How Greek and Turkish public opinion gauges US and Russia – and gets introspective

by Antonis D. Papagiannidis

An interesting experiment is underway with successive waves of opinion surveys conducted simultaneously in Greece and Turkey by polling companies – respectively – MRB and KONDA. It is conducted under the auspices of Greek think tank ELIAMEP/ The Hellenic Foundation for European and Foreign Policy and its Turkish counterpart IPC/Istanbul Policy Center, with the support of diaNEOsis/Research and Policy Institute having just completed its third survey wave.

The findings concerning the relations of the two countries and – most importantly –the positions taken by their respective public opinions over sensitive topics like the Ukraine war and the role of third parties such as the U.S., Russia or the EU in foreign affairs, are quite instructive.

To start with an issue of cultural importance, but one that also carries geopolitical undertones: how far do Western cultural influences impact the Greek/Turkish way of life? Almost identical shares of those polled – 39% for Greeks, 34% for Turks – feel that such influences threaten national ways of life. When Europe comes to the fore, the question of whether the way the EU treats “the other side” leads to rather shocking findings: does Turkey benefit of unconditional/unfair support on part of the US? 58.5% of respondents think so. Conversely, 55.3% of Turks say that Greece benefits of such unfair treatment from its EU partners. As a side question: have EU accession negotiations with Turkey helped to alleviate conflicts with Greece? Just 17.2% of Greek survey participants are willing to answer “yes” – a shade more of Turks, 21.9%, do so. But could Russia contribute to such a decompression in Greek-Turkish tensions: 37.8% of Greeks think so, 23.7% of Turks – far higher a percentage than one would expect in both cases.

Now, to shift to the major regional upheaval underway: the war in Ukraine. The issue as raised of whether the expansion of NATO is at the root of Russian aggression in the Black Sea: the answer from the Greek side is “yes” with 57%; the Turkish positive response stands at 35%. Asked to point a finger to where the main responsibility resides for the war in Ukraine – this question was put only in Greece – 60% of respondents name Russia, 50.3% the U.S., 40.8% NATO, while 27.7% name Ukraine and 12.5% Germany. This finding clearly merits standing back, plus a comparision with the official foreign-policy adopted; surely, the same question put to a Turkish audience would be of high interest, given the transactional nature of Turkish foreign policy – at its best in the Ukraine conflict…

In a sweeping questionnaire, dealing which of the two – the US or Russia – one’s own country has more common points with, the positions taken by Greeks and Turks merit some mulling over. In diminishing order, Greeks mention major affinity in foreign policy with the US (40.5%) while with Russia (11.3%) – the balance being either ambivalent or not applicable/no answer. Affinity in security matters is with the U.S. (34.5%), while with Russia (14.2%) . The way of life stands somewhere between these two issues: with the US (38.5%), with Russia (20.9%), while living standards are at 28% (U.S.) while at 19.8% (Russia). In this question, one finds the highest percentage of ambivalent replies (37.4%).

Now over to more cultural issues: civilizational affinity stands at 21.6% for the US, at 37.6% for Russia; family values at 16.3% for the U.S., at 43.5% for Russia; religiousness at 8% for the U.S., at 69.1% for Russia (over this last issue, one finds minimal ambivalent replies (17.3%) or not applicable/no answer (5.6%)

Shifting now to the Turkish side and going down the same ladder: identification with the US in security matters stands at 16.1%, in foreign policy at 15%, while identification with Russia at 19.2% and 28.6% respectively. In way of life matters and in living standards the US are mentioned by 12% and 11.3% as being closer, while Russia by 19% and 22.3%. Culture, family life and religiousness are mentioned for the US by 16.6% ,8.7% and 8.2% of respondents while for Russia by 23.1% , 20.8% and 12.2%. Ambivalent answers are near 20% on all matters; a more diverging stance is obvious in the high percentage of Turkish respondents unwilling to state a preference (in all questions, near 45%, going up to 56.3% for religiousness).

Whenever discussing Greek-Turkish relations in an international context, such data should be always factored in.