Social unrest in Turkey and Greece

In a college class one of my students in Ankara said, "We hate Greeks." Full stop. No rationale. In my favorite cafe on the Greek island of Zakynthos, where I have a home, the owner lectured me for an hour on the horrible nature of the Turks. These reactions were extreme and unusual, but expressions of mutual suspicion are not. But both Greeks and Turks admit that their cultures, music, cuisine, and life styles are very similar due to their living for hundreds of years together under Ottoman rule, but this does not eliminate centuries of discord. I have said that I feel like I have two sisters I love but who do not like each other.

Today the two countries have developed in different ways. The Greek center left and right governments in the past decade or so, lied their way into the Euro zone, recklessly used the Euro to rack up an unsustainable debt, and destroyed the economy in part by selling out to the IMF and the European Union and Central Bank . The IMF has just recognized that its policies have been a primary cause of the depression in Greece. "Oops. Sorry."

Turkey on the other hand in the past decade has been led by Erdogan and his AKP, Justice and Development Party to one of the most dramatic periods of economic expansion and development in recent modern history.

It seems odd that both countries seem to be in similar spirals of turbulent unrest. It would appear (apologies to Karl Marx) that economics was not the key issue.What the two social systems are going through has to do with the alienation of large segments of their populations for quite different reasons. Then when this boiled over into the streets, the use of police force to put down the protests has led to the radicalization of the protest.

What will happen in Turkey is up in the air. What happened in Greece is that after an initial near revolutionary situation in which Athens was seen to be burning, has been toned down to a series of union work actions, student protests, and occasional noisy demonstrations.  The effect of all of this on Prime Minister Samaras and the Greek government has been very slight. New Democracy and its governing partners proclaim that the economy is getting better (even if the economic situation of the Greek population is getting worse).

The jury is out on the future of the Turkish protests. It seems that responsible parties were holding their breath when Erdogan returned from his tour of North Africa. There was a  hope that a soothing tone and conciliatory gesture might restore order. Erdogan has chosen the other option: my way or the highway.

One hates to make predictions (because one hates to be proven wrong), but it seems likely that Erdogan's defiant position will lead in the short run to more unrest. A more dismal scenario would develop if Erdogan's "million" followers took to the streets and there were wholesale clashes between protesters and AKP party loyalists. This could make the Turkish situation even more dangerous than the one in Greece.

Meanwhile the scenes in Athens, Ankara, and Istanbul are starkly reminiscent of each other, even though the social and economic dynamics are not the same.


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