With the exception of Constantine Karamanlis, can Greece’s conservative right really claim to have produced much in terms of great political leaders?
The centrist-liberal political space has been shaped by the legacy of politicians such as Eleftherios Venizelos, Georgios Papandreou, Andreas Papandreou and Costas Simitis. Whether one agrees with the policies they implemented or not, they did leave a mark on the country.
Should we add Charilaos Trikoupis, who preceded all these, to the list, we could argue that the Greek prime ministers without a conservative background had a reformist agenda.
Conservative Constantine Karamanlis appears to be in a category of his own. So, who else is there? Alexandros Papagos? In today’s terms, he was a real doer: a man of action, a determined character – although that mostly applies in terms of his military career, particularly the last stage of the Greek Civil War. The impact of his political contribution was comparably smaller.
Giorgos Rallis, a gentleman cut from a different cloth than most politicians, did not last very long. For all his intellectual clout and stature, Evangelos Averoff was also unable to open up new paths. Konstantinos Mitsotakis, one of the last great Greek leaders, was more successful in that respect. A politician with liberal, centrist leanings, Mitsotakis did not sit well with the right. His efforts to modernize the Greek right, when he had the chance, did not pay off. A politician with strong leadership skills, he influenced political developments from the backseat rather than the frontline.
At the moment, New Democracy, the party that has stood for conservative ideas in post-dictatorship Greece, is led by Kyriakos Mitsotakis. It would be premature to draw conclusions, but Mitsotakis must already be credited with a significant achievement: Defying his underdog status, he managed to win the ND leadership race and largely carve out his own agenda, which has been based on a liberal, pro-Europe platform.
The liberal-reformist agenda on the back of which Mitsotakis climbed to the helm of his party and, subsequently, of Greece appears to be losing ground. One reason for that is the undeclared war waged against him from the traditional, popular right (within and outside his party). The pressure on Mitsotakis, from Thessaloniki to Athens, is growing to near suffocating levels.
There is no clear leader guiding this movement. In a way, this confirms the leadership deficit which has been a Greek right tradition. The potential of this political movement remains to be seen. Paradoxically, it is ferociously battling the only vigorous leader representing the wider political space.