The terrorist attacks in Paris on Friday and the unprecedented wave of refugees arriving in Europe suggest we are experiencing one of those unusual historical phases that occur just once every 50 or 100 years.
The fact is that the postwar years were very generous to the Europeans and us Greeks in particular. We lived through a period of prosperity, stability and peace that made us believe we were on a linear trajectory of progress. Now Europe has found itself under unusual strain. It’s far from certain that it will be able to preserve the characteristics that make it so special: open borders, the image of a soft superpower. Already, its trademark strengths, like the cozy welfare state, are under pressure. Europe has long entered a state of decline and this has been obvious to those who hate the Western way of life and who would love to see the flag of the Caliphate flying over the Elysee Palace. The big foreign policy mistakes of the Europeans and the Americans in Iraq, Libya and Syria appear to have unleashed new historical forces.
It’s disconcerting to see European officials panicking over developments. There are no immediate practical solutions – and they know that. The more pragmatic Americans have given up the obligations stemming from their hegemonic status among Western nations. No one seems to know what the solution is, but panic will eventually impose one, which is worrying. Closed borders, military operations to seal the European coastline, even the destructive concept of a “new crusade” will come on the agenda. Insecurity, combined with the crisis of the middle class, will push the political system to the extremes, to isolationism and perhaps racism. The combination of high risk and lack of solid leadership has always been a cause for concern.
It’s too early perhaps to say what all this means for us Greeks. Pressure on the country to control the wave of refugees and boost security will increase. The prime minister and some government officials have long been aware of the dangers involved. In the past Greece would seem an unlikely target. This is no longer certain. In the eyes of the jihadists, Greece is not necessarily different from Denmark or France, and the country’s strategic relationship with Israel has raised eyebrows among extremist elements. The risk is not so much Greek targets, but foreign or soft targets such as hotels and cruise ships.
This is the tactical risk. The strategic one would be a knock-on effect of border closures which would effectively pose Greece with a tough dilemma: Should we close our borders, leading hundreds of people to their death off the country’s coast, or become a holding pen for refugees and migrants with nowhere to go? A tragic dilemma in fact.