Alexis Papachelas ALEXIS PAPACHELAS

When the state works

COMMENT

Migrants walk on the road near the Ipsala border gate in Edirne, at the Turkish-Greek border on Tuesday, March 3, 2020. Migrants and refugees hoping to enter Greece from Turkey appeared to be fanning out across a broader swathe of the roughly 200-kilometer-long land border Tuesday, maintaining pressure on the frontier after Ankara declared its borders with the European Union open [Emrah Gurel/AP]

TAGS: Migration, Politics

The Greek state has matured abruptly in the past few days. It was called upon to manage an unprecedented crisis under very difficult circumstances and has done so professionally, selflessly and competently.

We like to say that the state is always disorganized. It is what you tell it to be. If, for example, the political mandate is to act like a nongovernmental organization observing developments from the sidelines, then it is certain that state-run mechanism will slow down. Especially when its people are paid poorly and work in adverse conditions. When there is political willpower, a clear mandate and leadership, the Greek state functions quite well. It may have difficulty in getting out of the “hibernation” mode of the past few years, but in the end it succeeds.

There are obviously serious issues to manage. When you start moving forward after having moved backwards, it is logical that some officials will seem puzzled.

Caution is needed. Professionalism and the respect for rules and laws does not happen in a vacuum. They require rigor, discipline and continuous education. But the state matured because it has accomplished a mission that is unpleasant, almost inhumane. Nobody wants to chase away families and children who have lost their homes and are looking for a better future. Nobody. But a state’s job is to defend the national interest, sometimes at any cost. Besides, we are not faced with a simple humanitarian crisis, but a powerful and ruthless state that has decided to weaponize those unfortunate people to blackmail Greece and Europe.

The vast majority of the public understands what is happening and supports a strict border protection policy. Reactions and criticism are also beneficial because they help keep a balance so that we do not lose control of the situation.

But nobody has yet answered the question of what the Greek government should have done once Ankara opened its side of the border. Should it have left it open until the country can no longer handle more people? Should it have waited for European leaders to wake up from their deep sleep, meet, agree to change the Dublin Regulation and adopt a new refugee distribution plan? This is a pipe dream. There was no other solution and the political opposition is well aware of this.

We have entered a time of grave, unpredictable and asymmetrical threats. To deal with them we need a state that acts in a way that is professional and – occasionally – tough.

Online