Intentional tension prior to PM’s visit

Over the past decades, Greece’s political life – partly because of the influence of the electronic media – has bordered on the ridiculous. However, it would be unfair to say that the situation is unique to this country. A quick glance at international developments reveals that the former understanding of commonly accepted or non-offensive behavior has lost ground. More interestingly, a growing tendency toward the ridiculous is evident in Ankara. Ahead of Greek Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis’s visit to Turkey, the Islamic-leaning government has sought to create tension in the diplomatic ties between the two nations. The Justice and Development Party government and the security establishment are clearly flexing their muscles. Last week it was reported that the Greek prime minister would visit Ankara January 23-25. The plan for escalating tension was put into force immediately after Turkish Foreign Minister Ali Babacan had wrapped up his visit to Athens, when it was reported that Karamanlis would eventually travel to Ankara. Returning to Turkey via Thrace – an unacceptable practice that has become the norm over the past few years – Babacan urged the members of the Muslim minority to turn against Greece by taking their cases to the European Court. Then came a report last month on the website of the Turkish joint chiefs of staff which claimed that Greece maintains an unlawful military presence on the Dodecanese islands. This was followed by remarks made by Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan criticizing Greece’s policy on the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM). In addition, a dispute broke out in the Aegean between Greek and Turkish fishermen which involved coast guard vessels, as well as the lodging of an official complaint with the Turkish government and numerous reports in the Turkish media. Lastly, the number of Turkish jets flying over the Aegean islands rose from 10 in 2006 to 48 in 2007, even though the number of national air-space violations decreased over the same period. None of this is really new, but the events all point to a psychological war ahead of Karamanlis’s visit to Ankara. There is little doubt that Turkey was anticipating a hasty reaction from Athens in a bid to escalate tension. One such knee-jerk reaction, for example, could have been a postponement of the premier’s visit. Or there could be a tacit postponement to a more appropriate time, but Karamanlis ruled out this option. The danger is that there may be a repeat of the provocations that marred the visit of former Foreign Minister Petros Molyviatis to Ankara. But this is the sort of thing that a prime minister must take in his stride. And he will be judged accordingly.