Standing up against the odds

Leonidas Kyrkos, who died on Sunday, has left his mark on two generations. Open-minded, decent and with a strong sense of responsibility toward his country, he put the common good above the party interest.

His influence was never measured in votes, and, as he liked to say — with his trademark self-deprecating humor — he?d rather have the real thing instead.

His pro-European, moderate style stood little chance at a time when this country was being swept by the tide of populism ushered in by the late Socialist Andreas Papandreou.

Kyrkos spoke of the need for consensus in the 1970s, at a time when heated partisan confrontation and radical discourse were still very much in vogue. He liked to say that politicians and parties ought to join hands when the national interest commands it.

He liked to charm individuals and audiences with his rhetoric — which could swing from sweet to feral in a single second.

He detested nothing more than pseudo-patriotism (so popular these days), whether it came from the left or the right of the political spectrum. He deemed that this ill was also a legacy of 1980s populism that polluted the public idiom and left us with a local version of America?s McCarthyism — an inflexible belief system that aspires to stifle dissenting views.

Kyrkos found it hard to accept the degeneration of that section of the Greek left that liked to embrace violence as a way of expressing itself. Similarly, he criticized the most reactionary strands of the left that ultimately defended the status quo.

Sadly, Kyrkos?s ideas and actions have failed to bequeath us with any strong, lively political groupings. Nevertheless, they have generated a way of thinking, a worthwhile pragmatism and a desire to seek justice and novelty.

Kyrkos went through a great deal in his life. He belonged to a generation that was made up of special strands of DNA, injected with the experiences of Nazi occupation, poverty, prison and toil.

In the tough days ahead, we should recall Kyrkos whenever violence appears to substitute criticism, whenever swearing and cursing sweep away public discourse and when the megaphones of populism drown out calls for consensus and maturity.