Dr. Yannis A. Stivachtis
(Associate Professor at the Virginia Polytechnic Institute & State University
and RIEAS Member of International Advisory Board)

Copyright: www.rieas.gr

Since the proclamation of the Truman Doctrine and the end of the Civil War that torn the country apart, Greece has become very sensitive to changes in the White House and subsequent changes in US foreign policy. It is worth noting that the American foreign policy is primarily responsible for the anti-American attitudes that various segments of the Greek society have displayed overtime. Therefore, it is always interesting to find out what the Greek perceptions and beliefs of the new US President are.

In analyzing the Greek perceptions about President Barak Obama’s election and foreign policy to date, this article will not be based on any particular polls. The analysis would rather be based on how the mass media have presented his election and foreign policy, the views that the Greek political parties have displayed, as well as what the Greeks generally think loudly about President Obama in their daily discussions. In fact, the author of this article spent considerable time during the months of May and June 2009 in Greece in an effort to capture the feelings and perceptions of the Greek public about the American President.

To begin with, one should understand that as any national society, the Greek society does not present itself in a uniform manner. Instead different segments of the Greek population believe different things. Therefore, no one can argue that all the Greeks think in the same way. This variation is also reflected in the way that the Greeks have perceived President Obama’s election and his foreign policy to date. Such perceptions are conditioned by the political orientation of the Greek population, as well as the level of their understanding about world politics. Although it is very difficult to argue with a significant degree of certainty what the Greeks think about President Obama on any given issue without resorting to the use of scientific polling, on some issues one can nevertheless see what the general tendency is.

Levels of Analysis

To examine the Greek perceptions about President Obama’s election and foreign policy, one should do so with reference to two different levels of analysis: first, what the Greek perceptions of the overall foreign policy orientation of the Obama Administration are; and second; what the Greeks believe about the Obama Administration’s policy towards Greece.

In terms of the former, the Greeks are – generally speaking - divided into two categories. The Greek Communist Party (KKE) and the forces of the extra-parliamentary and revolutionary Left see no difference between a Republican and a Democrat president in the White House. They claim that what finally counts is not a US President’s rhetoric but his practice. As a result, they emphasize the continuation of American policies and argue that the United States represents the most powerful agent of the capitalist system and consequently each US President is there to make sure that the American and capitalist interests are served. For example, it is claimed that what unites George Bush senior, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barak Obama is that bombs continue to drop; the location of the bombing may differ but not their actions. Moreover, the Greek Left sees in Obama’s handing of the global financial crisis an effort of the capitalist world to strip the workers of any rights in the name of stabilizing the world capitalist system.

The remaining of the Greek population has approached the US elections and the American foreign policy in a different way. Having clearly expressed their opposition to the policies of President George W. Bush, they have seen in Barak Obama’s rhetoric and policies a very different foreign policy that needs to be commented. For instance, the decision of President Obama to withdraw the American forces from Iraq by 2011 and close the Guatanamo Bay prison; the way he spoke to the Islamic world; his efforts to deal with the global financial crisis, and the way he dealt with the post-election protests in Iran have made the Greeks believe that there is an entirely new foreign policy orientation; one that takes into account what the rest of the world thinks instead of focusing on how to achieve and maintain American hegemony. It can safely be argued that, for the time being, the majority of the Greek population is satisfied with President Obama’s election and foreign policy as a whole.

With reference to Obama’s Administration Greek policy one could observe three main divisions among the Greek public. After the pre-election commitment of President Obama to support the Greek positions and following his meeting with the Greek Prime minister Costas Karamanlis,  a significant portion of the Greek public (one could call them ‘moderates’) believes that President Obama will maintain a quite fair position towards the Greek interests; especially in the Aegean and Cyprus. For example, they argue that unlike any other leader, President Obama stood before the Turkish National Assembly and asked the Turkish Government to reverse its policies concerning the Theological School of Chalki and continue its commitment to the protection of the human rights of minorities (including the Greek minority).

However, another significant part of the Greek public has taken an opposite stance. In turn, this part of the Greek public can be divided into two categories. On the one hand, what one may call ‘nationalist forces’ are very skeptical about President Obama’s decision to support the entry of Turkey into the European Union and enhance the strategic position of Turkey in the region. They are even more skeptical about the American Administration’s decision to continue the same course of action as the Bush Administration did on the Macedonian issue: namely recognize FYROM with the name “Republic of Macedonia”. On the other hand, the Greek Left sees the Obama Administration continuing the old American recipe of diving nations and creating regional conflicts aiming to enhance the American interests with the Balkans being one of such regions. 

For the time being, it seems that the perceptions and beliefs of the Greek ‘moderates’ reflect those of the majority of the Greek public. However, as the international situation changes, the Obama Administration spends more time in the White House, and the US President is invited to take tough positions on an number of international issues, as well as those associated with the Greek interests, public perceptions in Greece may easily alter. 

This has been a short analysis of the beliefs and perceptions of the Greek public regarding the election of President Obama and his foreign policy choices to date. Despite the author’s expertise and efforts to remain objective, only a comprehensive scientific polling could provide a ‘safer’ answer as to what the Greek perceptions and beliefs about the current US President are.    

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