Summers are normally an uneventful, relaxed period in Greek public life. True enough, the summer of 2015 was a notorious exception since the country flirted with Grexit and was rocked by vocal dissent; in past decades, the summer of 1974 was marked by the Turkish invasion of Cyprus, which made it impossible for the regime of the colonels to stay in power in Greece – so democracy was re-established; even earlier, the summer of 1965 experienced an explosion of popular dissent, with the slightly Centre-Left Government in place being edged away by party infighting fueled by Palace intrigue – but this is old history, indeed. The principle stands: Greek summers are, well, Greek summers! Public life slows down, vacationers exercise their relaxation birthright, this kind of thing.
The summer of 2018 was meant to have some action, but of a different kind. After eight years of EU-mandated austerity under three successive Stabilization Programmes, that cost Greece more than 25% of its GDP and catapulted unemployment close to 28% (July 2013), now a shade under 20%, the Greek economy was meant to exit the regime of strict surveillance by EU institutions and the IMF and start anew some kind of independent policy-making. The date of August 20 was awaited with trepidation – that is, by the Government benches in Parliament and friendly media, while doubts remained as to the “clean exit” by the Opposition and “their” supporting media. Moreover, positive feelings were shared by EU personalities and the international Press.
Then tragedy came to the fore. Wildfires in the close vicinity of Athens ravaged the middle-class suburb of Mati, claiming 95 dead and proving the utter helplessness of central and regional authorities, the fire department and the police to manage the situation – the latter may well have pushed unaware people to horrible death by misdirecting them towards the raging inferno. To add insult to injury, the authorities spent much of the first hours after the calamity showing responsibility aside and doing “communication work”; interservice bickering and clashes with the Opposition made for a venomous follow-up.
At the same time, the always-simmering tensions of Greece with neighbouring Turkey entered successive phases of stress if not explosiveness. Aggressive language was used both ways, while the overall destabilization of the Ankara regime due to i.a. the ill-will in relations with the U.S. and Trump-Erdogan personality clashes as well as the trade measures announced tit-for-tat in no way made thing seasier.
In yet another direction, Greece got nervous with Russian reputed over-involvement in the Prespes Treaty whereby Athens and Skopje were successful in bringing an end (or, at least, in trying to…) to the decades-long name dispute. Since in this way the small northern neighbor of Greece would be able to join NATO and start a promising trek towards the EU, thus edging further away from the Russian sphere of influence, Moscow was felt pulling any sort of strings – ranging from business to Church – to put the brakes on. But Athens got so upset that it expelled two Russian diplomats, with Moscow reacting the same way: Greece, from being one of the closest friends of Russia in the EU, seemed ready to enter an era of glacial relations.
And then the last straw, to break any sort of summer relaxation with no warning whatsoever: Ankara freed – after more than 5 months of captivity – two Greek officers kept in custody for having trespassed forbidden territory in the border are of Evros. Confusion reigns as to the hows and the whys of this unexpected turn of things.
So, quite a summer indeed!