Can Europe Make It?

Press-clipping the Tsipras-Putin meeting: the early impressions

How did the Greek press react to the recent Tsipras-Putin meeting in Moscow?

Vassilis Petsinis
15 April 2015


Flickr/Sascha Kohlmann. Some rights reserved.The Tsipras-Putin meeting captivated the interest of the European media and dominated the attention of the Greek press. This piece briefly summarises the attitudes of Greek newspapers towards the outcome of the meeting and its wider implications.

Of particular importance is to discern the extent to which the coverage of the meeting resonates with the major trends in Greece’s political landscape. A further objective is to assess the degree to which the general mood in the Greek press can be regarded as ‘pro-Russian’ or not. Due to the limitations in space, this article concentrates on selected newspapers that reflect the dominant trends across the Greek party-spectrum.

The leftist press: a wave of satisfaction and ‘intra-left’ cleavages

Starting with the pro-government press, the electronic version of Avgi (‘The Dawn’) expressed its satisfaction with the Greek PM’s visit to Moscow and its outcome.

Avgi is one of the oldest Greek newspapers. During the 1980s it was the official newspaper of KKE Esoterikou (i.e. the Eurocommunists) and, since the 1990s, Avgi identified with SYN/SYRIZA and other initiatives within the Greek broader left. Until not so long ago, this newspaper abstained from the profile of a ‘party-publication’ and used to strike a slightly elitist stance with a noticeable emphasis on literature and culture. Nevertheless, SYRIZA’s transformation into a wider coalition has resulted in Avgi’s stronger conformity to the party-line endorsed by SYRIZA, as well as the adoption of a more ‘popular’ profile.

The Avgi issues of 9 April and 10 April, therefore, stressed the beneficial impact that the rapprochement between Athens and Moscow is expected to have on bilateral trading and energy cooperation. In accordance with the Greek government’s official statements, however, the newspaper highlighted that Greece is committed to the Minsk Agreement and that Athens does not view Russia as a potential alternative to the EU.

Efimerida ton Syntakton/Efsyn (‘The Newspaper of the Journalists’) maintained an equally optimistic outlook on the Tsipras-Putin meeting.

This is a relatively new publication which evolved out of an internal split in the centre-left Eleftherotypia (‘Freedom of Press’) as soon as the economic crisis broke. Efsyn positions itself as a pro-government newspaper, albeit often more critical in comparison to Avgi.

In addition to its optimism over the restoration of more intensive cooperation between Greece and Russia, Efsyn voiced its criticism towards certain reservations on the part of Berlin and Brussels. The column entitled ‘Το ελληνικό πείραμα’ (’The Greek experiment’) of 9 April accused the EU of overlooking the emergence of a multipolar world order. The columnist went on to accuse Brussels and Europe’s conservative circles of having concretised a new status quo and dubbing those who do not endorse it either ‘neo-Stalinists’ or ‘far right-wingers’.

Although not referring to the actual attraction of certain far right parties towards Moscow, the columnist reiterated that Greece must be free to maintain relations with Western and non-Western agents alike within a multipolar international system.

Further along the leftist spectrum, Rizospastis (‘The Radical’) assumed a rather skeptical, if not negative, stance.

This is the official newspaper of the Greek Communist Party/KKE with a long tradition of disciplined alignment to the official party line. As soon as Costas Karamanlis sped up bilateral cooperation with Russia (2004-2009), Rizospastis had subtly voiced its satisfaction with the Greek government’s quest for alternative, non-Western, partners.

This newspaper has, however, embraced an entirely different attitude vis-à-vis the ongoing rapprochement between Greece and Russia. According to the Rizospastis issues of 9 and 10 April, ‘…the SYRIZA-led coalition simply oscillates between the Moscow oligarchs and Western neoliberal capitalism’. Furthermore, the newspaper stressed that ‘…the Greek people have nothing to gain from the cooperation between Greek and Russian crony capitalism’.

In short, it seems that the longstanding, ‘intra-left’, rivalry between KKE and the Greek reformist/broader left has, if only occasionally, gained precedence over the party’s hard Euroscepticism.

The centrist and centre-right press: optimism and various shades of criticism

The centre-right Kathimerini (‘The Daily’) maintained an overall positive outlook on the Greek government’s opening to the Kremlin.

This is one of the oldest and most renowned publications in the Greek press. Since the outbreak of the financial crisis, Kathimerini embraced a rather critical stance towards SYRIZA and castigated the party for its allegedly excessive populism and perilous Euroscepticism.

The issues of 9 and 10 April, however, mainly concentrated on the potential benefits that Greece can reap from its cooperation with Russia especially in the areas of foreign investment, privatisation, and energy issues. Only a couple of columnists warned Alexis Tsipras against getting carried away by the more Eurosceptic factions within SYRIZA and opting for Russia as a potential alternative to the EU.

Equally positive, although more descriptive, was the coverage of Alexis Tsipras’ visit to the Kremlin by the centre-right Eleftheros Typos (‘Free Press’).

One might detect a comparable wave of optimism in the centrist To Vima (‘The Tribune’).

This old and renowned publication was equally critical towards SYRIZA during the latter’s ascension to power and yet, this newspaper’s issues of 9 and 10 April, greeted the restoration and intensification of the political and economic cooperation between Greece and Russia positively. Certain columnists assessed that there may even be a way to bypass or soften the Russian embargo on agricultural imports from Greece. To Vima stressed the commitment of the Greek government to the Minsk Agreement and its implementation.

Whilst the newspaper was cautious enough to underline that the maneuvering with Moscow does not imply any deviation from Greece’s European trajectory, certain columnists voiced a more critical mood towards Brussels. These contributors argued that it would be more advisable for the EU to resolve its internal problems before expanding to its ‘near abroad’ (e.g. Ukraine) and criticising Greece or other member-states (e.g. Cyprus, Hungary and Slovakia) for their dealings with Russia.

Pro-Kremlin undertones or a pattern of situational adaptation?

Only marginal newspapers saw the Tsipras-Putin meeting as an opportunity to express their indignation with Brussels and voice more explicit pro-Russian sympathies.

For instance, the issues of Demokratia (‘Democracy’) on 9 and 10 April largely echoed the Greek right’s enthusiasm with the opening to Moscow during Costas Karamanlis’ term in office. This newspaper called upon the Greek government to accelerate and intensify cooperation with Russia as a counteraction to the pressures and ‘bullying’ from Berlin. Although clearly resonating with the more populist branch of conservative New Democracy, Demokratia has condemned the party for its insistence on austerity policies and frequently opted for the Independent Greeks/ANEL.

The equally marginal Kontra (‘Against’) went several steps further and praised Vladimir Putin as ‘Greece’s saviour at the greatest time of need’. This ‘independent’ tabloid adopts a sensationalist speech, which echoes the populist and conspiracy-mongering web sphere on the Greek internet. Nevertheless, such publications remain very marginal and appeal to a small segment of readers.

By contrast to what several external commentators might have assumed or expected, Alexis Tsipras’ visit to Moscow was not accompanied by an outburst of Russophile sentiments in the Greek press.

As it becomes obvious in this short press-clipping overview, the Greek newspapers have mainly pondered on economic cooperation with Russia as an option that can comfort Greece along its troubled trajectory to recovery from the crisis.

Quite a few Greek journalists and political analysts converged on their judgment that it is an imperative for Greece to reach out for economic partnerships that can alleviate the country’s financial hardships. These columnists also dismissed the fears among European officials over a more decisive foreign policy shift on the part of Athens towards Russia as exaggerated and unfounded.

Overall, the Greek press, on average, endeavored to strike a balance between Greece’s national interest and commitment to the EU inside the context of a multipolar world order. In all of this, the employment as well as mobilising impact of emphatic Russophile speech has been of a considerably lower significance than quite a few external commentators would reckon.

Furthermore, cases such as Rizospastis and its coverage of the Tsipras-Putin meeting demonstrate that even the hardest and most longstanding brands of Euroscepticism can often be subject to cleavages and rivalries on the level of micropolitics. This, in turn, hints that it might be rather precarious and essentialist to assess that the Greek government is highly subject to identity politics and on course for a drastic foreign policy shift towards Moscow’s orbit.

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