Athens keeps apprehensive eye on Erdogan and Dodecanese islands
Greece Letter: Turkish president’s 52% cent majority likely to fuel his aggressiveness
Poster for Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, at Taksim Square in Istanbul: it reads “Thank you Istanbul”. Photograph: Bulent Kilic/AFP/Getty
We are fortunate in Europe in the sense that we haven’t had a major military conflict since the collapse of Yugoslavia and the Bosnian-Serb conflict of the 1990s. Maybe we are also fortunate that the refugee crisis is making us aware of wars elsewhere and the need for conciliation and mutual respect.
But there are invisible wars continuing: wars of attrition, wars of diplomacy, economic wars which don’t need bombs, gas masks or even verbal abuse but which thrive on factors which are just as insidious as ethnic cleansing, terrorism and religious prejudice.
Turkey may not officially be at war, but the narrow victory of President Recip Erdogan in last month’s elections will certainly increase the levels of aggression on which he, as executive president, will be able to operate. At home, Erdogan has not only effectively declared war on the opposition (imprisoning dissident academics, teachers and journalists) but makes no secret of his determination to suppress, if not exterminate, the Kurdish minority.
Greece is watching Erdogan’s success with apprehension. He has already carried his arguments into the enemy camp during his state visit here last December when he spoke of rescinding the international treaties under which the Dodecanese islands (including Rhodes, Kos and Patmos) became part of Greece in 1947.
Twice in the past 30 years, Greece and Turkey have been on the brink of war over the ownership of such islands. And Erdogan has indicated that he regards the citizens of northeastern Greece, who happen to be Muslim, as more properly part of his own Islamic hegemony.
The 'war' of the Grexit, when it looked as if Greece would leave the euro zone and revert to the drachma, wasn’t about saving the Greek economy
Wars therefore do not require military violence to become acts of hostility. Turkish warplanes provocatively entering Greek airspace are a tragedy waiting to happen and could precipitate a territorial conflict.
Reason for war
And wars are not always fought for their ostensible reasons. The Greek war of independence was more about weakening the Ottoman empire (the “sick man of Europe”) than about freedom for Greeks. Turkey was a threat to the Austro-Hungarian empire because it controlled most of the Balkan region including the lands that are modern Greece. The states of Romania, Bulgaria, Albania, Macedonia came into existence as and when it suited the Great Powers to create them.
The “war” of the Grexit, when it looked as if Greece would leave the euro zone and revert to the drachma, wasn’t about saving the Greek economy (which was almost “dead in the Med” anyway) but about safeguarding the euro itself and the German and French banks which had over-lent to Greece.
Turkey is outside the EU and is likely to stay there. But its virtual dictatorship mirrors the would-be dictatorships within the EU
It was about saving the architects of the euro zone from a horrendous own goal. The destruction of the Greek economy and the near-collapse of the Italian, Spanish, Irish and Portuguese exchequers were the result of war-by-banking and war-by-chicanery.
The “war” of the refugee crisis is being fought not so much to protect the Syrians and Afghans but to test Europe’s capacity for humanitarian compassion against its equal and opposite capacity to repel what it does not understand. Syria’s internal war, the ubiquitous Islamic State and the Middle East conflicts are challenging Europe’s conscience by fuelling its fears.
The next “war”, to protect Europe from itself, will be fought not to respect the democratic rights of Italians, Greeks, Catalans or Basques but to copperfasten the hegemony of the northern states.
The situation in Turkey, with a virtual dictatorship sitting on Europe’s doorstep, must make both the European centrists and expansionists fearful for the alleged ideals of the European founders: democracy, justice, free trade and movement of peoples and ideas, all of which are challenged by Greece’s nearest and most aggressive neighbour, Turkey.
Erdogan’s slim 52 per cent majority will probably enlarge, rather than diminish, his single-minded aggressiveness, since he still has much to fear at home. Although he has made many Turks more prosperous and has a strong domestic economy, his politics are scaring away the chance of capital investment.
Nevertheless, bankers lend to strong men, not to wimps. Meanwhile he can afford, literally, to condescend to Greece, where the average worker pays well over 50 per cent of income in taxes – direct, indirect and social security – and the prospects of economic recovery at a national level remain remote.
Turkey is outside the EU and is likely to stay there. But its virtual dictatorship mirrors the would-be dictatorships within the EU of Viktor Orban’s Hungary and Jaroslaw Kaczynski’s Poland. As President Michael D Higgins emphasised in Greece in February and again last month in Latvia, it is in the smaller countries that many of the answers to Europe’s problems may be found.