Lead­ers or foot­notes

Kathimerini English - - Front Page - BY ALEXIS PAPACHELAS

I re­cently asked the for­mer prime min­is­ter of a North­ern Euro­pean coun­try whether he al­lowed con­cerns about his legacy to get in the way of cru­cial po­lit­i­cal de­ci­sions. “No, not at all,” he said. “Be­cause if you start think­ing about your legacy, you are fin­ished.” I was think­ing about his re­sponse later on and was led to the con­clu­sion that he might be right but only if you choose to see things from the per­spec­tive of a leader in charge of a dull, pre­dictable state dur­ing nor­mal times. If you choose to see it from the per­spec­tive of the leader of an un­pre­dictable, crazy coun­try in deep cri­sis, then the legacy fac­tor must nat­u­rally play a key role. For bet­ter or worse, the debt cri­sis is tak­ing a hefty toll on the do­mes­tic po­lit­i­cal sys­tem and its rep­re­sen­ta­tives. The phe­nom­e­non is not ex­clu­sive to Greece and it can be ob­served in other Euro­pean na­tions. Who­ever was in power in Greece 10 years ago was ba­si­cally a first-class pas­sen­ger in a train with a set des­ti­na­tion and a fixed ar­rival time. That is in stark con­trast with to­day. If you are gov­ern­ing this coun­try to­day, you can­not be sure about any­thing. In fact the ac­ci­dent can be just around the cor­ner. Un­der the cur­rent cir­cum­stances a per­son’s legacy clearly plays a role. On the oc­ca­sion of the launch of a se­ries of books on Greek lead­ers by Kathimerini, I started think­ing, for in­stance, why we in­cluded Ioan­nis Kapodis­trias rather than Petrobey Mavromichalis and Char­i­laos Trik­oupis as op­posed to Theodoros Deli­gian­nis. The rea­sons are ob­vi­ous. Deli­gian­nis was popular dur­ing his time and al­ways went with the flow. But he did not leave be­hind the kind of legacy that Trik­oupis did, a politi­cian who tried to mod­ern­ize his coun­try, failed, but nev­er­the­less stood his ground as time went by, and in the face of his­tory. The same goes for Kapodis­trias. He was not wor­shipped by the peo­ple and would not have nec­es­sar­ily won the pe­riod’s opin­ion polls. He was glo­ri­fied by his­tory and the col­lec­tive na­tional psy­che, how­ever, be- cause he at­tempted to place the mod­ern Greek state into a proper frame­work, against the will of its undis­ci­plined peo­ple. When the go­ing gets tough, when dif­fi­cult de­ci­sions must be made, legacy does and must play a key role. There are many ex­am­ples of lead­ers who sur­vived par­tic­u­larly cru­cial sit­u­a­tions be­cause they suc­ceeded in per­suad­ing cit­i­zens to fight for some­thing worth­while, even at the risk of po­lit­i­cal sui­cide. The dilemma faced by the lead­ers of the great Euro­pean cri­sis is whether they will en­ter his­tory as a foot­note or as the kind of lead­ers who kept their coun­tries on their feet, lead­ing them for­ward as much as pos­si­ble.

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