Greek elections? Erdoğan will be the winner!
For the first time since I first stepped foot into these 211-year-old premises, Ignatios, the waiter-manager-and-everyone else at my favorite ouzeri (Greek tavern) on this northeastern Aegean island gave us a hard time when he preached to us on the virtues of having a prime minister like Recep Tayyip Erdoğan; a speech often adorned with typical Greek gestures not suitable to describe in a decent publication like this newspaper. I tried in vain to convince him by offering Mr. Erdoğan to Greece but he immediately counter-offered George Papandreou. I gave up counter-arguing where my Greek linguistics failed. As we left, Ignatios was still making signs typical of a hooligan and shouting “Erdoğan, Erdoğan!”
We thought the next stop, another ouzeri with the name O Ouranos (The Sky), would be a temple of peace since we were total strangers in this five-by-four-yard miniature eatery. We were wrong; Mr. Erdoğan’s curse would not leave us in peace. A Greek voice from the only other table, a gathering of three gentlemen, interrupted us in fluent “minority” Turkish. After a half-hour long exchange of pleasantries, one of the Greeks made a speech which made us think he could be Mr. Erdoğan’s local party official. At that moment we understood the power of PR and economics.
The man thought Turkey was a paradise. More economically, than politically. Politically? He did not care. He was an unimportant civil servant working for the state broadcaster, ERT. His wife was a schoolteacher. Before the Hellenic crisis, their combined salary was nearly 5,000 euros each month; and now it was a miserable 3,000 euros. I told him how much salary their Turkish peers would be earning. He would not listen. Instead, he preferred to speak of the memorable moments he and his wife spent at the Hilton in İzmir, of how generously he spent money in Çeşme. We told him how his Turkish peers lived – economically and democratically. In response, he told us about his foreign travels and other extravaganza.
The man thought Turkish civil servants were bathing in champagne in the world’s most exotic places. We told him that if he and his wife were Turks they would be earning half of what they earned in crisis-hit Greece and spending three times more if they dined at an ouzeri. He shook his head and disagreed. We felt helpless. Speechless.
So we gave up. By now we knew that Mr. Erdoğan would be the indisputable election victor in this part of Greece. As the man left the ouzeri telling us that he and his family would soon pack up for Bursa for a skiing holiday, my heart sank for the poor Greek government officials, especially when I thought that the Greek man’s Turkish counterpart would now be packing for a sunshine holiday at a five-star hotel in Mauritius. Doesn’t matter. The Greeks don’t even bother to check facts and figures and see their “crisis” per capita income is three times more than Turkey’s “boom-time” income.
As we toured the island’s other tavernas, we watched locals as they watched news on television that told them Turkish agents had carried out subversion on Greek soil, including arson attacks and bombings. As faces turned to us we watched news in silence, confident that the Greeks, no matter how ignorant they may be about comparative welfare statistics, knew that we were not the arsonists in news. The next day I got mail from a great friend in Athens:
“In my opinion, the embarrassment should belong entirely to Greeks. After all, if you think of it, in Greece some trees were burned and some tourists might have decided to find friendlier places. I don’t remember anyone having lost their lives. But in Turkey, some young Turks must have [been killed] by PKK guerillas who were trained in Greece. It’s a good thing that Turkish retaliation put an end to that stupid situation, if indeed it happened that way.
“The downside is that Giorgos Karatzaferis, the leader of the nationalist and crypto-fascist party L.A.O.S. (also known as Karatzaführer), turned out to be right when he had claimed back then that the fires were set up by Turkish agents. Now his fat face is all smiles: ‘See? I told ya!’ Anyway, after a few days this event will go into the ‘case closed’ category.”