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16 June, 2024
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Greek islands open up for Turkish travelers

Can the recent meeting reshape Greek-Turkish relations?

By Nikos Konstandaras

Watching their faces and listening to the statements of Kyriakos Mitsotakis and Recep Tayyip Erdogan after their meeting on Thursday, one could ask what all the tension of the past few years was about.

The “positive agenda,” the various cooperation agreements, the easing of travel for Turks to 10 Greek islands, the “Athens Declaration,” do not touch on the thorny issues. But if this climate lasts, if the expected number of Turkish visitors comes (and there is already enthusiasm on the other side of the Aegean), then maybe one day the difficult problems, too, will be solved. There will still be people who invest in tension, but if normality becomes the norm, perhaps more of us will see each other and ourselves as we are and not as we imagine our world to be.

However things may turn out, December 7 is already a day of note. Erdogan and Mitsotakis signed the declaration on peace and friendship and expressed the desire for a new era between their two countries, when only months ago the Turkish president was declaring that the Greek prime minister was dead to him, and Ankara was ratcheting up the tension continually. And so, last Thursday will mark either the start of a new relationship between Greece and Turkey or another false dawn.

The other noteworthy thing about this day is how two very different leaders managed to bridge the chasm between them. We have already noted Erdogan’s tactic of switching course whenever he finds himself at a dead end, so as to achieve his goal one way or another.

His goal today is to open channels of communication with as many countries as possible, as the policy of “precious isolation” and unbridled belligerence did not bear the desired fruit. Rapprochement with Greece may, in addition, open doors in the EU and the United States, where Erdogan’s mistakes have had a high cost for Turkey.

Erdogan’s aggression strengthened the Greek prime minister and burnished his image, as Greece managed to stand firm

It is worth noting the difference among the two men who signed the declaration, but also, traits they share as politicians. Mitsotakis, the scion of a political dynasty, with studies at the best universities, found an open road towards politics. Erdogan had a tough childhood, his father denied him a career in soccer, he became a salesman and studied at religious schools.

He honed his rhetorical art in religious organizations, warming up the crowd before the main speaker. Erdogan knows the street and he knows politics like few others – how many people, after all, have been in power for 20 years, fighting election after election? He noted that Mitsotakis and he were recently re-elected.

Another common point is that Mitsotakis is turning out to be most capable in handling difficult issues at home and abroad. He combines a liberal social view (and hypersensitivity to criticism on social media) with a ruthless streak in handling power. He has a technocrat’s style and is carrying out significant reforms, but he can also be a populist, using handouts to avoid trouble.

Also, Erdogan’s aggression strengthened the Greek prime minister and burnished his image, as Greece managed to stand firm. While Erdogan strikes down his opponents with all the tools of an increasingly autocratic regime, Mitsotakis keeps the extremists in his party under control, attracts people from the center, avoids pitfalls. And now he has no rival. It will be interesting to see how these two develop relations between their two countries.

Cyprus  |  politics  |  president  |  Erdogan  |  Greece

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