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Whether we will become racist or not depends on the family, school and society

15 November 2012 / 21:11:27  GRReporter
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Anastasia Balezdrova

Greeks are racist because no one has taught them not to be like that. All nations are racist when they do not know how not to be, the chairman of the Liberal Alliance and journalist Grigoris Valianatos said during a public debate entitled provocatively "The Greeks are racists." It was organized by the Greek branch of the non-profit organizations Intelligence Squared and the Onassis Cultural Centre.

In his opinion, the phenomenon has not occurred along with the dynamic emergence of the xenophobic Golden Dawn party on the Greek political scene. "Muslims in Athens and Piraeus pray in 220 basements and premises of vulcanizers while the two old mosques are used for museums. The state still has no immigration policy; it gathers the people in centres, not knowing what it will do with them afterwards. Yes, there is a problem with immigration, but it must be solved with the cooperation of their communities, the embassies of their countries, by giving refugee status to those who fall into this category and through the use of funds from the International Organization for Migration," he said.

Grigoris Valianatos gave previous examples of racism in Greece. "Macedonians in north-western Greece still cannot speak their own language, which others call "local," women cannot visit Mount Athos, because the monks there have decided that they would "pollute" the place, and public workers apparently have different DNA than the other people since no one dares to touch them even when they commit offences." Among the victims of social racism, he included homosexuals.

He was one of the proponents of the thesis that the Greeks are racists. The other one in the group was Kostis Papaioannou - former chairman of the National Commission for Human Rights and a member of the network for recording cases of racist violence. He also expressed the view that all people are racist, but they understand that only when they are put to the test, like during the current crisis in Greece.

According to him, the problem starts from the attitude of the state towards its citizens and he gave as a typical example the area around the Agios Panteleimonas church in central Athens, where hundreds of thousands of immigrants live. Kostis Papaioannou accused the nationalist policy that has been applied for decades. "At the same time, the accepting of a foreigner by society depends on his or her social and economic status. No one would object if Arab sheiks spend their holidays in Greece, but in the case of a poor Pakistani, things change."

One of the interesting points in his arguments is the fact that the victims of racist violence are peaceful and helpless immigrants. "No one from Golden Dawn went to attack the foreigners who are involved in organized crime: trafficking in drugs and people." As an additional factor that is further strengthening the racist attitudes, Kostis Papaioannou defined the "rhetoric of hatred" on the part of some senior clerics, "some of whom have even become image makers of Golden Dawn."

He admits the presence of a serious security problem, which reinforces the xenophobic attitudes of the Greeks and criticizes the movements protecting the immigrants of having been denying this for years. According to him, it has become a weapon in the hands of the far right.

"Yes, there are racists in Greece, but the majority of people are already aware of the need to oppose racism," said the former minister in the governments of PASOK Nikos Bistis, now a member of the Democratic Left. He talked about the stereotypes imposed in the Greek society that have been refuted in recent years. "One of them is that the Greeks are not racist and it was imposed from the 1960s onwards, when the Greeks were those who migrated to other countries."

Among the reasons that have intensified the phenomenon, Nikos Bistis pointed out "the longstanding nationalist propaganda, which the left made as well. Do not forget that today's slogan "Greece belongs to the Greeks of Golden Dawn" was once a slogan of Andreas Papandreou and PASOK ". He also stated that the surge of racism today was due to the longstanding discrimination against the Muslim minority in the district of Thrace, the Macedonians in the northwest of the country, homosexuals and Jews through folk "traditions" such as the "burning of Judas" at Easter.

"But the transition from one stereotype claiming that Greeks are racist to the other stating that they all are racist is equally over-simplifying and dangerous," he said, adding that it was not fair to reduce all people to the same denominator. According to Nikos Bistis, in Greek society there are other racists, who say "I'm not racist, but ..." and a third group that fights against the manifestations of this phenomenon.

His "teammate" Vassiliki Georgiadou did not deny the existence of racism in Greek society, but said that besides the supporters of this ideology, there were people who opposed it. "The division between those who accept the racist attitudes and those who protect the foreigners is quite clear in Greek society," said the political scientist from the Athens Panteion University. Moreover, according to her, the expression of racist stereotypes does not mean that the individuals are racist.

The discussion that followed considered issues such as how much the police operation "Xenios Dias" within which undocumented foreigners are being captured is an act of racism on the part of institutions. "I've thought a lot about this and I admit that I have no answer. When the state does nothing, we blame it for that. When it does, we criticize it again. Ultimately, is it possible for Greece to accept flawlessly the people who want to leave their countries?" politician Nikos Bistis said.

All four of them criticized the decision of the State Council (one of the highest courts in Greece – author’s note) to declare unconstitutional the law on acquiring Greek citizenship that had been voted two years ago. In their arguments, the magistrates indicated that the prerequisites of the law were not sufficient to create a strong link between the applicant for citizenship and the country and rejected it, based on the practice of the right of blood.

The supporters of the idea that all Greeks are racist emphasized the growing dynamics of Golden Dawn. Grigoris Valianatos and Kostis Papaioannou said that some media and incompetent journalists have actually contributed to the rise of the party with their reports.

"Golden Dawn has managed to cover the major sectors from which the state has withdrawn. In the neighbourhood, the local community, the housing problem - they throw tenants out onto the street. Employment - Golden Dawn makes appointments and dismissals. Schools - Golden Dawn decides which children should be admitted to kindergartens and this week, its members are trying to prevent the celebration of the events in the Athens Polytechnic School.

Many people wonder if Golden Dawn should be outlawed. I am one of those who have always believed that even if we want to we cannot do it, especially after it gained 7% of the vote during the elections. I think that the attitude towards Golden Dawn must correspond to what it actually is: organized crime. There is a legal framework for the punishment of Golden Dawn’s members who commit crimes. The state should act as the rule of law and above all, it should find the links between the initiators and the perpetrators of these crimes. This is how we will have to deal with Golden Dawn: Without outlawing it, to make the life unbearable for anyone who decides to join the party," Kostis Papaioannou said.

In the vote before the debate, the votes "for" were 68%, 21% "against" and 11% abstained. After the verbal "battle," the votes "for" increased by 2%, 20% voted "against" and 10% abstained.



Tags: SocietyRacismImmigrantsDebatesGolden Dawn
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