OPINION

Surviving the meat grinder of power

I assume that in times of crisis, the atmosphere in the headquarters of rulers has been much the same for hundreds of years now. The only difference is that back in Ottoman times, for example, you could never be sure whether you would leave a political scuffle with your head on your shoulders or on a plate. Today, while it is not difficult to «beheaded» in a figurative sense, at least you will live to see how the next tenants of government headquarters cope. There are, however, certain fundamental principles that you can never forget, at least not without taking a major risk. The first is that a ruler has no «friends,» or at least friends working for him. The ruler does not have the luxury of forming close attachments that may stop him from throwing people overboard when the ship is in danger of capsizing. He may get a bit depressed the first time he’s forced to throw a «friend» over the side in the midst of a storm, but the second time around he will feel more like a statesman because he knows he has the power to do it. The second thing you learn when holding the reins of power – and you learn it fast – is the changing tune you will hear from supporters. «Well done» soon gives way to «what on Earth was he thinking?» Also, when you work for a ruler, you know that you may have to talk to people with whom you would not necessarily keep company and that sometimes, if need be, you may have to tread a very fine path on the edge of the law. If, however, you get caught, then you’re finished. This is the irony in such positions: The more you move around in the dark and get things done, the fewer the people who acknowledge your achievements. This is all happening in Greece right now, as the country is tested by a political crisis that began with small and large-scale blackmail and eventually wound its way around the Maximos Mansion and its people, squeezing the life out of them. Everyone knows that the only way to learn this job is the hard way. It was their choice from the onset to keep the circle tight so as to avoid leaks. Some argue that this had a boomerang effect and others that once the government rides out the current storm, it will feel justified. I recently recalled a walk I took in Washington DC years ago, with a Greek-American friend who was in the heart of the White House. He told me that morning that he was a complete wreck from all the internal back-stabbing and unbelievable pressure of yet another crisis. He told me that as he bowed his head over his desk that day, the then Secretary of State, the veteran Warren Christopher, saw him and remarked: «You look like you need a good friend to listen to you and to trust in this town.» He stood there a moment and then added: «Get a dog!»