Saturday, 23 June 2012

Will Greece follow the Syrian example?

I’m sure we’re all thinking the same thing after Syria shot down a Turkish plane violating its airspace, which has so far provoked the usual Turkish belligerence and bluster about a ‘decisive response’ and the ‘necessary steps’.

We’re thinking why doesn’t Greece do the same. Why doesn’t Greece, when Turkey violates Greek airspace, which it does hundreds of times a year, or shows disregard for Greek territorial waters, which it did, for example, earlier this year by sailing its frigates around Kythnos, an island just south of Athens, why doesn’t Greece blast the Turks out of the sky or send them to the bottom of the sea?

Greece has every right to do so, as Syria had every right to despatch the Turkish aircraft in its airspace. Perhaps the Turks sent the plane into Syrian airspace thinking that the Syrians would do what Greece does – scramble its aircraft to chase the intruder away – but clearly the Syrians don’t want to play the same game Turkey plays with Greece.

Not for the Syrians, Greece’s impotent rebukes to Turkey’s mockery and insults, which is what its violations of Greek sovereignty amount to; taunts and slights it feels it can direct at Greece for failing to pick up the gauntlet that it repeatedly throws down, a backing away that also has the effect of reinforcing Turkey’s perception of its strength and status and Greece’s view that it is vulnerable.

Much of Turkey’s conceit and Greece’s hesitancy derives, of course, from the way Greece abandoned Cyprus in 1974, when Turkey seized half the island after not one but two military operations, neither of which was met with an adequate response from Greece, despite the likelihood that even a modest Greek engagement would not have threatened a full-blown Greco-Turkish war, which is what Athens feared, but rather forced the USA and NATO to intervene to stop the conflict getting out of control.

But what now for Turkey’s affrontery, with Antonis Samaras as prime minister, a man who has differentiated himself from his predecessors by his nationalist rhetoric and, more recently, by his declared determination to press ahead, regardless of Turkish objections and threats of war, with the delineation of Greece’s Exclusive Economic Zones in the Aegean and Eastern Mediterranean.

We note two of the very first things Samaras did on assuming power this week:

1. He took a ‘congratulatory’ telephone call from Turkey’s PM Recip Tayyip Erdogan in which the two agreed to revive Giorgos Papandreou’s idea of joint cabinet meetings between Greece and Turkey.

2. He appointed as Greece's foreign minister Dimitris Avramopoulos, a man known for his mollification of Turkey, his long-standing friendships with that country’s leadership and who recently declared: ‘I believe in the convergence of Greek and Turkish societies.’

Go tell the Spartans…

Very proud of our national football team last night and how it fought till the death against a strong German side (going down 4-2 in the end) and, indeed, how it has battled and scrapped throughout Euro 2012. It seemed when Samaras equalised early in the second half that we might be about to witness something special, but it wasn’t to be. Even when Germany went 2-1 up, Gekas had a good chance to make things level and it was only the third German goal that put the game beyond us. Shocking display of goalkeeping from Sifakis not only for the Klose goal but throughout the game. Not one shot – not even the tamest – seemed to stick in his gloves. Karagounis would have made a difference and perhaps our coach Fernando Santos – ‘Greeks won’t take lessons from anyone’ – got it wrong with his starting line up, preferring Ninis over Gekas and playing Salpingidis down the middle. Greece looked better in the second half, after Gekas had come on for Ninis – who was again disappointing – with Salpingidis out wide right, where he provided that brilliant cross for Samaras to score.

I also note the amount of vitriol aimed at our side and at Greeks in general by the British media during this tournament. One BBC commentator said after the game that the way Greece played football made him physically sick, while others said our football was ‘garbage’, that our style was anti-football and they were glad to see the back of us, and so on and so on and blah, blah, blah. We don’t care about these comments and we are not complaining. Let them say what they like. We are not victims. We know who we are and we know who they are.

‘Go tell the Spartans, stranger passing by, that here, obedient to their laws, we lie.’

Friday, 22 June 2012

Cyprus wavers between Moscow and Brussels

Above is Cyprus’ finance minister Vassos Shiarly speaking to CNBC at today’s Eurozone meeting in Luxembourg. Cyprus is experiencing difficulties recapitalising banks exposed to Greece’s debt and is also facing a wider problem with a public deficit running at 6.5% of GDP (EU guidelines require this to be reduced to 2.5%), though the island’s communist government is in denial about the latter because it fears having to take unpopular belt-tightening measures.

Indeed, it seems that President Dimitris Christofias – so reviled and certain of humiliating defeat that he has already declared his intention not to stand in next year’s presidential elections – is intent on salvaging, in his own eyes at least, some credibility by going down as a martyr to socialism, a defender of workers’ salaries and pensions in the face of neo-liberal capitialism. Thus, what his government has been trying to do these last few weeks is secure bank recapitalisation through EU bailout funds but, for the purposes of the public deficit, secure a bilateral loan with Russia, hoping in this way to avoid austerity strings that have been attached to EU bailouts for Greece, Portugal and Ireland.

Cyprus has been shut out from international bond markets since May 2011. This prompted Nicosia to agree last December to a Russian loan deal worth €2.5bn (at an interest rate of 4.5% to be repaid over five years) and now Cyprus is seeking, according to reports, up to €5bn more from Moscow.

It’s clear that for Russia implicating itself further in the Cypriot economy suits its strategic interests in the Eastern Mediterranean, especially since its long-term influence in Syria is under threat; but the advantages for the Cypriot economy are less clear. In fact, Christofias’ Russian gambit is somewhat of a cheap trick, because he knows repaying the loans to Moscow will still require austerity measures and hard decisions on economic and public sector reform, except it won’t be Christofias who’ll be responsible for taking them, but the next government.

Thursday, 21 June 2012

On Turkey’s Athens mosque shenanigans

Turkey’s so-called European Affairs minister Egemen Bagis has again tried to link the re-opening of the Theological School in Halki to the building of a mosque for Muslim immigrants in Athens (see here). Of course, the two issues are entirely unconnected. The operation of Halki and the treatment of its Greek minority is a matter of Turkey respecting its signature on the Lausanne Treaty (1923), a treaty which, of course, Turkey has systematically violated in an attempt to wipe out the Greek presence in Turkey; while the issue of a mosque in Athens is a domestic matter that concerns Greek society and has only arisen because of the recent influx of immigrants into Greece, the vast majority of whom entered and exist in the country illegally.

So, why is Turkey getting involved in the Athens mosque issue?

1. As part of its plan to become regional hegemon, Turkey needs to have its neighbours recognise its authority and accept its demands. Just like Turkey wants Israel to say ‘sorry’ for the Mavi Marmara incident in order to humble it, so the building of a mosque in Athens would be seen – even if only by Turkey – as a symbol of Greece caving in to Turkish pressure and accepting Turkey’s dominant role in the region.

2. Turkey’s long term plan is to extend its influence in Europe by becoming a spokesman and protector for the perceived interests of the 16m Muslims living in the EU. Similarly, Turkey expects these Muslims – around 9m of whom are ethnic Turks – to become active in their host countries in pursuing Turkey’s ambitions. Already, there are a number of Muslim and ethnic Turk parliamentarians in the UK, Holland, Germany and Denmark, who, at every opportunity, promote Turkey’s positions on Cyprus, Armenia, the EU and so on. Thus, Turkey’s encouragement of illegal migration to Greece serves a dual purpose: to destabilise Greece and to boost the number of (Turkey-oriented) Muslims in Europe.

3. Turkey sees the building of a mosque in Athens as undoing the past. The Greek Wars of Independence resulted in the demise of the Ottoman empire and the purging of the Turkish and Muslim presence in Greece. Turkey has been seeking to revenge itself against Greece ever since and the construction of a mosque in Athens would be a significant symbol of Turkey rolling back the Greek national liberation struggle and reasserting Ottoman ascendancy.

Sunday, 17 June 2012

Greece through to Euro 2012 quarter finals

Above are the highlights from Greece’s 1-0 victory over Russia that put the Greeks through to the quarter finals of the European Championships. A mildly entertaining game that left us quite pleased at the end.