Twenty years ago, when Greece was a monolithic society, in which 97 percent of the population called itself both Greek and Orthodox, the question of whether or not Greeks were or were becoming racists would have been met with a unanimous “no!” but that was before more than a million foreigners poured into our country.
All these illegal immigrants, from Albania, Romania, Bulgaria, Poland, etc… were something very new and very different in Greek society. In the first few years, most Greek people here accepted their new neighbours, helping them out as much as they could, while only a very small minority was alarmed.
Throughout the years and because of inadequate and arbitrary policing in mixed neighbourhoods, tensions mounted and at some point, xenophobia began to emerge. This only escalated when numerous illegal immigrants from Arabic countries and north-African countries began to flood our boarders.
Today areas such as downtown Athens have become ghettos, and the illegal immigrants out number native speaking Greek people. I need not remind my friends that the downtown centre of Athens is where the heart of our history lies… the Parthenon, Monastiraki, Plaka… need I say more?
Today the situation has escalated to such a degree that it has built animosity between communities. Some Greek people, especially those who live in the heart of Athens, have openly asked that these immigrants leave our country. Several weeks ago around 3,000 left-wing activists wanted to demonstrate against xenophobia and decided to stage a concert in one of these areas downtown called Aghios Panteleimonas featuring none other than George Dalaras.
Many may know this singer… but what they may not know is that his wife is the Deputy Minister for Immigration. Clearly the concert was staged to boast Mrs. Dalaras government status as well as promote the government’s intentions to forcefully integrate these people into this society. Obviously this did not sit well with the residents of the area, since every day they become victim to muggings, looting, robbery and what not, and they decided to stage a demonstration, or protest march. In simple words, Greek taxpayers decided to protest against what they believed was harming their neighbourhoods and all hell broke loose.
Left-wing protesters clashed with the residents and riot police fired tear gas and stun grenades at the demonstrators to keep the two groups apart.
Tensions in this neglected, crime-ridden part of Athens with growing immigrant communities have been mounting over the past two years. Public discontent grew to such an extent that it supported the extreme right-wing group Chrysi Avgi, or “Golden Dawn,” who won its first ever seat on the Athens City Council in last November’s municipal elections. The group mustered strong support in working-class neighbourhoods in the capital and elsewhere in Greece by calling for immediate deportations.
In a separate event, angry protesters had to be restrained by the police when thousands of Muslims congregated in several Athens squares for a religious festival. At one site, officers fired tear gas to disperse a small group of demonstrators made up of every day citizens, who were confined to later protest from the balconies of their apartment complexes. This infuriated the residents of the area even more.
The very next day, government officials said a stalled project to build an official mosque was back on track and this added even more fuel to the fire, but it also began to shock citizens nationally. Greek people throughout the country called on the Greek Orthodox Church to take a stand, but the influential Orthodox Church surprisingly gave its support to the project.
Street by street, neighbourhood by neighbourhood, city by city, it made us feel that our lives will be changing forever.
The issue, which is ongoing, is striking at the heart of our freedom, democracy, cultural values and tolerance. Greeks are a tolerant people that allowed illegal immigrants to set their homes here… but we cannot tolerate any more settlers, not can we tolerate demands from people that do not even pay taxes. We believe strongly in the free worship of all citizens, but our tolerance has limits, we are not obligated as a country to pay for the construction of Mosques. And I ask… how many Arabic speaking nations have paid and built Orthodox Churches on their land with money from their citizens? I don’t think there are that many… in fact I know that in Turkey for example (which is a Muslim country) most of our churches were burnt and looted. Take Aghia Sofia for example… the cornerstone of Orthodox Religion… it was turned into a Mosque after it was taken over in the mid 1400’s and most of its historical and vast wealth looted. Today it is used as a museum and even fashion shows are held there… This historical structure, this grandness of Orthodoxy is used for fashion shows… that alone is shocking.
Or take in consideration the Halki Theological School, which was closed by an action of the Turkish government in 1971, and since that time, has been subject to actions by government agencies that seek to curb its activities. The Holy Theological School of Halki was established in order to meet the educational needs of the Church of Constantinople and of Orthodoxy in general. The US congress has supported the reopening of the school in October 1998 as has the European Union (E.U.) giving hope to all Orthodox Christians all around the world, but nothing has happened to this effect as of yet.
So why do we have to be more tolerant?
I don’t want to become a racist, and besides I tolerate people, who stereotype and/or are prejudice to other cultures and societies, and certainly I don’t want to be termed a nationalist or extremist… but all of this is scaring the living daylights out of me and almost 99.9 percent of the population here.
Why are we being pushed to accept this massive change in our country, as is every other European in their countries as well? Is this what progress and moving forward into the new millennia means?
The question remains: Does immigration harm or benefit the interests of the Greek people?
Extreme leftists, obviously to increase their voting power, are still supporting the move and believe that free residency should be given to anyone who asks for it in this country, and call us… meaning all the remaining Greeks who oppose this influx of illegal immigrants’ racists. Racists? Greeks? No… We are realists! Nice philosophy from the Left, or more humanitarian Greeks, as they term themselves, very, very heart-warming, but most certainly a recipe for sheer disaster.
I don’t know how leftist groups see the world, or what their overall perception of a better Greece is but the image or North American multi-cultural society cannot work here. Their argument is that many Greeks migrated abroad and found work and a new life in North America and other countries, and never had to face such discrimination, so why can’t people of other ethnic origin find the same here. Very nicely said indeed…. but what they omit to say is that Greek people LEGALLY MIGRATED to North America, or Australia, or Germany and/or England etc, because they were LEGALLY invited by family members already set up there. They did not pay slave traders or human trafficking lords large sums of money to do so. Also, residency in all these countries was only achieved after a decade or more, after studying the language, the history of the country and passing citizenship tests by competent authorities, not by seizing a public university and demanding that it be done or else. That is how it is done in normal countries!
It is obvious that the leftist parties, who have the least amount of seats in the Greek parliament want to increase their power in government, but they must keep in mind that the great Russian culture of Dostoyevsky and Tchaikovsky, the Mariinski ballets and the Summer Palaces, Rahmaninov and Tolstoy, Chekhov and Ahmatova was nearly wiped out after 70 years of this so called “Soviet freedom”.
Certainly legalizing all these people would harm our democracy both on a national and European level.
So are Greeks being pushed to become racists…? I think we are. We cannot help these people. We fully comprehend that these people might be in need but we must first help our own. We are not nationalists, racists etc. but every country has some limits about how many immigrants it can accept.