Necessary red lines
It is important to mark red lines in foreign policy. However, these should not only be respected by outsiders; it is crucial that they are also preserved by all agents that engage in domestic politics, including political leaders, the news media and the pundits that shape public opinion.
The Greek opposition’s criticism of the government’s handling of the latest incident on the Evros border overstepped the mark. Indeed, on several occasions the opposition appeared to identify with the outrageous reports on the internet and the hyperbole of some “diplomatic analysts” on TV. Authorities in Ankara would, of course, be laughing at the acrimony caused by a routine issue that journalists learn how to handle before they even get to the point of penning their first one-column bylined story.
The opposition does appear to be right about one thing. It says that New Democracy went too far and identified itself with extremist forces during negotiations on the Macedonia name dispute. And although the party leadership steered clear of excessive rhetoric, many of its officials were very vocal in their criticism – an issue that was raised by this newspaper from early on.
A competition in patriotism or ostensible patriotism (depending on how one sees it) then, and a competition now. What is the problem? First of all, the government and the opposition were both helping promote the ends of a third party. The vast majority of the Greek people knew that New Democracy would implement the Prespes accord. Similarly, they now know that SYRIZA would do everything in its power to ease tension with Turkey. Extreme actions only play into the hands of extreme forces, or at least those who sell political content of this sort on our TV screens and the internet. In an age of demons and conspiracy theories, there are no limits to what a frustrated citizen will believe, or to who will take advantage of this situation.
The opposition in Greece has often failed to respect the red lines in foreign policy-making, and we have paid a price for this. We should have known as early as 1897 (the year of the Greco-Turkish war) that having an irresponsible opposition and press can lead you to disaster.
It seems however that we have not learned our lesson, and we are returning to our old habits. Our neighborhood is just too dangerous for us to be playing games of this sort. And our democracy is too fragile, battered by an epidemic of conspiracy theories and crazy rants targeting political opponents.
Now that the two main parties are tied, as it were, maybe it’s time they drew some red lines regarding Greek foreign policy.
P.S. I believe political groupings would be better off marking such red lines to protect themselves from inner-party squabbles.