I am not sure why Kostas Karamanlis has decided to resume an active public role at this point in time. Following his recent speech at the Society for Macedonian Studies in Thessaloniki, he is due for another appearance next Wednesday at City, University of London, while he may also speak at Tufts Fletcher School in Boston at a later date as well.
Former prime ministers, and particularly those still enjoying a good deal of popularity among segments of society, should participate in the public debate and offer their views. Their interventions should be based on honesty, exercising a certain amount of self-criticism with regard to the mistakes they made during their tenure. This is the only way their opinions will carry any weight.
People who have governed the country have a duty – not just to the people who voted for them but to the nation for which they were once responsible – to share their experiences and the lessons they learned, to comment on developments and to warn of any potential dangers ahead.
The case of Kostas Karamanlis is different to that of other former prime ministers in the sense that he holds a special place in the world of New Democracy, both because he is a nephew of the party’s founder but also because he led the conservatives for 12 years and the country for more than five.
The observations he made in Thessaloniki were on point. He spoke of the risk of a national crisis, warned that Greece should not be carried away by Ankara’s machinations, and stressed that challenges lie ahead for the political leadership and the people that will have to be met with concerted policies, determination and daring. He underscored how Ankara’s unfounded demands have always tested relations with Athens, how Greece has always had international law on its side and how we need to work harder to highlight many of these problems as being of concern to all of Europe and not just Greece.
The former premier spoke of an audacious and deliberate escalation of tension on Turkey’s part and stressed that Greece should not be lured into allowing faits accomplis. He also noted that despite its alliances and partnerships, Greece needs to be ready to defend its national interests on its own steam.
With regard to the Prespes agreement, Karamanlis repeated that the result that came out of the NATO summit in Bucharest in 2008 was not adequately exploited by the previous government and that Greece could have secured more. Those of us who have lived through the process and know the details of the negotiations of the past 30 years, however, are skeptical as to how feasible this would have been.
In any case, the point right now is to ensure that the deal is fully implemented – as the present government has insisted – and avert a victory of the nationalist opposition in April’s snap polls in North Macedonia and the destabilizing effect this would have.
I do not know whether Karamanlis had informed the prime minister of his intention to return to the public eye, nor if the decision is related to rumors that he may be chosen as the next president of the Republic next year. What is certain is that he is a gifted orator, knowledgeable and experienced. If he goes the extra distance to exercise some self-criticism as well, he will be able to contribute to a national consensus and prove useful, not to his party, but to the nation, which is what the main goal of any politician should be.