Turkey represents a big hurdle for Mitsotakis
Even if they don’t pronounce them, most Greeks think about them. Almost all the time. These two words have nested at the back of their minds shrouded in a mist of vague fear and negative anticipation. Even if the subject is totally unrelated, they still bring these two words up in the end, as a conclusion or a cause for anything usually negative that happened or may happen to them and their country. These two words are easy to guess: Turkey and Erdoğan.
Of course, what goes on in Turkey and what President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is planning and doing has always been a constant preoccupation for Greek politicians, analysts, strategists, academics and broadcasters.
But for the last decade, which coincided with the worst economic crisis in Greece’s modern history, the most important issue for most Greeks, except for the wealthy, was their economic survival in a bankrupt country.
In most social surveys conducted during the “bail-out” period of Greece, i.e. until 2018, the problem of economy was the first given by respondents as their biggest worry and concern. Turkey was on the list, of course, but further down. People were struggling to find a job or pay their rent or their huge taxes or simply survive, rather than fear of Turks attacking their islands.
After trying various political options of government coalitions with traditional mainstream parties, they went out of their way bringing the “first leftist” government of Syriza in power in 2014.
But the same electorate, last May and July in a local and general elections brought down Alexis Tsipras’ government although in August 2018 it managed to steer the country safely out of the noose of bail-out memoranda. Some felt that it was time to bring their own conservative party back in power, while many supporters of Syriza decided that the party was neither leftist enough nor serious enough to continue governing the country when things returned to some “economic normality.”
The new conservative government of New Democracy swept into power with a declared determination to “put everything straight” and “fix whatever was left loose” by Syriza. That included economy, education and most of all, public order. Assigned with an upgraded mission, police “cleaned up” dark corners of anarchy and terrorism in the capital, raiding universities and generally fighting “lawlessness.” Syriza, on the other hand, still under the shock of the defeat, is losing its political strength as it has not yet crystallized its ideological narrative. The government of Kyriakos Mitsotakis, feeling strong and self-confident, even managed what no previous government had managed to do: To impose a strict smoking ban and having Greeks abide by it!
Five months on, with a new conservative government in Greece and a major social survey conducted by PRORATA SA opinion poll company gives us a picture of a changing society, which willfully adjusts itself to a stricter and more disciplined environment. A surprising 81 percent thinks that police raids are good if they are done to fight lawlessness. Most Greeks appear to have turned more conservative supporting the new doctrine of “law and order.” While during the dark days of economic crisis, unemployment was the number one concern, now only 21 percent worry about lack of jobs. Also, now, they do not thing that the “brain drain” is a problem, nor that corruption is a big problem (only 22 percent believes that), nor that taxation is a big problem. Few believe that authoritarianism nor breaching human rights and freedoms matters a lot (only 12 percent), last is the climate change (only 4 percent).
On the other hand, 17 percent of the respondents believe that “national issues” such as relations with Turkey and North Macedonia are a problem. And if you think that Turkey’s score is low, you should look further on. Turkey is behind the answer to “What is the most important problem for the Greeks under New Democracy?” Some 45 percent (the highest score) responded that it is the refugees/migrants which they link with the increase of criminality (55 percent). And Turkey is also in the background when 38 percent stated that they fear a rise of right extremism in the political parties and in the society in general (as a result of the migrant issue).
This interesting “changed” picture of Greece under a new conservative government points out to the greater influence of the media in setting the current political agenda. Turkey is the main or one of the main topics of the Greek news, linked with a markedly increased flow of migrants flooding the islands and the Greek mainland. The Mitsotakis government appears overpowered by the problem and does not have real solutions. Having no real help from Europe, it runs the risk of turning its own supporters against it while implying that Turkey is pressing Brussels by squeezing Athens badly. It is no surprise then that Turkey and Erdoğan are on every Greek’s mind.