Greek Prime Minister Kiriakos Mitsotakis has brought shame on his office, his government, and upon the entire Greek nation with some of the most disgusting claims ever to be made in a European Parliamentary chamber.
The Greek parliament sat on Friday (26 August 2022), ten days earlier than scheduled, because Mitsotakis has to defend himself against the consequences of the Greek Intelligence Service tapping the phones of at least three newspaper reporters and the leader of the PASOK political party Nikos Androulakis.
As we noted, Mitsotakis has the overall responsibility for this, not least because he told CNN Greece on 2 August 2019 that he was ‘in complete control’ of the intelligence service and Greece’s national security.
But even though the head of the intelligence service Panagiotis Kontoleon, and the head of Mitsotakis’ office (his nephew) Grigoris Dimitriadis have both resigned in disgrace, (they were not ‘fired’ by Mitsotakis, despite the deliberately misleading claims of the Kathimerini newspaper on Friday 26 August 2022: this level of misinformation is the symbol of an extremely sick society) Mitsotakis himself claimed he did not know what was happening and that in any case it was not illegal. If the first is true, it is a reason for Mitsotakis to resign. The second is a lie.
But before the debate on this flagrant and disgraceful law-breaking and abuse of his position began, Mitsotakis launched an attack on almost everyone on Earth, other than himself. And it really is one of the most sickening things ever said in a European parliament.
At first, the statement appears to be an insult aimed at (and an attempt to pass blame on to) the Turkish government. And it is that. But it is far more. It then becomes also an insult against NGOs, media and the Greek opposition parties. It is that, too, but it is also far more.
What Mitsotakis said was:
‘Turkey is preparing a new crisis on the Evros border in humanitarian guise. It's not possible that there are forces in the country, the media and opposition it backs, NGOs based here, backing this, lying that Greece let a baby die. They called it Mary on the day of the Virgin Mary.’
He then stopped for laughter.
Now. Before we address the screaming disgrace at the end of the statement, we should probably go step-by-step through his earlier points, because they are in the first instance far less clear cut than Mitsotakis pretends, and in the second, simply inaccurate.
So first of all, Türkiye.
It is not actually beyond the realms of possibility that the Turkish government is playing a part in what is happening at the Greek borders at the moment. Certainly, some new arrivals have claimed they were told to leave Türkiye for Greece, or be deported to Syria, and while we must bear in mind that some people are certainly aware of what the Greek government would like to hear, and are bright enough to tell them that, it is clearly not entirely out-of-character for this government (at least in the last few years) to be doing so.
But there are several factors we must consider here. The first is that in the majority of cases, people do not want to remain in Türkiye, and it is their right to go wherever they choose to apply for asylum. The fact that fewer people have done so since the EU-Turkey Statement came into force in mid-March 2016 is mainly a result of that Statement’s illegal banning of new arrivals from entering the EU, on the grounds of their nationality alone (the Statement, entirely illegally, bans all Syrian new arrivals from claiming asylum, but did at least set aside a ‘one-for-one people swap’ under which for every Syrian person returned to Türkiye, another would be allowed to travel to the EU. Of course, the clear flaw in this ‘proposal’, quite apart from its illegality, is that if no-one tried to reach the EU, the EU would accept zero Syrian people from Türkiye: people of all other nationalities, equally illegally, were simply banned without even the fig-leaf of the exchange).
That is, to pretend the Turkish government is ‘causing’ a crisis by forcing people to move when they do not want to is at best to tell only half the story, and at worst a deliberate falsehood.
The second is that for the Turkish government, the EU-Turkey Statement has been nothing more or less than a catastrophe. As many of us predicted when it was rushed-through, the EU has failed to keep a single one of the promises it made to Türkiye in the Statement:
it said it would pay Türkiye €6bn by 31 December 2018. It has still only paid €4.85bn of that.
It said it would offer visa-free transport to Turkish citizens throughout the Schengen zone, and speed up Türkiye’s EU membership process. It has done neither.
There are in fact some good reasons why, but the fact is the EU made several promises to the Turkish government and has delivered none of them. The Greek government is very fond of ‘reminding’ its Turkish counterpart of its ‘obligations’ under the Statement, but it and the rest of the EU really does need to come to terms with the fact that from the Turkish government’s perspective, the EU is an unreliable and untrustworthy ‘partner’ and there is little reason why it should abide by its ‘responsibilities’ under the Statement if its partner does not do the same.
And the third is basic politics. It is grim and in many ways unacceptable, but the reality is that the Turkish opposition, the so-called ‘liberal’ CHP, is campaigning for the elections in Türkiye next June with a promise to send all Syrians back to Syria. Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s AKP, in response, has entered a ‘race to the bottom’ and is ‘proving’ to the Turkish population that it, too, is prepared to break the law when it comes to Syrian people.
Finally, we have to note that in many ways it simply does not matter, at least from the Greek and EU perspective. The fact is that for whatever reason, the Turkish government is unwilling to allow people to stay in Türkiye, and is threatening to force them back to countries we know are unsafe. This is illegal, but as the EU and the Greek government knows perfectly well, Türkiye is not signatory to the part of the law that makes it so.
And once those people come to the Greek borders, the Greek government’s legal responsibility is to allow them to enter and apply for asylum. How they came to be there is irrelevant to whether they are allowed to enter Greece.
That is, Türkiye’s government is at most contributing to (and not ‘causing’) the situation (which is in no way a ‘crisis’), and has a variety of reasons for doing so, none of which are ‘to attack’ Greece or the EU.
We should also perhaps note here that we pointed out that this was always going to be the Greek government’s claim this summer. We wrote five pieces about it, at the start of June, here; here; here; here; and here.
You may ask why this is important, and this is why: because it is true, and the truth matters, and also because the entire narrative of ‘Türkiye causing a crisis’ is designed to make people associate men, women and children seeking safe places to live, learn and work, with illegality, threats and attacks, and to attempt to justify attacking, in some cases killing, those people, and breaking the law in a number of other ways, by keeping them from remaining in Greece, and to keep them from doing so.
But those people are not behaving illegally, they are not a threat and they are not even a part of an attack.
And – and this is vital – there is not a ‘crisis’. What there is, is a group of people acting entirely within their legal rights to find safe places to live, learn and work, and to contribute to their new communities, should their asylum applications be accepted.
Next, Mitsotakis’ attack on the media. First of all, of course almost all the country’s media is extremely pro-Nea Dimokratia, which is a large part of the reason that even though Greek people are poorer than they were before the party came to power, the party’s members broke their own Covid restrictions and have been found to have used Greece’s intelligence services to have spied on their own political opponents and journalists, they remain nine points ahead in the polls and people complain about SYRIZA who have not been in power for three years (and only once in Greek history).
But this is less important than the fact that the media’s job is to report things that are happening, and what Mitsotakis is doing here – as his party has done over and over again in the last three years and more particularly in the last eight months, is simply pretend they are not doing that, or that to do that is somehow wrong.
Similarly, his attack on NGOs. These are the absolute experts in their areas, paid to know what is going on, what should be going on, and the difference (and causes of the difference) between those two things. Mitsotakis, who literally knows less than they do, has taken yet another swing at them in an effort to save his own skin. For reasons we shall note in a moment, he has missed.
But before that, the Opposition. It is absolutely clear that SYRIZA and PASOK have their own interest in highlighting the despicable barbarism of Nea Dimokratia’s systematic, consistent and deliberate law-breaking, though we should note that some people do go into politics in the hope of making life better for people, and that just because the parties have an interest in highlighting that law-breaking, does not mean it has not happened.
We should also note that SYRIZA’s response to the refugee situation was far from perfect, though it was nowhere near as violent, illegal and disgusting as that of the current government. PASOK, too, has been part of governments which carried out some awful acts against people arriving in Greece (sadly for Nea Dimokratia, it, too, was part of those governments).
But to pretend that because a party opposes another, it should not be allowed to speak out against the illegal and despicable activities of it, or its concerns must be dismissed out of hand, is not to misunderstand representative democracy, it is to understand it perfectly and oppose it, indeed to work to destroy it. When political parties are attacked for speaking out on policies and the law, we no longer live in a democracy.
And of course it goes further than that.
Because as Mitsotakis is very well aware, these ‘lies’ (which are in fact not lies) are not just reported by Greek NGOs, but by international NGOs as well, and the United Nations.
They are not just reported and questioned by Greek political parties, but by parties all over the EU and beyond.
And they are not just reported by ‘Greek media’ which backs ‘the Greek opposition parties’ but by virtually every major newspaper and news organisation in the Western world, and many others besides. Even the EU itself has repeatedly expressed ‘concerns’ about Mitsotakis’ government’s treatment of people arriving at Greece’s borders, with the EU Commissioner for Home Affairs, Ylva Johansson, threatening to cut funding to Greece if it continues with its current behaviour.
That is, Mitsotakis is not attacking just Greek journalists, politicians and humanitarians, which would be bad enough. He is, as he and his government have often done, indulging in a fantasy in which the entire world – the United Nations, all international media, the EU, politicians from across the world, international aid organisations, and many others beside – are all engaged in a massive conspiracy against Greece, a tiny country tucked in Europe’s south east corner.
In some people, this level of paranoia would result in consideration for therapy or other treatment. In Mitsotakis, it is rewarded with control over the whole country.
And this is before we even reach the central, and most disgusting point. Mitsotakis stood up in the Greek parliament and not only lied, deliberately, to the house, but also joked about the death of a five-year-old girl. A death his government, his policies and his uniformed officers caused.
Because despite what Mitsotakis claims, on Tuesday 9 August 2022, on an islet in the Evros river, Mary, a five-year-old Syrian girl, died.
She was only there because men and women acting on Mitsotakis and his government’s policies and orders not only broke the law by refusing to allow her and her travelling companions into Greece to enter the asylum application system, but also directly broke a specific court order from the European Court of Human Rights saying that they must be given food, shelter, water and medicine in Greece.
Not only that, the previous month at least three of the same group were killed: one reportedly by being beaten to death by Greek police, and at least one man and one boy by being forced into the Evros and told to ‘swim back to Turkey’ despite telling the Greek police officers making the demand that they were unable to swim.
This – the death of a five-year-old girl and at least three other people – was what Mitsotakis, the most powerful man in Greece today, chose not just to lie about, but joke about, in the Greek parliament. It is a low point not just for Nea Dimokratia, or even just for Greece and Europe, but for humanity as a whole.
As a brief postscript, Mitsotakis was not even correct in making his disgusting and pathetic joke.
Because Maria died, after a life of nothing but war, terror, chaos and death, on Tuesday 9 August 2022. Her name was first reported as ‘Maria’ – as far as we can tell – on Wednesday 10 August.
Now. Mitsotakis’ party makes a great deal of its adherence to the Greek Orthodox church, and the word of God (though most bibles tend to miss out the parables in which Jesus tells us to deny people access to safety and food, and instead leave children to die on islands).
Mitsotakis himself, who claims to be a ‘liberal’ cited this ‘devotion’ when voting to oppose allowing gay people to adopt children during the SYRIZA government.
But the thing is, the 9th and indeed 10th of August has absolutely no connection to Mary, the mother of God. The feast of the Assumption was celebrated this year on Monday 15 August, and her purported birth is celebrated on 8th September.
And the problem is, this should not even surprise us. Because though there are many incompetents in the world, and many evil people, or at least people who do or have done evil things, and though there are many people whose ‘piety’ and devotion to any religion goes precisely as deep and no deeper than that absolutely necessary to steal votes from the credulous, only Nea Dimokratia is led by a man who leans on piety to steal votes, who would not only openly joke about the death of a five-year-old girl in their national parliament, but get the damned joke wrong because he can’t get his dates right.
In some ways, we are blessed.
This combination of abject incompetence and evil is seldom seen for very long, and we should perhaps enjoy the opportunity of witnessing it first-hand.
In others, we are of course cursed: Greece genuinely is led by the smallest of men.
If the giants of its past were half the men they were purported to be, and if they were ever proud of the modern Greek state, they must now regard it with horror and disgust. How could they do otherwise?