A great statesman cut from rare cloth

The last proponents of a great generation of gifted Greek political leaders are gradually dying off. Today the funeral of Glafcos Clerides, one of the few true statesmen to come out of Cyprus in modern times, is taking place in the capital Nicosia.

Clerides was a politician who would endear people to him with his modesty and his obvious refusal to take himself more seriously than what any given situation demanded. He was an outstanding narrator and would speak about his adventures and tell anecdotes that covered all of the phases of his long career, from Cyprus’s struggle for independence from Great Britain to more recent events. He was unrivaled in wit and humor, and yet had a remarkably sober approach to all Cypriot and international issues. He was also a Cypriot politician who felt perfectly at home in Athens and in all his exchanges with his counterparts in Greece. The concept of Hellenism was deeply etched in Clerides, as was his concern that the so-called “national front” should never be compromised or broken.

He was lambasted as few others, as every contemporary champion of nation-minded pragmatism. He was often accused of being a traitor, but he stood firm without changing his position or bending to the pressure of the political cost of his choices. Clerides has been vindicated by history, as the accession of Cyprus into the European Union, that key national objective, could never have been attained without him.

There are many who believe that the course of Cyprus’s history would have been very different if he had become president at an earlier date. History, of course, is full of such speculation and no one can really know what would have happened if something had gone a different way.

The one thing which is certain is that Hellenism has lost one of the most important voices of nation-minded pragmatism it had possessed, a man who fought on many notable occasions for the good of his country while always keeping a keen eye on international developments and weighing the consequences carefully.

The cloth from which political leaders like Glafcos Clerides were cut ran out a long time ago. It is one thing to be a politician who has lived through war, civil strife and dictatorships, and quite another to be a politician turned out of a plastic factory mold and raised on public relations spiels and opinion polls. This is why whenever a leader of Clerides’s stature departs, the void they leave behind cannot be filled.

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