Kyrkos exits, his message stays

Leonidas Kyrkos, the cliche has it, was ?a historic leader of the reformist left.?

He would hardly agree with that description. Kyrkos has, after all, said in the past that he was not a strong leader — which would explain why he never managed to translate his magnetism as an individual into a sense of authority.

Kyrkos?s magnetism was that of an intellectual, almost Socratic: an intellect that would reflect on the world and wonder. The most accurate comment made in the wake of his death on Sunday perhaps came from his one-time political comrade, Ilias Mosialos: ?What always surprised me,? the Socialist government spokesman said, ?was his ability to evolve.?

Kyrkos possessed a quality that is rare among Greek politicians: the ability to ignore partisan considerations to forge new paths.

In 1973, he caused a stir by supporting the so-called ?Markezinis experiment? — the attempt by the colonels? disctatorship to gain legitimacy through liberalization. In 1974, when others were dreaming of the violent overthrow of capitalism, Kyrkos pushed for the creation of the National Antidictatorial Democratic Unity (EDEA). He was an advocate of European unification, braving mainstream criticism against the European Economic Community and NATO. And whenever parties lashed out against each other — a common practice at the time — he liked to champion consensus, synergy and the need of sincere dialogue.

From as far back as the 1980s, Kyrkos envisaged a non-communist left-wing grouping that would be open to broader alliances; and he sought an encompassing liberal alliance between PASOK socialists and the parties of the Left.

He was not without his critics course. Hardline leftists attacked his alleged opportunism and political concessions. Such epithets are strange for a man that during the Greek Civil War he faced a death sentence for his ideas, while he spent more than 10 years in prison and exile. His skin was further hardened to criticism in 1968, when he left the Greek Communist Party (KKE) for the breakaway Communist Party of the Interior.

From 1961, when he was elected Iraklio deputy with EDEA, Kyrkos stuck it out throughout his long career in domestic politics — one that was not free of mistakes.

His Democratic Alliance of 1977 was a failure. His preference for broader alliances at the party?s 4th congress proved to be extremely divisive. His biggest mistake, probably, was supporting the idea to send Andreas Papandreou, the late PASOK leader and former prime minister, to court to face charges of corruption — a decision that proved to be an obstacle to the big progressive alliance between PASOK and Synaspismos Left Coalition. He later admitted that he had been wrong.

Even after he left center stage, Kyrkos never stopped challenging the political status quo.

Synaspismos was to a great extent his own creation, yet that did not prevent him from saying in public in December 2010 that the reformist wing should leave the party. More recently, in April 2011, when the Left cozied up to the ?I won?t pay? movement and the Indignant protesters in Syntagma Square, Kyrkos was there to remind people that disobedience was also what Mussolini called for. His most shocking confession came in 2006. ?I don?t dare think about what would happen if we had won the Civil War,? he told Kathimerini in an interview at the time.

Kyrkos, who died at the age of 87, was to buried on Wednesday in Athens to the sounds of Beethoven?s ?Ode to Joy.? What will people remember of Kyrkos after the chorus has gone silent?

One thing is the coalition government between the Left and the New Democracy conservatives — a move that marked a symbolic and effective end to Civil War divisions.

Also, he will be remembered for his persistence on cooperation and communication among political parties, his efforts for political confrontation devoid of populist pretence. Displaying the self-awareness of someone who has lived through the entire post-Civil War era, Kyrkos did not hesitate to congratulate the former conservative premier Costas Karamanlis for his stance during the 2006 review of the Constitution. ?We must master the art of collaboration,? he said, in a phrase that sums up his political legacy.

A timely message, no doubt.