Two ways to deal with the ‘two soldiers’ issue

Two ways to deal with the ‘two soldiers’ issue

The two Greek soldiers jailed in the Edirne High Security Prison for “illegally entering a Turkish military zone” on the land border near the river of Evros/Meriç received a special visit April 8. It was by the Metropolitan Amphilochios of Adrianopolis (western border province of Edirne), who travelled from Istanbul with a special permission granted by Turkish authorities. So far, the soldiers were only able to receive visits by their lawyers and their immediate family.

There must have been quite a busy time for the leadership of the Greek Orthodox Church in Phanar to acquire the permission to send its emissary to Edirne. But nothing was communicated to the public, neither by the Turkish side nor by the Greek Patriarchate.

We received the news of the visit that a senior Patriarchal emissary was to go to Edirne, just past midnight of April 7, at the grand ceremony for the Orthodox Easter. In the courtyard of the ancient church of the St. George, where a few hundred Greek Orthodox faithful celebrated the biggest feast of their religion, Patriarch Bartholomew I in a speech “full of emotion and joy” gave the news. Standing on a raised platform surrounded by all the members of his clergy, he spoke first about the meaning of Easter, of the importance of freedom and faith and then announced that following “persistent efforts” of the Istanbul Patriarchate, the Turkish authorities allowed the Orthodox Metropolitan of Adrianopolis to visit the two soldiers who have been remaining in jail since March 1 pending their trial. The senior cleric paid the visit April 8 and conveyed the Easter wishes and affection on behalf of the “Mother Church” with the hope that they will soon be back with their families.

But it was not just the attendants of this year’s Easter service in Phanar that heard their religious leader linking the “rising” of Christ with the wish for “freeing” the two young Greek soldiers. All over Greece as well as among the Greek diaspora, the traditional Easter message by the Orthodox clergy was linked with the case of the two detainees in the Edirne prison.

Yet the continuing detention of one sergeant and one lieutenant, while still being a personal drama touching a large part of the Greek society, has also developed into a tough stand-off between opposing mindsets as to how “to deal with Turkey.”

There is an escalating fight between the government and mainly the official opposition on whether the issue of the two soldiers was handled properly. His opponents accuse Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras of passivity, mismanagement and amateurism. The government, who had hoped to cash on the improved performance of the economy, sees its popularity stagnant if not falling. Some say that Tsipras’ recent hardening of the tone toward Turkey was a way to win back those who think that “we should show our fist to the Turks.”

But there is another debate, even tougher, going on over the issue of the two soldiers and is taking place before a highly polarized Greek media. It is a loud row on the pages of the Greek press, a multitude of internet sites and mainly TV screens, among journalists, academics, security and defense experts and retired diplomats on what Greece should do in this new geopolitical environment

There are at least two camps: The one which sees Turkey as a “major threat” does not exclude a military confrontation and calls for a radical re-thinking of Greece’s military doctrine. It promotes the idea that Greece — although in economic difficulty — should invest in strategic weapons and advanced military technology, using new strategic terms such as flexibility, surprise and aggressive action.

The opposite camp, albeit a minority, puts the emphasis on foreign policy. “Foreign policy, they say, should not be conducted through the press and the over-projection of acts of the other side... We should not get caught up in every announcement of the demands of the Turkish side that are standard and well-known,” they say. “Let’s make a little criticism of the actions and words of our political staff that often escapes into pseudo-patriotic rhetoric... The key issue is a continuous approach based on our principles, European rules and principles, strengthening democracy and our dedication to dialogue, education, and the ever-closer contacts — social and economic — with our neighbors...”

Ariana Ferentinou, hdn, Opinion,