The greatness of a political leader is not determined by whether he tells the truth or not.
A true leader is one who is willing to go against the tide of public sentiment because he believes he is doing the right thing for the country. This is the kind of individual that goes down in history as a great political man.
I frequently think about Eleftherios Venizelos speaking to the people of Athens. The crowd was in a frenzy. The people shouted that they wanted a constitutional assembly. Venizelos brought his hand on the podium and responded, “I said revisionist [assembly].”
It was a moment that defined him as a leader. It wasn’t easy, neither was what he did a given.
I then think of Constantine Karamanlis who, while staring at the leftist and PASOK MPs in Parliament, said firmly, “Whether you want it or not, we belong to the West.” It certainly took courage, resourcefulness and leadership to utter that phrase at that particular moment. Greece had just emerged traumatized from a dictatorship, populism was thriving and the public mood was strongly anti-American and anti-Western.
Karamanlis knew that he had to speak in such terms, because there is no other way to reach the average Greek when passions are running high. He knew that we are a Mediterranean people who are vulnerable to lies and promises. In his crude manner, Karamanlis made people put their brains to work when all that mattered was sentiment.
I also recall a pragmatic Constantinos Mitsotakis saying that the Macedonia name dispute would be forgotten in a few years.
It was a period when our reactions were dictated by emotions rather than purely on the basis of geopolitical interests.
People tend to cheer for politicians who go with the flow. The people, particularly the Greek people, get intoxicated by feasts and big words. We have even expressed admiration for leaders because they first lied to us only to make a U-turn shortly after.
We have come to recognize as courage the art of those who first intoxicate us with fantasies and then do what they must.
It is time that we decided, while also looking at past experience, what type of leaders we truly want.
Do we prefer those who tell us what we want to hear, or those who aren’t too bothered about upsetting us every now and then by telling us things that we do not wish to hear?