A daring, outward-looking patriotism, full of risks, is what made us progress as a nation. I sometimes think what this country would be without Harilaos Trikoupis, Eleftherios Venizelos and Konstantinos Karamanlis. They threw us in at the deep end and set ambitious goals. The country they handed over to their successors was very different from when they first took over. Better, bigger in Venizelos’ case, and more solid in Karamanlis’. They dared go against the current of populism that every so often grows in this country and carries away everything in its path, be it logic, institutions or national unity. They were vilified, spent considerable time in the wilderness, politically and personally, but they never quit. And history has been kind to them.
Looking back, you cannot help but admire their courage. As Venizelos stood on a balcony, a passionate crowd demanded a Constituent Assembly, because they wanted to get rid of the monarchy, immediately; he thought it would be a mistake, not for his personal ambition but for the general good; so he ignored the cries and he did the unpopular thing. Karamanlis, from the Parliament’s tribune, declared that, whether we like it or not, we belong to the West. And this was when US support for the recently fallen dictatorship and the Cyprus tragedy had pushed anti-Western sentiment to its highest. He didn’t count the likes under a tweet – he wouldn’t have if he had the option, back then. Today, it is certain that he would have earned a hashtag, #TraitorKaramanlis. He was attacked then but didn’t flinch.
In order for us to have a future, we will need to find that kind of courage, all of us. Every time it goes through a rough passage, the winds of savage populism push the ship called Greece toward the rocks, which sometimes take the form of a deep division and at others a great fury with disastrous consequences. We are going through such a rough passage. The combination of a revisionist and irrational Turkey, the pandemic, the consequences of the economic crisis and the migration issue looks like a perfect storm. We may not realize it, but the pressures and the dilemmas we face collectively are almost existential. We have to deal with strong myths and counter-naratives from the left and right that touch people because they feed on emotion and ignorance.
Being a leader of this country is never easy. Today, especially, participating in public affairs, demands of everyone – from the president of the Republic to the citizens who present their views on Facebook without fear of lynching – courage and maybe a certain emotional detachment. With guts, our gaze fixed on our ambitious national goals, without unnecessary mistakes, we will turn the corner and our practical, daring, outward-looking patriotism will lead the ship to calmer waters and the open seas.