What would you do if your administration was damaging to the EU, of which it is a member? What would you do should your country have become a burden for the EU? What if your state has cheated, emptied the coffers of the EU, lied to it and is facing reaction? The answer is simple: you look for a new function your country can fulfil for the EU! This is what Athens is doing.
According to reporting by international agencies, “the government in Athens is planning to build a wall along the Greek-Turkish border in order to prevent illegal immigration”. In truth, Greece, the function of which for the EU has gradually diminished and is of no use other than a balancing factor against Turkey has tried to reinvent its significance, or properly put, to augment the meaning it has borne since 1821. The announcement by Greece’s Minister for Public Order Christos Papoutis on the 3rd of January that they are planning to build a wall along the land border to Turkey was the result of such an effort by Athens.
With this statement, Athens has tried to send a series of messages to Europe. Let us take a brief look at what these messages are: MESSAGE 1- The West ends with us! With the said initiative, Greece is placing a physical boundary between Turkey and the EU, even if symbolically. It is probably hoping for support from far and centre right parties in Europe. For those Europeans who think through symbols this wall will be presented as a border between religions, nations, civilisations and cultures through classical propaganda methods. It is of course not possible to see this effort as legitimate. Yet there is still a long time to go before Brussels sees that indeed it is in Greece that the west ends and comes to ruin! MESSAGE 2- Turkey is not preventing illegal immigration! Illegal immigration is among the most important items on the EU’s agenda.
Both European institutions and citizens have deep concerns over illegal immigration. For illegal immigration brings along with it security problems. The allergy felt towards illegal immigrants in EU countries, which have been having a difficult time due to financial crisis, is rising due to both costs and labour markets. Illegal immigration has been rising around the world recently. Turkey tries to prevent illegal immigration just like any European country. However, the high priority and sensitivity of the issue often leads to the matter being voiced in Turkey’s progress reports. This move by Greece suggests all that Turkey is to blame in a matter over which everyone is sensitive. CONNOTATION 1- Walls of Istanbul! There is a trick prepared for the European public opinion behind the proposed wall Athens wants to build. Although Athens may say that it will build a wall to prevent illegal immigration, in truth it wants to give the impression that it will place a wall in the way of Turks and in the way of all easterners headed westwards. To this end Athens hopes to make use of certain connotations.
For the wall is a concept with a special place and importance in European history. This image has its place in the shared memory of European peoples, in the social and collective consciousness and unconsciousness. The first connotation Athens is pursuing in its need to build walls is that of the walls of Istanbul. Construction of the walls of Istanbul was begun in 413 by Emperor Theodosius Praefaectus Anthemios the Second. The only commander to be able to take walls of Constantinople was the Ottoman Sultan Mehmet the Second. Mehmet the Second thus became the sultan to topple Rome and to end the Eastern Roman Empire.
The said walls had previously stopped Atilla under Praefactus Constantinus Kyros. Yet Atilla had continued his path and destroyed the Western Roman Empire. CONNOTATION 2- Hadrian’s Wall! While Athens aims at becoming the state to put a wall in front of the Turks and thereby to gain a philosophical, if not economic significance within the EU, it is also reaching out to Hadrian’s Wall. For the new border which Athens hopes to draw with Turkey had been drawn in ancient times and its name is Hadrian’s Wall. Hadrian’s Wall runs from east to west in today’s northern England. It was built at the time of the Roman Empire. It was constructed in order to protect the political system, economic order and security of Roman Britain from forays by Scottish tribes.
The wall also marked the boundaries of the formidable empire. CONNOTATION 3- Walls in the Middle East! There are walls in the Middle East just like the one Athens is thinking of building. Indeed, today when one says “wall”, it is these walls that most people think of. At the forefront of these is undoubtedly that wall which Egypt and Israel built in order to prevent the influence of Hamas in Gaze. The Palestinians dug tunnels thirty metres under the walls of Egypt, to the surprise of the entire world. Although Israel and Egypt are frequently criticised over their walls, the international community has not been able to have the walls removed. The low-cost wall Athens is planning to build on its Turkish border will probably be nothing more than a spectacle. Athens’ Bases Had the EU built a wall along its Greek border, and had it built the wall out of Euro notes, it could not have been caused a greater loss by Greece. For Greece is building a wall between Turkey and the EU.
Athens, which is implementing tough savings packages, which is making severe cuts to its budget is building this wall, even if indirectly, due to the EU, by leaning against the EU and with EU funds! The EU has shown its discomfort at this with statements. However, the real view of the EU on this spoilt approach to diplomacy will become apparent from whether the wall, or line of barbed wire, is built or not. Greece necessarily has to base its strange project on a few legal bases. International law and the international community do not take a kind view of obstacles such as walls. A series of states and organisations occupying disparate positions along the political spectrum, from Amnesty International to Washington, are concerned over such initiatives. However, there is a detail which Athens may manipulate towards its own purposes. In October 2003, the USA had vetoed a draft resolution of the Un Security Council.
The original text of the draft resolution is as follows: “The construction by Israel, the occupying power, of a wall in the Occupied Territories departing from the armistice line of 1949 is illegal under relevant provisions of international law and must be ceased and reversed.” Had this draft resolution not been vetoed, the construction of the wall would have been stopped. It would also have been considered a violation of international law. Yet the resolution did not pass as the US veto stopped it. There is another significant point: other than the US veto, Britain and Germany which remained undecided in the dispute announced that they “understand Israel’s security concerns” but were “worried that the wall would damage the peace process”. Although there may be disputes between Turkey and Greece, there is no ongoing process the said wall may damage. Furthermore, Athens says, on paper at least, that the wall will be built against illegal immigrants. The UN General Assembly has taken a decision with 144 votes in favour, 4 opposed and 12 refraining. This decision contains two important details.
The first talks of the wall being built in Palestinian land, while the second mentions violations of international law. Yet decisions of the UN General Assembly are not binding on international law! Other than this, it is known to all that the barriers, walls and electrified fences the USA has built along its Mexican border are aimed at stopping illegal immigration. If the USA gets to do it, why should Greece not? As things stand, we see that the EU did not give any serious reaction to Greece when it previously installed an electrified fence along its Albanian land. Athens will cite this precedent if there are reactions this time around. According to Athens’ views as stated by the Minister for Public Order Christos Papoutsis, the wall was a suggestion from the European border guard Frontex, which began patrolling the Turkish-Greek border alongside the Greek police in November 2010. According to Papoutsis, there has been a 371 per cent increase in the number of illegal immigrants coming to Greece through Turkey.
The said wall is justified on the grounds that the river Meric does not run along a 12.5 kilometre long stretch of the border and this makes it easy to enter Greece through fields. Athens’ Hopes for Indirect Gain Through these plans Athens also hopes to secure indirect gain. Should Greece succeed in its designs it will have diverted the human trafficking and illegal immigration movements originating from Asia and Africa and going to Europe over Greece to the Aegean Sea.
Should human trafficking and illegal immigration activity over the Aegean Sea intensify; an opportunity will present itself to Athens to solve the disputes it has with Turkey over the Aegean to its own advantage. For as the security of the EU and the welfare of Europe will be threatened and Athens may finally get the support of the EU over the Aegean. The EU has up until now been a party to the Cyprus issue but over the Aegean it had been relatively neutral and had not supported Greece’s efforts. This attitude may change.
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