What-ifs and conclusions

History invariably leaves behind a number of what-ifs and it usually takes a while before composed and impartial answers can emerge. Yet questions continue to swirl in our minds as we head toward the pivotal crossroads of May 6. Greek contemporary history has it all: Unique moments of self-destruction, incredible incidents of a nation?s rebirth from its ashes as well as violent bouts of civil strife to the detriment of national interests.

I often wonder about the major what-ifs of the last few years. I wonder, for instance, what would have happened if George Papandreou and other political leaders had accepted the call for unity made by Costas Karamanlis in March 2009 to avoid fiscal derailment. Or where things would stand today if Karamanlis had actually implemented the measures he had announced at the Thessaloniki International Trade Fair.

I think about how different things would be had Papandreou not fallen into the ?the money is there? trap, if he had snapped out of the stupor of a Louka Katseli-style approach to the economy in time and acted as a regular prime minister instead of an erratic prince. I also wonder whether Antonis Samaras would have helped the country had he expressed his opposition to the first memorandum without boosting the kind of anti-memorandum populist sentiment that is now depriving him of an absolute majority because it has pushed regular people to the extremes. Lastly, I think of some people?s obsession for calling elections even though they knew that things had to settle down before entering the adventure of polls.

This is all part of history now. Nevertheless, if we consider the outcome had we taken different routes at crucial times, the conclusions are rather instructive:

1. National understanding and consensus is always a good thing. Had Papandreou come to an agreement with Karamanlis back in 2009, the country would have taken a very different direction.

2. When it comes to politics it?s never a good thing to postpone tough and painful decisions for later. There is no such thing as ?later? when it comes to political time.

3. Had Papandreou acted swiftly by putting an end to the wasteful state instead of wiping out the private sector, things would be quite different today.

4. The biggest mistake made by any Greek politician right now would be to misread the intentions of the markets and of our partners. Papandreou made that mistake and so did Evangelos Venizelos with the troika. A new episode of this nature would be disastrous.

5. In politics it is pointless to climb up a tree without foreseeing how you will come down again. This was the case for Samaras when he opted for an anti-memorandum stance and when he insisted on the need for snap polls.

Today?s Samaras is not the Samaras of 2010 reality and pressure have clearly led him to mature. New Democracy?s leader has demonstrated that he is now making decisions dictated by current conditions, even though his prior handling has made the shift less than smooth. Venizelos also appears to have changed following his experience of negotiating with the troika, to the point that the excessive modesty he is currently displaying is quite surprising.

We?re at a point when there is very little room left for a major misstep. National consensus, avoiding extremism and over-the-top pledges, a thorough study of the intentions of our powerful partners and adversaries, as well as swift, decisive action, make for a good direction for avoiding mistakes and destruction. I believe that our core political leaders will make it, provided, of course, that we ourselves do not decide to set the country on a different route through dangerous and uncharted waters.