Remembering recent past in Turco-Greek relations

Remembering recent past in Turco-Greek relations

Kostas Karamanlis the former leader of Greece’s New Democracy party is associated with the better days of Turkish- Greek relations. He was prime minister of Greece during the first phase of AKP’s rule, when the current Turkish president was serving as the prime minister and Abdullah Gul was the president. Karamanlis led his party to a landslide victory in 2004 and remained in office until 2009 when he was defeated in a mid-term election.

Those were the days when the vision for Turkey joining the EU was given a strong impetus with Greece accepting the nomination of Turkey as a formal candidate for membership.

A memorable development during that period and a strong sign for the positive atmosphere between the two countries was when the National Bank of Greece (NBG) acquired 46 percent of the shares of the Turkish Finansbank in 2006, a share it increased in 2007 to 80 percent. Businesspeople in both countries had a lot of hope.

One year before his electoral defeat, Karamanlis made an official visit to Turkey. It was a three-day visit, and it was “a first in 49 years,” as foreign press labelled it. Before that, the last Greek prime minister to visit Turkey was Konstantine Karamanlis, his uncle.

Despite the fact that a plethora of problems and mistrust continued to keep the two countries at arms-length, that visit went unusually well. Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, the then prime minister of Turkey expressed his belief that “2008 will offer new opportunities for our countries to improve bilateral relations. And I’d like to see the period ahead of us as a window of opportunity,” with Karamanlis responding that “it’s obvious there wouldn’t be a need to wait for 49 years for the next visit of prime ministers.”

That was a correct prediction. All three Greek prime ministers that followed (Antonis Samaras, Alexis Tsipras and Kyriakos Mitsotakis) did pay official visits to Turkey and had meetings with the same leaders. But, alas, they could not establish a common ground for a pro-solution dialogue and the situation went from bad to worse.

Kostas Karamanlis’s premiership ended in 2009 and he resigned from the presidency of his party, choosing hence to keep a low profile in politics, not getting involved in the front line of political discourse.

So, when he decided to deliver a speech a few days ago to a Women’s Organization, in Athens, with the theme “Greece and Europe in the vortex of great changes,” he had to face a packed audience of the crème de la crème of the Geek political establishment.

He spoke about everything that covers the world agenda. He warned against the continuation of the war in Ukraine “as it may extend beyond Ukraine,” he warned that “a new Cold War would not be a revival of the old, but will be worse and unpredictable,” he talked about the “negative effect of a long war on the economy, mainly on the economies of Europe.”

It is worth referring to the part of his speech dealing with Turkish-Greek relations. He said that he was against “submissiveness,” but in favor of keeping “the channels of communication open,” while he added “that he is not against joint exploitation of resources, but not prior to delimitation in accordance with International Law.” Regarding Cyprus, he strongly criticized “the attitude of most allies and partners,” who condemn and place sanctions on the Russians for the invasion of Ukraine, but “stay silent on an almost half-century drama of Cyprus.”

Karamanlis supported an independent Europe with its own voice but criticized both the U.S. and the West, blaming them for their perception that “Turkey should be kept in the western camp at all costs” and for adopting a policy “of equal distance towards Turkey and Greece.”

The former prime minister chose to close his speech with a famous phrase by De Gaulle: “Patriotism is when the love for your people comes first. Nationalism when hatred for others comes first.”

Karamanlis’s speech received a lot of attention as it was seen as a departure from the current Greek Prime Minister Mitsotakis’ line for forging strong ties with the U.S.

Analysts point out that we should look to see whether New Democracy party will retain its unity or will have to mend internal cracks as the clock is ticking away towards the 2023 elections.

Ariana Ferentinou,