This summer was tarnished, both literally and figuratively, by the devastating forest fires in August that burned hundreds of thousands of acres in our country. And while, fortunately, no human lives have been lost, we all mourn the enormous ecological disaster and loss of property and we strive to stand by the side of those in need in an immediate and practical way.
At the same time, Greece welcomes with gratitude the dozens of countries that have sent aid and assisted in extinguishing the fires. In fact, this aid surpassed all previous ones, even the one in 2007, although at that time the fires burned for more days and spread to many more fronts and areas across the country. Due to the uncontrollable and critical situation, our country activated the European Civil Protection Mechanism, while it received emergency additional assistance from twenty-four countries (11 inside the EU and 13 outside the EU), 27 planes, 268 vehicles and 1331 firefighters.
This is an impressive symbolism of solidarity in transnational relations which leads us to conclusions about the contribution of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, as well as the Government and the Civil Protection that demonstrated a high degree of readiness, in order to avoid human losses. At first glance, we notice that these countries are divided into two major categories, those belonging to the European Union and those outside the Union, while the sending of two Turkish firefighting aircraft, after a contact by telephone of Minister of Foreign Affairs Nikos Dendias with his Turkish counterpart, should not escape our attention.
Allow me to focus on the third countries, as our partners in the EU have mobilized by activating the RescEU mechanism, without this of course reducing their contribution. For the rest, however, there seems to be a correlation between the high mobility of the leadership of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs over the last two years and the tangible result of the assistance that was sent. It needs no reminder that Greece is part not only of Europe, but also of the wider region of the Mediterranean and the Black Sea and invests considerable diplomatic capital in developing good international and bilateral relations with all states. As a result, countries such as Ukraine and Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and Israel, which are among the Ministry’s strategic planning countries, rushed to assist Greece in the difficult time of the fires. Specific actions and visits also contributed to the further development of good relations with Switzerland, Britain, Qatar, Kuwait, USA, Russia, Moldova and Serbia that were present. Not even Turkey was absent, with which, as you know, we are trying to promote a positive agenda that includes joint actions to protect the environment and address climate change. After all, as a European coastal state of the Southeastern Mediterranean, Greece actively promotes, without exceptions, the peaceful coexistence of the countries of the region, moderation, prosperity and International Law.
But let us not celebrate too soon. The issue of Disaster Diplomacy remains controversial and unpredictable. The case of “earthquake diplomacy” between Greece and Turkey in 1999 yielded only short-term results. However, disasters and the provision of assistance to deal with them seem to act as a catalyst for a change in attitudes and relationships, without necessarily being the direct cause of these changes. Preparation work and a positive and reliable environment seem to be necessary.
Any cooperation, whether in the provision of assistance or otherwise, becomes an opportunity for such a change in the relationships of those facing common external risks or disastrous natural phenomena. It is well known that the global challenges are many: migration of populations, climate change, the effects of globalization and the myriad low-intensity regional conflicts that are being recorded around the world have created an extremely complex environment for the development of international relations. As a result, problems are complex and multidimensional, and solutions require coherent planning and long-term diplomacy, or rather, various types of “diplomacy” that go beyond the traditional one.
In conclusion, diplomacy is a field that requires constant effort and long-term planning, a multifaceted approach and continuity in the long run. The mobility demonstrated by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs over the last two years is evident, but we should not rest. Our relations with our traditional allies, with our partners in the European Union, but also with third countries with which we have developed and further cultivated ties, resemble a very particular flower that needs constant treatment, care and frequent watering.