Walking on Thessaloniki’s Aristotelous square some leaflets draw my attention.
“You are born Greek, you don’t become Greek” it was the slogan on them, while they were calling people to condemn government’s proposal for granting Greek citizenship to immigrants.
A few meters away, in the wall you could clearly see the graffiti-written message “Solidarity to all immigrants”.
These two completely different approaches give the notion of a nation divided in two parts.
A recent law proposal of the government that aspires to grant citizenship to second-generation immigrants who are born in Greece raised a storm of arguments.
Although notoriously hospitable people, the Greeks still treat the immigration issues with great wariness.
In an opinion-poll conducted for Mega Channel during January, 64.9 percent of the participants responded positively in the perspective of granting citizenship to immigrants’ children, however 49.6 percent said “No” to the citizenship for migrants who legally reside in the country during the last five years.
Apparently, the absence of a serious, well-structured, immigration policy consists an issue of high concern.
The country is, for almost two decades now, exposed to uncontrollable illegal migration due to its extended borders.
As columnist Stavros Ligeros points out in Kathimerini, “their (immigrants) number is continually increasing and as a result of this they live in ghettos, usually under terrible conditions.”
It becomes clear that the state has to develop an immigration policy in order to safeguard the country’s borders and, secondly, to create a legal framework for the best possible integration of the legal immigrants in Greek society.
Until now, the existence of a frightfully bureaucratic state system has failed to establish the needed circumstances for the gradual integration of these people in the society.
Nonetheless, it is known that non-integration means more ghettos and therefore social exclusion.
Many Greeks who arrived as migrants in Australia, the United States or Germany in the middle of the previous century certainly understand what means to be socially excluded.
On that point, the scare mongering rhetoric of the far-right comes to exploit every available fear.
The country’s present unstable economic condition, the rising unemployment levels and the occasional increase of crime rates usually become a political “tool” in the hands of the extreme, xenophobic, voices.
But, actually, this rhetoric is the curtain of some vicious obsessions.
The true reasons behind xenophobia is neither the fear for jobs nor for security.
Undoubtedly, the most dangerous ideas derive from the so-called “law of blood.”
Given the fact that Greece is one of Europe’s least ethnically diverse countries (almost 96 percent of the inhabitants claim Greek ethnicity and Greek Christian Orthodox religion), the extreme speculators try to create the fear of lost homogeneity.
Surprisingly, they want to ignore that the essence of Greekness doesn’t exist in race, blood or religion but in the so-called Hellenic education and Hellenism’s admirable capacity to assimilate foreign cultures.
“It was the great ancient orator, Isocrates, who praised the intellectual achievements of Athens noting that the title of being Hellene became “a badge of education rather than of common descent.”
Indeed, there are second-generation immigrants who know no other country but Greece.
There are people with African or Asian backgrounds who deserve, more than many indigenous, the title of being Greek.
They pose no threat to Greek identity but, on the contrary, they enrich its Ecumenical essence. Its an issue of legitimacy and, moreover, humanity.
The Greek political leadership has a historical responsibility to deal with this matter with wisdom and open-mind.
Nicolas Mottas, born in Greece, is a doctoral candidate (Ph.D) He holds a degree in Political Science from the University of Westminster and Master of Arts in Diplomacy from the Diplomatic Academy of London. He writes for the Greek newspaper ‘Macedonia’ as a freelance international news editor and for Phantis www.phantis.com