A call for maturity and wisdom
The anti-government media in Greece - and they are a big majority - have been very busy lately in attacking the leftist Syriza-led government.
They are accusing it of incompetence, nepotism and amateurism in handling the negotiations with the country’s tough creditors; they are blaming Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras for failing to produce any concrete improvement in the lives of Greeks since his party came to power, they see him as a leftist leader who can neither say a full yes to the economic reforms demanded by Greece’s creditors, nor a full “no” as he advocated to his followers before he came to power, which might result with the exit of Greece from the Eurozone.
Once again, negotiations with Greece’s creditors have stalled for some time, and Greeks fear a repetition of last year’s compromise which would bring once again, higher taxes and lower income.
Yet, to the long list of problems that the Tsipras government is trying to solve this year, a new set of issues has been added lately, making matters more complicated, such as relations with Turkey. This delicate period for Greece trying to re-negotiate a more lenient bail-out program to come out from its seven-year terrible economic ordeal coincided with a crucial period for its neighbor, Turkey, which is about to decide on a system of governance. It is a time when, for quite different reasons, the people of both societies are thinking seriously about their countries’ leaders and their policies.
Unfortunately, during the past few weeks, we have been observing a notable increase in tension between the two countries. The Aegean has again become a theatre for some of the most undiplomatic exchanges occurring between the representatives of defense and foreign affairs of both sides, triggering arguments on who owns what and whose sovereign rights prevail. This has fueled fears - at least on the Greek side - that they may soon have to deal with a serious bilateral issue, the danger of which we all thought we had left behind more than twenty years ago.
The question that many “ordinary” people in Greece are asking is “why now,” why is it that Greeks and Turks are arguing at this particular moment in time? The answer is conditional to which side you support.
The supporters of the Syriza-led government analyze the situation as a Turkey-made increase of bilateral tension in order for the Justice and Development party (AKP) government to increase the “yes” votes in the upcoming referendum by fanning feelings of nationalism, and Greece is a convenient case for that. Although many followers of the leftist Syriza would not agree to the nationalist, anti-Turkish rhetoric as used by the Greek Defense Minister or even by the Greek Foreign Minister, they seem to have “made a virtue out of necessity” and reluctantly put up with this new style. The political reality shows that they need votes from deputies of the Independent Greeks, Defense Minister Panos Kammenos’ small nationalist party, to be able to survive as a government.
But if you turn to the opposition camp, then the debate on “how to deal with Turkey” becomes quite different.
There, the criticism against Kammenos about his handling of the “crisis with Turkey” is tough and open. “For the umpteenth time, it has to been underlined that the practice of politics on national issues requires special care and seriousness. Consequently, it is not served through reckless statements and ‘bullying’ attitudes in order to create impressions among domestic audience. Especially in today’s concurrence, when you have an unstable and unpredictable neighbor, ready for provocations. This is what the prime minister [Tsipras] has to realize and impose on all his ministers, before it is too late,” wrote the eminently conservative daily Kathimerini in its leading article.
While one of its most popular columnists suggested, “In the race of bullying, let Turkey stay alone… Tsipras should agree that on this terrain he cannot stay as an observer, transferring it to the absolute disposition of Mr. Kammenos. The love of the minister for any kind of hyperbole, does not allow that - as it was seen by his much criticized ‘prediction’ for a ‘hot incident in Cyprus,’ in the summer.”
The columnist was referring to “leaked information” from the Greek Defense Ministry last week that an “incident” between Greece and Turkey is likely to happen this summer when the extraction of natural gas is set to start near Cyprus.
I think what the people of both sides of the Aegean would genuinely wish is that their respective leaders would not try outdated nationalist recipes to push their domestic agenda. Now, we need maturity and wisdom.