Poison and antidote in Greek-Turkish relations

Poison and antidote in Greek-Turkish relations

The devastating earthquake in Turkey provided, in the most paradoxical way, a breather to Greek-Turkish relations. A breather that was needed as the temperature of the verbal confrontation was starting to rise, along with the risk of an accident. But the most important thing is that a lot of poison had accumulated in Turkish public opinion from a systematic campaign through the media and continuous inflammatory statements against Greece.

Those who know Turkey well have established that in calm conditions, the vast majority of Turkish citizens do not think badly of Greece and the Greeks. But all it takes is a push to radically change this state of mind, as generations of Greek diplomats serving in Turkey since that fatal autumn of 1955 – when a campaign of state-sponsored anti-Greek mob attacks directed primarily at Istanbul’s Greek minority was unleashed – have discovered.

So the good thing is that Turks got a good dose of antidote to the poison, with Greece swift and organized response to the deadly earthquake. The images of the Greek rescuers were the most powerful antidote and will work for a long time. It is important that it was not a sly political move but a self-evident reaction that was applauded by the vast majority of the political class and citizens.

Does this mean anything for the future? For the immediate future, we should assume that the tension will dissipate for a sufficient period of time and that the risk of a conflict or an accident that could escalate is significantly reduced. The judge who will act as caretaker prime minister in Greece between the two rounds of the general elections in May will be able to sleep without fear that the head of the Armed Forces will wake him up on the occasion of some incident. This is no small thing when you consider how close we came to war in 2020 and how many times Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has threatened us “to come suddenly one night.”

There are many who consider a negotiation possible after the general elections in Greece and Turkey. Much will depend on whether Ankara changes its tune on two major sticking points: the demilitarization of the islands and the questioning of the sovereignty of the islands which are in what Turkey views as the “grey zones.” Whoever is elected in Turkey, changing positions will be difficult because the opposition will immediately react strongly. In Greece, too, the mix of Turkish intransigence and rhetoric, and the shallow, emotional or even toxic way Greek-Turkish relations are framed in public debates does not leave much room for optimism.

Governments that win a second term often dream of reaching an agreement with Turkey but in practice they know either that their political capital is not sufficient for something so ambitious or that the necessary partner for such a political “tango” is simply not available.

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