How will Mitsotakis handle relations with Turkey?

How will Mitsotakis handle relations with Turkey?

It is not easy to change the political climate between countries that have seen the worst in their past. A traumatic history of bloody wars followed by periods of fragile peace cannot eradicate a state of permanent hostility and mistrust ranging to hate, which can infest the way societies see each other.

I usually go into this semi-depressive state whenever Greece and Turkey have to come together and try once again to discuss ways of a “better neighborly relationship.” It happens after crises, but it also happens after a change of government. We start with hopes and ideas. But so far, we have ended with disappointment.

Such a period has just come up. As of July 7, we have a new government in Greece. A conservative, liberal government with a program of deep structural changes in running the country which already raised some eyebrows for creating an administration concentrating power at the top in order to “get the country swiftly on the road of economic growth”.

But this government came at a delicate moment of relations between Greece and Turkey, whereby the energy factor and the addition of powerful foreign players have moved the center of Turkish-Greek relations to the Cyprus platform. So it was no surprise that it was from Nicosia -the center of the energy politics of the region that we heard the new Greek prime minister sending the first signals of his foreign policy towards Turkey.

Kyriakos Mitsotakis said that there can be no solution in Cyprus unless the “outdated” system of guarantees and guarantor powers are abolished and that “the most important consideration of the Greek foreign policy is the termination of the Turkish army’s “occupation” in Cyprus. He added, though, that he is cautiously optimistic that a new framework for a common approach to the problem may result from the meeting between Cypriot leaders Nicos Anastasiades and Mustafa Akinci scheduled for Aug. 9. We need “a brave restart” in the bilateral relations, Mitsotakis said, although he added that such an approach progresses “in stages, it needs time and building of confidence”.

Confidence and trust, though, is not what one feels when reading the commentary on the Turkish side, whereby Mitsotakis’ suggestion for brave new steps in bilateral relations is seen as “empty words devoid of sincerity.” It is interesting to examine the diverse elements of such mistrust towards the new Greek government. Political commentators, such as Hüsamettin İnanç, think that Turks should not trust Greek political leaders because their country is “a bankrupt country that has no power without big powers such as the U.S. and Germany supporting it. It has no voice in the European Union. It is under the shadow of bigger powers and where there are no powers to support it, Greece has no self-determination.” Another one, Oğuzhan Bilgin, thinks that Greece and Greek governments should not be trusted in principle as their hostility has historical roots and is felt “just like every other nation that has been founded following the dispersion of an empire.” So, he concludes “Greece’s founding principles are based on anti-Turkish sentiments.”

So far, Greek commentators are cautious towards the new government. They need more concrete evidence about Mitsotakis’s ideas on what he means by “brave new steps” in order to make up their minds. At any rate, they have seen this play acted out before under Alexis Tsipras with similar brave steps and ambitious grand plans for a new era in the Turkish-Greek relations. However, and in spite of a difficult relationship, things improved during the last phase of the Syriza government and Tsipras’ successful visit to Turkey last February. It was followed by two meetings of Greek and Turkish defense delegations which resulted in an agreement of 20 points of Confidence Building Measures under Ministers Hulusi Akar and Evangelis Apostolakis. One wonders if Mitsotakis is to include this in his foreign policy towards Turkey.