Two days ago, the "Folders" show on the Greek Sky TV broadcast an interview with the former leader of the Greek Left and founder of the party, which today is called SYRIZA and is about to win the elections on 17 June. Leonidas Kirkos died in 2011 at the age of 87 and a year before that, he had supported in a letter the disaffiliation of a group of deputies from SYRIZA, who had immediately established the Democratic Left.
The interview was recorded 2 1/2 years ago on condition that it would be shown after his death. A man who experienced many difficult situations talks about the violence, the Civil War, the excesses and the importance of consensus and explains what the widely discussed today Greek Left actually is.
"The new constitution should be based on the position that democracy requires consensus. Nowadays, democracy is ailing and we want to have consensus, the culture of consensus must first be introduced. This cannot happen among irreconcilable people. "Bravo, hooray". What are you talking about, brother? Consensus is a part of life. The question is not whether we need it but that it is above everything."
Leonidas Kirkos was born in a highly political family in 1924. His father Michalis was involved in Greek politics for years, first as a minister of the People's Party, then as a managing member of the National Liberation Front (EAM). Their home was a place of political discussions and Leonidas was not late in starting his political activity. He joined the communist National Panhellenic Organization of Youth (EPON), which was the youth organization to EAM. His friendship with Andreas Papandreou, who was six years older, dates back to that time. "He often came to our home. He was a very close friend of my brother Takis, because they were both members of the same political company."
His life was marked by some of the most important and decisive events in modern Greek history. After the liberation of Athens from German occupation, people went out in the streets and celebrated. George Papandreou returned six days later and delivered his famous speech in Syntagma Square. Leonidas Kirkos, aged 20, was somewhere in the sea of listeners. He remembered how, after many interruptions, George Papandreou told the cherished phrase, "We believe in people power."
But the situation rapidly changed and the Civil War exploded soon after that. The government of George Papandreou sided with Britain against the Greek People's Liberation Army (ELAS), which was the armed body of EAM. Violence on the streets of Athens was growing and the number of victims on both sides was alarmingly increasing. Seeing that no more time should be lost, Winston Churchill arrived surprisingly at Christmas to negotiate the end of the Civil War. He believed that the issue could be settled by political means and therefore, he met with the leaders of all political parties. The meetings did not have any effect. According to Leonidas Kirkos, the great opportunity for the Left was lost irretrievably then. "We did not realize that the balance of forces was such that there was no possibility of reversing. The meeting with Churchill was a real chance that we lost."
Then, the British troops began an attack against ELAS. The battle of Athens was lost and thousands of armed young men were forced to leave the city and head to the mountain. Leonidas Kirkos was with them. The clash ended with the signing of the Treaty of Varkiza on 12 February 1945 and returning the weapon by EAM-ELAS.
Several months later, Leonidas Kirkos returned to Athens and to the benches of the Medical School, which he did not graduate from anyway. He was already known as an active left politician and therefore, he was subject to multiple political persecution, arrests and exile on the island of Makronisos. After returning from there, he and his associates faced two options: Either to flee into the newly established socialist republics in Eastern Europe, or to join the Democratic Army, which was still fighting in the mountains. At that time, the only way to the mountain was through Yugoslavia and Italy. Kirkos chose this way in early 1948. He, Manolis Glezos and their other followers hid in the hold of a ship, but a day later, they were seized by port authorities after the captain of the ship betrayed them. They were sentenced to death but the sentence was completely repealed thanks to Manolis Glezos, who got the protection of the Pope in Rome, Charles de Gaulle and other personalities from all over Europe.
In 1951, Leonidas Kirkos and his other followers founded the Unified Democratic Left (EDA), which was the largest legal left party at the time. In 1961, he was a deputy from EDA, which existed until 1974. His old acquaintance, Andreas Papandreou, returned then to Greece, but the majority of EDA members were distant to him. "Is it a threat or an opportunity for cooperation? It was the "stone" that upset the apple cart. With all my power and the influence I could exercise, I tried not to allow a split, although Andreas was the missing during the occupation." Leonidas Kirkos persuaded his fellows in EDA that a well-intended approach was necessary for a possible future cooperation with the "new factor". "Later they blamed me for it."
Kirkos met him, but the meeting was never repeated, and no political issues were discussed at it because of Andreas Papandreou’s reluctance to do so.
Meanwhile, a new politician appeared on the political horizon - Konstantinos Mitsotakis, who was also trying to get in touch with the left. "To be accurate, I have to say that Mitsotakis was perfect at that time. He had met with the leadership of the Communist Party, which was abroad, and his role in Crete was positive during the Civil War. Therefore, there was a friendly atmosphere between us."