Minister of Foreign Affairs Nikos Dendias’ interview in ‘Action 24 Press’ newspaper and journalist Makis Provatas (30.07.2022)

JOURNALIST: There’s a well-known phrase about the end of history, but with everything that’s going on, what we’re actually seeing is the persistence of history in certain things that have always been true in politics.
N. DENDIAS: Interesting point of view. In my humble opinion, we are going through a very distressing period. What has been happening lately reminded me of Churchill’s quote at Fulton, Missouri in 1946 that an “iron curtain” is dividing Europe.
Following the invasion of Ukraine, I believe that we are regressing at full speed.  
History is evolving and persisting, but with a violent regression to things that we thought had been overcome, at least in the geographic area of Europe and the Western world.
JOURNALIST: “Attitude is a small thing that makes a big difference”, Churchill once said. What was the tipping point that caused a change of attitude in our foreign policy? When did we throw off the shackles of “my enemy’s friend is my enemy” and “my enemy’s enemy is my friend”?
N. DENDIAS: I believe that the null and void Turkish-Libyan memorandum was the point at which even Greek society realized to a certain extent that there was a significant problem with the approach that had been followed. Then it became clear that Greece faced a significant risk of being isolated from the sea.
If the Muslim Brotherhood had remained in Egypt and given Turkey’s relationship with the Morsi regime, coupled with Greece’s refusal to accept a minor compromise to reach an agreement with Libya two decades ago, the country would have faced an existential risk of being cut off from the sea, as terrible and incomprehensible that sounds. So, I believe that the sense of that threat has led to a new self-awareness that there is a need for the country to quickly safeguard what it is entitled to and develop a more complex approach to things, moving away from the simplistic “I have differences with Turkey”, “I am right and the world community will give it to me” and moving towards a common understanding with a number of countries.
JOURNALIST: In human history the word “compromise”, which means “I give something, you give something”, is dominant. We, Greeks believe that compromise is synonymous with defeat and certainly not victory.  
N. DENDIAS: I think that Greek society has entered a phase of maturity. Maybe it’s the memoranda and what we’ve gone through these 10 years. It’s clear that at least in the foreign policy issues that I have the honor of handling, there is maturity and a cross-party, unified understanding of the common good. 70% of Greek society, if not more, has a roughly uniform understanding of how we should handle things and supports our basic choices.  This is a great achievement considering that Hellenism has always been divided on foreign policy issues. From the French, Russian and English parties during the Greek Revolution, to 1915 with the King and Venizelos, then to the Civil War…
JOURNALIST: Erdogan is constantly making aggressive statements against Greece and personally against Kyriakos Mitsotakis. How worrying do you find all of this?
N. DENDIAS: If I may use a popular expression, the last thing Greece and Greek society should do is to get touchy and respond similarly by escalating acrimony in terms of rhetoric.
It is perfectly understandable that such statements evoke feelings of annoyance at the very least, if not feelings of concern. Nevertheless, I believe the country is acting appropriately. It is responding with composure. It is reiterating its positions. It does not get involved in personal disputes. It is not personalizing differences. It adheres to International Law and the European framework that serves its interests. We are not an expansionist country; we make no claims on anyone.
We want a European framework, an area of democracy, and the protection of human rights. Respect for human beings is beneficial not only to our society but also to Turkey. We hope that the “opposite” society will eventually reach the same conclusion.
JOURNALIST: It is in the West’s interest that Russia is included in Europe’s security. But can Europeans put their trust in a Moscow led by Putin, who has threatened nuclear war?
N. DENDIAS: It remains to be seen whether Russia under the same leadership can turn the tide and submit to a system of values and perceptions that it, itself has largely disrupted with the invasion of Ukraine. It is not simple. There will be enormous suspicion.
We were one of the countries that by broad consensus believed that Russia should be part of the European security architecture. Furthermore, we cannot overlook Russia’s significant contributions to the wider European culture. Writers of unbelievable stature, musicians of astonishing stature. We must not forget that Russian culture has contributed to our common European home. We are not going to stop reading Dostoyevsky, Tolstoy, or listening to Tchaikovsky.
But the invasion of Ukraine has violently turned a page. When one used to debate with the Russians, their counter-argument to our argument “Are we in danger from you?”, was “Have we ever invaded Europe unprovoked?”
That can no longer be said. A great argument has disappeared from Russian rationale. It takes a huge effort to persuade small countries close to Russia that it does not pose a threat to them. I hope that one day it will recognize the added value of this effort and make it. However, given its stance, I would not be optimistic.
JOURNALIST: “But, are you talking about the economy?”, οne might ask… No, we are talking about the core of foreign policy and how a country gains strength through soft power.
N. DENDIAS: Exactly. Investment foreign policy is a necessary goal. We in this Ministry of Foreign Affairs have tried to bring in as many foreign good practices as possible and to bring the country in contact with investment destinations.
Our relationship with Israel has a clear economic dimension, as does our relationship with the United Arab Emirates. The Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia came with the intention of investing 4 billion.  
All this is an important corollary of a policy that looks beyond the narrow zone of “Turkey”, “North Macedonia” and “Albania”.
JOURNALIST: With Russia threatening to use nuclear weapons, it became clear that European defense without the US umbrella cannot exist, at least for the time being. Apart from the US’s technological superiority, how do you see this in relation to Greece?
DENDIAS: In principle, Europe too must develop an autonomous presence. European capabilities in a number of areas cannot be compared to those of the United States, but I believe it is perfectly compatible for Europe to strive for autonomous defense capabilities while maintaining a close relationship with the United States and a shared framework of democratic values.
I believe it is reasonable for Greek society to believe that it must be able to defend its homeland on its own. Israel, for example, will never delegate the ability to defend itself to anyone else, regardless of how close an ally it is. This does not mean that we will not form the broadest possible framework of alliances, but we will do so much more easily, and with much more confidence if we can stand by ourselves.
JOURNALIST: The Western Balkans and our relations with those countries are another area where Greeks have a hazy picture.
N. DENDIAS: There are historical rivalries and issues that predate the Balkan Wars. However, at this point, there is something that Greek society needs to comprehend. Greece’s historical interest is that this region is safely integrated into the European Union.

We may have second thoughts, we may be bothered by various things, but we should set them aside, look at the big picture, and understand that if these countries are not embraced by the European Union, will find it very difficult to stand on their feet. Otherwise, it is very difficult for their economy, their democracy, and their institutions to survive. The main challenge in the Western Balkans is to create an institutional framework comparable to the European one.
The Bulgaria-North Macedonia situation saddened me greatly. Not because it brought back problems that we thought were behind us, but because it distracted discussions. The great European effort in the Western Balkans must be to turn them into truly European countries. The historic mission of Greek society is to assist these countries in joining Europe. And we must not downplay the challenges. Bosnia and Herzegovina is potentially a powder keg, it can explode at any time, and it’s a non-functioning entity. I’m not sure how many years they’ve gone without approving a budget. Does Greece care? Of course, it does.
We have not recognized Kosovo, but its stability is certainly of interest to Greece. The Belgrade-Pristina dialogue is certainly of interest to Greece. The fact that Albania has chosen Europe is a huge asset. There are relations with Turkey; Rama has never hidden the fact that he is President Erdogan’s friend. However, the choice he made for his country creates by the very nature of things a huge gap with Turkey, where women’s rights, for example, do not exist. So, does this not bring Albania closer to Greece? Why can’t we put the whining about what’s right under our noses behind us and look beyond the horizon instead?
JOURNALIST: In effect, the Prime Minister and the Minister of Foreign Affairs are making decisions that affect the future of 11 million Greeks. Politics, whether you like it or not, has an educational dimension, and being positive is a basic obligation of you, politicians, in these difficult globalized times we live in.  
N. DENDIAS: First of all, I would absolutely agree that politics also has an educational character, which is far more important than it appears. This means that both the discourse and the manner in which politics is conducted are of enormous importance for future generations.  According to the Prime Minister, this government, through me in the framework of our foreign policy, has tried to create a model, that of national and mutual understanding.
Nothing has been done in this Ministry that the Opposition parties have not been briefed on at regular intervals, and the choices and the rationale have been made known to everybody, resulting in an understanding of where and how we are proceeding. We can use this as a model in society, where you cannot explain the details of every decision, as some of them are classified, but you have to explain the values and the reason why they are made. You have to demonstrate that it is not a matter of maneuvering by “cunning people” behind closed doors, namely a Metternich model – not as it really was but as it is now perceived – but rather a rationale of value-based positioning of a country with a specific historical past, with a broader framework of thinking. This leads to a large family of countries, which, if things go better, will keep expanding.
The foreign policy serves this objective. It is inextricably linked to the country’s internal affairs; it is not something separate. Our foreign policy is inextricably linked to Greek society and how it sees itself in the future.
JOURNALIST: Is there anything that worries you so much that, as Minister of Foreign Affairs, you think of it day and night and make it a top priority?  
N. DENDIAS: The Russian invasion of Ukraine is not a trivial issue; the world has changed.
The general perception of this Ministry was that it was “paradise,” but since I assumed office there has been a constant crisis on multiple levels and there are issues that I’m constantly concerned about.
But what do I consider to be a necessary and sufficient condition for the country to continue on its path of progress in the face of constant and seemingly worsening challenges?  In my humble opinion, we must be guided by a unified understanding of the value framework. We, Greeks must remain united in our understanding of where the country needs to go.  If this exists and is true, then, the country has the manpower to meet any challenge, no matter its size. If, on the other hand, there is a deep divide in the internal front of a unified vision of the future, then there will be a huge problem.
JOURNALIST: Examining climate collapse is also a key responsibility of the foreign policy. After all, politics is primarily responsible for it. I saw the “Our Ocean Conference” initiative that you took.
N. DENDIAS: Thank you for noticing it, because there is a perception behind it that our country’s foreign policy cannot be limited to the stereotype “Greece-Turkey”. It must be much broader and more multifaceted.
We have to serve environmental foreign policy as well. Greece must also have protection-of the -seas awareness. When you boast that you have the largest merchant fleet on the planet, do you not have a corresponding responsibility? Shouldn’t you somehow take this responsibility on?
So, we’ve stepped up and, in coordination with the United States, we are going to do something about the world’s seas, which, by the way, serves our national interest as well, because this framework includes rules to protect the high seas.
Therefore, since this area serves most of our economy, is it possible to disregard its environmental dimension and say “I don’t care if it is filled with plastic”?
Thus, it is critical to persuade society that this is worthwhile, rather than simply making speeches with nice pictures and inviting Kerry to Athens. By the way, Kerry belongs to a family whose ancestors fought in the Greek Revolution.