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Dialogues on the Bicentenary: Greek domestic policy and the foreign affairs with Turkey

Dialogues on the Bicentenary: Greek domestic policy and the foreign affairs with Turkey

In 2021 Greece is celebrating two hundred years from the beginning of the War of Indipendence. On this important occasion we interviewed Professor Nikos Marantzidis from University of Macedonia (PAMAK) in Thessaloniki. Here the second part of the interview. Find on this link the first part.

Despite some illiberal measures, it seems that the current government is still enjoying a broad consensus in the country. What do you think will be the determinants of the next national elections? Do you think there will be a frontal battle between Tsipras’s ΣΥΡΙΖΑ and Νεα Δημοκρατια – ND – or will there be unexpected political turnarounds?

Even if the initial coup de coeur between public opinion and  Mitsotakis’s government has now ceased, ND’s dominance in the polls continues. This is to some extent perfectly normal. We are only a year and a half after New Democracy’s election victory and in the midst of a global health crisis. It is far too short a time to notice any significant polling shifts. 

However, the prolonged crisis and social fatigue are slowly eroding the government’s popularity. This does not mean that the two main pillars of this popularity have ceased to exist: 

  1. Mitsotakis allows ND to broaden its appeal to non-partisan identified voters of the centre, and the centre-left, and
  2. the anti-Syriza current today functions as a wall that holds back any centrifugal forces developed within the ND party.

I do not believe that the next elections, whenever they take place, will result in a radically different outcome. In my opinion for some time to come, ND will continue to enjoy polling dominance. The danger for SYRIZA is a dominance of ND on the model of the CDU in Germany, or even that of Christian Democracy in post-war Italy, where ND will rule for a long time alone or with its allies, with SYRIZA playing the role of the Italian Communist Party, i.e. a party that will consolidate around 25-35%  consensus, but will be isolated and not able to govern.

The European Institute for Gender Equality showed that Greece has currently one of the lowest rates of women’s participation in national parliament. Do you think governments should be more aware about the issue of gender equality in Greece and if so, what should be done in this direction?

What is happening in this field is a real shame. It is yet another indication that the Greek political scene is not only not functioning as a kind of model or pioneering project,  call it as you like, but on the contrary, it is dramatically regressive in relation to Greek society. If we look for example at other professional areas of traditional male dominance in Greek society, e.g. justice, higher education, police, business, we will notice that the presence of women has visibly improved and gender inequalities have been significantly reduced. Only in government and parliament the participation of women is reminiscent of our grandparents’ time. I think a more aggressive policy of “positive discrimination” with mandatory securing of seats in parliament and government should be made.

Focusing on the foreign policy, it seems that the press conference held by the ministers of foreign affairs of Greece and Turkey – respectively Nikos Dendias and Mevlut Cavusoglu –  on April 16th made a big fuss. Don’t you find that the diplomatic pantomime that took place confirms your thesis explained in the article ‘Pelkas goes to Fenerbahce’? The ministers are in direct conflict on issues such as human rights, and maritime law, but the entrance of Turkey in the single European market and the need of intense commercial interaction seems not to be in dispute.  Could this be the beginning of a more ‘cynical’ relation between the two countries in the name of free trade?

Although I understand that politics is also about managing symbols and emotions, I am always wary and deeply suspicious of theatrical performances in diplomacy. Foreign Minister Dendias’ choice to create a communicative “guerrilla” to hit Turkey where they did not expect it, may lead to a response from our neighbours to fight back and respond when Greece does not expect it. I only hope, if this happens in the future, that Mr. Dendias will not bitterly regret his earlier choice. Let me put it simply: Greece needs good relations with Turkey more than Turkey needs good relations with Greece. If we continue to fail, then the bleeding of resources will continue in perpetuity.

Do you think that the unexpected statements made by Nikos Dendias are in line with the various endorsements to Ursula Von der Leyen after the so called ‘sofagate’ – for example Mario Draghi rapidly defined Erdogan as a dictator during a press conference opening a diplomatic case with Turkey – or were they meant to sort out some dynamics of power within the ND party?

Both. I believe that minister Dendias saw the international context of Turkey’s isolation from the EU as a favourable moment to promote his own personal agenda. Mr. Dendias simply overestimated the security provided by the international climate at the moment, and underestimated the future risks of his statements. Above all, he has done a disservice to his own government, which is looking for windows of dialogue with the neighbour country.  Unfortunately, Greek-Turkish relations have been living Groundhog Day for half a century, same old story without any development. The same has happened in the country’s relations with the Republic of North Macedonia where fortunately, Prime Ministers  Goran Zaev and Alexis Tsipras have provided the solution.

The vaccination campaign is proceeding slowly. We are at 817’000 vaccines administered at the second dose and 2 millions  still at the first. It is obvious to everyone that opening up to arrivals from abroad last summer was a huge mistake. What do you think is going to happen next summer?

In general, the EU has recorded a major failure in this area that I am afraid will haunt us for a long time. I do not know what the situation will be in the summer, but I can say that the consequences of this delay in the economic sector are already visible in the EU and in Greece even more so.

The bicentenary of the War of Independence will be celebrated in an ambiguous context. The country has been in lockdown for months and its economy is at risk of serious stagnation, while on the other hand violence by police forces is increasing, sometimes becoming brutal (just to mention the events of Nea Smyrni), and some people compare Mitsotakis to Orban and Erdogan. Moreover, Greece is still suffering from the sovereign debt crisis of 2008 and the consequent austerity measures and, in terms of foreign policy, the growing tensions with Turkey. What does celebrating this bicentenary mean for Greek citizens and institutions today?

200 years have passed since the War of Independence and Greek society has achieved much, especially as a part of European diplomacy, society, economy, culture and politics. The consolidation of liberal democratic institutions and the country’s participation in the common European institutions has resulted in Greece being today a developed country and  a model for its Balkan neighbours, despite ten years of recession and the loss of 30% of its GDP since 2008. Notwithstanding the serious problems in the independence of institutions, in the area of vested interests between oligarchs and the government, in media pluralism, and finally in increased state authoritarianism, Greece still belongs to the core of developed democratic countries. Of course, liberal democracy needs daily defence and commitment. If this does not occur, then we will slip into threatening forms of illiberal democracy.

Laureato in Economia e Scienze Sociali presso Università Bocconi. Magistrale in Economics presso La Sapienza, Roma. Scrive articoli e interviste per Kritica Economica.

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