Not begging for an EU place

The deadly midair collision over the Aegean Sea last month should not throw Greece’s political establishment into a panic. Nor should the meeting between Greek Foreign Minister Dora Bakoyannis and her Turkish counterpart Abdullah Gul reduce the level of skepticism at home. The establishment of a «red» telephone hotline between the two countries’ air forces is not enough to change the climate in bilateral ties. After Bakoyannis’s return to Athens, Turkey is set to get on with its temporarily suspended military «White Storm» exercise in the Aegean, which will set tension levels back at normal levels. Reserved diplomatic lingo will give way to the all-too-familiar routine of Greek-Turkish relations, and local commentators, or at least some of them, will switch back to their usual analysis of the alleged conflict between the Islamic-leaning government of Recep Tayyip Erdogan and the secular establishment. The clash is a fact, but it does not impact on Ankara’s foreign policy, which is the business of the traditional establishment. Athens is aware of this but there isn’t much it can do about it. The whole thing has little to do with the ostensible superiority of Turkish diplomats and military men. The superiority rather derives from the fact that the establishment has continuity in time. It may well be in the wrong but that will only become evident at the time of its collapse. Unlike politicians who act in the short term because they cannot stand up under constant pressure, a self-sufficient establishment only adds new problems to the bilateral agenda. It does not intend to solve these problems unless it succeeds in meeting all of its goals or is threatened with heavy retaliatory measures. For that reason, taking our bilateral disputes to The Hague would not close the books on Greek-Turkish disputes. In fact, other issues would soon pop up. It is not that the Turks are obnoxious people, which they are not, but that the state is organized on the basis of a different mentality, in fact, successfully so for decades. The Greeks like to delude themselves that the EU carrot will make the Turks sacrifice their tradition and system that are the source of their strength. But since the time of Kemal Attaturk, the military and diplomatic and economic establishments have been confident of belonging to the West; therefore the country will not beg for EU membership like the former communist states of Eastern Europe. In the eyes of Europeans, Turkey is run along anachronistic lines. As a result, the EU has given Erdogan its full support, hoping that it can thereby shift the balance of power. Erdogan is seeking to exploit the timing to fulfill his political ambitions. The EU is supporting the Justice and Development Party’s leader for it cannot admit a country with such a big deficit in democracy. For its part, the Greek government of Costas Karamanlis is backing the Turkish premier, thinking that it can thereby reduce the pressure from the traditional establishment and spare extravagant defense spending. This rationale has been dubbed a «national strategy.» Of course, this policy only plays into the hands of Ankara’s traditional regime. Greece’s relations with Turkey have always been tense, barring some brief intervals, such as in the early 1950s at the peak of the communist threat. But the dream of EU accession has failed to tame Turkey’s aggression as happened during their bid to join the NATO alliance against the Soviet threat, when Greece and Turkey rushed to join hands, even if the rapprochement proved short-lived.

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