Of Greek and Turkish public opinion

by Antonis D. Papagiannidis

The weeks to come – up until the NATO and EU Summits of June 14 and June 24/25, respectively, in Brussels – will be of high importance for the future Greek-Turkish relations. While the political system of either side of the Aegean will claim a leading role in deciding the future, public opinion will exert a decisive influence – at the very least through the limits opinion sets to politicians.

A poll run simultaneously – by MRB Hellas and Konda, at the instigation of Greek think tank διαΝΕΟσις, – in Greece and Turkey gives interesting background to national views.

The situation prevailing in both countries looks far from positive to their nationals: 52% of Greeks and 62.5% of Turks give a thumbs-down evaluation to the conditions prevailing in their own country (the near 12-month future looks even fraught to Greeks at 57% , rather better to Turks 49.9%). Such is the backdrop to national stances taken: national pride is high both among Greeks (83.9%) and Turks (80.6%), but Turks tend to think higher of their own cultural standing vs other countries (75.8%) when compared to the same exercise in Greece (49.6%).

Both Greeks and Turks think that cultural differences between the two peoples are far higher than common traits existing (39.8% vs 11.2% for Greeks, with 33.6% vs 11.8% for Turks). Mixed marriages are frowned upon (32% of Greeks and 38% of Turks would accept such an occurence), while friendly relations are viewed more positively (74% for Turks, 60.6% for Greeks).

The next field covered by the research can be viewed some a level of distrust: Peaceful coexistence is the main option for both sides (68.1% for Greeks, 73.5% for Turks), but 36.1% of Greeks and 31.6% of Turks think that there must always be defense capabilities at hand. Right-wingers in both countries tend to adopt harder positions to that effect, as opposed to centre-left and left-wingers nothing unexpected in that.

As to the main issues of contention between the two countries, the Aegean (and the Eastern Mediterranean) is seen by 58% as the preeminent mine-field – while the refugee/migration issue, terrorism or the status of minorities are given with far lower priority. Surprisingly – for this point in time – the Cyprus issue is seen as important for just 12.6% of Turks and 11.5% of Greeks.

When one comes to the solutions that are preferred for Greek-Turkish differences, Greeks would opt at 49.1% for the involvement of international organisations, while Turks for bilateral negotiations (62.4%). Military and diplomatic sanctions are mentioned by 37.6% of Greeks, 25.1% of Turks.

Insofar the long-standing Cyprus issue is viewed as relevant, the UN-backed solution of a bizonal/bicommunal solution is chosen by 56.5% of Greeks (27.5% talk of a two-state solution, especially among right-wingers or those without a declared political identity); among Turks such an option is accepted by 42.8%, but the two-states solution comes close behind at 40.5%.

As to the prospect of Turkey’s accession to the EU, 53.6% Turks are positive while 18.5% are negative and 21.5% hold a neutral position. At the Greek side, 51.8% express negative feelings to the same prospect, while just 20.2% hold a positive position, with 24.8% being neutral.

When things come to the role that foreign powers play in bilateral issues, Turks consider at 70.3% their side will be discreminated against, as opposed to 53.4% of Greeks. Both think that foreign powers will take whatever side is best for their own perceived interests (63% for Greeks, 43.2% for Turks).

It is interesting to note that 53.7% of Greeks think the EU would side with Turkey; 64% of Turks hold the same opinion. The American position is seen as favourable to the opposite side by 62.8% of Turks, but also by 43.2% of Greeks. The Russian position is viewed in a more balanced way: 46.9% of Greeks and 42.7% of Turks consider that the other side is favoured by Moscow.

Of course, public opinion is just one of the factors that flow into policy-making. But at this point in time, such findings are useful to collect – and store.