The wrong foreign policy stance

By Paschos Mandravelis

Back when socialism was flourishing in Greece – despite being a local version of Tony Blair’s Third Way – we still found it hard to give up our exceptionalist habits concerning foreign policy. It was the time when PASOK began to gravitate toward realism, when it began to really believe that Greece belongs in the West. However, PASOK also had a nationalist wing (which imagined alliances with Libya and other “progressive” countries), and in order to placate it, party leader Andreas Papandreou conjured up the near-farcical concept of adding footnotes to the joint statements of the then-EEC and NATO.

In 1983, the USSR committed a heinous crime when it brought down a Korean Air Lines plane carrying 269 people, among whom were 22 children under the age of 12. The entire world was aghast, with the exception of the anti-imperialist Greeks and a handful of communists in different parts of the world.

In order to justify the Soviet atrocity, a series of conspiracy theories emerged suggesting that the airplane was being used for espionage purposes (even though it was shot down over the sea) and that all 269 people on board (including the children) were imperialist agents, and other such rubbish. Every country condemned the Soviet leadership, with the exception of Greece, which persisted with its “independent” stance on foreign policy – in short meaning doing the opposite of what everyone else was doing – a stance that has cost us greatly over the years.

SYRIZA today appears to espouse a similar stance regarding Greek foreign policy. In a recent announcement, the leftist opposition party called on the government to press for a lifting of sanctions against Russia. The party argued that the European Union-imposed sanctions, “with the participation of [Prime Minister Antonis] Samaras and [Foreign Minister Evangelos] Venizelos,” will in no way contribute to a de-escalation of the crisis in Ukraine, but, in contrast, appear to be “heightening it into an open commercial and economic war of which, unfortunately, Greece is a part.”

So what if Russian President Vladimir Putin has turned Crimea into that region’s breakaway northern Cyprus? So what if separatists shoot down passenger planes with anti-aircraft missiles provided by Moscow? So what if, as sources suggest, Putin is amassing troops east of the Ukrainian border? The Pavlovian anti-imperialist reaction compels SYRIZA to adopt the destructive – as Papandreou himself later admitted – approach of Greek isolationism.

We don’t know if history repeats itself as farce, but the tough question for Greece today is what the farce of the asterisks in regards to EU policy will mean for the country in the long run.