Greece's new man in Brussels.

Photographer: Emmanuel Dunand/AFP/Getty Images

Syriza's Dangerous View of Russia

Marc Champion writes editorials on international affairs. He was previously Istanbul bureau chief for the Wall Street Journal. He was also an editor at the Financial Times, the editor-in-chief of the Moscow Times and a correspondent for the Independent in Washington, the Balkans and Moscow. He is based in London.
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It ought to be possible for euro-area members and Greece to strike a deal on the country's debt. Coming to agreement on deterring Russia's warmongering may prove harder -- though it's just as essential to peace and prosperity in Europe.

The new Greek foreign minister, Nikos Kotzias, has already watered down an EU statement on Russia to the point that it carries no threat of additional sanctions should President Vladimir Putin expand the conflict in eastern Ukraine. That means Putin faces no extra cost for pushing more troops and tanks across the border to help separatists seize more territory. Now, of course, Ukraine's allies are considering a shift to the battlefield to deter him.

So what underpins Kotzias' support for Russia? He has reportedly visited the Russian ultra-nationalist ideologue Aleksandr Dugin in Moscow, and in 2013 invited him to speak at the university in Greece where he was teaching. It's a connection Kotzias denies. In a statement, the foreign ministry said Kotzias "never traveled to Moscow to meet with" Dugin. Piraeus University has separately said Dugin invited himself to lecture. That seems a technicality: Kotzias, the event's "coordinator", brought his guest to the stage, according to the transcript, and the Russian then thanked him for the invitation to speak. Still, hosting Dugin may just be evidence of academic curiosity and open-mindedness.

The editors at the Athens Review of Books don't think so, however. Alarmed that the world doesn't understand what Kotzias represents, they have translated some excerpts from his 1982 book, "Poland and Ourselves," and this week sent them to Donald Tusk, the Polish President of the European Council. The book was written in the early days of Poland's Solidarity movement, and Kotzias had strong views on the subject. According to the translation, he argued that the U.S. and its allies were trying to erode the Soviet bloc from within:

Their theory is that Poland today is the "weak link" of the Warsaw Pact. It is not a coincidence that the imperialists since 1970 consider Poland as their direct goal. From the outside, imperialism typically appears to be sending messages of support to "Solidarity." In secret it sends money and orders to anti-socialist groups to which it associates itself.

He went on to describe how this was done:

Money was sent from reactionary parties, belligerent monopolies, such as Volkswagen; the AFL-CIO union, which is associated with the CIA and the American mafia leadership; and the Italian neo-fascist movement, which, indeed, [Solidarity leader Lech] Walesa personally thanked etc.

The plot, as conceived by Kotzias, included coded messages to a fifth column broadcast by a "Tel Aviv radio station" and of course spies, including many "dissidents" (the quotation marks are Kotzias's). In what can only be called the self-delusion of fanaticism, he ignored the Soviet Union's military occupation of Poland and accepted without question the state television station's claims as to which dissidents were foreign agents.

Opponents of the communist regime, such as Lech Walesa and the historian Adam Michnik, according to Kotzias, were U.S. proxies trying to "artificially revive old conflicts with Tsarist Russia." They were trying to "reinforce the spirit of anti-Sovietism cultivated by foreign centers of imperialist propaganda."

Of course, many people who espoused radical views in the 1970s and '80s can laugh at them today. Gordon Brown, the former U.K. prime minister and co-leader of the New Labour movement that brought British socialism to the political center,  was a socialist firebrand in his youth. In 1975, he edited a "Red Paper on Scotland," and his introduction proposed, among other things, nationalizing all banks. Brown has since changed.

Has Kotzias? I haven't had the chance to ask the professor and diplomat what he now thinks of his earlier writings. His public comments suggest he has changed -- though not quite in the way one might hope. He appears to have become a Greek nationalist, as well as a socialist (though no longer of the Stalinist stripe), but his attachment to Moscow has remained a constant.

He seems to remain hostile to the EU and to U.S. power -- his sole interjection in Dugin's 2013 lecture was to say "the European Union is empire today" -- and likes to describe governments that don't share his view as "subservient."

In this context his interest in Dugin would make sense. Dugin pushes a theory of history and geopolitics called Eurasianism, which requires Russia to reassert itself over the former empire, but redefines borders and alliances in line with Slavic ethnicity, plus Orthodox Christianity. It is at the same time statist and socialist and culturally conservative, and it echoes Samuel Huntington's focus on the separation -- and predicted clash -- of civilizations. Greek nationalism is also infused with Christian Orthodoxy, so for those who buy this form of cultural determinism, the two are natural allies.

Dugin has argued that Russia can't afford to live with an independent Ukraine, and he has pressed for an expansion of the war. Here is a translation of Dugin's now infamous Twitter post, which gives an idea of how acceptable he would be as a university lecturer or intellectual bedfellow:

Ukraine needs to be cleansed of idiots. A genocide of cretins suggests itself. Cretins who are virulent, closed for the voice of Logos, deadly and ... in addition to this, extremely stupid. I don't believe that these are Ukrainians. Ukrainians are a fine Slavic people. [But] these are some race of bastards that emerged from the sewage.

So what worries me more than Syriza's views on handling the nation's debt -- which are rational -- is that the party and its coalition partners are trapped in a mindset that will destroy the EU's common purpose, without which its consensual peace and prosperity can't survive.

Kotzias is hardly an outlier in the new Greek government. Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras has also gone to Moscow to back Russia's position in Ukraine. The new defense minister, Independent Greeks leader Panos Kammenos, is even more extreme -- which is a serious concern for the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.

These anti-American and civilizational beliefs lead to accepting the narrative promoted by Dugin and other Russians that a fascist threat to Europe comes, not from them, but from the Ukrainian government. So ingrained is this vision, drawn from the history of World War II, that present-day facts -- that Russian tanks are on Ukrainian soil, for example, or that many fewer Ukrainians voted for fascist parties in their presidential and parliamentary elections last year than did so in Greece last month -- make no difference.

Let's hope Kotzias will prove these concerns unwarranted.

(Removes incorrectly attributed quote in 11th paragraph.)

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Bloomberg View's editorial board or Bloomberg LP, its owners and investors.

To contact the author on this story:
Marc Champion at mchampion7@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor on this story:
Mary Duenwald at mduenwald@bloomberg.net