After coming to office last July, Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis has faced three major crises, each more serious and dangerous than the prior. Angelos Syrigos, Member of Parliament for New Democracy, distinguished academic, and one of Greece’s most respected commentators, offered The National Herald his perspectives on the situation.
It has been a baptism by fire for Mitsotakis, with Syrigos illustrating his tenue so far with the Greek aphorism, ‘Αν δεν φας θεριό, θεριό δε γίνεσαι – if you don’t devour the monster, you can’t become a monster.
“The prime minister had confronted,” he said, “with great success the crisis that Turkey created at the Evros frontier.
They essentially destroyed Erdogan’s plan, who wanted to destabilize our country and to terrorize Europe. And he is adequately facing the coronavirus challenge.”
Syrigos agrees that with Mitsotakis’ actions and tone, and by surrounding himself with effective experts, “the Greek government has gained the trust of the people.”
On the Evros front, he believes that Erdogan was seeking a ‘hot incident’, indeed, he said, “I believe that what he did in the days around the Clean Monday holiday…went beyond a mere hot incident. It was an attempt to intervene in the internal affairs of our country.”
He believes the timing was not coincidental. Erdogan picked the start of the Orthodox Lenten period,” Syrigos said, “because they believed the leaders and armed forces would be in a relaxed state.
They planned for us to wake up Tuesday morning with tens of thousands of refugees and migrants in Greece.” But, he noted, the actions found the people and leaders of Greece united.
While Greece was able to turn back the Turks on the vital public relations front, at least in Europe, he said that although “it is a fact that the Diaspora can be better organized, if Greece’s basic image in the world is good, massive PR efforts are not needed.
” Syrigos is also one of Greece’s leading experts on the Aegean and the Mediterranean and relations with Turkey.
“The Evros events demonstrated to us that we must do this job ourselves. We must be there, ready , because no one will be able to help us in the initial moments. If we hold our own in those moments, we will gain help from others later, but if we don’t, we lose.”
He noted that while stronger measures are now being taken on the Evros, there are still problems with the islands and that Greece must remain vigilant there.
Regarding concerns about coronavirus outbreaks in the camps, he noted that so far there are no infections “because we take the problem very seriously and great care is being taken. The few new people who have arrived in recent days are separated from the rest.”
Regarding the economic issues the coronavirus leaves in its wake, Syrigos answered: “that is the problem.”
Asked, notwithstanding the Prespes agreement’s flaws, is it a good thing that the prior government handled it, leaving Mitsotakis to focus on gaining EU support against Turkey and for the recovery from the effects of the pandemic, Syrigos emphasized that the Prespes agreement remains a bad agreement, but I have noted from the beginning that it will be extremely difficult to overturn it,”
and given that the Greece under the previous government did ratify it, its overturning could lead to worse things than the current situation.” He emphasized the big problem is Turkey, but he also agrees that as accession negotiations with North Macedonia are beginning, Greece is able to defend its interests through its EU veto.
Regarding the impact of the coronavirus on Greece’s economic prospects, especially in the tourism sector, he said it is too soon to talk about it, but it is clear it will be a serious problem – and not just for Greece. Italy, for example, will emerge from the crisis facing its trillioneuro external debt in a greatly weakened state.
All these matters” Syrigos said regarding the EU and the Eurozone, “will have to be addressed from the beginning, all over again,” including the longstanding issues of the conditions and mutual obligations of northern and southern Europe.
“The entire Western World will face a severe economic crisis. Things that have long been unthinkable, at this moment seem to be logical options.
When we are looking at huge ports shutting down entirely, and principal businesses ceasing operations for two or three months, it is obvious that these things are analogous to the consequences of war, and that rebuilding is required and new means must be developed to address common challenges.
The conversation briefly moved to the global level. Given the seeming utter lack of preparedness for the pandemic by both states and international organizations, Syrigos was asked if he thinks it calls for reforms and reorganization of the UN and WHO, or the construction of new international organizations that can respond more rapidly to crises and foster cooperation.
Look, at the moment we are still in the midst of the crisis,” he said. “We have not seen its ending. We don’t know how this will develop in other countries. It is too soon to say what will happen, but I believe it gives us an opportunity to change many things.
It will also separate the serious leaders from people who do not have gravitas,” and the institutions which were not up to the challenges of a rapidly developing global crisis.
These things will all appear with the passage of time, but it is still early for even commentary because I believe we have entered into a new phase of World History.
What he wants the Hellenic Diaspora to know is that “our country is making a tremendous effort, for many years now, to overcome the problems of the past. This effort was going well right up to the coronavirus outbreak.
The fact that things had been going well, that Greece has demonstrated seriousness, shows, I believe, the future that the nation is building. We will remain a point of reference for stability in the greater region.”