The leadership vacuum in Greece’s pro-Europe parties is hard to disguise. Yesterday I was watching late statesman Constantine Karamanlis’s historic speech in 1976 in Parliament, when he said, “We belong to the West.” The statement effectively pitted the conservative politician against popular sentiment in post-dictatorship Greece that had just started to be swept by a tsunami of populism.
And yet, a stubborn Karamanlis actually supported the obvious. He did not seek to flatter the masses and he did not go with the flow. He was up against Andreas Papandreou, the socialist founder of PASOK who liked to blame Karamanlis for choosing to make Greece a member of NATO and for aspiring to join what was then the European Economic Community (EEC).
I often wonder what the outcome would have been if Karamanlis had decided to put Greece’s membership of the EEC to a referendum. Most commentators agree that the result would have been far from certain. Today’s pro-European politicians lack bravado and leadership skills. They are not living up to the political challenges of the times. They never defended the need for bold, far-reaching reforms. Similarly, criticism of the government now leaves a lot to be desired. In order to avoid being labeled pro-bailout, they resort to populist arguments that have little credibility.
People want straight talk and clear messages. The vast majority who, as recent opinion polls have shown, want Greece to remain in the euro area feel that they have hardly any political representation at the moment. They are looking for individuals with credibility, experience and a meaningful strategy, individuals who can rise up against the spread of populism, the undoing of reforms, and against the prevalence of intolerant, extremist views.
Hardworking, tax-paying citizens concerned about the future of this country are seeking a political home where they can lay their hopes. They don’t want to wait for Greece to reach rock bottom before some messiah finally makes an appearance.
Now that the game is still on, they need to see and hear some fresh and determined leaders. Otherwise it will be too late, especially for those who saw what was coming but chose to turn a blind eye, those who could understand what was going on but chose to stay silent.