What was the message of the grand military parade in the northern port city of Thessaloniki on the October 28 anniversary of Greece’s entry into World War II? That the people and the armed forces are prepared to defend the nation’s rights against any affront. And who is it that has designs on the territorial integrity of the country today? According to President Prokopis Pavlopoulos, the greatest source of danger to the country lies to the east. In comments after the parade, moreover, he once again stressed that “Turkey must realize that the Greeks, as a people and as a nation, will defend, in terms of absolute unity, our national interests and our national rights.” This was the position in the stands from which the officials observed the parade. Just a short distance away, however, lurked another enemy.
Army cadets, retired military men, sundry colorful associations and even schoolchildren had moments earlier marched past the president and the country’s political and military leadership, shouting and stamping their feet in time to the chant: “They will never take the land of the Macedons.” Others, nearer the tail-end of the parade, also sang a nationalist ditty about their “sister Northern Epirus,” in reference to parts of Albania with a strong ethnic Greek minority presence.
Witnessing all this, one must wonder who poses the real risk and who we need to be keeping a close – military, diplomatic and geopolitical – eye on. History, the official leadership and the facts all point to the east. The Turks are running rampant in the Aegean and off the coast of Cyprus, while treating Greece’s national airspace as if it was their own, and then there’s Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who has no qualms about making bald-faced threats – and not just over the migration issue.
However, a section of the public and the political and intellectual classes have raised a patriotic fist into the air and are insisting that we gnash our teeth at the “barbarians” to the north lest they snatch Macedonia from us – despite the fact that our northern neighbors have little in the way of military or diplomatic might and Greek F-16s are responsible for keeping their airspace under surveillance. Do these members of Greek society honestly believe that Macedonia is at greater risk than half the Aegean from Turkey’s revisionist views? I think they do.
The long and short of it is that, yes, we do need “terms of absolute unity” in the nation against the real threats that face us, but for this to happen, we need well-informed citizens.