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A Greek vs. Turk 'Survivor' just may ease a bitter past

The Turkish version of the reality TV show pits the historic rivals against each other – and is improving relations.

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Call it hyper-reality TV. For its second season, the Turkish version of the popular "Survivor" reality-TV series upped the ante. It deposited a group of 20 Greeks and Turks on a deserted island and pitted the historic rivals against each other in a battle to see who will be the last one standing.

Taking ancient animosities and turning them into fodder for prime-time entertainment has certainly paid off. The show – a Turkish-Greek co-production running simultaneously in both countries – has been a big hit on each side of the Aegean.

But rather than stoking those hostilities, the show is being seen as an example of how popular culture is helping improve Turkish-Greek relations. When it comes to rapprochement, say observers, popular culture is outpacing the politicians. Just this week, Turkey's bid for European Union membership broke down over the country's refusal to open its ports to Greek Cypriot trade.

"From the perspective of high politics – negotiations among politicians and things like that – the momentum [in Turkish-Greek relations] has been lost. From the perspective of low politics, Greek-Turkish cooperation is developing a sustainable basis," says Bahar Rumelili, a professor of international relations at Istanbul's Koc University who studies Turkish-Greek relations.

"The Greek-Turkish hostilities are almost becoming caricaturized. The stereotypes they have of each other are becoming a theme of entertainment. Rather than aggravating tensions, they have the opposite effect."

Turkey and Greeks have certainly moved beyond the centuries-old belligerence that characterized their relations until even a decade ago. A devastating 1999 earthquake that rocked both countries led to joint relief efforts that paved the way for a new era of warmer relations that seem to have sparked a popular interest in how the other side thinks and feels. Several recent films have explored the Turkish-Greek divide, while in Turkey, Greek pop records are consistent chart toppers.

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