Of old dogs and much-needed new tricks

by Antonis D. Papagiannidis

It is said – righty enough – that you don’t teach old dogs new tricks. But in the current turn of things the adoption of “new tricks”, of new ways to face threats and their dire consequences is imperative.

First, a confession: in a country like Greece where the political class has often had its share of septuagenarian leaders, the current crop of 40-and 50-years old (Mitsotakis has just turned 52, Tsipras is 46) looks by comparison youthful enough. So, to talk of old dogs may sound exaggerated. But the way in which leadership is exercised in times of crisis – ostrich-like disregard of realities; self-glorification; resting on laurels of opinion polls and/or media sycophancy – is very much an old-dog reflex.

One should peer closely to the two major fronts, fraught with danger, Greece has been faced with. The one is the – admittedly quite exceptional – coronavirus pandemic; having basked in the aura of success in dealing with the first wave of the pandemic, the Government in place showed little enthusiasm in preparing for a second wave that is proving far more perilous. Once the adverse health dynamics and grievous economic consequences became evident, the old-dog tricks of shifting the onus to “individual responsibility”, of invoking the wisdom of health experts and brow-beating dissenters proved quite insufficient – as was to be expected.

The second front consists in worsening Greek-Turkish relations that neared conflagration point months ago. Here, the old-dog reflex was to invoke “European solidarity” and to bank on EU (meaning German) mediation so that a stop would be put to Turkish increasingly aggressive behavior in the region. Last week’s EU “27” Summit that was thought by a misguided public opinion to apply (or at least to prepare convincing) sanctions to Turkey and to try some sort of arms embargo served as a resounding denial of such expectations.

So, now new tricks have to be tried. Or rather there should be a shift from tricks to real empathy and responsibility on the pandemic front; from rosy expectations to a steep climb on rugged foreign-policy terrain in Greek-Turkish relations.