Threat (and fear) is easy to spread, difficult to manage

by Antonis D. Papagiannidis

The way in which the corona-virus threat is spreading around the globe is impressive indeed. Covid-19 is capturing media time; health professionals supply information or even over-information; eerie images from China are supplanted by one of empty shelves in Italy; the World Health Organisation has been steadily raising the risk assessment for Covid-19 spread (and impact) to currently “very high”.

Even in a country like Greece, where threats are taken lightly – just two days before the first strike of Covid-19, occurred Greece was officially proclaimed “iron-clad”; carnival festivities were forbidden, but football meetings were not – fear was predictably lurking just around the corner. Protective masks vanishing (however slim their protective capacity), supermarket shelves raided, media-spread panic mounting; even the Delphi Economic Forum felt the pressure and folded its March session.

Meanwhile, the ugly situation on the refugee-migrant front, both at the Evros Greece-Turkey border and at the Aegean Islands/Asia Minor crossings, where the simmering threat of Ankara unleashing people by the thousands (or the tens of thousands, out of a human reservoir of more than 3.5 millions) towards “Europe”, but in fact through Greek borders, turned to be a real-life event. This is an altogether threat of a different kind: footage of Greek police clashing with crowds pushed towards them at the designated official crossings by the Turkish side, with the Army trying to control the situation in remote parts of the border, is of a totally different impact than the one of earlier political statements over the issue.

The fact that this border situation occurrs just a few days after the Aegean Islands were rocked by unrest over the Government’s decision to erect detention centres for migrants, makes it easier for this sort of threat to cross over to fear. This has been already happening, in different ways, throughout Greece.

The real problem of perceived threat, especially when public opinion starts to accept the shift of threat to fear, is that it may be easy to spread, but it is far tougher to manage. The weeks and months to come may well prove really testing on both fronts. Covid-19 looks in no mood to abate; Turkey’s weaponizing of the refugee-migrant issue in its efforts to “convince” the EU/the West to stand by it in the self-inflicted injury at Idlib/the conflict with Syria and (more importantly) with Russia, looks hard to defuse.

Seen from a Greek perspective, this situation carries an even more unpleasant complication. Instead of closing ranks so as to confront the crisis, Greek political forces go the usual route: the blame game. Opposition parties – especially so SYRIZA – heap recrimination on a Government reeling under the shock. Government officials are fast to use invective on earlier SYRIZA officials who had been in charge. The most dangerous move until now: the Prime Minister’s own linking the refugee-migrant crisis with the threat of disease coming through eastern borders (notwithstanding the fact that all those having contacted Covid-19 in Greece did so in -or through-Italy).