The image a country projects beyond its borders is of crucial importance. Just over 10 years ago, Greece was a leading political and economic player in the Balkans. Turkey was on the rise, but the asymmetry between the two countries was not that visible. Nowadays Greece really comes across as the European Union’s Puerto Rico. The country is living on bailout tranches and loans and it has yet to come up with its own reform plan that will put it back on its feet.
Meanwhile, Balkan leaders are addressing Greece’s leadership with disdain, Turkey is acting as the region’s ruler and the Europeans are dealing with Recep Tayyip Erdogan as if he were a neo-Ottoman sultan.
And what’s worse, Greece has adopted an enraging argument when carrying out negotiations with powerful players abroad. In the past, Greek leaders such as Eleftherios Venizelos and Constantine Karamanlis spoke to their foreign interlocutors as equals, making and earning major strategic concessions by taking risky decisions. Now Greece is asking those beyond our borders to not leave us to our own devices because the country has a pivotal geopolitical position and becoming a failed state would have serious repercussions.
Out of necessity, the Europeans have established a sui generis protectorate with regard to the refugee-migrant issue. To a large extent the Greek state has been substituted in terms of guarding its borders and managing the hot spots on the eastern Aegean islands. On the other hand, unprecedented situations emerge in places where the Greek state is the only one in charge. For instance, authorities in the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) return refugees and migrants to Greece through holes in the fences. We slowly became used to all this.
An imbalance between rhetoric and actions makes the phenomenon even more unpleasant. When it comes to international affairs everyone knows that when someone barks without ever biting, not even once, they end up becoming predictable. Big words, political negotiations and displays of military power may still be convincing on the local level but they certainly don’t have the same effect abroad.
Greece has been through similar periods during its history. These often ended in some form of tragedy which subsequently led to the rebirth of the nation. Some believe that history will repeat itself.
Hopefully this will not be the case and Greece will find the strength to rebuild the country without experiencing an even larger disaster. Besides, you can’t fool anyone anymore. A country’s power on the international scene depends primarily on its economic power, the stability of its institutions and whether or not it has a gutsy and professional leadership. Greece’s image abroad is poor. Unfortunately, it is a fair reflection of the country’s current state of decay.