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Speech by the Minister of Foreign Affairs, N. Kotzias at the Observer Research Foundation on the theme “Greece as a pillar of stability in Southeastern Europe and the Eastern Mediterranean”(New Delhi, 27.11.2017)
Ν. ΚΟΤΖΙΑS: I have to say that I am very glad to be in India, as it is one of the countries with which we have more than 5.000, maybe 6.000 years of common history.
We discovered arithmetic; India discovered negative numbers and zero. It can therefore be said that we have created modern mathematics. We discovered religions, which, in a way, are religions for free people; we discovered beautiful forms of theater and dance.
Yet, I am not going to speak about our relation to India.
I would like to talk to you about the region where a small country, from a global point of view, or a mid-sized country, from a European point of view, plays a very specific role.
I am very thankful for your invitation and I am very thankful to everybody who found the time to come here and meet with us.
We are living in times of vast transformations. These times are giving us great challenges and have some very specific difficulties. We are living in a new age of society. As you might know, there are three different names given to this society; the Americans, the Anglo-Saxons call this time “The Second Machine Age”; the Germans are calling it the “Fourth Industrial Revolution”; the Japanese are speaking about the “Fifth formation of society”. But, whatever name you give to the new society that is coming up, we can be sure that it will be a society of knowledge, a society where information is playing a very important role. Biotechnology, nanotechnology and other kinds of these modern sciences are giving us new ways of production, new forms of social relations.
This is a system, which, in a way, is copying the way nature has developed. It is bringing us totally new forms of technology, interdependent to each other.
In this era of the 2nd, 4th, or 5th Machine Age -call it what you like- we have a new balance of power. New powers are arising. To put it better, powers are reemerging in the scene of history. Powers like India, which, along with the whole of southeast Asia produced more than three fifths of the world’s products, in terms of value. It was only one fifth at the end of World War II. Now, it is two fifths and I think the historical trend is to come back to the three fifths of international production.
We now have a new geostrategic balance. The world’s absolute superpowers during the Cold War are not there in the same way. The Soviet Union has collapsed; America does not have any more 50% of the world’s production, but about 20%- they are very strong in informatics in any way.
The big question is how is the world moving, what is the world doing with these new balances, which is the behavior of the new powers that are rising, or of the old powers that are on the descent? In history there are always two ways. And that does not apply only to world politics, but even to our own regional politics, the region where Greece has to play its role. They are emerging as revisionist powers: they would like to revise international law, the international system, the values of the international society.
Other powers, and this is my understanding, for example, of India, are emerging in a very peaceful way, in their pursuit to play a role inside the framework, the international framework that we have in front of us.
And then, there is a third kind: a group of powers which might not be nation-states. They could be powers of fundamentalism, religious or societal fundamentalism. I say sometimes, even atheists can be fundamentalists; it is not only religious people who might be fundamentalists.
So, in this period of big change, one of the most important fault lines is between civilization and terrorism. And Greece took the initiative to organize the “Conference for the Protection of Religious and Cultural Communities [specifically in] the Middle East”, in which more than 40 countries and 320 personalities participated at our last meeting, in Athens, a month ago.
Now, in this world where many things are changing, from technology and society to the balance of power, there is one structure, in my opinion, that is playing a very important role. It is the structure of stability and security. From our point of view, security and stability are playing a much more important role than some years back.
In this context, we have to analyze the situation in our region. When you see the map, -I do not know how many of you have the map in mind- there is a triangle; at its top is Ukraine; downwards on the left side is Libya and on the right side, are Syria and Iraq. This is a very important triangle and if you look at it, you will see Greece in its middle. And this is a triangle where you have three wars, or three conflict lines with terrorism, you have many waves which are coming from the outside to the inside of the triangle, waves of destabilization and insecurity. And then, you have countries like Greece, who are trying to stabilize this region.
And this region can be stabilized through the building of lines -as I call them- lines of stability. For example, if you look at the line in the middle of the triangle, there is Israel, Cyprus and Greece. This is what I call a line of stability. That is, countries who are working and cooperating in order to produce waves of stability, which will oppose the waves of destabilization and insecurity.
In our foreign policy, together with Cyprus, we have created five such kinds of lines, working together with the more rational countries, which are looking for stability. These are Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon and Palestine. These are the important players who are situated on the coast of the eastern Mediterranean.
We have created these five lines of stability with a positive agenda. In our region, what is very important is to come up with a positive agenda in international relations. Otherwise, one has to speak only about negative issues. For example, when you are thinking about the Middle East or about the eastern Mediterranean, the first thing you think is the conflict between Palestine and Israel. The second -or maybe the first nowadays- is the war in Syria. Then it’s the wars -the two wars- in Iraq, and the internal conflict in Libya.
So, whenever you go to an international conference and meetings, the discussion is always about peace processes and war. In a way, discussion is influenced from negative factors. Hence, we are trying to create lines of stabilization, not because we have differences of opinion with third parties, but because we are trying to create a positive agenda. Cooperation on energy, on new technologies, on culture, on border cooperation, even on defense and so on.
The big question is how we can create again a level of cooperation between societies, to develop, for example, our transport system and our trade system. If you look back in time -more than 6,000 years- the region spanning from Saudi Arabia and Yemen to southeast Europe -Italy, Greece and the other Balkan countries- used to be a region of cooperation.
Six months ago I was in Saudi Arabia with our President and I visited the new museum of Riyadh. And in this new museum of Riyadh they have articles which were used 6,000 years ago, the majority of which come from Greece or other parts of the Mediterranean. So trade, connection and transport have been there since many thousands of years and now it they are disturbed because of these destabilization processes.
Hence, we have to create again a region of peace and of cooperation. With this in mind, we have come up with a new form of international cooperation, based on these five lines –though not with all the countries on these five lines- which is the “Conference of Rhodes”. This is a conference where 12 Arab countries and eight southeastern European countries participate. Indonesia and Vietnam requested, this year, to be there as observers, to learn how we do this in the Archipelago of the eastern Mediterranean. Syria, Iraq and Israel are not there. We, the participants, are discussing on how we can develop cooperation from the level of universities and research centers to film and cinema.
This positive agenda of cooperation between societies we call “the Spirit of Rhodes’, a term first coined by Mr. Bassil, the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Lebanon.
Then, it is very important to understand that in the western world, issues like human rights are very important - and in many regions of the world are considered much more important than stability and security. However, in our region which experiences three to four wars every five or ten years; where we are losing hundreds of thousands of human lives; where we have millions of refugees and economic migrants, it is very important before protecting human rights –and I mean this from the side of methodology - to protect the human life. Because, without human lives, there cannot be a system of human rights.
In Syria we lost, in the last five years, more than 480,000 people. Between 12 and 14 million people have lost their property, their incomes, many of them even their family, children and so on. We cannot say we have protected their human rights. We have to protect stability and security and human lives. This is very important.
And this system we are creating in the eastern Mediterranean, this “Spirit of Rhodes” has one goal, it has one concept: to create a structure of security and stability in eastern Mediterranean, as Europe did in the 1970s with the Helsinki Conference and then with the OSCE.
To do that, we need for sure the help of the European Union. And the European Union which is a smart power, a very specific union -not very much like India, even if the European Union has a lot to learn from the structure of the Indian political system- has to be there in the eastern Mediterranean. And Greece is playing in a way the role of a bridge between the Euro-Atlantic structures and the eastern Mediterranean.
I remember always -and I said this the day before yesterday, as I had my first discussion with an Indian Minister- the wisdom of an old Indian saying: that if it is stones you have in front of you, you have three possible ways to use them. You can throw them to somebody. That’s not the way we are thinking. You can create walls to separate the world, or you can build a bridge, construct a bridge. And I think this is what we are trying to do in our part of the world, using things that range from diplomacy to culture. And, I must say, we have an abundance of cultural elements to build with.
In this eastern Mediterranean there are two very important countries for us. One is Israel, which many people are blaming for its foreign policy or its policy towards the Palestinian entity or state, call it what you like. Yet, they have to always remember, every time they blame Israel, that Israel is the most advanced democracy in the Eastern Mediterranean. In a way, it is like ancient Athens.
If you remember, ancient Athens was trying to create a big alliance with the islands of the Aegean Archipelago. Milos, a small island, refused to participate. And the Athenians said “let’s kill everybody there.” They embarked on what we would call today a genocide. But who remembers that? I remember it. Many people remember it. But not everybody, because the core of the Athenian history is not the way Athens conducted its foreign policy. Instead, everybody remembers that it was a democratic place, the birthplace of democracy.
Therefore, we must never forget when we try to understand a country –even if we blame its foreign policy- the character, the substance of this state.
The other country is Egypt. As regards Egypt, the most important question is their fight against terrorism. The security and stability of a country which has a population of more than 100 million people- how to secure the lives of these people, the possibility to have food, to be educated and to have prospects for their future. And from this point of view we hope that the government of Egypt will do a very good job.
The most important thing for us is the stability and the security of the eastern Mediterranean. If Egypt were to collapse, without reforms, we would see more than 20 or 30 million refugees and economic migrants in the Mediterranean and no country would be able to absorb them.
And, as we have seen, the Arab Spring was not what we hoped, a democratization process, except Tunisia. This Arab Spring ended very badly, sometimes in worse situations than when it started, like with the wars in Iraq, Syria and so on.
We have to remember that there is another problem in the big picture. Many Americans would argue today that, in a way, the West is declining; not very quickly, but still declining in a way. And that the influence of the Americans inside the West is also on the decline.
Hence, many countries in the West are looking for cooperation with third countries, without breaking their relations with the West or with the Americans. And this can create other kinds of alliances, which democratic Europe is in favour of forging.
My last point is on the Balkans. As Churchill said, “the Balkans produce more history than they can consume”. And from my part I always say that we have problems with our history. We are too proud of it, we like our history so much, we love it; and the danger is that sometimes we become prisoners of our history, instead of using our history as a school. So, I like to say that history has to be a school and not a prison.
And in the Balkans sometimes we find ourselves deep in this prison, remembering history dating 500 years, 100 years. Somebody told me the day before yesterday that we are like married people who love to be married, who know that they have to be together, but from morning till evening they are fighting and blaming each other. That’s the Balkans for you. And the solution is for the Balkans to follow the so-called Euro-Atlantic way. That is, all countries to become members of the European Union and of NATO.
We already have Bulgaria and Romania in the European Union and NATO and Albania in NATO and everybody is working so that, what we call the Western Balkans -that comprise Albania and the states born after the breakdown of Yugoslavia- become members of the European Union and of NATO.
And the thing is that with the opening of this process, all of us situated in that part of the world have to fight against three things: The first is new nationalism. In times of transformation, when people are insecure, when their identity has to be redefined, it is very easy to succumb to nationalist feelings or thoughts.
The second problem is, what we call in international relations, historical revisionism. That is discussion about borders, about what happened during the Balkan Wars in 1912-1914, or what happened in World War I or World War II and so on.
All this is going to make us prisoners of history. What we need is to accept and to understand that what is there as a product of history has to be recognized and accepted as it is. In a peaceful way.
And this means, thirdly, that nobody can support irredentism. We have some neighbors who like our history; This is great. It’s great. How many millions of people all over the world like our history? How many people in India have blue eyes and are saying they are descendants of Alexander the Great’s family? Irredentism is not somebody who likes your culture, not somebody who likes the history or would like to be part of it. Irredentism is when somebody is saying “since I have blue eyes here in India, Greece belongs to me”. This is not the same as being proud of history or historical transformation.
In our region, where we try to implement the values of stability and security, we have a great neighbor, a great nation, with more than 500 -it will be shorlty 600 years- of common history and common historical difficulties: Turkey.
I would like to tell you this: two weeks ago I was in Ankara and I had a long discussion, as always, with Tayyip Erdoğan. I am an atheist, I have to tell you. But I told him, “you know, Allah has put us next to each other and is looking after us, what we do in our relations, and he is expecting us to do something better than to be in conflict”. We have to create a positive agenda. From our side we have to keep the door open for Turkey, the door of the European Union.
Then, for us, as a neighbor of Turkey’s, the best scenario is that Turkey will become a democratic European country. Then we will not have any kind of problems. We keep this door open, but as I said to my Turkish friends, they have to make their own decisions. Do they want to be part of the European Union? Do they want to accept the European rules, the way we are thinking, the rule of law? That is their decision. It is not ours. They have to decide where they really belong or where they want to belong.
And Turkey is a country with many forms of contradictions. Religious contradictions, from Alawites to Sunni Muslims. They have a national contradiction, as they cannot find a solution with the Kurds, who constitute one fourth or one third of their population. They have a problem in that a part of their economy is a feudal economy; a part of their economy is modern capitalism, modern finance capitalism. They have many contradictions.
And now, after the coup d’état -which we were happy to see Erdoğan defeat- inside the leadership circles of Turkey there exist many contradictions. From the one side, they are very happy and very secure and feeling very strong after defeating the coup d’état. And in other ways, they are insecure. Is it possible that someone else is going to attempt another coup d’état? Is it possible that maybe we cannot conduct foreign policy the way that the former Prime Minister of Turkey, Mr. Davutoglu was thinking some years back?
And you know, when you have these opposing feelings, feeling secure about your strength and being very insecure, due to some fears deep in your soul, this contradiction is the birthplace of nervosity, and in international relations, as the 19th century has shown, nervosity is not the best teacher for anybody.
Last but not least, we have a kind of problem as the European Union and in Greek-Turkish relations, Cyprus. Cyprus was a republic, a former colony similar to what India was under the second British Empire. And as Cyprus became independent, they have brought rules which belong to the 19th century, not of today: to put over the body, the head and over the soul of Cyprus, three Guarantor powers. Britain, Greece and Turkey. We are saying, and we believe this deep in our hearts, that in the 21st century there cannot be countries under the guarantee powers of third countries. There cannot be a member of the European Union or a member of United Nations which has does not enjoy full sovereignty. I have said, and I am very proud that Secretary General of United Nations has used this term himself, that it is time for Cyprus to become a normal state. A normal state, like all the member-states of the European Union and the United Nations.
Concluding what I planned to say today, I repeat that our policy in our region is a peaceful policy. Creating a positive agenda, fighting against negative agendas, terrorism and people who are feeling that they have the right to intervene in third countries. Trying to create the best relations and possibilities for cooperation between all the countries of the region. And we have formed five trilateral relations in the south, two big quadrilateral relations on the Balkan’s side, we have created this “Spirit of Rhodes”, and hope that our ideas and our way of seeing the modern world will be accepted by more and more countries and societies; that cooperation on a positive agenda is a thousand times better than nationalism, chauvinism, terrorism, insecurity and destabilization.
Thank you very much.