2020 has been the most challenging year for Greek-Turkish bilateral relations since the February 1999 Ocalan crisis. Therefore, capturing the perceptions of Greek and Turkish public opinion is now more exciting and relevant than ever. Conducting simultaneous polls with a similar questionnaire in Greece and Turkey seeks to better inform public opinion in both countries at this sensitive moment. It is, in a sense, an exercise in mutual understanding and, at the same time, mutual self-awareness. The polls were conducted by two distinguished polling companies in Greece and Turkey, MRB and KONDA, respectively, as part of a project by the research partnership between diaNEOsis, ELIAMEP and the Istanbul Policy Center (IPC). They took place between 19 and 21 February 2021, with the participation of 1022 Greek and 1142 Turkish citizens. At the same time, twelve in-depth interviews were conducted with Greek experts on Greek-Turkish relations. The main findings of the polls can be summarized as follows:
- Turkey remains present in the Greek public discourse far more intensely than Greece in the Turkish public discourse; Greece remains beyond the visual field of the average Turkish citizen. Few have grown up listening to negative remarks about Greeks, and fewer have visited Greece. Only 3% of Turks state that they have visited Greece compared to 37% of Greeks who have visited Turkey. 47% of the surveyed Greeks say that they have met a Turk, while the corresponding percentage of the surveyed Turks who have met a Greek is only 14%. A strong majority in both countries (through stronger in Turkey) say they could have a citizen of the neighboring country as a friend: 60% of Greeks and 74% of Turks. It is worth noting at this point that only a small segment of the Turkish population has a passport but also the financial means to travel abroad for leisure. On the other hand, the average Greek citizen is more extroverted and has stronger perceptions of Turkey. He learns more about the neighboring country within his family but also through print, electronic and social media. The information he receives is often negatively charged, as can be seen from the in-depth quality interviews.
- Bilateral disputes in the Aegean and the Eastern Mediterranean emerge as the most severe problem in the bilateral relations. This is not surprising given the events of the last year. Still, it also highlights the need to consolidate a strategy that will make resolving disputes via international law a priority. The majority of the experts who participated in the in-depth interviews agree with this.
- Both surveys show that Greek and Turkish citizens favor resolving bilateral disputes by peaceful means. However, they disagree with respect to the allocation of responsibility for the absence of a solution. 59% of Greeks and 70% of Turkish respondents believe that Greek-Turkish disputes can be resolved more easily through dialogue and conciliation. 68% of Greeks and 73% of Turks believe that Turks/Greeks are neighbors and a way of friendly coexistence with them must be found.
- While the majority of citizens in both countries appear to be worried about the possibility of a “hot incident,” this concern is reflected more strongly in Greek than in Turkish public opinion. This might be explained by the overexposure of Turkish public opinion to news about Turkey’s military involvement in recent years.
- In both countries there is distrust as to the mediating role that the international community (international organizations and major powers) can play in resolving Greek-Turkish disputes. The prevailing perception is that mediation will favor the other side. This distrust remains strong throughout the left-right axis. The rampant distrust of Turkish public opinion against the United States is notable, and so is the suspicion of a substantial part of Greek public opinion against the European Union. Nevertheless, Greek public opinion favors dialogue mediated by international organizations, while Turkish public opinion prefers bilateral contacts without the mediation of third parties.
- While the majority of Turkish public opinion expresses its support for Turkey’s accession to the European Union, the opposition of the majority of Greek public opinion to Turkey’s accession to the European Union indicates that the strategy that turned Turkey’s accession process into a tool for the settlement of Greek-Turkish disputes is no longer considered realistic. As the in-depth interviews show, a different driving force is now being sought to advance the settlement of bilateral disputes under international law.
- The right-left ideological axis seems to be predictive of the views of citizens in both countries regarding bilateral relations. Citizens who identify themselves ideologically to the left of the center appear to be more moderate in their views of the bilateral disputes and are more positively disposed towards the citizens of the neighboring country.
- Despite the fact that the importance attached by Greek and Turkish public opinion to the Cyprus issue is declining, it is interesting that the majority of respondents in both countries agree on the solution of a bizonal bicommunal federation. This is particularly important given the recent revival of international interest in the Cyprus issue, but also the recent Turkish and Turkish Cypriot leadership’s relapse in favor of a two-state solution.
- Young people, as well as citizens with a higher level of education in Greece and Turkey, are more positively disposed towards the neighboring country. This is probably related to the decentralization of information and the declining role of traditional media for the dynamic population groups and to the increased opportunities for contacts and acquaintances that these groups have.
- Religion remains a crucial reference point of identity in Greece and Turkey and has a decisive impact on perceptions in the neighboring country.
- Turkish public opinion maintains optimism and confidence at odds with the fundamentals of the Turkish economy, as well as the performance of the political system in recent years. This is also evidenced by the findings of the in-depth quality interviews, which explain the resilience of President Erdogan’s political hegemony, despite growing problems inside and outside Turkey.
- The findings of the survey confirm the existence of a fragmented society in Turkey, geographically and ideologically, as indicated as well by the in-depth qualitative interviews.
In summary, the survey indicates two societies in transition, both interested in redefining their relationship under the weight of existing chronic bilateral problems and internal social dynamics.–
Qualitative Survey Report
Quantitative Survey Data
The survey results were presented for the first time on Saturday 15 May 2021 at the Delphi Economic Forum 2021. You can watch the entire discussion here