National Pride as a bad advisor
YANNİ KARALİSI lived in Istanbul for a year in the past, and I have many Turkish friends. It always strikes us how similar we are as people and as societies, even though there are also clear differences. The one thing both nations have in common is great pride in their identity. Being a Greek or a Turk comes with a feeling of belonging to something greater than you, something that you need to serve and sacrifice to if needed. It is a very powerful tool when the country is under threat from external enemies, and both nations have great moments of resistance to be proud of.
What happens though, when the enemy is not external? When the enemies are the exact people that you have chosen to lead you and safeguard your standards of living. The answer is not simple, but very complicated. In both countries we have been trained to be proud of our roots, and that anything bad that came upon us was the result of an international conspiracy put together to have our great nations fall apart. The most common argument has been that “the Americans want us weak, because they can then fully control us.” I have heard that in both Greece and Turkey, and I always wondered why people say that. I believe the Americans - as our closest ally and the strongest one we have - could always get anything they wanted from us anyway. There are not global conspiracies out there to bring Greece or Turkey down. We are our worst enemy and we have proven it again and again. Even after our greatest victories in the past, we have managed to bring our nations down on our own.
The question, then, should not be about who we were and how great we have been in the past, because that creates a pride that leads to anger and false assumptions about your importance in world affairs. We cannot ask for respect if, as a state, we do not respect our hard working men and women. Most importantly, we cannot ask for respect and recognition if we do not respect our youth, and instead of helping them develop, we create burdens and we make it difficult for them to be successful.
Even in Greek-Turkish affairs, did we ever consider how much we could achieve in economic and security affairs if we could work together? Yes, there are problems and unresolved issues, but let’s resolve them in a meaningful and final way. We have been around the negotiation table for more than forty years on different issues, but none of us is really negotiating. There should not be a power struggle between Greece and Turkey. I know that my country used the “Turkish threat” as a way to spend and waste billions. As a person who has lived in Turkey and likes the Turkish people, I get really angry when I am told that you are my enemy. The academia, the press, and the bright minds of our countries should help us create a real environment of friendship. The politicians have failed to do that. They do not want that. They want a divided Cyprus and they want issues in the Aegean; as people, we need to realize that we have to be free from the burdens they have created. We need a change based on new political powers with young and honest, non-professional politicians.
The solution to our problems and the creation of an ideal state lies in education. We should empower our teachers to teach the truth, to create independent people who will question everything; from Atatürk to Venizelos and their policies, from the 1922 Smyrna fall to Cyprus. Let’s create people who will create their personal opinions about things and who will be proud of being a Greek or a Turk, not only because of Gallipoli or 1821 Greek Independence, but because they were born in a country where they are taught how to think and investigate and not what to think and believe.