Just after the Hellenic Navy light cruiser Elli was torpedoed on August 15, 1940, Ioannis Metaxas called a meeting of high-ranking officials and announced that Greece had come under attack from the Italians and was prepared, if necessary, to go to war. The moment of truth arrived on October 28, 1940, when the Italian ambassador got the Greek prime minister out of bed in the middle of the night and told him he had three hours to consider Mussolini’s ultimatum for capitulation. Metaxas said no (“ochi”) – what he actually replied was “Alors, c’est la guerre” (Then it is war).
Back to the present: Though Greece is being worn down, the stakes are negligible compared to 1940 yet have nevertheless managed to transform politics into a stage of infantile bickering. We should be thankful for the fact that over this period, our relations with Turkey are relatively stable and can be defined as being in a state of “controlled crisis.” The government of Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, which had initially declared war against the European establishment, did not exacerbate relations with Ankara and did not question Greece’s position in NATO – did not, in short, follow the precedent of PASOK’s Andreas Papandreou.
There have of course been worrying statements from Turkey, such as President Recep Tayyip Erdogan questioning the Treaty of Lausanne, but these have since been followed by clarifications and assurances that the pact defining the borders between Turkey and Greece is being respected and upheld. That said, given the magnitude of the crisis in Turkey, nothing can be entirely ruled out and we cannot rely on placating clarifications, though we should also be wary of stoking the fire further with strong-handed patriotic rhetoric. Back during the major crisis of 1940, Metaxas decided not to make any public proclamations and was thus able to better prepare the country for war.
After the fall of the 1967-73 dictatorship, Greece literally “swallowed” the Turkish invasion of Cyprus, PASOK came to intense verbal blows with Turkey, and the country was ultimately led to a state of Finlandization vis-a-vis Turkey.