It’s interesting to see how the nationalism of neighboring countries almost by default results in a zero-sum game. It happened again on Wednesday as Costas Katsikis, an MP for junior coalition partner Independent Greeks (ANEL), suggested the possibility of exchanging the two Greek soldiers detained in Turkey for the eight Turkish servicemen who fled to Greece following the attempted coup against President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in 2016.
Soon after Katsikis made the suggestion, the news was avidly reproduced by Turkey’s pro-government media. After all, Panos Kammenos, the leader of the populist, patriotic (?), right-wing ANEL party and Greek defense minister, was the first to say in public that the two Greek soldiers who accidentally crossed the border with Turkey were being kept as “hostages.”
However, there is nothing patriotic about this statement. Hardly anything would please Turkey’s strongman more than the acknowledgement that the two Greek soldiers are a bargaining chip for the extradition of the eight servicemen.
Meanwhile, the purported realpolitik adopted by ANEL clearly entails the violation of all the fundamental principles that make up the rule of law – which, in theory at least, is what distinguishes Greece from its eastern neighbor. Turkey’s extradition request for the eight servicemen has been turned down by Greek courts three times – most recently with a ruling by the Council of Appeals court judges.
So what exactly does Katsikis want? Does he want us to bypass the judiciary, to do away with it, to discredit the independent institutions, to start bargaining, to become Turkey in the place of Turkey, by giving in to Ankara’s blackmail?
It is ironic how the nationalisms of neighboring states complement each other. Would Nikola Gruevski, the graft-mired ex-prime minister of the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, have managed to cling to power for 10 years were it not for Athens’s intransigence on the name issue and the blocking of the Balkan country’s accession to the EU and NATO? Would Skopje have so many statues of ancient warrior king Alexander the Great and his horse Bucephalus had Mikra Airport in Thessaloniki not been renamed Makedonia Airport? And, more recently, would thousands of demonstrators have gathered in Skopje in late February to protest against their “traitor” prime minister, Zoran Zaev, if a remarkably similar rally had not taken place in Thessaloniki 20 days earlier?
The problem is that reciprocal nationalisms are usually easier to digest and preferable to a genuinely patriotic stance, which entails compromises and concessions.