The Turkish president’s extremely aggressive rhetoric towards Greece may be a sign of the times – as the often ornate, traditional language of diplomacy is being elbowed out by brute actions and words internationally – but it is also an element of Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s personality and policy.
The man who has ruled Turkey for the past two decades is the product of a culture where citizens are treated like children and the powers that be – whether representatives of the Kemalist “deep state” or Islamist politicians – separate the population between the “good guys” and the “bad guys,” without affording equal rights to all. Erdogan, however, has taken this tactic one big step further. Not only does he regard the Turks as his “property,” to act towards as he will, but he also looks at all other nations in the same way. He intervenes militarily wherever he wants; makes whatever demands he wants and threatens anyone who resists him; he defies rules and laws; he complains constantly about purported injustices against Turkey and, at the same time, proclaims that Turkey (and himself, by extension) has the might and right to act as it likes. Inside Turkey, this means abusing civil rights, both of anyone who disagrees with his policies and the overall population.
The crescendo of attacks against the Greeks aims at rallying the Turkish president’s supporters on the domestic political stage so that he may appear a bigger patriot than his critics in the opposition. Russian and American objections to the new Turkish invasion of northern Syria, the problems in the economy and the fact that he’s already played the card of turning Hagia Sofia into a mosque, leave little room for the coup de grace an authoritarian like him needs. This automatically leads to tension on the Greece and Cyprus front. There is also the fact that part of the omnipotence Erdogan wants to project relies on his personal ties with foreign leaders, so that support for the war against Assad is presented in Turkey as a reaction because the Syrian president did not take his advice. The personal attacks against Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, as was the case with French President Emmanuel Macron two years ago, are intended to make Erdogan appear like he judges not only his compatriots but foreigners too.
If he cannot extend the borders of “the heart,” he may at least unleash his arrogance by behaving towards other people and their leaders according to his personal desires and interests. By claiming that the Greek prime minister is not a man of his word, Erdogan exposes the magnitude of his absurd paternalism. This absence of boundaries may be just the thing to whip his fans into a frenzy; but it also reveals his inability to break away from the political primitivism that constantly gets his country into trouble.