Racism and Greece

My blogging began because of a racist attack that had happened here in Greece six years earlier. It shocked the country then, not just because it was so horrific but also because the country had to wake up and see that racism exists here, contrary to popular opinion.

It is a commonly held belief that Greeks are not racist. It is also common to hear people say, “We don’t mind Black people, it’s the Albanians, Turks or Gypsies, we have a problem with. In more recent times, the Chinese have joined the list of baddies because of the small shops selling cheap clothing that have sprung up all over the big cities. This is a country where it is still acceptable to put your house up to rent and to specify that foreigners need not apply. This is a place where the media will accuse any crime on Albanians before any facts are known. There is no shortage of stories here about racism and xenophobia. There is more material than I could possibly cover myself.

I understand that It is often difficult for people to face up to racism. It is not an enjoyable experience to be accused of racism. And here I was accusing a whole country of the racism they didn’t want to see or acknowledge. There has been a collective temper tantrum and an avalanche of denial. How dare a foreigner call us racist? And worse still, a black one!

The problem is that you cannot tackle racism unless there is an admission of its existence and a willingness to accept responsibility and to change it. It is pointless to say that the racism in England or France is worse than here. That is not helpful to the Roma or Albanian (or other foreign) people who are beaten up on a regular basis by the police. That doesn’t help the asylum seekers who are locked up and treated worse than animals. That doesn’t assist the hundreds of African children who cannot get birth certificates issued when they are born here leading to problems getting health care, education or a passport.

There are many Greek bloggers who are tackling the same issues that I am. There are hundreds of people here who are working for change. Unfortunately, the mainstream media seems to have its head buried firmly in the sand. And the politicians are mainly just being politicians. They do absolutely nothing at best. The nationalist party is gaining ground, with its leader being seen regularly on TV, spouting his racist garbage. There are reasons that this is happening. The hysteria about the rising numbers of immigrants here (now at around 10% of the population) that is fueled by the media. There are the usual accusations that the nationals are losing their jobs because of foreigners. The rising crime figures are blamed on us regardless of information that this is not true. And on and on and on…

The main problem I see is that we are now seeing second and third generation of “foreigners” who are not immigrants. They are Greek and they are growing up and they are demanding equality and opportunity. Unless Greece as a country can grow up and acknowledge that there is a problem of racism, I can see only trouble ahead. You only have to look at what has happened in other countries to see the result of ignoring, ghettoizing and generally abusing those who are “other” Lessons can be learned from the experiences of other countries if only there was a willingness to do so. I do not see that happening here. It seems to me that we are on a well-trodden path to more serious problems in the very near future. People can only be poked for so long and then they bite back.

We will hear more angry protests about the treatment of foreigners and Greeks of different backgrounds. We will see people taking to the streets (a common pastime here for any grievance) demanding their rights as citizens of this country. We will see support for the struggle here from people outside the country. More international condemnation of the abuses that occur here. Whether the powers that be will sit up and take notice and then have the guts to actually do something about it, remains to be seen.

I feel compelled to keep scratching away at this issue regardless of what I am being accused of (from trying to undermine the country, to being a terrorist, to the classic “you’re the racist”). I have seen small shifts even on my humble blog and have many Greek blog friends who support this effort. The outpouring of support when the nationalists targeted me was incredible. Perhaps the change can come from us, the little people who care about big things and are letting the world know what is happening.

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5 comments for “Racism and Greece

  1. Bitter Scribe
    August 28, 2007 at 2:54 pm

    I’m very interested in your posts on Greece. I’m a Greek-American with a very ethnic name, but I’ve never been to Greece and don’t speak a word of the language.

    With that outsider perspective, I long ago concluded that the Greeks are perhaps the whiniest, most self-justifying babies in Europe (except perhaps for the Serbs, with whom they share at least one unlovely characteristic—trying to ride indefinitely the coattails of their parents’ and grandparents’ heroic resistance to Hitler).

    The USA had a great hand in saving Greece from communism after the war, but all they can talk about is how we were somehow responsible for that damn right-wing junta in the 1970s. That coup was accomplished in Greece, by Greeks, and all we did was acknowledge facts on the ground. They never got around to overthrowing the junta themselves, until the regime was humiliated by a foe that could actually shoot back (the Turkish Cypriots).

    Anyway, sorry for the rant. It’s just that your posts fit so perfectly with that Greek “Problem? What problem? Everyone else has the problem, not us” attitude I’ve seen and read about so often.

  2. Cizungu
    August 28, 2007 at 10:00 pm

    The main problem I see is that we are now seeing second and third generation of “foreigners” who are not immigrants. They are Greek and they are growing up and they are demanding equality and opportunity.

    I think that problem exists in most of Europe. In France (I’m half-French), when right-wingers rant about immigration and immigrants they deem non-intégrés, they’re actually almost always talking about the second or third generation of Arabs and Blacks living in France. In fact, even in mainstream, supposedly non-racist terminology, these folks are often called “immigrants of the second generation” (immigrés de la deuxième génération), which is an inherently racist expression: if they were born in France, they aren’t immigrants. But they aren’t white Europeans either, so many French people still view them as foreigners, although that’s rarely explicitly said.

    Naturally, the offspring of European immigrants — Italians, Spaniards, etc. — are almost never discussed in those terms, even though their parents and grand-parents faced a lot of racism in Southern France. (That includes mob violence — my grandfather used to tell me about the Italians who were weighed down and thrown into the Marseille harbor.) It’s therefore obvious that complaining about immigrants is often a polite way for people to express their racist views of French minorities. On top of that, there’s a general unrepentant mood with regard to France’s colonial past, which is like salt on the wounds and which also precludes the French from understanding the causes of African immigration.

    So, how do they still feel good about themselves? Classic conversation in France: “There’s a lot racism around here.” “What? Don’t be a snotty American — look at how the US treats its black population!” “And what exactly does that have to do with –” “Rodney King! The KKK! C’est affreux,” etc.

  3. Itzaak
    September 1, 2007 at 11:57 pm

    Bitter scribe that is an amazingly non factual comment.

    The Greek Junta, which even US historians correctly describe as “US-backed,” was not humiliated by the Turkish Cypriots but by the Turkish Army, which was about ten times the size of the Greek army.

    Your attitude is very American. Modern Greece is a very small country that major western historians all show as a pawn in great power struggles.

    That is not a “Greek attitude”, it is a historic fact.

    As an American I would say that we, who are the most influential and powerful people in the world, who do in fact control our own destiny more than anyone else the world, tend to stunningly externalize our problems.

    Greece had the longest border with poor and communist countries of any western European country. Yet it was and is described as xenophobic by people from England. Yeah, well. This while we in the states rail against the Mexicans?

    On saving Greece from Communism, the US had nothing to do with it. we know know US actions probably prolonged communist resistance, and Stalin had abandoned the Greek communists very early on. You also ignore the flip point of view, which wold be that it is Greeks who fought and died for US interests in the cold war in numbers much higher proportionally than any Americans did.

    On the Junta and Cyprus I suggest you read the newly declassified papers from the US, you will get an eye opener.

    I’ve visited Greece plenty, and the only time I here about blaming the US for the junta (a fact anyway) is when Americans pontificate about “saving” Greece from communism, when Americans don’t know that the civil war would never even have happened if the US did not adopt the British policy of trying put a king back in Greece.

    generally I should say racism in Greece exists and I applaud those how fight it. Having lived 60 years most in the US with significant says working and living in France and the UK, (and two years in Greece), it is certainly less racist and anti immigrant than the US, France or the UK

  4. Anonymous
    March 4, 2008 at 4:39 pm

    The contents of this post are questionable to say the least. Granted, Greeks do not like having first, second, or even third generation non-Greeks living in Greece. However, this post never addressed the “why” aspect of this particular phenomenon.

    Unfortunately, this post does not provide an historical or social analysis of the Greek mentality. Of course, this is quite natural since it is easier and more convenient to simply brand anyone as “racist” whenever an individual cannot “think outside of the box”.

    Let me be the first here to elaborate a few things:

    1) Greeks could care less about being called “racists” since they were the victims of brutal discriminatory acts during nearly 400 years of Turkish rule. If you think that “racist acts” today are brutal, then you should see the hell the Greeks went through during Ottoman times and even during their struggles to liberate their country. Read some real history books that are not ashamed to present the truth based on direct evidence.

    2) Greeks prefer to preserve their ethnic and cultural identity since they have been doing this for thousands of years. Modernization, urbanization, globalization have not hampered the Greeks’ ability to persevere as a unique ethno-cultural unit.

    3) Greeks do not want illegal (or “legalized”) non-Greek immigrants in Greece, because Greece is a small country that cannot sustain a large number of foreigners.

    4) Greeks do not want to integrate non-Greeks because the population of non-Greeks in Greece is increasing (I have been to Greece myself and know this for a fact without having to consult the media).

    5) A good majority of Greeks want non-Greeks to leave, because they see “immigration” as a form of demographic imperialism. Plain and simple. Immigration would mean that some foreigners enter Greece and integrate peacefully without negatively affecting the demographic, cultural, and ethnic “balance” of Greece. Beyond this is colonialism.

    Of course, many will retort to this comment and immediately state the following: “You do not represent how all Greeks think.” Reality dictates that I do since I have spoken to many Greeks inside and outside of Greece. Politics aside, Greeks love their ethnic heritage. Those who believe otherwise are living in a dreamworld.

    On a sidenote, please refrain from mentioning anything related to the “human rights” of non-Greek immigrants in Greece since no one tends to give a damn about the human rights of the Greeks in their own country let alone in other countries where they are being mistreated (i.e. Turkey, Albania, etc.).

    Greeks aren’t perfect since they are well aware of their own faults despite not admitting to them often. However, to brand Greeks as “racists” without understanding their history or their collective experiences is just plain unprofessional. Period.

    Keep in mind that all of this has nothing to do with political ideologies since I myself could care less about “right-wing” and “left-wing” paradigms of expression. Regardless if you believe me or not has no relevance whatsoever with reality.

    I almost forgot. Do you want to know why Greeks are not keen towards embracing “multiculturalism”? Because the last time they lived in a “multicultural society” was when they were being murdered, raped, skinned alive, hung, etc. during the years of “tolerant” Ottoman rule. Greeks can forgive, but they will never forget their history. Never.

    Have a nice day and I wish you the best of luck in all of your endeavors.

  5. annoyed blogger
    March 4, 2008 at 6:44 pm

    Bitter Scribe’s comments don’t deserve a reply. But I am only goin got add this one comment. I am tired of Albanian or Turkish trolls pretending to be Greek on blogs thinking it will fool people into hating Greeks. This bitter scribe is obviously an Albanian as they threw in racist comments about serbs. I just love people who rant about racism while spewing racist comments about the people they are trying to accuse of racism. What a pathetic poster

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