Every time Greece is faced with a major crisis, we ask ourselves where we belong – to the West or to the East? The centuries go by and we still appear reluctant to solve the riddle. From the “papal tiara or fez” dilemma and up to this very day, the question sows divisions that come to the fore at critical times.
We are seeing it everywhere now as the crisis in Ukraine has stoked anti-Western sentiments that resonate with a significant part of society. It has nothing to do with criticism of the mistakes of the United States and Europe or the hypocrisy regarding Turkey. It is something deeper and more visceral than that. We also saw it in 2015, fueling a more powerful wave of accumulated – and justified – anger against the West over the economic crisis that nearly sent us to the other side of history.
How we deal with this dilemma is often quite mad. We enjoy the “rights” entailed by membership of the closest of the Western clubs, but abhor the “responsibilities” stemming from it. We don the mantle of victim all too easily and view the world through the prism of intense insecurity. We realize – usually belatedly – that there is no other path and that there is no other geopolitical bloc that will take us in while magically solving all our problems. The vast majority of the Greek people learned this lesson in the very expensive crash course of 2015.
One simplistic explanation is that the West appeals to our reason and the East to our sentiment. Our emotional side is like a chord that can be plucked by any wandering minstrel of nationalist populism or any other player who has something to gain from it. Historians may be able to explain this phenomenon, though it is nothing fleeting.
I know many people who believe that we put this dilemma to bed after 2015. I wish. They are wrong because they fail to see that “the world is not our world.” The fault lines are very much there, and they are packed with energy and force. They’ve been there for centuries and cannot be papered over.
History will test us again. The pandemic, social media, geopolitical violence and instability and rising costs create an explosive mix that will be hard to tamp down without strong leadership and cool, logical thinking.
And one last thing: The ultimate test of our relationship with the West would obviously be its reaction to – alas – a conflict with Turkey. If we feel like we’re being betrayed by the West, then all bets will be off and the fault lines of anti-Western skepticism will crack in the most explosive fashion. It’s something for our allies and partners to think about.