Greece has always been a fortunate country because at times of major crises its leaders were capable of shining on the international stage.
Eleftherios Venizelos was on exactly the same level as David Lloyd George and the rest of his contemporaries. The Greek statesman’s decisions, his understanding of international relations and what he earned at the negotiating table were no coincidence. A patriot who believed in the Megali Idea concept of Greek nationalism, Venizelos also made sure he maintained his “exportable” qualities, fully aware that this is what counted at the end of the day.
Constantine Karamanlis was a similar kind of leader. A self-made man, he showed tremendous stamina and instinct and managed to stand on an equal par with the sacred monsters of his era, including German Chancellor Helmut Schmidt and French President Valery Giscard d’Estaing, among others political leaders.
Through his imposing presence and arguments, he persuaded Europe that Greece should be a member of the European Economic Community (EEC). At the same time, he managed to tame an entire nation which had gone into populist orbit.
He did not tell people what they wanted to hear or rework popular cliches, but instead, banged on the table with his fist and shouted what he believed to be the right thing for the country. He never complained to anyone or appeared demanding. Similarly to Venizelos, he behaved in a way that revealed a kind of collective, national confidence.
On Tuesday it became evident that Greece’s leadership is nowhere near that caliber. The country was presented with a huge opportunity to leave its victimized image behind and to project self-confidence, positive energy and a vision for the future.
We are, I’m afraid, giving the impression that Greece is a “small” country – and this of course is not good. Adding to the concern, some of our neighboring countries are ruled by confident and arrogant leaders. For it’s one thing to utter brave-sounding soundbites and it is quite another to deliver words that convey strength, unity and strategic thinking.
Many people could not help feeling a bit sad on Tuesday. Here was a chance for a historic nation to shine across the world. But it went to waste.
Has Greece become too small, or are we simply going through a phase of decline (one of those we have experienced in the past), before we regain our confidence?
I am not sure. However, I again asked myself: Could a modern-day reincarnation of Eleftherios Venizelos or Constantine Karamanlis be out there somewhere?