An event organized earlier this month in tribute to the late statesman Constantine Karamanalis could have a positive impact on our present-day political leaders, and not necessarily in terms of them adopting his principles, etc. Like Karamanlis, political leaders in times of profound crisis need to summon a great deal of internal strength to survive. They can expect no praise; more likely insulting letters from people who were once their avid fans. The heat in the kitchen of Greek politics has reached new highs, scorching everyone and everything at a frightening speed.
The only thing from which political leaders can maybe draw strength is the thought that one day a similar event as the one organized for Karamanlis will also be organized for them; that history will one day reward them for the decisions they make today. History has taught us that many politicians who were popular in their day but failed to bring about any significant changes, were chewed up in the cogs of time and ended up as mere footnotes in the annals of history. In contrast, leaders who may have been unpopular but achieved great things have been vindicated, even if it was long after their death.
I believe that future historians will be very tough on leaders today who talk big and do little, while we are already starting to feel a sense of vindication for individuals and leaders from the past who weren’t about to win any popularity contests.
Every political leader needs to have the fire that gives him strength to pick himself up every time he stumbles, to withstand the pressure of his position and to be able to set ambitious goals, both for himself and for the country. It is easy for this fire to be extinguished in the media frenzy and faced with the public’s need to lash out. This is why we need political leaders who are more interested in their legacy than they are in getting re-elected. We need political leaders who are just arrogant enough to look beyond the public opinion polls and the next electoral contest. Of course, this is a very special kind of person – one who can’t expect to be nice all the time and who is ready to make the kind of sacrifices that make a difference even if it means giving up his private life completely.
I used to believe that such politicians would be impossible to come by in this day and age, and that instead we would have plastic politicians shaped by spin doctors and opinions pollsters. I was reading about Eleftherios Venizelos, Harilaos Trikoupis and Constantine Karamanlis, and thinking how unlikely it was to see such politicians emerging today. But the fact is that the occasion now calls either for one of our existing politicians to transform into a visionary leader or for the appearance of someone who is yet unknown, but has the fire and the patience to expect vindication if only after death.