Rory O'Keeffe, Koraki
Kiriakos Mitsotakis: Strange, erroneous, claims at the EU Parliament
When Greek Prime Minister Kiriakos Mitsotakis addressed the EU Parliament, he left it worse informed than when he had begun. It is hard to imagine what the body would get from inviting him back.
Greek Prime Minister Kiriakos Mitsotakis spoke on Tuesday 6 July 2022 to the EU Parliament, as part of the latter’s ‘This is Europe’ ‘event’ (in which each of the leaders of EU member states comes and addresses the parliament, then answers questions).
Having had the opportunity to watch his ‘speech’, it is very much worth making a note of some of the things he said.
Mitsotakis spent long periods of his address blaming absolutely everyone else for problems either his party helped cause, or at best failed to deal with.
First, he claimed that the ’state of the Aegean Island camps’ was ‘the fault of SYRIZA’.
Now, in fact it was the fault of a large number of people, and SYRIZA is certainly included amongst them.
But also involved were SYRIZA’s (far-Right: in short, SYRIZA went into coalition with the only other party in parliament prepared to support a referendum on the EU’s (in fairness, awful) bail-out deal) coalition partners ANEL, the EU, which hit upon the ‘hot spots’ plan in part to capitalise on a loop-hole in Greek law on movement, and Mitsotakis’ Nea Dimokratia itself, which actively campaigned against giving new arrivals decent places to stay.
We must also note that Nea Dimokratia had literally no alternative policy until well after Moria burnt down on 9 September 2019, and that when it came, it was to jail new arrivals in buildings which have already proven to have at best unreliable water supplies.
In effect, SYRIZA, in part because of Mitsotakis’ own campaigning, carried out every bad policy the EU demanded, while Nea Dimokratia is following its own, worse policies than even the EU requests.
He also, in what should be considered the absolute worst of all possible comments on this particular part of the international refugee situation, attempted to blame the Turkish government for the fact the situation even exists, claiming that: ‘people talk about pushbacks, but no-one mentions the push forwards, from Türkiye.’
First, of course, even if the Turkish government were ‘pushing people forwards' (and in fact it absolutely is not) that would be absolutely irrelevant to the fact that the Greek government, a government of an EU member state, is barbarically breaking international law by robbing, beating, sexually assaulting and/or humiliating and in some cases killing, innocent men, women and children, while pushing them back.
And whatever its (very many) faults, the Turkish government simply isn’t ‘pushing people forwards’. Not only has the Turkish Coastguard stopped well over half of the people (56.2 per cent, 168,289 of the 299,454 people) who have attempted to reach Greece by sea since March 2017, the simple fact is that there is no suggestion, from anyone, anywhere, that the majority or even any sizeable proportion of the people who have travelled to Greece did not want to do so.
‘Push forwards’ simply are not a thing.
Perhaps even more importantly, Mitsotakis is also completely incorrect – as he must know – to claim that ‘no-one talks about push forwards’.
Since 2020, one very specific group – to which Mitsotakis’ Nea Dimokratia certainly arguably belongs – has done so repeatedly: the Greek far-Right.
Blaming Türkiye has always been a simple and effective way to please a fairly large chunk of the Greek electorate: the two countries’ histories (and perhaps more importantly, the way each country teaches those histories) mean that even those who in other contexts would be horrified by lazy nationalist bigotry find themselves slipping into step when it comes to Türkiye (once again, the current Turkish government has many faults. This is not an attempt to pretend it is sin-free and blameless, because it is far from that; it is just to note that the Greek obsession with Türkiye is neither healthy, nor conducive to measured political response).
Golden Dawn and ANEL, for example, both of which won seats in the Greek parliament, advocated laying land mines on Greece’s border with Türkiye. It is arguable that at least part of Nea Dimokratia’s increased vote in the 2019 Greek general elections was connected to the demise of both these far-Right ‘organisations’, as its rhetoric and position on refugees became increasingly aggressive and negative.
And following the events of February 2020, when the Turkish government (in keeping with international law) opened its borders to allow people to leave, many of those people – backers of Nea Dimokratia – began to flood social media with claims that the Turkish government was ‘forcing’ people into Greece.
Once again, there is absolutely no evidence that even a noticeable minority of people who have come to Greece to find safe places to live, learn and work, did not want to do so.
Researcher and specialist on borders and violence, Lena Karamanidou, notes that in June 2021, the pro-government Kathimerini journalist Nikos Efstathiou began using the term in Tweets related to Türkiye. This may, of course, have been a direct response to its use by far-Right backers of the government, or more ‘indirect’: members of the government took it from their extremist support and began to use it in official and/or unofficial conversations with friendly journalists.
By October 2021, Greece’s Migration Minister Notis Mitarachis, whose vicious, violent and illegal pushbacks policies draw directly on his party’s and its supporters’ aggressive nationalism and – to be frank – bigotry, used the term in an interview with Deutsche Welle (Germany) in October 2021.
It is easy to see how the term was appealing to Mitsotakis’ Nea Dimokratia: it appeared to be a way to divert attention from their own violence and illegality, while appealing to the party and its backers’ aggressive nationalistic anti-Turkish emotion, with the added advantage of – by criticising Türkiye – also potentially ‘engaging’ others who are naturally far less inclined to back illegal attacks on innocent people.
But, however the unevidenced (and untrue) far-Right slogan came to sully the EU Parliament, from the mouth of Greece’s Prime Minister, not only is it untrue, it is also irrelevant. It is a classic piece of diversion tactics: we are doing something bad, but… quick, look at this other bad thing!
It is irrelevant whether the Turkish government is pushing people forward (though it is not). The Greek government’s responsibility is to allow those people to enter and apply for asylum. Nothing – certainly not a far-Right lie – alters that responsibility, and Mitsotakis, along with the rest of his government, knows it.
Finally, the Greek Prime Minister also claimed that the Greek Coastguard had ‘rescued 6,000 people in the last few months’.
From 1 January – 30 June 2022 (six days before he said it) the Greek government registered just 2,629 people as having arrived on the Aegean islands: far less than half of the number Mitsotakis claimed the Coastguard had rescued.
And even of those people, almost none were rescued by the Coastguard.
As on many previous occasions, and with several of his ministers, Mitsotakis chose to mislead when he could have discussed, and blame when he could have informed.
It is hard to see why the EU or any other political entity would ever ask him to speak again.