Back in the days of Archbishop Makarios, when Greece’s government refused to follow his scheming or back his political brinkmanship, unflattering reports would appear in the Cypriot and Greek press criticising Athens of letting down Cyprus and not defending the interests of Hellenism. It was a practice that caused many rifts between the two governments, both before and after junta’s rule from 1967 to ’74.
Makarios resorted to this tactic immediately after he signed the London and Zurich Agreements, his narrative, which became gospel in Cyprus, being that he had grudgingly signed under pressure from Greece’s prime minister Konstantinos Karamanlis. He also fell out with Georgios Papandreou, who had brought a division of Greek troops to Cyprus in 1964. When Karamanlis returned to power after the fall of the junta and with 40 per cent of Cyprus under occupation, he remained wary of Makarios, whom he did not trust.
There seems to be a similar scenario being played out now. Last week, there was an article in Phileleftheros claiming the Kyriakos Mitsotakis government had failed to send Greek fighter jets to fly over the independence day parade because of an intervention by Turkey. The writer admitted he had no evidence but it was “the only explanation” for the decision which gave the “message that Greece seemed frightened.”
On Monday, the same paper carried an interview with former foreign minister of Greece Nicos Kotzias, who censured the New Democracy government for “sending Turkey messages of weakness, if not indifference” with regard to the illegal drilling off Cyprus. He also said Greece’s government was “playing down Turkey’s actions in order to free itself from its obligations and difficult choices.” Greece had “obligations to Cyprus, bigger than empty words.”
Greece needed to take “practical defensive and diplomatic measures to avert a second, post 1974 occupation,” Kotzias was quoted as saying. We do not know if the Anastasiades government approved these views, but it is not a good sign when a local paper tries to drag the Greek government into playing Turkey’s escalation game over Cyprus. There is complete disregard of the possibility the Mitsotakis government may have other plans with regard to relations with Turkey, and an unreasonable expectation that it should align itself with what suits the Cyprus government.
Greece’s Foreign Minister Nicos Dendias, who was in Cyprus on Monday, while condemning Turkey’s actions avoided the grandstanding that would have been welcomed in Cyprus and steered clear of any talk of escalation. Turkey’s action would be dealt with at a political, diplomatic and legal level, he said, repeating Nicosia’s position. This was the responsible approach, Greece making it clear it will not be led down dangerous paths because this might suit President Anastasiades domestically.