In my recent commentary on immigration titled Greece v. Turkey: Who Will Win the P.R. War? I sounded the alarm that Athens is in danger of losing the public opinion battle outside of Greece.
“And I’m very frightened,” I continued, “that things are not going so well at this stage.” For example: The New York Times, which devoted half a page to this issue, ran the following headline: Child Dies at Sea as Greece Cracks Down on Migrants From Turkey.
That headline was followed by an extensive article a few days later, which started on the front page of The New York Times and covered two-thirds of an inside page, enriched with three photos and a map of Greece.
The article, titled Vigilantes in Greece Say ?No More? to Migrants, criticizes Greeks for no longer being friendly to immigrants: “On land and at sea, one thing is clear along Greece’s meandering border with Turkey: This is not 2015 anymore. Then, while much of Europe was convulsed with anger and fear as more than a million asylum seekers poured in from distant wars, Greeks helped rescue refugees at sea, or greeted them with empathy as they traversed the country en route to northern Europe.”
And the writer points out, “the citizens of the island of Lesbos were even nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize.”
The answer to his complaint is given by a lady, Fotini, who told the newspaper: “When the Syrians started coming five years ago, we gave clothes, we cooked for them, we bounced their babies.” (Fotini lives in the Moria village which borders the notorious refugee camp on Lesbos, where more than 15,000 migrants are hosted in facilities designed for 3,000.)
“Five years of solidarity,” she added. “We can’t take it any more. We want our lives back.”
This is the essence of the current problem of immigrants for which Turkish President Erdogan is fully responsible.
It is not that the Greeks stopped being hospitable. It’s not that they forgot their genocides. It’s not that we lost our humanity. It’s just that our people can’t take it anymore.
They need help. Relief. They want their lives back.
This is not understood by liberal voices in the media, such as The New York Times, and because of its weight in the industry, it sets the tone for coverage in the media in general.
But now, on the other hand, we have to sound the alarm on another issue: the danger of Greece shifting socially and politically to the other extreme, to the far right, which has become more evident.
The shift that has already taken place is substantial. And as disturbing as its pseudo-progressive turn has been for so many years, just as worrisome is the shift to the other end.
So let’s try to maintain a balance between protecting our country and our people – without losing our sense of measure. We must not give Erdogan the opportunity to appear “sensitive” to human pain – as he has already started doing.
We must not allow our country to be sucked into a similar image as other neighboring countries in the court of public opinion.