Tag Archives: Greece

Asylum seekers lost to the cracks in Greece

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Pandeia continues its refugee feature with an article about Greece, third in the series (see our story on the Netherlands and EU policy for a more solid background).

Thousands of asylum seekers cross the Mediterranean Sea en route to Southern Europe in order to flee from wars and instability. More than two-thirds of the asylum seekers who entered the European Union  used Greece as a door to the continent in 2012, their final destination being the more prosperous Northern countries. However, most migrants find themselves trapped in this country that does not provide them with the expected protection. Asylum seekers who tried to move to Northern Europe were sent back to Greece because of the mechanism of the Dublin Regulation. What this system does not consider are the inadequate reception conditions in Southern countries. The case of Greece is significantly worrying: migrants can neither stay nor leave. They remain trapped.

Dublin regulation: a legislative problem

Wars and conflicts in African and Middle Eastern countries drive many people to move to Europe. More recently, the ongoing war in Syria has intensified the situation. In order for European Union Member States to examine asylum applications systematically, the Dublin Regulation was established. Under the Dublin system, asylum seekers have to remain in the first European country they entered while other Member States do not have the responsibility of their asylum application. The regulation thus allows other European countries to deport back the asylum seekers to their overburdened Southern borders, such as Greece and Italy. Due to geographical proximity these are usually the first European destinations for asylum seekers from war-torn Africa and the Middle East.

When these migrants first enter Greece, they do not intend to stay in the country, but to move to the more prosperous European states, such as Germany, the United Kingdom (UK), Sweden or Norway. However, most of them end up being caught at the border between Greece and its neighbouring countries, like Macedonia or Bulgaria, and being sent back to Greece. And even those immigrants who successfully reach their destination still face deportation because of the Dublin Regulation.

Since its implementation, the Dublin system has been a matter of controversy. While the core of the regulation is to prevent abuse of asylum procedures, the mechanism has also been severely criticised. For instance, the European Council on Refugees and Exiles (ECRE) and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) have condemned the system for failing to provide fair, efficient and effective protection. Considering that Greece accounted for 67% of all irregular border crossings into the EU in 2012, according to Frontex, it fails to provide minimum standard of asylum protection.

The uneven distribution of asylum claims among Member States generated by the Dublin Regulation would not be that problematic if it was not built on the assumption that all Member States provide the same standards of protection to refugees. The case of an Afghan translator sent from Belgium to Greece is just a tip of the iceberg, considering that many other lawsuits concerning Greece in terms of Dublin regulation are pending in the Strasbourg Court. In 2011, the European Court of Human Rights fined both Greek and Belgian governments when the latter did not adhere to the clause related to asylum seekers of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). Belgium sent back an Afghan translator to Greece despite the warnings that he would be subjected to degrading treatment and prison-like facilities.

These cases also exemplify the problem of difference in asylum systems among the Member States. It has been some years that the EU has been attempting to establish a common ground for asylum applications through the Common European Asylum System (CEAS), which includes the Dublin Regulation. However, almost one year after the policy endorsement by the European Parliament, the system is not functioning well and uniformly yet. The up until now EU Home Affairs Commissioner, Cecilia Malmström, acknowledged in March this year that ‘we also need to implement our new common European asylum policy in a responsible manner based on solidarity’. In line with this criticism, the former Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, Thomas Hammarberg, claimed that the system is not designed to guarantee that all EU Members States share the responsibility of asylum seekers.

A never-ending search for protection

Even if the Common European Asylum System would be efficiently implemented, the economic crisis affecting Greece is still a stumbling block. Due to the crisis, Greece has to cut its expenses on social and welfare service. Besides, the 27.5% unemployment rate in Greece makes finding a job very difficult even for the locals. The crisis has also exacerbated the problem of labour exploitation towards migrant workers in Greece. Amnesty International claims that migrant workers, especially farm workers, are faced with inhumane working conditions, long working hours, underpayment by their employers and violence from supervisors.

33 Bangladeshi workers were shot in 2013 in a strawberry farm in Manolada when they protested against their employers making them work without payment for 7 months. The unfair treatment these workers suffered led to pressure being put on Greek government to ensure humane working conditions for migrant workers and asylum seekers.

Because of the Dublin Regulation, asylum seekers are forced to remain in Greece and face discrimination, exploitation and a lack of job opportunities. However, staying in Greece is not a feasible option. Asylum seekers have to wait for years in their application of asylum status. Many are living in the country without any paper nor identity, not to mention asylum protection. A report from Amnesty International states that the Attika Aliens Police Directorate in Athens is only open one day a week, where only 20 asylum seekers are able to register their claims. The failed applicants face the risk of being arrested and sent to detention camps, where hygienic conditions are harsh. The latest version of the Dublin regulation included common deadlines for handling asylum applications, but whether it is effectively enforced in all Member States is another problem.

In order to deter asylum seekers from coming to Greece, Athens also applies ‘push back’ practices, which consists of turning groups of migrants back across the border, denying them the right to have their individual cases heard or to challenge their expulsion. Earlier this year, a boat carrying 27 asylum seekers from Afghanistan and Syrian capsized in the Aegean Sea near the Greek island of Farmakonisi. Survivors accused that the Greek coastguards towered the vessel at high speed to Turkish border and refused to help them when the boat sank. Although the Greek government denied the allegations of applying ‘push backs’, the Greek media Hot Doc unveiled documents showing that torture is used by the authority in order to create an image that life in Greece is miserable, thus to prevent migrants from entering the country. Amnesty International confirmed the ‘push back’ practice in its report ‘Greece: Frontier of Hope and Fear’. The report collects allegations from victims who encountered ‘push backs’, including violence experience in both Greek-Turkish land and sea borders, and concluded that it is not an isolated incident, but a routine and widespread practice. After the incident, the Commissioner of Human Rights of the Council of Europe, Nils Muiznieks, requested the Greek government to put an end to the illegal practice of collective expulsions and effectively investigate all such cases. In response to this, Athens agreed to carry out investigations into all recorded irregular ‘push backs’ from Greece to Turkey.

The rise of anti-immigration movement

The economic crisis has also had a negative impact on the public perception of migrants. A far-right political party in Greece, Golden Dawn, gained 18 of a total of 300 in the Greek parliament in June 2012 and opinion polls show that support for the party jumped from 6.9% to 11.5% soon after it entered the parliament. Golden Dawn denies being racist and xenophobic as claimed by media and scholars, but it advocates an anti-immigration policy.

Even after the arrest of the leader of Golden Dawn, Nikolaos Michaloliakos, violence and hate crimes against immigrants, ethnic minorities and gay right supporters are omnipresent. The rising popularity of Golden Dawn among Greek society shows the discrimination and violence migrant workers face in the country, in spite of the state’s decision to crack-down the far-right party. An annual report conducted by Racist Violence Recording Network presented that in 2013, 166 incidents of racist violence occurred, involving 320 victims and 143 cases were committed against migrants or refugees.

Despite the controversies surrounding the Dublin system, its implementation has been hindered recently by the economic crisis. The regulation does not allow asylum seekers to move to other Member States, yet remaining in Greece does not seem like a solution neither, leaving migrants fall between two stools. On the one hand, the Dublin regulation has its flaws, and requires a modification in order to ensure the rights to asylum established by the European Charter on Human Rights. On the other hand, straight enforcement of the regulation is essential to provide asylum seekers with the same level of protection in all EU countries.

By Adriana Diaz Martin-Zamorano and Chan Cheuk Yin

Behind the Greek-Macedonian conflict


FEBRUARY 2014: Evangelos Venizelos, Greek Vice-President and minister of foreign affairs visited Skopje, where he met with the Prime-Minister of Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYR Macedonia), Nikola Gruevski. The meeting was part of the long-term negotiation between the two countries attempting to come up with a solution about the political controversy about the name Macedonia.

In 1991 “the Socialist Republic of Macedonia” declared its independence under the name “Republic of Macedonia” and asked the international community for recognition. Greece opposed the use of the term Macedonia by the neighboring country and denied its recognition under this name.

The Macedonian question only captured my attention in September 2013, when I moved to Denmark for my Master together with 104 other students from 43 different nationalities. While I was checking names and countries in the long list of participants, my attention was captured by a Slavic name. My finger followed the line and reached the nationality: Macedonia. An uncertain smile appeared on my face; that could be interesting.

My knowledge about the dispute was really scarce, as over the last years news about the Macedonian dispute – or the “the Skopian case” as it is very common to be addressed belittling by Greek media – does not seem to influence the Greek foreign policy. I wonder whether the same is happening on the other side of the border.

A few days later, my opportunity to approach my classmate arose. I asked him where was he from. “I’m from Macedonia”, he answered in a defending tone. “You know I’m from Greece?” I replied. Silence. I continued: “Is there any problem with that?” His answer came as a slap in the face. “Don’t start this discussion”. He turned his back and left. Why was he so rude? Isn’t this supposed to be an outdated dispute?  He must be just another nationalist so I will not bother any more, I concluded quickly.

Macedonia 2As the days passed we kept ignoring each other until we meet again at a party, where I mentioned my love for Balkan music. My classmate looked surprised and we started chatting. By the end of the night we had spent hours analysing this amazing band and that terrific festival and that concert where I had the time of my life. We came to the conclusion that there were more factors connecting than separating us. It was the beginning of a revealing friendship that exposed us both to the other side of the coin.

Parallel Realities
The long-standing dispute between Greece and Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYR Macedonia) or “Republic of Macedonia” (depending on the side one stands) is not new: the Macedonian issue has divided the Balkan area since the second half of the 19th century. When the Ottoman Empire was fading, Serbia, Greece and Bulgaria were struggling to establish their newly formed states and foster a national identity.

The current Macedonian name dispute is a diplomatic controversy that arose between Greece and the newly independent Republic of Macedonia. The conflict is concerned mainly about the use of historical symbols during the aftermath of the break up of Yugoslavia and the declaration of independence by the Social Republic of Macedonia.

The Greek government claims that allowing its neighbour to call itself the “Republic of Macedonia” would leave Greece open to territorial disputes between Skopje and a region of the area also called Macedonia. According to this view, Macedonian history is an integral part of Greece’s history – hence the label ‘Macedonia’ could only refer to the northern Greek province by the same name. Greece suggests the use of a compound name with a geographical qualifier such as “Northern Macedonia” that will not leave place for territorial claims.

According to FYR Macedonia’s official viewpoint however, geographical Macedonia is the national homeland of the Macedonian nation. An agreement in 1913 signed by Bulgaria, Greece and Serbia is considered as a disaster that divided the ‘true’ Macedonia into different states.

GreeceRise of nationalism
During the 1990s the controversy hijacked the Greek domestic and foreign policy agenda. Conspiracy theories saying that FYR Macedonia and Turkey had formed a secret coalition, which could result in a war, were dominating the press. Demonstrations were organised in the bigger cities in Greece; “Macedonia is Greek”, was the message.

In 1992, Dinos Kosmopoulos, mayor of the biggest city in the Greek region of Macedonia, Thessaloniki, spoke at a mass rally. His speech captured the general spirit:  “For us, whose history is counted in millennia, the past is sacred. […] Today the leaders of Skopje try to rob us of this past. But they have no history. People without history have no future. That is why we roar today: The Macedonians are us.”

The neighbouring state’s choice of name was presented by the mainstream media not only as an assault against the existing region, but even more as an assault on history. Greece adopted a hardline policy toward its new neighbour state, which caused the refusal of Macedonia’s accession to the European Union and NATO, leaving the newly formed state isolated from the international community. The accession of the country is still pending.

Despite the fact that Greece and FYR Macedonia/the Republic of Macedonia eventually formalised their relations in 1995 and both countries committed to continuing negotiations on the naming issue under UN auspices, the name dispute continues without adding any new substance to it.

The main consequence of the revival of the controversy was the rise of nationalism in both countries. The Greek population felt that its history, national narrative and territory were threatened.  FYR Macedonia had just separated from the Yugoslav Federation and was attempting to build up its national identity while forming the foundations of its community. The isolation imposed by the most powerful country in the Balkan area resulted in a provocative attitude towards Greece. The building of a statue of Alexander the Great in the centre of Skopje, the use of the symbol of Vergina Sun, or the use of a map of  unified “Great Macedonia”, have all been interpreted by Greece as irredentist claims trying to recover alleged historical territory.

The interpretation of history lies at the heart of the Macedonian controversy. Both sides have resorted to national myths and other symbolic elements to construct and maintain people’s sense of belonging to a united community with solid cultural background and social solidarity. Specific historical events have been highlighted exclusively whereas others have been tacitly buried. Simply mentioning an independent Macedonian state is still considered an insult by a large part of the Greek population and whoever supports it is seen as an anti-Greek, a danger and a betrayer of the country.

Brothers in crime
Macedonia 3September 2013: Almost 20 years after the revival of the controversy-  Radmila Šekerinska, vice president of the opposition Social Democratic Union of FYR Macedonia, managed to capture with simplicity and clarity the real core of the problem. She claimed that “the current Macedonian and Greek governments are brothers in crime in the way that they are taking the two countries as their hostages and trying to politically manipulate the issue rather than improving the bilateral relations.”

In the dawn of the day the ones who lose are the citizens of both nations, who are surrounded by breeding hatred guided by extreme national feelings. Taking this deep hate into consideration, it seems hard to imagine that I would speak to my classmate on a daily basis. In our ignorance we thought that we had nothing in common; that we were the most different ones among all 100 yet, at the end of the day we turned out to be the most similar all along. If two people can get over the ignorance and distrust, see the other side of the coin and move on regardless national barriers, so can everybody else.

With special thanks to Ivo Bosilkov.

By Dimitra Drakaki

Pictures: Robert Thomson (Sign along the road) Andres M. Arjona (Macedonia’s Polog); Aster-oid (Greece Independence Day); Nicolas Raymond (Macedonian Grunge Flag); Hannes E. (A view towards Greece and Albania)

Flying Close to the Sun: Greek Islanders’ Secrets to a Long Life

 

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The Greek island Ikaria is known for high life expectancy – one of the highest worldwide. What is the secret of its inhabitants? Myrto Vogiatzi tries to answer this question for Pandeia.

He was 70 years old when he decided to go back to his motherland, Ikaria. He had lived and worked in the United States for decades and felt it was time to enjoy his retirement on an island 30 miles off the Turkish coast. Thirty five years passed by and he was healthy as can be, no one doubted it. No one, except for his insurer who came all the way from the U.S. to see if the severance pay wasn’t being wasted on a dead man. But instead of writing a fraud report, he met a 105 year old man and had a paid holiday to remember.

12059183236_76da822940_bIt’s a story my grandmother told me a few days ago, when I asked her what she thought of all those studies proving that her homeland has the highest percentage of 90 years-olds on the planet. Truth is, she didn’t have any strong opinion on the matter and neither do other island residents. “Longevity happened to these people, they didn’t set out to extend their lives”, says journalist Dan Buettner, author of a book called Blue Zones, which identified longevity hotspots in five areas around the world: Okinawa in Japan, Sardinia in Italy, the Nicoya peninsula in Costa Rica, Loma Linda in California and Ikaria in Greece.

However, it is hard to prove that people live longer in certain areas, since history is peppered with exaggerations of age. Tracking down centenarians isn’t exactly the easiest thing to do, since it requires not only birth and death records but also information on emigration, baptism and military service. How many times have researchers rejected cases of human longevity because residents didn’t know their own age or because the community wasn’t able to provide convincing proof?

The Recipe for Eternal Life

But Ikaria did. In fact, demographic surveys and the University of Athens Ikaria study showed that people there live on average 10 years longer than those in the rest of Europe and America. Not only that, but they are also 20% less likely to get cancer, the population has only half the rate of cardiovascular disease compared to the USA and almost no dementia. The findings, of course, triggered waves of journalists followed by ‘blue zone travellers’ hoping to discover the recipe for eternal life. Questions like: Did you ever smoke?, how much water do you drink?, how quickly can you walk 13 feet? All aimed to reveal the secret elixir.

Unfortunately for us mortals, the key to longevity is no tree of life or magic potion, but the product of a long geographical and historical process. “The most commendable thing on this island is their air and water, both so healthful that people are very long-lived”, had written Joseph Georgirenes, the bishop of Ikaria during the 17th century. And he was right. The island’s reputation as a health destination dates back 25 centuries when Greeks travelled there to soak in the hot springs near Therma. The strong winds and the lack of natural harbours forced it to be self-sufficient, a place where everyone grows their own food and produces their own wine.

Then, in the late 1940’s, after the civil war, thousands of radicals and Communists were exiled to the island, bringing a sense of solidarity between them and its residents. “They risked their lives to be generous to us, something that helped us more than anything to bear the burden of the hardship”, says Mikis Theodorakis, a famous musician who was sent into exile on the island. Nearly 40 per cent of adults still vote for the local Communist Party and, although unemployment is high, almost everyone has access to a family garden and livestock.

It’s this plant-based diet and unprocessed nature of food (Ikarian’s diet includes beans, wild greens, potatoes, olive oil, honey and goat’s milk; two to four glasses of red wine per day, coffee and mountain tea) that promotes longevity, along with regular napping and daily physical activity. I assure you, digging the earth at the age of 95 years old is seen as completely normal; even the notion of time is different. “We wake up late and always take naps”, said Dr. Ilias Leriadis, one of the island’s few physicians, during an interview with a foreign newspaper back in 2009. “Have you noticed that no one wears a watch here? No clock is working correctly. When you invite someone to lunch, they might come at 10 a.m. or 6 p.m.”.

“And then, there is sex…”

And then there is sex. According to Christina Chrysochoou, a cardiologist at the university’s medical school, 80% of Ikarian men between the age of 65 and 100 are still having sex. It’s already been proven that a little nocturnal action has lifelong benefits, since it reduces stress as well as the risks of cardiovascular diseases and cancer.

But why there? Why Ikaria and not Samos for example, an island just eight miles away, where people breathe the same air and eat fish from the same sea. Are Ikarians blessed with ‘longevity genes’? Or is it just a matter of diet, exercise and sleep? If so, then hurray! All you have to do now is run three miles on the treadmill of your basement every day, buy the most highly recommended organic vegetables and have sex at least twice before a good night’s sleep. Unless the secret is hidden in the context: in the time you take to watch potatoes grow in your own garden, the random conversations you share with your neighbours on a weekday, or the smell of an oak tree tempting you to change paths while running in the forest. No one knows; it is the secret of Ikarian.

Afghanistan to Greece – A migrant’s story

Courtesy of the Paola Project Team ‘The Journey of Aris from Afghanistan to Greece’ tells the remarkable tale of one man’s experiences travelling to Europe.

 

Another Brick in the Wall

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Chloe Thanopoulou investigates the pressure on Greek borders, where immigrants attempt to illegally enter Europe – increasingly often at the price of death.

‘So why didn’t they drown you all?”,  a TV reporter asked during a press conference following the tragic shipwreck of Farmakonisi islet last week. Nine children and three women lost their lives while trying to cross the Greek – Turkish borders on a fishing boat.

When the boat capsized, survivors swam to the Greek coastguard vessel, but did not get life-jackets or ropes. “I saw one person being hit by a crew member so they couldn’t get on board and fell back into the water”, said a survivor that has lost his wife and four children.

The 16 survivors told the UN Refugee Agency that the coastguard towed their boat with high speed back to Turkey, after its engine failed. However the coastguard denied it was towing the boat to Turkey, but rather towards Farmakonisi islet, 1.5 nautical miles away. Strong winds and waves made the transfer of migrants to the coastguard boat impossible and towing was said to be the only option.

A wall of protection?

The event did not come as a surprise. A November report of ProAsyl, a German N.G.O., accused Greece of having pushed back approximately 2.000 people to Turkey from Greek waters and claimed that officers of the Greek police and coastguard had abused migrants physically and psychologically. Also a great number of international and European organizations have expressed their concerns about the situation in the Aegean Sea.

But let’s take a step back to look at the bigger picture. Pressure from other EU countries and threats of expelling Greece from the Schengen Treaty if the problem of illegal immigration was not solved, has led to the construction of a 10 km long wall in Evros, which has made entering Greece practically impossible. The sea passage cannot be blocked as efficiently and is therefore used as the main entrance route. This is much more dangerous.

As Giorgos Tsarbopoulos, the Head of the Office at the UN High Commission for Refugees in Greece, said, “the policy of guarding the borders is a demand of the European Union towards Greece. It was the threats of our European partners that led to the building of the wall on the northern borders with Turkey. What Europe has to think about, however, is how trying to prevent border-crossing through sea will not create more fatalities.”

Pressure on Greek borders
Unfortunately, the increased numbers of deaths and human rights violations at the borders has not bothered European policy makers. The fact that 50.000 people where kept out of the borders last year because of the wall, was presented as a great success. It seems like keeping people out of the fortress of Europe is the main issue at stake. Since 2013 more than 100 million euro out of the union’s budget was spent on guarding the Greek- Turkish borders.

Indeed, the money was effectively spent; if one regards the ratings. In 2013 there was a 56,9% drop of immigrants entering Greece. However in Bulgaria there was an illegal immigration increase of 500%, and to solve that problem, they too are building a wall.

Are walls and push-backs a viable option for the borderless EU that is so proud of its human rights system? Migration is a natural phenomenon. As Marilena Koppa, a Member of the European Parliament (MEP) claims: “Migration comes like the rain, whether we want it or we don’t.” And Nikos Chrysogelos, another MEP, continues by saying that “people who are desperate and whose lives have been threatened; people who search for and dream of a better life, will not stop chasing for a better future because of borders.”

Instead of building walls and causing the drowning of thousands of people, we should therefore focus on creating humanitarian corridors; on creating an effective process which does not put too much weight on weak southern European countries.

The European Conundrum

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As the EU and its member states face another year of uncertainty and conflict, Myrto Iztaigov takes stock of Greece’s recent history to pose the question what does it really mean to be “European”?

With the continuing imposition of Western Europe’s mandated austerity, Greece enters another period of uncertainty and perhaps a re-evaluation of what it really means to be European. “Is Greece really European?” seems to be an increasingly frequent question within a western media who often portray Greeks as lazy, corrupt and distrustful of all kinds of institutions. Features that are deeply carved into their DNA, they say; products of the country’s wrong policies over the years.

But let’s not forget that Europe’s bad boy has had a vastly different trajectory from most Western European nations. Greece may be the ‘heart of European Civilization’, but for more than four centuries it was a child of Ottoman despotism. For the next 150 years, the country was marked by constant foreign intervention and occupation, waves of immigration and a civil war. In the meantime history moved north into colder climates and the Industrial Revolution created powerful colonial empires and wealthy states in the U.S. and Western Europe. Greece was poor, agricultural and largely shaped by the trends of the Near East and the Balkans. Its ‘schism’ with Europe’s dominant countries was still obvious when the country joined the E.U. in 1981, a decision based on the need for a wider market and a romantic vision of the continent stretching from Iberia to the eastern Mediterranean. “Europe without Greece would be like a child without a birth certificate” had said former French President, Valery Giscard d’Estaing (back in 2000), who had relentlessly supported the country’s integration.

Standing between the ancient ideals and reality, Greece chose to follow the western paradigm. “We belong to the West”, the prime minister, K. Karamanlis  had famously proclaimed  following the country’s integration in the European Union. Yet, his words seemed more like a challenge to achieve rather than a statement of the obvious. By de-emphasizing the country’s cultural and religious particularities, Karamanlis hoped to reassure, even announce, the country’s ability to participate actively and become part of the modern western world.

But Greece wasn’t mature enough to cross to ‘the other side’. As taught by centuries of Ottoman rule, Greeks still identified the authorities with oppression, brutality, bribery and corruption. A perception later reinforced by the modern state’s inefficiency. According to D. Danikas, a journalist on protothema.gr, the gap between Greece and Western Europe started as soon as the Greek Orthodox Church split ten centuries ago from Roman Catholicism and is still there. “The state, for us, is the worse thief. Thus, the only thing we can do is steal from it as well. On the contrary, Western Europeans view the state as a privileged, ideal area that provides infrastructure and social benefits”, he writes.

Twelve years after his famous dictum, in a Spiegel interview, Giscard d’Estaing acknowledged that the country’s integration was, indeed, premature. “To be perfectly frank, it was a mistake to accept Greece. Greece simply wasn’t ready. Greece is basically an Oriental country”. A rather discrete remark compared to the journalist Z. Hatzifotiou’s comment to the Associated Press, in 1979, after the country joined the EEC: “What? Greeks European? Never! Greeks have made tremendous material progress in the last years to push their way into Europe. But they will never be genuine Europeans unless they correct their Oriental manners”.

So where do Greeks stand? In a world dominated by productivity, balanced books and the protestant ethic, questioning Greece’s ‘Europeanness’ is not incidental (especially when the notion of being a ‘good European’ is dominated by the Northern European definition). But it is still something to ponder: what does it really mean to be European? Is it enough to have a common currency, a single market or EU identity cards? Or maybe it’s just a question of ideological belief…but what if your children don’t share your values and ideals, are they not ‘European’ anymore?

We can’t measure or calculate someone’s ‘Europeanness’. As Maria Hnaraki, director of Greek Studies at Drexel University in Philadelphia, told IB Times: “Greece is at the borders of the so-called East and West. That is exactly where its uniqueness lies. It has served – and still does so- as a crossroads amongst three continents and, historically, people of various socio-cultural backgrounds. Thus, Greek identity is a mosaic, an amalgam of all those elements”. Europe is a beautiful mosaic – trying to categorize each piece individually would make it fall apart.

Does Greece need a revolution?

As 2013 drew to a close, and the protest movement across Europe took stock of its accomplishments, demonstrators in Greece turned their attention to the recent heavy handed nature of the country’s policing. As Chloe Thanopoulou investigates, the events of the 6th of December could irrecoverably change the nation’s future. 

The 6th of December has a special meaning for Greeks. It marks the death of Pavlos Sidiropoulos: the Prince of Greek Rock as well as being the day Alexis Grigoropoulos – the 15-year old boy who happened to be at the wrong place at the wrong time – was murdered by a police-officer.

It is also the day a revolution started – one that marks the country’s consciousness. In a certain way, the events are interconnected. Although Pavlos lived in a entirely different time, the circumstances were in many ways similar to those today. Through his songs, he reprobated the corrupt state and the philistines and showed the anger of the people towards the system. Alexis was another victim of the power of the authorities. He, as well as many others, have been victims of the political situation often talked about in Pavlos’ songs.

Protesters or Terrorists?

A social “explosion” of dissatisfaction and unrest followed Alexis’ death. It was the straw that broke the camel’s back; a full-scale collision with authoritarianism. Yet this was not reflected in the media, whose reaction to the protests – and the protesters – was largely a negative one. Activists were often characterised as terrorists; meaninglessly trying to burn cities down. This viewpoint quickly became widespread, distorting the image most people had about what was going on. Though the chance for change had been born, many people preferred long discussions at the local café’s – based on misleading information provided by the big news agencies – over the action a revolution requires. It kept many people away from demonstrations.

Demonstrations

Demonstrating is even less appealing when police reactions are taken into account. In an attempt to appear effective demonstrators are arrested so the police are able to announce the numbers of arrests the next day. It is considered a way of proving its capabilities, but in reality denies citizens the right to demonstrate peacefully.

An example of the attitude shown by police towards the politically active is an event that took place last year year when a local Greek group Laiki SynelefsI Papagou-Holargou (the people’s assembly of Papagou-Holargos) saw a series of arrests made against their members. For no apparent reason, two of their members were firstly accused of theft and  – when these charges could no longer be justified – the charge of arson of two ATM’s appeared. In a statement released by the group, they describe: “The autocratic behavior of the state and the “terrorism” against everybody who is fighting is obvious”.

Arresting people without a clear reason – especially in demonstrations – is a common tactic of the police: highlighting their unwillingness to find the real wrongdoers. Not only have politically and socially active people become a target of the authorities while facing continuous mistreatment, but they also appear to be the scapegoats of everything the police cannot cope with. The need to show the public that justice is being served by targeting people who fight and have strong political views, serves the need to control potential reactions which could lead to a revolution . So far, this tactic seems to be successful: the consequences of demonstrating seem severe, which in turn deters people from standing up for their rights.

Yet, the yearly demonstrations in the memory of Alexis  have had some impact. This is primarily because people believe that, 5 years on from the murder, ‘nothing has changed’. A revolution does not play by the rules and cannot calculate the costs. It may come only when there is no other choice – it knocks existing structures down to subsequently rebuild them. Yet, this does not have to be led by violence. It must start by changing minds, by changing perceptions of what is ‘normal’ and ‘acceptable’ and what is not. It may happen when someone sees his or her fathers’ store closing or his or her uncles’ house being taken away because of an unpaid debt. It could happen if allegations that as many as half of the police force vote for the far-right party Golden Dawn turn out to be true. Or it could be when someone’s desperate neighbour commits suicide, as occurred at the beginning of the Arab Spring. It may happen in the heads of the many people that work continuously for 300 euro a month, with no hope for a better future. We cannot forget the symbols of Pavlos and Alexis, because they have foreseen what the country is going through now. Silence, distortion and fear are not the way to change it.

Original article by Costas Papantoniou