Greek opposition critical of Mitsotakis policies
This has been a year of high tension for Turkish-Greek relations. A year, when the two countries came to an almost military confrontation and diplomacy failed to produce a meaningful dialogue.
The end of the year greetings exchanged by the foreign ministers of both countries, Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu and Nikos Dendias, via Twitter has epitomized the state of affairs.
Both ministers who know each other from their time serving at the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe addressed their counterparts by using their first names and exchanged some allusive advice.
What are we supposed to read through this “amicable” exchange of New Year greetings, that both have a sense of humor? Perhaps also that behind such an elegant and stylish diplomatic table tennis, there is a problematic state of affairs. Neither side looks prepared to back up, and both sides consider each other’s positions “provocative,” “illegal,” “unfair” and “insincere.”
In an interview last Wednesday to a website on defense and military matters, Alexis Tsipras, the leader of the official opposition in Greece and former prime minister between 2015 -2019, launched a scathing attack on the Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, blaming him for lack of a comprehensive policy against Turkey.
Assessing the behavior of Turkey throughout the year, Tsipras claimed that Greece experienced the worst. “I feel very uneasy over the developments in the Aegean and the east Mediterranean. During this year, which is coming to an end, we witnessed the most aggressive Turkey of the last twenty-five years, at least. We saw an unbelievable escalation of tension and provocative attitude from Turkey, and against this, our country was found not to have a clear strategy.”
Focusing on the outcome of the recent EU Summit, which decided not to impose sanctions against Turkey as Greece and Greek Cyprus had asked, he blamed Mitsotakis’ government not only for not creating the conditions for a “sincere and honest dialogue with Turkey but also for not creating alliances in order to avert “Turkey’s aggression.”
He claimed that the presence of the Turkish seismic vessel Oruç Reis close to the islands of Kastelorizo and Rhodes violates Greece sovereign rights “and that is why we suggested increasing our territorial waters from 6 to 12 miles, as we have the right to do so.”
Tsipras, as well as the rest of the leaders of the opposition parties in Greece, are highly critical of Mitsotakis’s government in the way it has handled the crisis with Turkey since it won the elections in July 2019. They are suspicious that Greece will be forced by the “major powers” i.e., the U.S., NATO and Germany, to give away sovereign rights and national interests in the Aegean and the east Mediterranean, which were considered non-negotiable according to international law. They believe that 2021 will be a year where we may see the situation with Turkey worsen. They even fear a change in the status in the Aegean.
In the meantime, according to a December poll, what a large majority of Greeks fear, after almost a year of the pandemic, is the rising unemployment, poverty and loss in incomes. Despite their overall disappointment with the EU for not standing firm against Turkey, they do think that Greece would be much worse if it was not a member and just over 50 percent approve the job that the Greek Foreign Ministry has done with regard to Greece-Turkey issues.
And much to the regret of Tsipras and the rest of the Greek opposition, Mitsotakis’s performance as a prime minister received a high percentage of approval (68 percent), while the performance of Tsipras as leader of the official opposition attracted only 25 percent of the respondents, according to a poll published two days ago.
In the coming months, we will see whether Greece and Turkey will manage to finally start a meaningful dialogue, whether the opposition was right in its fears and whether Mitsotakis will retain his high popularity for whatever strategy he adopts for dealing with his neighbor.