OPINION

Between West and East

The crisis that has been buffeting Greece in recent years has perforce turned the focus of domestic politics to developments in Europe. The nation’s attention, thoughts, relationship-building efforts and even complaints are all directed West.

However, Greece’s geographical position and historical background place it at the southeastern tip of the continent, in close proximity to the countries of the Balkans, the Black Sea, Asia Minor and the Middle East and anything that goes on there is of concern to Greece as well.

It can be argued that mutually beneficial relations with our non-European neighbors offer Greece a comparative geopolitical advantage, especially under the present circumstances, as the country, while sorely tried by the crisis, remains stable, especially when compared to nearby countries in turmoil and regions in the process of transformation.

The continued and escalating turmoil in the Middle East has multiple consequences for Greece and even more direct ones for Cyprus. Turkey, aways persistent and often provocative or even threatening, is playing a risky diplomatic and geopolitical game on its southern border: It is trying to annihilate the Kurds as well as the Assad regime in Syria in one fell swoop by using the jihadist invasion as a pretext while at the same time asking for significant strategic concessions if it succeeds in curbing the advance of the Islamic State. One of the concessions it is likely to demand is increased influence in Cyprus. The breakdown of unification talks in no way means that Turkey is backing down, quite the opposite in fact.

At the same time, nationalism is making a marked resurgence in the Balkans. The idea of a “Greater Albania” irks Serbia, throws the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) into disarray and possibly even affects Greece. Furthermore, militant Sunniism is gaining popularity among the Muslim minorities of the Balkans, a fact that could potentially lead to the creation of a religious enclave in the soft underbelly of Europe.

Historically Greece has enjoyed the favorable acceptance or friendship of many countries in the vicinity, as has Cyprus. Among others, Iran, Egypt, Syria, Lebanon and Israel have in different ways and for different reasons been potential allies and partners. Maybe the time has come for Greece to seek their hand once more.