Such failures in diplomacy as exist, do so in multitudes, and are usually defined by the populace as stemming from an inability on the part of the Hellenic Republic to make other nations do what we want them to do. Failures of this nature are particularly galling, as diplomacy, like democracy, is a Greek word, referring to a ‘diploma’ a certificate certifying completion of a course of study, folded in two and this being so, we should be better at it than anyone else.
That we are not, is usually attributed to two distinct factors: a) that the nations we are trying to approach are, in the vulgar parlance «πουλημένοι» or that b) the diplomats and politicians purportedly serving the interests of Greece are «πουλημένοι.» Indeed, the whole problem with the popular conception of Greek diplomacy can be attributed to the fact that it does view the process of diplomacy as one of buying and selling, rather than negotiations and for this we have our Byzantine ancestors to blame.
When Constantine VII wrote De Administrando Imperio, an internal and foreign policy manual for his son Romanus II, between 948 and 952, Byzantium’s power waxed supreme. The august Emperor’s main contention was that rather than indulging in expensive wars and having to cope with the consequential social upheaval, it was much cheaper and politic to expend vast amounts of cash from the treasury in order to manipulate smaller fringe states, set them against each other and with any luck, their dependence on Byzantine gold would make them compliant to Byzantine requests, while they would be too busy fighting amongst themselves that they would forget about even attempting to take a bite of the fat ripe plum that was Byzantium.
All this was well and good when all one has to deal with is smaller and weaker states. What happens though, when other powers, just as strong emerge who vie for these states’ obedience and are determined to eclipse one’s own resplendency? The answer: Decline, death, destruction, desolation and despair - the ultimate fate of Byzantium
The Balkan foreign policy of the Hellenic Republic often appears to be a de novo version of De Administrando Imperio, where it is held that by grants of increased aid and heavy investment in the coterie of Balkan states that perch precariously upon Greece’s perimeter, incentive is provided for the governments of such ‘tributary’ nations to be receptive to Greece’s will. Though, in matters of convenience and trade this may often be the case, unfortunately, what is often not observed by our diplomatic neophytes, is that these same countries were created in spite of the Byzantine Empire and/or Hellenism and thus their ‘national’ interests are inimically opposed to those of Greece. Thus, though they may be temporarily bribed, they cannot be expected to be ‘friends’ or to subordinate their will to that of their donor.
Conceivably, De Administrando Imperio de novo could have a chance of working if other, greater powers did not exist, capable of larger grants of largesse to the countries of the region. As much as Greece has difficulty in extricating herself from the Byzantine myth that she is a Balkan power, it cannot be disputed that other powers exist with interests in the region not always coinciding with those of Greece, who are capable of providing larger subsidies and opportunities and who are culturally and geographically remote enough not to excite opprobrium. If diplomacy is about buying and selling, then Greek diplomats must be aware that in the auction for influence, favours are invariably sold to the highest bidder.
Greece too has been and is still the recipient of such largesse which is why her attempts to become a Balkan power on the back of the advantages of such largesse are amusing. What is not amusing is that Emperor Constantine, not being able to countenance a situation where his basileuousa, whose manifesto was to rule over the entire oikoumene, would have to placate and seduce larger powers, left no instructions in De Administrando Imperio as to how to do so. Thus, we are left scratching our heads wondering why the powers that be do nothing to reverse a clearly unjust situation in Cyprus, or why the United States in their infinite wisdom and intricate knowledge of the complexities of Balkan history, decide to recognise the nation ruled at Skopje as ‘Macedonia.’
Our Albanian neighbours seem particularly adept at winning friends and influencing people, if U.S President George Bush’s recent visit to that country is anything to go by. Proof of this can be found in George Bush’s statement that the U.S supports detaching the province of Kosovo from Serbia, of which it has been part since Serbian independence and giving it independence. In doing so, George Bush is giving tacit approval for the proposition that a group of disaffected militia may rape, loot, pillage, kill elderly Serbs and destroy and vandalise cultural monuments such as Christian cemeteries and the monastery of Dečani, and then be granted independence.
As such, the Diatribe proposes that Greek diplomats, nay the entire Greek people be sent to Albania for a study tour. After all, it appears that the only way to win friends and influence people is to prostrate oneself at the prospective friend’s feet and tell them how much you love them. We need to learn how to do this, as it appears that thus far, we have only been trained in receiving the homage of those grateful for us generously granting them the precious gifts of democracy and the Olympic Games.
The waves of government organized adulation in Tiranë directed towards George Bush could never have been staged in Athens, where the emotionally immature Greeks, not known for their tact, would have most likely thrown Molotov cocktails at him. Apparently then, gratitude for providing them with the illumination of civilization is a debt considered paid a long time ago and we had better wake up and understand that homage that is obtained by a weaker party is only symbolic. Largesse on the other hand, is tangible but needs to be earned.
In contrast, in Albania, a country that oppresses its ethnic minorities and whose system of governance resembles democracy in the same way that Kim Jong Il is the archetype of a benevolent leader, ‘spontaneous’ demonstrations of joy, uncannily reminiscent of those ‘spontaneously’ organized during the communist Hoxha regime buoyed the unpopular U.S president’s spirits. He waved and smiled cheesily at the adoring crowds of Albanians, who rhythmically chanted “Bushi, Bushi, Bushi!” When questioned about the provenance of the chant, Mr Ali G, a spokesman for the Albanian Foreign Minister explained that this had to do with Bush’s interest in a particular region close to the hearts of the Albanian people: “We love Bush. We is down with any foilazh that covers the Punani region.” The crowds, heaved, Bush smiled, they lurched forward as one to touch his face, his hands, his arms. If one looks closely at the footage, one can see that while at the commencement of the bout of moaning, groaning and ecstatic gyrations by the aroused Albanians, George Bush is waving pontifically, a watch strapped to his wrist, after the mass heavy petting session, he extricates his arm from the crowd, sans watch! Even this erotic massage mugging was not able to erase the smile from George Bush’s face. Some day, a venerable Tiranë elder will claim that he is George Bush’s lovechild and present the watch lifted on that happy day as evidence. I can’t wait.
If Greek diplomats were made to frequent nightclubs as part of their training, they would have discovered that is inordinately difficult to resist the advances of someone who literally throws their self at you. Imagine now a horde of horny Albanians rushing at you holding placards begging you: “Come and occupy us!” - with all the Freudian implications that this entails. It would be terribly rude to say no. While this orgy of adulation was transpiring, the Albanian government is said to have seized the opportunity to indulge in some pillow-talk of its own, namely to state its irredentist claim over sections of Greek Epirus, and all this while it persecutes the Greeks of Northern Epirus, vehemently. We are sure to find out sooner or later, how the planetarch responded to his political concubines over the post-coital cigarette but if Kosovo is anything to go by, the future is bleak indeed.
What do we, the young boy scouts of the Balkans learn from today’s lesson, then? Simply this: that if we want to annoy other people and occupy parts of their country, we can only do so if we know how to bow before the Scout Master in the approved fashion and bark like a wolf upon demand. Protesting and hurling abuse at those who keep us on a short leash will only result in them placing less food in our doggy bowl. Oh and another thing - we need all need a change of lingerie. Imagine how much better off Greece would be if every time Karamanlis presented himself before Bush, he was not wearing those metre long brown yiayia Katina parachute knickers that he inherited from Simitis. Take a leaf out of Albanian PM Sali Berisha’s book and get yourself a g-string. Not only are they economical, they also add an appealing twang to Balkan sessions of mutual adulation. See how great the sinuous and sexy young Balkan hottie, Nikola Gruevski, PM of FYROM, looks in suspenders and well done I say, for it was these suspenders that paradoxically won FYROM Membership in La Francophonie, the international organization of French-speaking governments and peoples. Didn’t you all know that Alexander the Great was a French-speaking, suspender-wearing Macedonian queen?
Let us therefore prepare the Greek people for the official visit of the divine George W Bush to the Hellenic Republic, by teaching them the new Amero-Balkan anthem in his praise, penned by the Divinyls:
“I don’t want anybody else, when I think about you I touch myself….A fool could see how much I adore you, I get on my knees, I do anything for you.” World domination, here we cum….
First published in NKEE on 18 June 2007