G. PAPADAKIS: Let’s talk with the Minister of National Defence, Mr. Nikos Panagiotopoulos, about our soldiers…Good morning, Minister!
N. PANAGIOTOPOULOS: Good morning Greece, good morning Mr. Papadakis!
G. PAPADAKIS: Believe me when I say that we receive a lot of messages from parents who worry about their children in the Army. What can we say about the children’s safety, as well as the changes regarding the new Enlistment Series?
N. PANAGIOTOPOULOS: We can say that, first of all, the Armed Forces cannot stop operating, for many reasons. The Armed Forces must continue performing their duty and mission, and, at the same time, they must take precautions, as the whole society does. That is, to be protected of the danger of dispersing the virus, which is a really great danger; if we do not comprehend that there is an emergency, an unusual situation which threatens not only public, but personal health as well; if the situation and our life get worse, we will probably not be able to adjust and we will seek for an exception or for a loophole etc. We must be patient for our self-protection. The Government and the Prime Minister did not decide, out of the blue one day, to confine the Greek people as a form of punishment.
G. PAPADAKIS: We totally agree…
N. PANAGIOTOPOULOS: All these measures are for our protection and we must conform for our own good.
G. PAPADAKIS: If we do not realize that, then Minister, do you think the measures will fail?
N. PANAGIOTOPOULOS: Undoubtedly, we will do without some things now, some walks in the sunshine, just to enjoy them later, hopefully, in the summer.
G. PAPADAKIS: To weigh up the pros and cons, one option is to miss a walk and the other one to deprive two, three, four, five or ten fellow citizens of their lives? Is there really a pair of scales that can weight these two things? No way!
N. PANAGIOTOPOULOS: We can have both, but, at this moment, we must do what is necessary to prevent the spread of a virus, which, as has been proved by now – by counting human lives – is dispersing very quickly, covertly and deviously. We must stop that. It has been proven that the only way to stop it, is by confining our movement; it is an exercise of personal liability and self-discipline and we must do it till the end.
G. PAPADAKIS: So, what is the plan for the soldiers from now on, Minister?
N. PANAGIOTOPOULOS: Right from the beginning, the Ministry of National Defence, in cooperation of course with the state leadership, took the appropriate precaution measures to protect the health of both career and conscript personnel of the Armed Forces. The last measure announced was the suspension of a leave after oath taking; in other words, if I am not mistaken, the leave of those taking an oath in Samos today, and in other parts of Greece tomorrow, is suspended.
G. GREGORIADIS: Will they not take the leave, as provided by the Army?
N. PANAGIOTOPOULOS: The soldiers enlisted in the last Enlistment Series will not take a leave, because they must remain inside the barracks, in order to be prevented from potentially dispersing the virus in the camp, after returning from their leave of absence. So, this leave is suspended.
G. GREGORIADIS: Minister, will there be new recruits, will the following enlistment series be enlisted?
N. PANAGIOTOPOULOS: Of course, they will be enlisted.
G. PAPADAKIS: For God’s sake, we already said that, the Army continues operating!
N. PANAGIOTOPOULOS: The Army operates as usual, depending on the developments about this issue. We must probably reduce the next Enlistment Series. At this moment though, those taking an oath today and tomorrow were enlisted as appropriate. They will not take a leave, but at the end of their service, they will take an equivalent leave, meaning that they will be discharged 10-15 days earlier.
G. PAPADAKIS: Minister, do you examine the possibility of suspending the leaves of the rest of the soldiers for a certain time period, so that they do not go home and return, avoiding the danger you referred to?
N. PANAGIOTOPOULOS: At this moment, we are examining every possible measure. We are not taking these measures to punish someone, but to protect everyone. So, at this moment, we consider annulling the Easter leaves. We cannot proceed in a different way, we will see how we can balance the situation, but they are on the table, we have not decided yet, we will decide in the next days.
G. PAPADAKIS: So, is an annulment of Easter leaves possible?
N. PANAGIOTOPOULOS: As I told you, it has not been decided yet. We examine the issue and we will reach a decision in the next days. We must weigh some things up. We weigh them up with a sense of liability and an intention to protect the Armed Forces.
G. PAPADAKIS: Minister, is there a possibility to use the Army, in case things go wrong? Of course, we hope not…
N. PANAGIOTOPOULOS: Obviously you refer to the curfew. The announcements are clear, the competent authorities regarding adhering to this measure and performing traffic control, are the Police and the other Security Forces, such as the Coast Guard depending on the case. Not the Army! The involvement of the Army is something different. Hour by hour, the team that manages this crisis examines the efficiency of this measure, as well as of every measure. At this moment, this is not an option and I hope no emergency arises, because, as you know, the Armed Forces must be out there, defending our Country’s borders. That is their main mission. From then on, though, we will see what else is needed to be done.
The State, the Government and the Prime Minister intend to enforce the observance of this curfew, of the traffic control, using the Police and Security Forces, which are the competent control authorities and there is no doubt about this. From then on, we will deal with whatever arises and the actions we must take.
G. PAPADAKIS: We hope nothing arises!
N. PANAGIOTOPOULOS: We will deal with everything that comes up. The Armed Forces have never disclaimed any responsibility and they have been always bearing the corresponding burden, and in some cases an even heavier burden than the one they ought to bear, in managing any social crisis.
Some days ago, we reached a decision and assigned the Army Equity Fund Hospital to the Ministry of Health, in order to use it as a central unit – that is healthcare facility – to fight the virus. Of course, to do that, there was a written statement, assuring that after this specific time period, the said Hospital will return to its beneficiaries, that is the retired Army officers. This was assured in written. This is however what should be done now. And yet, the Hospital will be returned even better equipped; it will be returned as it will be equipped over the next days.
G. PAPADAKIS: Minister, thank you very much for the briefing and we hope for the best…
N. PANAGIOTOPOULOS: We also hope for the best, but you should know that first we will fight to defeat this evil and then we will examine the results; we will defeat it. How? By not been exposed to the danger, by limiting our movements, exercising personal liability and discipline. This is the only way, there is no other way.