Being held hostage by victory

When a country loses in war or diplomacy it is logical to expect that it will be bound by the conditions imposed by the victor. It is less logical, and yet commonplace, that countries can be trapped by their success and thus persist with policies that turn out to be disastrous in the long term. History is full of great victories that ultimately became defeats. In our region, the clearest example of this paradoxical entrapment of a victor is the Turkish invasion of Cyprus in 1974. The Turks are so proud of this episode that one might think it was an earth-shattering achievement – something like the conquests of Alexander the Great. The Greek Cypriots suffered all the evils of the invasion and the occupation of a part of their country. But, though the wounds remain open, the Greek Cypriots recovered. With hard work and persistence they created a country that today is flourishing, is a member of the European Union and provides its citizens (including any Turkish Cypriots who want them) all the freedoms and opportunities of a full democracy. For Greece, the invasion of Cyprus signaled the fall of the military dictatorship in Athens and the establishment of the longest period of democracy and social development our country has ever known. What did Turkey get? It has been trapped into sustaining the primacy of the military over all aspects of life, culminating in the 1981 coup and the continued «guardianship» of the political system by the generals. The occupation of northern Cyprus has cost Turkey billions to support the Turkish-Cypriot economy and fund a large occupation force. But, above all, Turkish policy on Cyprus – as in the Armenian and Kurdish questions – has been trapped in an intransigence born of military success that was followed by repeated diplomatic defeats. This policy still blocks Turkey’s progress toward becoming a member of the EU. The Turks, like so many others, very often ignore the fact that a political solution which involves a just compromise with the defeated is the most effective way to achieve a viable and long-lasting solution. The Lausanne Treaty of 1923 is a shining example of the wise handling of victory by the Turks – agreeing to a situation in which the defeated Greeks too could recover and revive their nation. A recent example of how a military victory can trap the victor is the American occupation of Iraq. In 1991, the Americans (wisely leading a huge international coalition that included regional forces) crushed Saddam Hussein’s forces and chased them out of Kuwait and deep into Iraq. But they left the Iraqi leadership untouched in Baghdad. If the victory of 1991 had not been so easy, it is quite possible that the Americans might not have allowed themselves to be seduced so easily into the invasion of 2003 and the subsequent, catastrophic occupation. Closer to us in historical and geographical terms is Athens’s dispute with Skopje. When in 1992 Prime Minister Constantine Mitsotakis badgered Greece’s EU partners into deciding that our neighbors could not include the name or term Macedonia in any form, this was seen as the pinnacle of Greece’s great diplomatic campaign. That, precisely, was the time for an inspired move by Greece: With the impetus of its diplomatic victory it could have proposed a just compromise. Such a decision might have enraged those who in both countries have made a career out of demanding total victory but it would have allowed the two countries to get on with sharing a fruitful future. But Athens was trapped by its victory in the European Union, with no subsequent government wanting to step back from the absolutist demands of the past. Skopje, with nothing to lose, did the only thing left to it: It donned the mantle of the victim and began to collect supporters for its own intransigence. (Of course, the Albanian problem did, and still does, present a mortal threat, so the talk of victimhood is not entirely unwarranted.) Today, Athens is proposing a compromise. But it is too late. Skopje already enjoys much greater diplomatic support than Athens. But if our neighbors believe that a temporary advantage justifies their intransigence, they will squander the last opportunity for a just solution to a problem that should no longer hamper their coexistence with Greece.

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