Since ancient times, disunity and internal strife have proved detrimental to the interests of Hellenism. Starting with what Thucydides called ‘stasis’, civil wars, populism, personal agendas, partisanship, ideological fanaticism, and slavishness to foreign powers have resulted in several catastrophes; and yet, in less than a year, Greece has demonstrated remarkable national unity, shrewd diplomacy, and an unusual level of efficiency that have led to undisputed successes, even triumphs.
First, the country was tested by an attempted influx of refugees. Turkey’s increasingly authoritarian President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, encountering problems in Syria and wanting to pressure the European Union for support and concessions, employed so called “weapons of mass migration” in the border region of Evros. Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis did not budge. Most political parties and the overwhelming majority of the people correctly viewed developments as a pre-orchestrated security threat – not a humanitarian crisis. This made it easier to persuade Brussels to see eye to eye with Athens. At least for now, the wave of refugees was broken against the wall of national Greek unity.
Secondly, Greece admirably dealt with the COVID-19 pandemic. Deaths and infections were kept low, the infamous curve was flattened, and the national health system never overwhelmed. Such an outcome would have been impossible without the active cooperation of the populace. Greece is not a police state and there is only so much that threats and fines can achieve. The success of active popular cooperation has produced feelings of pride perhaps not felt since the 2004 Olympic Games.
Third, we have just witnessed the historic delimitation of Exclusive Economic Zones between Greece and Italy, a development supported by both the government and the main opposition party of SYRIZA. Some naysayers argue that Athens was in too much of a compromise mode but they concentrate on trees, failing to see the proverbial forest which in this case is the altered regional geopolitical situation: Turkey’s revisionism and threatened aggression, the deals signed between Tripoli and Ankara, and the failing campaign of theLibyan National Army headed by General Khalifa Haftar.
Greece’s agreement with Italy paves the way for a similar agreement with Egypt and helps with the final ratification of the already existing agreement with Albania. Athens is thus being diplomatically pro-active in a manner that is peaceful and entirely respectful of international legal norms. The absence of partisan ‘games’ when the national interest has been at stake is rather remarkable.
Add to the above cooperation with Israel that was enunciated at around 2009 and was continued by every subsequent administration, as well as the new strategic cooperation with the United States that started with SYIRZA and is reaching new heights with New Democracy and a certain conclusion seems inescapable: Greece is experiencing a period of political maturity, relative national unity, and policy successes. Countries caught in the pitfalls of extreme political polarization might find it useful to study and perhaps even emulate the current Hellenic example.
Dr. Aristotle Tziampiris is Chair of the Department of International and European Studies of the University of Piraeus and an academic advisor to the Hellenic American leadership Council (HALC). His views are personal.