Greek political life has focused around the much-debated Prespes Treaty and the issue of the (almost 30-years-long) dispute of Greece with the (now to-be-called) Republic of North Macedonia. Still, the far more important issue of Greek-Turkish relations that was simmering all along just under the surface causes now new tremors.
Arranged after months of uncharacteristically discreet preparations, Greek PM Alexis Tsipras’ visit to Turkey and his meeting with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan may well signal a new turn in such relations. Most probably, the West – meaning the US, but also “Europe” – will acclaim the move. The question now is: to what is this new turn going to amount?
The fact that mercurial Greek Defense Minister Panos Kammenos is already a faint memory of an unpleasant past will most probably allow for a measure of better understanding; Kammenos’ successor, ex-Armed Forces Chief or Staff Evangelos Apostolakis has good operational relations with his Turkish counterpart Hulusu Akar, which makes things even better for some sort of entente to be put on foot. Also, the fact that Tsipras, following his talks with Erdogan in Ankara, may visit with Oecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew in Constantinople – and, more importantly, at the Halki Seminary , the nursery for Greek Orthodox priestdom that has been silenced for years by the Turkish State – may well work towards better Greek-Turkish relations. Successive U-S Administrations, even Presidents – the last to date Barack Obama – had been enlisted so as to smooth over differences over the Halki affair, to no avail.
So, everybody will watch closely over the Erdogan-Tsipras meetings, their official statements, the inevitable side-show, even their body language. The same, in a far more Byzantine way, will apply to the Bartholomew-Tsipras part of the visit. It goes without saying that deeper tensions, over the Turkish reading of relations in the Aegean and Eastern Mediterranean, with geo-economic/natural gas aspects of such relations in the forefront, will not be dispelled. Nor should one forget that Turkey is having local elections in April, while elections loom close in Greece, too; so, détente is to be taken with a pinch of salt…
Nonetheless, smoothing over differences can never be a bad thing in the region. Problem is, with the wave of negative feelings in Greece over the Prespes Treaty – the attempt to solve or at least to put aside the “name dispute” of Greece with its smaller, northern neighbour – being constantly fueled by the Opposition and a large part of Greek media, the moves underway on the front of Greek/Turkish relations could be well undermined in a similar way. Getting popular support behind attempts to attenuate regional strains is no easy thing in nowadays Greece.