OPINION

Contemporary philhellenes

contemporary-philhellenes

Greece must honor the people who stood and continue to stand by it in difficult times. From the country’s War of Independence to the present day, there have been friends of Greece, or philhellenes, who have played a key role in the nation’s course. Driven by the cynicism of our times, skeptics are inclined to debunk such figures. “They were only looking after their own interests,” they say. 

Valéry Giscard d’Estaing, the late French president, was indeed looking after his country’s interests when he acted as he did in the 1970s. And he did it well, because the “Greece-France Alliance” has become an integral part of Greek culture. The events of just over 40 years ago have consolidated his country’s image and influence in Greece to the present day. After all, Giscard d’Estaing was a French president, not a Greek politician.

And, yet, we do owe him. The late Greek statesman Konstantinos Karamanlis grasped the significance of personal diplomacy and made an effort to win Giscard d’Estaing over. He succeeded, producing strategic benefits for our country. Giscard d’Estaing’s role was crucial in securing Greece’s membership of the European Economic Community, as the EU was then known, at a time when accession was neither easy, nor taken for granted. 

We Greeks know the way – the art as it were – of winning friends. Our being identified with ancient Greece and the birth of democracy played a key role over the past two centuries. European, and more generally Western, leaders often had a classical education. They were familiar with Greece and interested in the country. 

But the world is changing. Lord Byrons do not come around these days and Western leaders today tend to see the world through a flatter prism. It takes effort, systematic work and persistence to convey Greece’s significant prospects and, at the same time, to help others realize how critical and risky its geopolitical location is; to understand, in other words that Greece is, in many ways, the West’s final frontier. 

We need to communicate this reality in a new language, drawing on solid arguments and evidence, and at the same time entice our partners. The worst thing you can do as a people is engage in tough-guy posturing abroad in order to score points at home. Doing so may win you votes or other short-term gains, but it won’t win you precious allies. Unfortunately, it’s a mistake we often make. 

Greece’s current leadership has the ability to reach out and it understands the importance of personal and targeted diplomacy. That said, Greece must promote the history of philhellenism, particularly on the occasion of the bicentennial of the Greek uprising against the Ottomans. It must also honor its contemporary friends, such as US senators Chris Van Hollen and Bob Menendez. Philhellenism is a tradition we should honor, and we should make sure it continues.