The coronavirus pandemic and the universal lockdown allowed a number of issues that needed to be addressed or resolved to be swept under the current carpet.
In addition, this crisis has given many countries the opportunity to either strengthen their bilateral relations with other countries, or to isolate themselves completely in a policy of self-isolation by pursuing micropolitical expediencies and intra-party intrigues.
In this context, Turkey provided medical assistance to most Balkan countries but also to Italy, Spain and the United States, Bulgaria to Albania, Serbia, North Macedonia, Romania, sent medical personnel to Italy, while Albania also sent medical supplies and doctors to Italy. Greece, on the other hand, expressed its support for Italy and Spain, with two modest ceremonies and the coloring of the Parliament with the flags of these countries.
In addition, the leaders of countries such as Cyprus, Bulgaria, Romania, Serbia, not to mention Turkey, had contacts with most European leaders, such as Macron, Merkel, Conte, as well as with US Foreign Minister Mike Pompeo or even Donald Trump himself, the President and Prime Minister of China, and Vladimir Putin.
One would expect that Greece, which wants to play a leading role in the Balkans, would make some symbolic or even formal moves with its neighbors, but not even the formal ones were made towards countries that we expect to send their tourists to the Greek beaches in the summer.
Even the invitation made by Boyko Borissov to the Greek Prime Minister during the tetramer teleconference summit of Greece, Bulgaria, Romania and Serbia, to participate in the inspection of the projects by the Bulgarian Prime Minister and the Serbian Prime Minister, was ignored by the Greek Prime Minister.
Kyriakos Mitsotakis decided that visiting a school and chairing a meeting on the health coverage of the islands was more important than participating and inspecting with the Bulgarian Prime Minister and the Serbian President projects of common interest to the three countries on June 1.
Unfortunately, isolation is evident. From the day the restrictive measures were announced in mid-March, the Greek Prime Minister spoke on April 21 with DISY President Averof Neophytou, on April 22 with Edi Rama to talk about seasonal workers who were to come to Greece, with Pope Francis on May 13, with Nicos Anastasiades on May 21, to settle the issue of Cypriot students in Greece, with Benjamin Netanyahu on the occasion of the renewal of his mandate as Prime Minister and finally on May 25 with Egyptian President Sisi.
While the pandemic could be a starting point for a Greek-Turkish approach, confusion was evident in the Foreign and Defence Ministries.
With the communication channels between Turkey and Greece being hermetically sealed, one blunder follows another. Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias on an issue usually addressed by technical committees managed to make it a major issue, to involve the Ministry of Defence and to raise a diplomatic issue, opening Aeolos’ bag in Greek-Turkish relations.
As if that wasn’t enough, there was the intervention of the government and the leadership of the Foreign Ministry for the prayer that took place in Hagia Sophia, which if nothing else was not the major, but was obviously the “easy” issue for confrontation and management, while at the same time, in practice none of the rights of Greece are being promoted against the attempt by Turkey to create “grey zones”.
Of course, no one from the Foreign Ministry thought that this might have been an intervention inside another country, as there was no violation of minority issues nor was there any circumvention of the terms governing UNESCO for the world architectural heritage and not a “religious” monument that is Hagia Sophia.
Even if this move is provocative towards Greece, this is not the reaction of a serious government, as it strengthens the nationalist elements in Turkey who have been wanting to change the use of Hagia Sophia from a museum to a mosque for many years now.
The Foreign Ministry and the Prime Minister’s office, trapped in the logic that Turkey is only verbally threatening Greece, instead of pursuing a policy of confrontation, rest in the multiple and meaningless interviews, which sound like the barking of a Pekingese dog whose place on the couch is occupied, stroking their voters’ ears.
Turkey is threshing in the region and Greece is left alone. They reproduce as success statements made by the US Ambassador or second-class executives, while even Cyprus no longer co-operates with Greece. Israel is looking for alternatives after Greece’s refusal to cooperate for Interconnector Eurasia and the difficult implementation of EastMed, Egypt is looking to have the fewest losses in Libya, while with Jordan for the first time in a tripartite foreign ministry there has been no joint statement.
On the other hand, the well-publicized Irini is ineffective as an operation, Italy is discussing with Libya both on its infrastructure and its oil and with Turkey to take part in the drillings to be carried out from September, while the EU is considering throwing in more money to Turkey for the refugees.
As long as Greece does not realistically deal with the geopolitical situation that is being shaped without it, it will find itself in a disadvantageous and unfortunately irreversible position./ibna