While much of the current foreign policy debate at the beginning of the new 2021 is concerned with the future of the global order, and reasonably so, it seems that the old international relations pattern remains the same, the ability to affect its future direction is beyond the means of all but a handful of large, powerful states. This does not mean, however, that smaller and middle-sized powers cannot play a significant role in shaping global affairs.
Relying on research conducted by the British magazine Monocle which in its print edition for December 2020 and January 2021 included Greece among the countries of the world with the greatest soft power, despite the pandemic, Greece remains on the path of economic recovery. Positive remarks concern not only the economy but also the effective addressing of the Greek-Turkish issue, the successful way in which the country managed the pandemic and the reversal of the brain drain. In addition, the Greek islands are recorded as a landmark of its soft power, despite the impact of the Coronavirus on tourism.
Moreover, taking into consideration that 2021 marks the bicentennial of the Greek 1821 Revolution which represents a pivotal chapter in Greek history and a piece in the puzzle of world history, with different projects and events that will be implemented both locally and abroad and in various forms: scientific conventions, cultural events, commercial exhibitions, and also projects that will create a legacy for the future, like environmental interventions and infrastructure these commemoration events could potentially emphasize the status of Greece, the forthcoming force of the country and the answer to the lingering question of new public diplomacy paradigm.
Identity politics mobilized at the level of the state new/old paradigm
In order to better understand the forces and circumstances that were/are shaping international politics, one should necessarily examine the role of soft power that is the ability to use attraction and persuasion to achieve foreign policy objectives, rather than coerce. Hence, Philhellenism ("the love of Greek culture") and philhellene ("the admirer of Greeks and everything Greek"), was an intellectual movement prominent mostly at the turn of the 19th century. It contributed to the sentiments that led Europeans such as Lord Byron or Charles Nicolas Fabvier to advocate for Greek independence from the Ottoman Empire. Coming up with that the goal of the aforementioned bicentennial initiatives is to comprehend the Greek Revolution of 1821, to highlight its significance, its relationship with other revolutions and wars for independence that flared up at approximately the same time, and the effect it had on the rest of the world and how it was affected by it, it could be reasonably argued that with clarity of purpose and the right capabilities, soft power could provide smaller states a means to achieve real impact on the global stage. As a matter of fact, the opportunity to attract other actors to emulate their position and inspire them to take collective action. With that, many well-known philhellenes supported the Greek Independence Movement such as Shelley, Thomas Moore, Leigh Hunt, Cam Hobhouse, Walter Savage Landor and Jeremy Bentham. Some, notably Lord Byron, even took up arms to join the Greek revolutionaries. Many more financed the revolution or contributed through their artistic work. Throughout the 19th century, philhellenes continued to support Greece politically and militarily. For example, Ricciotti Garibaldi led a volunteer expedition in the Greco-Turkish War of 1897. A group of Garibaldini, headed by the Greek poet Lorentzos Mavilis, fought also with the Greek side during the Balkan Wars. The later 19th-century European philhellenism was largely to be found among the Classicists. In addition, this unprecedented event of Modern history had influenced in decisive manner diplomatic relations between orthodox Balkan countries, especially Greece, Serbia and Montenegro, partly by virtue of Serbian and volunteers from Montenegro who took part in Greek war for independence.
Nowadays, as the world enters an era of escalated tension between clashing powers the never-ending ethno-nationalist, religious and economic crisis still mire especially in the Balkans, Eastern Mediterranean and Middle East thus minimizing the hopes for stability in the region, which had led to the intervention of super-powers in order to sway these conflicts to their interest. Hence these regions are back in play. Among other things, today it seems that we are in the phase of crystallization of the second generation of the modern multipolar international system. The evolution of many medium-sized countries is transferring them into ambitious autonomous actors. The Greek case, once more, underlines their importance of mediation that is capable of finding a common language between different parties.
Taking into consideration that during 2020 immediate US task in the Balkans was to secure the gains offered by the Prespa Agreement between Athens and Skopje, as well as achieving a comprehensive, historic settlement between Kosovo and Serbia along with expectations that the US President incoming administration could play a more active role in attempting to calm growing tensions in the eastern Mediterranean, according to certain estimates it could have generated anxiety in Moscow that Russia’s global ambitions would be more directly challenged. In this regard, the recent tour of the Balkans by Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov could be perceived as very important. It should be noted that the Russian Foreign Minister visit to Greece marked the end of a stalemate (since it had been frozen after the expulsion of two Russian diplomats from Athens under Nikos Kotzias) serving as a precursor to the arrival of Russian President Vladimir Putin on the 21st, two hundred years since the beginning of the Greek Revolution, for which anniversary and cultural events are also planned on Russian soil. Having the common denominator energy and economy issues as well as Turkey’s destabilizing role in the region, the talks in Athens, however, were inspired by a long and strong friendship between two countries that is based on history, culture, religion, mutual respect and mutual understanding. Pronouncing on the fact that relations between two countries go back centuries as well as on the catalytic role of Russia in Greece’s struggle for independence was indicative of their shared will to take a step forward in the culture sector, but also a manifestation of logic to recall historical ties and to keep the diplomatic process active. In other words, the use of soft power which involves shaping the preferences of others through appeal and attraction has become once again of invaluable importance.
Speaking about the period of the Greek Revolution 1821 and the role of cultural diplomacy in promoting the dialogue, the figure of the Russian diplomat and count from the Greek island of Corfu, Ioannis Kapodistrias, who later became the first president of the Greek independent government, is especially interesting. Taking into consideration that his activity was focusing on resolving the Serbian question too, comprehensively it left its mark in the manuscripts of eminent representatives of Serbian historiography and diplomacy1.
The crucial role of Greece nowadays should be seen in the light of concern that reengaged in disputed regions in pursuit of Western integration, but also in regard with a new alliance system emerging between Israel and the Gulf that increasingly includes partnerships that span from Greece to India, including economic ties and geostrategic discussions about common interests and security, as well as the need for stabilization in the face of terror and extremist threats. The Iran front is one issue that brings Israel and Saudi Arabia closer together. It is also a threat that concerns the UAE and Bahrain. However, Iran is not the only issue. Turkey's support for Qatar and its links to Hamas, as well as Ankara's role in the Libya conflict, have set off alarm bells from Jerusalem to Abu Dhabi to Cairo. The reason these countries are working more closely is that the U.S. has signaled it is drawing down forces from places like Iraq and Afghanistan, and perhaps wrapping up the war on terror, thus underlying the need for U.S. allies to do more on their own. Toward this end, Greece and the UAE have also done joint training with F-16s, and both the UAE and Greece have worked more closely with Israel. Israel, Egypt, Greece, Cyprus and Jordan all signed on this year to an East Mediterranean Gas Forum. Together, this arc of transnational partnerships from Greece to India looks to also be a corridor that will grow amid the pandemic, as countries realize they need closer regional ties in this uncertain world. Even the agreement on the normalization of Serbia-Kosovo economic relations, if one concerns energy issues is indirectly related to Greece. Specifically, the two sides pledged to use different sources of supply to meet their energy needs in natural gas. Serbian Prime Minister told the point concerns the supply of US liquefied natural gas, which would arrive from Alexandroupolis. Another issue that the US imposed on the agreement concerns the Middle East and especially Israel. For Israel, Serbia has pledged to open a government office in Jerusalem and to move its embassy to that city during 2021. However, it remains to be seen how the relationship will play out.
2021 as a window of opportunity
As Greece works towards the aim of the emergence of the country as a pillar of stability in the Balkans and especially in the Eastern Mediterranean region, the country's public diplomacy efforts are increasingly relevant. We contend that Greece could play a role as a balancing and stabilizing actor by prioritizing its cultural and historical ties in the face of the ever-increasing influence of global powers, which could be observed in the socio-economic, cultural and political fields. Hence, this enables the country to bridge people and to detect the sociopolitical problems as well as the needs. Embracing all the cultures and historically one of the most important actors in the Balkans and Eastern Mediterranean, along with its connection to North Africa and the Middle East, Greece institutions and strategies could enable the country to become a voice of a vast region and the champion of the cooperation. Having in mind that the challenges regarding the future are already present, as well that soft power mechanisms and their instruments can transform these disadvantages into advantages, the pivotal role of Greece as an emerging soft power actor could be a window of opportunity not just for Greece, but the desirable solution in promoting the dialogue beginning by 2021.
1 Duško Lopandić, Joanis Kapodistrijas, Politikin zabavnik, br. 3551, 28/02/2020.