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Imagine no possessions
I wonder if you can
No need for greed or hunger
a brotherhood of man
Imagine all the people
sharing the world.
John Lennon, my generation’s hero, tried in his own way to spread the message of brotherhood and peace. Not surprisingly, some suspected him of subversion. I guess that even today the lyrics to “Imagine’s” are not welcome in some lands and sands of the Eastern Mediterranean.
I am about to conclude my visit to Smyrna. I am sitting at my balcony, overlooking the bay. This was my second visit this year in this beautiful, cosmopolitan and liberal city. I participated as a panelist for the symposium organized by Izmir’s Mediterranean Academy.
So, I thought that, notwithstanding the traditional Thanksgiving menu, some across the Atlantic might be interested in the views I expressed while in Turkey, which are below.
On The Real World
Last March, following a lecture I gave at Izmir’s Yasar University, a good friend of mine and fine Turkish diplomat surprised apparently by the ” idealism” of my lecture told me: “Alexandros, you spoke nicely, but we live in the real world.”
His point was well taken. Since then, I much reflected on his remarks.
Between Turkey and Greece, and Greece and Turkey as well, the “real world” looks like a dividing line between pragmatists and dreamers. If dreamers still exist.
After 35 years of service, I will not claim only success stories. I served almost for 15 years in the Balkans, from the Eastern Slavonian front during the Croatian-Serbian conflict in the early 90’s, to Sofia, to Skopje, to Tirana and often to Prishtina. Furthermore, as Head of the M.F.A.’s Balkan Affairs Department, I participated ex officio in the meetings of the National Council of Foreign Policy.
I also served in somehow loftier diplomatic posts including the United Nations and as Ambassador to Washington D.C., considered to be, as you may guess, easy and relaxed assignments … for Greeks. Based on my personal experience, I know that this is also the case with Turkish diplomats serving in Washington D.C. and New York.
Turkish diplomats can witness the dedication and engagement of their greek colleagues. Often we carefully watched our respective moves from our barracks; Sometimes even from across the street; this was the case, for example, around the Sheridan Circle in Washington D.C.
So, most of us participating in this conference, fortunately or unfortunately, we know indeed how the “real world” looks like. We have learnt it rather the hard way.
As Ephesus is close to Izmir, allow me to seek some kind or real wisdom, from Heraclitus. Intentionally or not, he offers a rather accurate description of the recent trend in Greek-Turkish relations.
I quote him: ”What was cold soon warms up and warmth soon cools down.” Or even better that “the line going from up – down is the same line as from down – up.”
At this moment, my guess is that we are rather at the cooling process. Or, if you wish to follow the line, we are from a certain point up moving downwards.
The pace will not remain unpredictable if the present military build – up in Cypriot maritime zones and in the Aegean Sea continuous unabated.
So,who is really ready to take the blame for the present course of events?
I turn again to Heraclitus to seek advice. He insists on the practical dimension of things. No lofty idealism or diplomatic generalities, no evasive talking and thinking. He clearly tells us that ”you cannot know the world in the manner of natural philosophy or mathematics or deductive logic. Because by cosmic rule … all things change.”
Furthermore, he goes on offering a reflection pertinent to what is happening today in the greater Middle East and North Africa (MENA).
In his own words ”what was scattered gathers. What has gathered blows apart.”
In nine words we get the accurate description of the ongoing developments, in our vicinity. From Erbil, Kirkuk and Suleimani to Alep and Kobani and even farther to Derna to Benghazi and to Tripolitania. I doubt if the Sykes – Picot Agreement 100th anniversary will be celebrated.
His description pertains to nations, to religion and to state structures, as well. The disintegration of state structures, notwithstanding the existing borders, leads to what we would call in mathematics and policy planning the lack of ”stable parameters.”
The “Stability Game” Theory
So, it is not hard to define the “real world.”
I do not want skip pragmatism.
Where lies the problem ? The real problem is that there are more than one real worlds. Each one lives in and observes only his own.
At present, while everything seems to change, we need ”stable parameters” now more than ever. I was earnestly expecting that Greece and Turkey, two NATO allies, would be at the core of this ” stability game ” framework. If not now, if not during this unprecedented turmoil in the region, then when?
For sure, wishful thinking is not per se enough to bear results.
From an Athenian perspective, we earnestly hope that Turkey will reciprocate. Though there are strong indications that our important neighbor prefers to sail in troubled waters and has different priorities and agendas.
It is strange to see that Greece and Turkey cooperate better and swifter the day after national disasters and earthquakes and are still hesitant during this political earthquake launched since December 2010, with the Arab Spring.
As things stand now, this is the case in Greek-Turkish relations where dreamers lose.The unanswered question remains if pragmatists will win. There are no winners from a lose-lose situation.
I regret to say that recent developments in the Eastern Mediterranean and in the Aegean Sea, do not confirm the ” stability game ” theory.
Izmir’s Mayor Aziz Kocaoglu did his best to win the hearts and the minds of his guests from Greece. He hosted an on board dinner while sailng in Smyrna’s gulf. This is the kind of boats we prefer to see cruising in the Aegean Sea ; not the kind of Turkish naval units sailing even at this moment.
After so many years of such war games has any one drawn the lessons related to the impact of such operations ? I doubt it.
As long as such practices continue, the so-called Confidence Building Measures ‘ process, will remain the substitute to confidence and trust between Greece and Turkey.
Allow me to say that again.
The longer this practice goes on, the real trust and confidence will be replaced by the C.B.M.’s process.
I also see that our neighbor and NATO ally, is deciding to change friendships, alliances and even – as some guess – the course of events and perhaps that of history from the Pillars of Hercules to the moving sands of sorrow so passionately accounted by Colonel Lawrence’s ”Seven Pillars of Wisdom.”
Neither the motivations nor the nature and the means of the change of attitude are well understood in many capitals, Athens included. Accordingly, they are causing to Turkey’s neighbors skepticism and concern.
They also question and undermine trust and confidence. The dominant theory and perception is that, Turkey, our important neighbor, decided to join the chorus of those who operate beyond predictable and existing norms.
This is neither my own, nor the others’ “real world.” It was meant to be a politically and legally binding real world, the United Nations, common to all of us. Peoples and Nations as well. Indeed, since the end of the Second World War, this is the common world order we all decided to adhere.
Power and Interest
Power and interest based politics do not sound Greek to me.
They were very evident indeed, in the hegemonic Athenian politics and behavior, as Thucydides taught as in the History of the Peloponnesian War. We know how the mighty Athens treated the weaker Cycladic island of Melos.
It is perfectly articulated and defined in the Melian Dialogue one of the most powerful political texts. Athens declined Melian conciliatory offers and ultimately occupied Melos.
History also tells us that assertiveness coupled with the arrogance of hegemonism and political miscalculations rendered Athens, the cradle of wisdom, political ethos and democracy weaker and vulnerable.
Athenian might helped to create the strongest anti-Athenian unifying factor that bolstered the Spartan led alliance. The expedition to Sicily is the beginning of Athens’ decline.
Or, as Heraclitus puts it “the beginning is the end.”
Pragmatism is a prerequisite for politics. Yet, principles, values and international norms are the cornerstone of sound policies. In the Mediterranean region and at an ecumenical level as well.
As I clearly emphasized in my lecture, the Republic of Cyprus has been a mature member of the European Union for 10 years. It has equal sovereign rights as all the other E.U. and United Nations member – states.This is how our common real world real world is done.This fact will not change.
From the Urals to the Atlantic, to remind a political – geographic axiom from the Helsinki Final Act era, symbolism and paradigms are very much needed in order to restore the rule of Law and that of international norms’ based, principled action in the Caucasus, in Ukraine and in the Middle East and North Africa region at large.
The continuation of the present status quo in Cyprus served as a bad precedent for what happened with different protagonists but based on similar scenarios in Georgia and in Ukraine.
How can the European Union, NATO and the O.S.C.E, as well, be credible in seeking in Crimea,in Ukraine or earlier in Ossetia in Abhazia and in Georgia the return to status quo ante, while in Cyprus the situation remains unchanged? How ?
It is not hard to understand that Ankara is upset with the political postures and their results – personally I doubt even if such a posture exists – of unilateral and multilateral interventions in Iraq, in Libya and the changing priorities in Syria.
Should this be the case, how is it possible for the “zero problems with the neighbors” proponents, not to understand Athens’s concern in relation with the ongoing mission of Turkish naval units in Cyprus ‘s maritime zones and the standing threats for the Aegean Sea?
I earlier referred to the Peloponnesian War and to the big and small alliances forged by the cities that felt threatened the risks of the arrogance of hegemonism.
It is also clear to me that some of the recent economic, energy and political partnerships in the Eastern Mediterranean, engulfing Greece and Cyprus, have a high common denominator based on strong interests and even stronger incentives.
Let ‘s listen to Pericles
I think time is now ripe to return to Ephesus and seek the last advice from Heraclitus.
He is addressing us with the following words:
”Applicants for wisdom do what I have done: inquire within’
Heraclitus is generally considered to be a rather cryptic and difficult to understand philosopher. Referring simply to him for advice would not be enough to remedy with the present challenges.
I therefore prefer to conclude with a quotation from Pericle’s Funeral Oration (EPITAPHIOS) while addressing the Athenians:
”We decide public questions for ourselves or at least endeavor to arrive at the sound understanding of them, in the belief that it is not debate that is a hindrance to action, but rather not be instructed by debate before the time comes for action.”
2500 years later, it is still the best option.
I earnestly hope that, co-chaired by the Prime Ministers of Greece and Turkey, the Joint Greek-Turkish Cabinet Council scheduled for this December, in Athens, will also follow Pericles’ advice.