Immigration and Racism in Greece

Greeks were not racist twenty years ago.  Mass immigration and the crisis has made them very prejudiced, first against fellow Balkans (Albanian, Bulgarian, Romanian immigrants) and lately against African and Asian migrants.  A British friend sent me a link to a BBC article on claims of racist victimisation by the Greek police.

I am not surprised by this and think it is endemic.  Intolerance is emerging as an undercurrent of politics across Europe.  Political correctness is stronger in other European states, but blaming ‘the other’ is prevalent in the political discourse everywhere.  We all need to be vigilant for how intolerance poisons our politics.  At the same time blowing off steam is not a bad thing.  It is better for grievances to be aired than left to simmer.

For instance if an ethnic group think not all citizens have the same rights that should be understood.  If they are intolerant of others this should be confronted.  The community where they are newly resident should openly debate their beliefs and values and their adopted community deal with the repercussions.  Citizenship has to be communicated as an obligation to society.

There is a fundamental problem with the political correctness we have inherited from the 1960s.  It assumes that the ‘western way’ is superior and if people are given the opportunity (see education and interaction) they will adopt liberal western values.  But then of course on the name of pluralism some immigrant groups lack incentives or opportunities to integrate or interact.  They instead transpose their values to a new setting.  And more destructively for social cohesion, new immigrants often segragate their children in religious/ethnic schools.  Democracy and society can survive only on the dissemination and active debate of values that underlie social and political institutions.

There is a critical level of social capital necessary to guarantee social cohesion.  Once values of reciprocity and generalised trust go below a threshold the social fabric suffers.  I have argued elsewhere that the rights of all human beings to immigrate and follow opportunity are inalienable.  At the same time the right of societies to improve the social capital and well-being of its citizens is also instrumental to its survival.  It is of course a reasoning error to equate societal and individual rights.  Yet it does make sense to consider that if the aim of enlightenment was realised with a shift from a Gemeinschaft to a Gessellschaft we now have the danger of regressing to social tribalism, with narrowly segregated communities coexisting in a precarious balance.

The Greeks have failed to consider the rights of immigrants for 20 years now and the luckless immigrants caught-up in the current wave of intolerance pay the price.  What the BBC article did not discuss is the systematic harassment and ill treatment of immigrants in Greece that has deteriorated since the beginning of the crisis.  This is particularly poignant in a state where the public discourse places Greeks as victims of a global conspiracy.  Some Greeks believe they are being made an example to silence labor demands in Europe’s periphery.  Embarassingly for a nation that has been a major source of immigrants to the rest of the world for more than a 100 years, one would have thought the Greeks would be more sensitive to the plight of those seeking opportunities elsewhere.  But historical memories of this type are short.  People rarely think of their collective responsibility.  And populist politicians invariably offer as scapegoats  those that lack political voice.

One thought on “Immigration and Racism in Greece

  1. I read about how immigrants were really aggressively scapegoated in Greece. And as a person who lived in Holland, I can attest to the undercurrent of anti-immigrant sentiment in Europe, and I think its really sad. I am disheartened because people so easily try to lump all the things they do not like into into a single embodiment that opposes their identity. E.g. Economy is bad? It must be “the other”, who embody foreignness, intrusion, laziness, excessive entitlement.

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