Playing to the global public opinion

by Antonis D. Papagiannidis

The high-profile clash of red-hatted (and -masked) aggressive Dutch journalist Ingeborg Beugel with obviously aggravated Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis over Greece’s treatment of asylum-seekers, over push-backs at sea as well as over the ever-lasting matter of truth-and-lies has got quite a lot of public-opinion attention.

One day later, the deliberately belligerent stance of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan over the same issue (“If we open our borders, I do not know what will happen to Greece […] Greece is a country which in the Aegean sinks vessels carrying migrants and condemns them to death”) laid also claim to public opinion.

The Beugel – Mitsotakis incident got some attention past Greek borders, notwithstanding the fact that it was staged at a joint press conference of the Greek PM alongside his Dutch counterpart Mark Rutte (who was clearly flabbergasted at the acrimonious exchange) visiting Greece. But the essential scope of the confrontation was clearly domestic in nature: the very tone of K. Mitsotakis, aggrieved to the point of losing control, showed he was aware of the political risk he incurred – to be shown losing an argument in his very own turf.

The exact opposite was the case with the Erdogan aggressive comments however he was playing to his internal political needs: they were clearly addressed to an audience beyond his country’s own borders – meaning global public opinion. Greek public opinion was also aimed at, in an ever-unfolding game of his psyching-out the opposite coast of the Aegean, but the main object of such Erdogan positioning is to get (or: to get back) some measure of international legitimacy; that is, further to the acceptance of Turkey as an indispensable ally in the Near East/Eastern Mediterranean set-up.

The dehumanizing play staged at the EU borders with asylum-seekers as the main cast, a play with the Erdogans or Lukashenkos of this world as directors, is watched by global public opinion with all its preconceived ideas and biases. At the same time, internal public opinion follows closely the act unfolding. But however the message projected is loaded with internal considerations, the coverage afforded by international media has in no way corresponded to the expectations of point-of-entry countries.

In some weeks’ time, Pope Francis may be visiting Greece anew. When he last was here (in 2016), he sided with the opinion that “human rights prevail over international agreement”. When he flew back to Rome, he took along on the papal plane twelve “illegals”, to showcase the plight of those caught in a no-mans-land situation. What will the message be this time around?