A great many commentators are inclined to sigh now with sadness when mentioning the Leaders of Europe with capital L. The same applies to the Politicians and Statespersons seemingly extinct in today’s world. Where are they now? All we can do is to exclaim after François Villon’s immortal Ballad of Old-Time Ladies recurrent punchline: “But what is become of last year’s snow?”
In fact, it is difficult to oppose the widespread opinion that a figure like Winston Churchill or Franklin D. Roosevelt would be hard to imagine in today’s politics. Nearly the same could be said about Margaret Thatcher or Ronald Reagan. Therefore, with sound reason we could ask as to whether this is all due to a certain deterioration of the political classes of the entire Western world. To cut a convoluted story short: Where is a Churchill or a Roosevelt now? Or where is at least a Ronny Reagan or a Maggie Thatcher now?
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What is behind it? Mass democracy with its inevitable moves trying to make it up to the masses? Mass culture and consumerist society incapable of the defense of liberal democracy and values of freedom? Weaklings and petty souls in politics with no guts and willpower to pursue the ambitious goals and programs for the future of humanity?
I would argue that yes and no. Yes, because the collective mediocrity with its lack of raison d’être, courage and magnanimity, a phenomenon, which Andrei Piontkovsky has wittily termed a collective Chamberlain, is not a fantasy (by Chamberlain we mean here Neville Chamberlain, Great Britain’s prime minister from 1937 to 1940 famous for his policy of appeasement towards Adolf Hitler’s Germany). No, because even a statistical figure may turn into a hero when the time comes.
What do I mean by the time? Yes, a real challenge. When we start praising Churchill up to the skies – and rightly so, as the man was a giant in politics despite of some dangerous traits of his thought and work – we tend to forget the fact that Churchill became the unquestionable leader of Great Britain only after the bombing of London. It was then that his address to the nation sent a powerful message about his moral and political leadership.
Even George Orwell who was quite far from the Tories in terms of his political views, to say the least, perceived Churchill as the leader of Britain. Most telling was the fact that the main character’s forename in 1984 was Winston – a conscious move acknowledged by Orwell himself, after his comments on the great dystopia initially intended to bear the title The Last European. The same applies to Roosevelt – soft in talking and hard in acting. They tackled and responded to the major challenges of their time. To be a leader always means to respond to the challenge properly.
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The Cold War heroes Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher had their high moments in 20th century history. Both showed the backbone, courage, and moral character strongly opposing Soviet policies of intimidation and political terror. We can argue about their domestic policies and controversies with Neocons or Tories, respectively, but very few would question their authority and achievements in foreign policies, especially dealing the final blow to the bleeding evil empire, the USSR.
John F. Kennedy was to become a hero after the Caribbean Crisis, although the beginning of his presidency was quite problematic in terms of his fight with his major rival and foe Nikita Khrushchev who surpassed him more than once in his rhetorical onslaughts on the USA and aggressive stance. When his time had come, JFK did right. He did not mess up the right cause and he did not blink first.
Much the same happened to President Barack Obama over the past years. A peacenik and leftist devoid of commitment and strength, as his critics like to portray him, Obama has emulated and repeated the heroic courage of JFK stopping what was on the way to the Third World War. His speeches in Poland and Estonia were the red line that he drew for Vladimir Putin’s Russia. The plan to intimidate the West and NATO by pressing hard the Achilles’ heel of the West, that is, the Baltics, Poland, Finland, and Sweden, has failed.
Needless to say, I could offer many bitter words myself about present European policy makers with all their greed, cynicism, cowardice, and moral misery, which was best summed up in Edward Lucas’ term “schröderization” of the EU political class. Yet the fact remains that after Gerhard Schröder we do have Angela Merkel whose leadership in Germany and Europe was and continues to be nothing short of a miracle.
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We can conclude safely that Putin’s fascism and aggression in Europe was stopped, first and foremost, by the courage and heroism of Ukraine. Yet the leaders of the world, namely, Barack Obama and Angela Merkel, had their role here as well. They have responded to the challenge.