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Greek PM: Greece can work as a bridge linking the West and Russia

April 07, 2015, 9:00 UTC+3
In an exclusive interview to TASS First Deputy Director General Mikhail Gusman Greek PM Alexis Tsipras spoke about the prospects of Russia-Greece relations and criticized EU sanctions against Moscow
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Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras

Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras


On the eve of his visit to Russia, Prime Minister of Greece Alexis Tsipras gave an exclusive interview to the First Deputy Director General of TASS Mikhail Gusman. The head of Greek government spoke about the prospects of Russian-Greek relations, a new security architecture in Europe and the significance of the celebration of the 70th anniversary of the Victory in World War II and called EU sanctions against Moscow "road leading to nowhere."

Mr. Prime Minister, thank you very much for this opportunity to meet with you. We are having this conversation on the eve of your first visit to Russia in the capacity of the head of government. What are your expectations of this visit, of the talks you will have with the Russian leadership and with Russian President Vladimir Putin, and what are you plans for this trip in general?

It is an opportunity to lay a new basis for Russian-Greek relations. It is an opportunity to reset them in earnest, to give a fresh impetus to Russian-Greek relations. These relations have very deep historical roots. They matured in the course of joint struggle by our peoples, although I should say these relations in some previous years experienced a period of winter chill. I do not know whether it was very much like a Siberian winter, but it was a winter all right. These days spring time is round the corner, and we are to welcome this spring properly, to make sure it sets in as soon as possible, to promote real development of our relations and to discuss a number of key spheres. You will agree that we are in a particularly strained geopolitical environment. There are common challenges and we should give thought to how to address them. We should take a look at how our peoples and countries may really cooperate in many spheres – the economy, energy, trade, and agriculture. We should consider in what way we can help each other: mostly how constructive our cooperation can be. I do believe that Greece as a member of the European Union can work as a bridge linking the West and Russia.

Mr. Prime Minister, you have made a very accurate observation to the effect our relations have very deep roots: nearly 200 years of diplomatic relations. Generally speaking Russia has always had a very warm attitude to Greece. We really mean it. Incidentally, it would be very correct to say that we have established very good cooperation in various spheres: in energy, science and engineering, humanitarian affairs and even military-technical relations. As far as I know, Greece is the sole NATO country that uses military hardware of Russian manufacture. I’m not sure, though, if the Greek army has the S-300 systems. In that connection I would like to touch upon some specifics, such as where do you see the greatest potential, where do we have the best development prospects, and what should we be doing together to make these relations still stronger?

It is very true that there exist far greater opportunities for our two countries to cooperate, in particular, in the energy sphere, where tangible interaction may be developing. We can propel our trading ties to a new level. We can maintain considerable cooperation that will give Greece a chance to export its farm produce to Russia. You know that in recent years our relations were harmed a lot, because the previous governments were not doing what they could have to avoid that policy of sanctions – very senseless, to my mind – of sanctions over tensions in Ukraine. As a result there followed the embargo on Greek farm produce, which caused considerable damage to the Greek economy. There are opportunities to consider what can be done to further promote our relations in the tourist industry. Next year – 2016 – will be a great chance in that respect. It will be a cross year of Russia in Greece and of Greece in Russia. Also, this year we will be celebrating the 70th anniversary of the great anti-fascist victory, a victory of peoples over Nazism. This jubilee is of special importance to the Russian people and to the Greek people. As I have already told you, our peoples have forged fraternal relations, because they were fighting together at critically important moments in history. Greece and Russia are the two countries that paid more than the others with their blood in the struggle against Nazism. This is an integral part of our common basis, of the common roots of our countries and peoples sharing the same faith. We cannot underestimate this, either. It is these roots that should be emphasized, but let us avoid confining ourselves to pronouncing fine intentions. Let us see what can be done to make relations between the two countries and two peoples on crucial issues more meaningful. We share an excellent past of joint struggle and of walking along a common path, so we can have a worthy future.

You have mentioned a very memorable date which is sacred for all Russians – the 70th anniversary of victory in what this country remembers as the Great Patriotic War, of the 70th anniversary of the allied victory in Europe. I know that this date will be marked in Greece. People of my generation remember well the name of the man, a member of your party, Manolis Glezos, who climbed the Acropolis to tear down the Nazi flag. These days Glezos, 91, represents Greece in the European parliament. In what way will Greece be celebrating the event? What will you party do to mark the anniversary? It is very important for us, too, because hundreds of my compatriots were fighting against the Nazis in the Greek Resistance.

That’s true. Our memories of this are still green. The Greek people’s struggle against the fascist totalitarian regime, against Nazism in 1940-1944 is an integral part of our national identify. I believe that this date must be celebrated not just for the sake of remembering the heroes, but also for deriving lessons we can make us of today. That struggle against totalitarianism, against the ideology of hatred, racism and nationalism, I believe, sounds a very important message still relevant these days. The threat of another rise of such dark forces, misanthropy, animosity among peoples, racism and other types of totalitarianism is looming on Europe’s horizon again. A common front against the rise of fascism is an imperative of the day. It is regrettable that Greece, which was one of the first to have joined the struggle against Nazism, with the wave of the crisis of recent years saw racist forces gain strength again. One ultra-right party has managed to get into the Greek parliament. It has quite a few seats there. For this reason it is important for us to not just mark the victory anniversary once a year, but to remember it throughout each year.

As you may remember, the first step I took in the capacity of prime minister after being sworn in in front of the president of the Greek Republic was to go to Kaisariani. (The rifle range where on May 1, 1944 the Nazis shot 200 Greek Communists). In fact, the oath I took was also an oath addressed to the unknown Greek fighters, who gave their lives for letting us live a free life today. It was an oath in the name of the sovereignty and freedom of the Greek people.

Mr. Prime Minister, you surely know that everybody in Russia is well aware that in Brussels and the European Union you have been firmly pressing for the cancellation of so-called sanctions against my country. You have been very consistent in these efforts. What do you think, will it be realistic to expect that the European Union will turn an attentive ear to your stance regarding the cancellation of sanctions and eventually support it? And to what extent, say, your firmness on that issue interferes with Greece’s relations with some other EU member-states?

It is true that as soon as I took office, I received a message from the European Council’s president (Donald Tusk), who thought that Greece’s support for sanctions was almost an accomplished fact. I made a phone call to him and also to Federica Mogherini (the EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy) and told them: “Please, do not think that the position of Greece is a hard fact. The situation has changed. Greece has a different government now. From now on we would like you to ask us before you make decisions.” I disagree with the sanctions. I believe that they are a road leading nowhere. I maintain that there must be a dialogue, there must be diplomacy. Solutions to major problems are to be looked for at the negotiating table. An economic war as a continuation of real war is a hopeless policy. I am for diplomacy. I believe that the conclusion of the Minsk Accords was very important. I believe that every step must be taken for the sake of easing tensions in Ukraine. The first time I participated in the EU summit, I addressed all of our partners and counterparts - both prime ministers and heads of state - in these words: “Could you please tell me: how do you see a future architecture of security in Europe? Do you see that architecture with Russia at the opposing end, or with Russia involved in the process of dialogue and understanding?” I failed to get a reply from many. The way I see it, the answer is clear: a new architecture of security in Europe cannot but include Russia.

Greece held parliamentary elections this year. Russia was closely watching them, incidentally, because Greece is a near country. Your party achieved an excellent success. You have nearly half of the seats in parliament, although just ten years ago your party received only three percent of the votes, if I am not mistaken. Mr. Prime Minister, what in your opinion attracted the voters most of all? Now, that you have taken the prime minister’s seat, how can you explain the fact the Greek people displayed such great trust towards you? And what statements and what parts of your party’s program were most appealing to the Greek voters?

We attribute our party’s growing strength to collective efforts and also to such a major factor that the Greek people found themselves in a very hard situation, amid a major crisis that must be blamed on the political elite, the political leadership, which had all along been lobbying for the interests of select few. They have brought about a terrible crisis and enormous problems for an overwhelming majority of the Greek people. I believe that the SYRIZA party and yours truly owe their place in the ruling coalition to the sincerity of our intentions, to our efforts to expose the root causes and to explore ways of eliminating those causes. We had no connections with that oligarchy, which brought about that crisis in Greece in recent years and which in the years of memorandums (on austerity measures in exchange for loans) made no contributions to the common pool, and which paid not the slightest share of the costs of that crisis. To put it in a nutshell, we are clean, we have no connections that might bind us. We are certain about our strength and we are determined to conduct vigorous negotiations to defend the interests of the Greek people. We collected a large percentage of votes in the elections. At that moment we received something that was unprecedented in Greece. Although we received 36 percent of the votes, these days twice as many support us in our efforts to safeguard our interests to the maximum possible extent in such a dramatic situation for the Greek people and the country. The people support us in our determination to move forward without looking back, to stay upright, and to feel no fear of a collision, if need be, to protect the interests of our people and the country.

Mr. Prime Minister, I will not be asking you why you chose politics as you guiding star. I know that back in school you were a very active young man. You were very active in the youth movement, in the youth Communist movement. You were a very active personality in your younger days, you joined politics at a very early age and now, at the age of 40 you are Greece’s youngest-ever prime minister. The whole life is still ahead, political life as well. What in your opinion is the secret behind your fast political career? On the other hand, Greece is a country with a great past. During your life in politics you certainly had some benchmarks, some leaders you saw as examples to follow. Who in the history of Greece you bore in mind first and foremost in building your own political life and career?

I cannot say that I have followed some specific example. But it is true that the history of our country is linked inseparably with some very important personalities, who, depending on the current situation, played a very important role in political and social events. Among the most important personalities in the country’s history I can mention Rigas Feraios (a Greek revolutionary poet and national hero, 1757-June 24, 1798) who managed to offer an inspiring dream of national liberation to the people of the Balkans. He was a forerunner of the Greek (national liberation) revolution of 1821 and an envoy of Greek Enlightenment. I should also mention some other important figures from a different period of the country’s upturn and of the uprising of the Greek people, when Greece played a progressive role in European affairs. It was a period of National Resistance. Those people were prominent figures in the National Resistance: General Sarafis (1890-1957, one of the Resistance leaders), Aris Veluchiotis (1905-1945, the commander-in-chief of the Greek People’s Liberation Army). And I should tell you that very important in modern political history were two politicians of the confronting political camps: Konstantinos Karamanlis (1907-1998, a former prime minister and president) and Andreas Papandreou (1919-1996). One played a key role in the country’s return to democracy after the Black Colonels’ seven-year-long dictatorship (of 1967-1974), and the other was crucial to effecting major social change the people of Greece needed so much. But I should tell you that I would like to express still greater respects to the unknown fighters who gave their lives for the sake of great values and great ideals. Their names did not go down in history, but there were thousands of them. In that sense, I believe we stay committed to their contribution to the common cause. This is a very tangible legacy, and I hope that we shall be their worthy successors.

Mr. Prime Minister, may I ask you to break a secret? As you know, Greece is one of Russian tourists’ and travellers’ most favourite countries.  Russians like many sites in Greece. And what is your favourite place, where you like to go on vacation? Give us a hint where the Greek prime minister goes for recreation?

I will mention just one place, which, I know, is a great attraction for Russian tourists. I like to spend my spare time on the Island of Crete. There one finds a variety of things: the sea, the mountains, very beautiful landscapes, exquisite local cuisine, very special culture and hospitable people. But I should say that unique sites can be found in any part of Greece, particularly in summertime. One of the purposes of my visit (to Moscow) will be to discuss ways of increasing the tourist flow to Greece. I believe that you will be able to see for yourself Russian tourists are very welcome guests in Greece. Greece has a special liking for Russia and the Russian people. Greeks are very hospitable people in general, but they are twice hospitable towards Russians. I believe this may contribute a lot to still closer cooperation between our countries.

I believe that very many Russians will surely go to Crete for a holiday after your kind advice…

They can go to any other place, too. For instance, the Kiklada Islands are an exceptional holiday site. I believe that many fresh opportunities for expanding our relations will emerge in the tourist industry and also in the sphere of culture. In Russia, I will have some very important meetings with President Vladimir Putin, Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev and Patriarch Kirill, of Moscow and all Russia. Also, I will address a student audience at one of the central universities. From that standpoint I believe that the opportunities for exchanges and cooperation at the education level between Greek and Russian universities is a major aspect of strengthening our mutual relations. Common roots, common struggle, common faith and also culture. Your country has a very rich culture, indeed. And Greek culture is the cradle of the world civilization. I believe that we may have very meaningful ties and strengthen bonds between the two countries in these spheres.

And the last question, Mr. Prime Minister. Our interview is drawing to a close. The program is called Formula of Power, so at the end of the show I always ask my conversation partners: “What is power?” You have spent just several months in office. This is the first time you have taken such a high post. How do you find the taste of power at the very beginning of your premiership?

Honestly, I haven’t tasted it well enough yet… (Smiles…). This is my office room. These are my telephones. When they start ringing, I usually have the feeling that something bad is about to happen, and that I have to find a solution at once. Indeed, I have taken the prime minister’s seat at a very young age. As you have said, I am the youngest prime minister in the country’s history. This is a very special moment, a critical moment, and in this room we get very emotional and excited in our efforts to stabilize the country and its economy. We seek to achieve benefits for the country and its people in very unfavorable, extreme conditions. So far my taste of power has been that of strenuous, persistent efforts, great anxiety and long hours that we have to spend at work. I do believe that if we fail to stabilize the situation, then our prime concern will be not to feel the taste of power, but to change the taste of power. I do not wish to be built in the previous system of power, which existed under the previous governments. We need power to distribute it among the Greek people. It is the people who generate power. That’s where power belongs and we wish to return it to the people.

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