In this last segment of our series celebrating Women’s History Month, meet Dora Bakoyannis, the 1st female Mayor of Athens, Greece.
Women’s History Month: Meet Dora Bakoyannis
Politics would appear to have been Dora Bakoyannis’ birthright. Her maiden name, Mitsotakis, is a prominent name in Greek politics. Dora’s political lineage includes a great-great uncle, a grandfather, her Greek Prime Minister father, and her brother. However, this politician blazed her way from representative of Greece’s Conservative Party to the highest-ranking cabinet position ever held by a female. Her journey required determination and true grit to move forward as a young widow and continue in politics, even after an assassination attempt on her life. Like goddess Athena, Dora stands out in a crowd with an imposing stature and the wisdom to strategically champion causes which benefited her constituents, the citizens of Athens.
Theodora ‘Dora’ Mitsotakis was born in Athens on May 6, 1954, to Maria and Konstantinos Mitsotakis. The eldest of four children, Dora grew up immersed in Greek politics. As a child, she attended the German School of Athens, until her father was exiled by the Greek military junta in 1968. The family fled to Paris, where Dora completed her secondary education at the German School of Paris. Later, she studied political science and communication at the Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich. When the family returned to Greece, Dora studied public law at the Kapodistrian University of Athens. She is a polyglot, fluent in Greek, English, French, and German.
She married journalist Pavlos Bakoyannis in 1974. The couple had two children.
Dora Bakoyannis is a woman of many firsts, including being elected as the first female mayor of Athens. IMAGE: Tabercil (talk) – CC BY-SA 2.0
After passing the examinations at the Ministry of Economic Coordination in 1977, Dora received an appointment in the Department of European Economic Community Affairs. She served as Chief of Staff from 1984, when her father became leader of the New Democracy party, until 1989.
In 1989, three months after his successful election to the Hellenic Parliament, Pavlos was assassinated by a terrorist group. While in mourning, Dora’s friends and allies urged her to run for her husband’s seat. Her response was one of mixed feelings.
“You have two completely different feelings. One is that you want to go inside your grief, because it’s so personal. The other is to go out and try to fight.”
Fight she did . . . and won her late husband’s seat. She was re-elected in 1990, and served as a Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State. One year later, Dora served as the General Secretariat for International Affairs for the New Democracy party, representing the party at the European Democratic Union and the International Democratic Union. Her political career was on an upward trajectory. In 1992, she became the Minister for Culture. Dora held various political positions from 1993-2002.
During this period, she married her current spouse, businessman, Isidoros Kouvelos.
Woman of many firsts
The year 2002 would test her mettle as a leader and organizer. Her political slogan, “I will do my best,” reflected her core values and commitment to change and advancement. She ran for mayor of Athens and won by more than 60% of the votes, the largest margin in Greek history.
Dora was very involved in the city’s preparations to host the 2004 Olympic Games. She is credited for the timely and extensive improvements to Athens’ infrastructure and security.
She left office prior to completing her term to accept the prestigious appointment of Greek Minister of Foreign Affairs in 2006. In doing so, she became the highest-ranking female cabinet member in Greece’s history. During this period of international concerns, Dora became president of the United Nations Security Council, a rotating position. In 2009, she served as Chairperson of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.
When Dora decided to support the austerity measures required by the EU-IMF backed loans, she went against the New Democracy party position, which led to her expulsion from the party. Not to be defeated, she founded her own party, the Democratic Alliance, that same year. In 2012, she rejoined the New Democracy party.
Dora Bakoyannis: a trailblazing woman in Greek politics
Dora Bakoyannis is a contemporary female politician who has made history and continues to do so, armed with wits, intelligence, people skills, and the determination to do her best. Dora has received numerous accolades for her work, including the 2005 World Mayor Award and the 2006 Daughters of Penelope “Salute to Women” award. With the latter, she joined other Greek women who have “achieved a level of excellence in her field of endeavor and who contributes by making a difference in people’s lives.”