister of the leftist SYRIZA government, refused to obey the instructions of the chairman to stick to the agenda of the debate.
Polakis insisted on talking about the Novartis scandal, involving bribes paid to officials by the multinational Swiss-based pharmaceutical company to illegally market its drugs in Greece.
His microphone was switched off, and the chairman suspended the plenary session, but Polakis remained standing on the rostrum for almost an hour in protest.
Violation of freedom of speech at Greek Parliament?
Polakis and SYRIZA condemned the incident as a violation of the freedom of speech. “What we are experiencing is a diversion from democratic processes. This is a regime, it is not a parliamentary democracy,” Polakis charged on Facebook.
“The Mitsotakis government is now taking dangerous paths for democracy. The Mitsotakis system proves that it is a regime dangerous for the Republic,” SYRIZA said in a statement.
The governing New Democracy party responded by saying that “Democracy is the state of ethos and decency. SYRIZA, through Mr. Polakis, seeks to discredit democracy and seeks the division of political life. We will not sit back and watch them, because we are not and will not become like them. The rules of democracy and Parliament will always give, in an institutional way, the appropriate answers to every attempt to undermine them.”
Novartis case: A conspiracy scandal?
Polakis has claimed that Greek conservative and centrist politicians have been bribed by Novartis. The previous SYRIZA government of which he was a member presented the Novartis case as “the biggest scandal” in modern Greek history.
In 2018, a court case based on the testimonies of three protected witnesses was approved by the Greek Parliament. It concerned ten politicians active from the period 2006-2015, namely the two former prime ministers Antonis Samaras and Panagiotis Pikrammenos, as well as former ministers Giannis Stournaras, Dimitris Avramopoulos, Adonis Georgiadis, Evangelos Venizelos, Andreas Lykourentzos, Marios Salmas, Andreas Loverdos and George Koutroumanis.
They were charged with bribery, passive bribery, and infidelity related to service. Since then, all the cases bar one, have been archived by the Greek courts due to lack of credible evidence. Only the Loverdos case remains open.
Those standing accused of taking bribes from the pharmaceutical giant have called it “the biggest conspiracy against political opponents ever.” They accused the SYRIZA government of a witch-hunt to destroy its opponents.
Polakis has been particularly vocal in insisting that archiving the cases does not necessarily imply innocence on the part of the political figures mentioned in the 2018 court cases.
Polakis: the outspoken politician causing controversy in Greece
The SYRIZA MP from Chania, Crete, has been the focus of criticism from a large section of the press because of his rhetoric.
In the past, he has been involved in verbal disputes with journalists, such as in December 2015 at a press conference where he made references to issues of interference. In April 2016, referring to the same journalist, he said that “I had to put him three meters under the ground,” which caused a reaction.
He has also been repeatedly criticized for violations of the anti-smoking law in Parliament. While serving as Deputy Minister of Health, he was criticized by EU Health Commissioner Vytenis Andriukaitis for smoking at a Ministry press conference.
In July 2019, Polakis had his parliamentary immunity revoked after being accused of illegally wiretapping a phone conversation with the Governor of the Central Bank of Greece. He has also been accused of slander by the head of the workers’ union of the Greece Center for Disease Control and Prevention (KEELPNO).
In 2021 he announced publicly that he would not become vaccinated against Covid-19 and he openly criticized the safety of COVID-19 vaccines.
The government of New Democracy called on SYRIZA leader Alexis Tsipras to take a stance on the issue, whilst Facebook blocked Polakis’ account for sharing conspiracy theories. Ultimately, Tsipras also criticized Polakis, forcing him to receive a COVID-19 vaccine in early September 2021.
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