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November 15, 2012
November 15, 2012

Are Greeks racists?

Author: Aggeliki Dimopoulou Translator: Anna Papoutsi
Source: TVXS  Category: Antifascism
This article is also available in: elesfr
Are Greeks racists?


The rise of the Golden Dawn [1], the activities of Storm Troops, the violent attacks on immigrants, the “cleanup” operation with the inappropriate name “Zeus the Hospitable [2]”, the accusations from international organisations on violations of human rights of vulnerable groups, comprise a new scenery for today’s Greece. The issue of racism intrudes more intense than ever in the public discourse. The causes of racism, the source of tolerance towards it, were put on the table during the debate organised by Intelligence Squared Greece at the Onassis Cultural Centre. “In Greece we are racists” was the clause put on the table.

In favour of this clause was Mr. Vallianatos, journalist and president of the Liberal Coalition, and Kostis Papaioannou, former president of the National Committee for Human Rights and member of the Network for the Monitoring of Racist Violence Cases. Against the clause was Vasiliki Georgiadou, Deputy Professor of Political Science in Panteion University and Nikos Mpistis, minister in the government of Simitis and member of the political party DimAr. All speakers tried to avoid the pitfall of generalization. The audience could vote before and after the debate and through the internet.

What is it that caracterises our society: tolerance towards diversity or tolerance towards racism? Is this reaction the result of the economic crisis and poverty? Are we turning towards racist choices because they come to fill the gap of power and security that the governmental elites and the state leave behind? Or is it a deeper, timeless problem? Could it have started in school and our education, the family and our society, years before the crisis? Are discrimination and racism the natural consequences of the crisis? Or is it a part of our society that simply got uncovered under this difficult circumstance? These are just a few of the questions that were raised.


Papaioannou: “In Greece there is an intense neo-Nazi phenomenon”

As the first speaker, Mr. Papanioannou remarked that the answer to the debate’s question should not be based on a generalization that itself “ultimately is the source of a very big part of the problem of racism”. He particularly stressed the role of the state. “Could the state be racist? Could the state be following or not following such policies so as to blow up the wave of racism in the Greek society?”.

He presented as an example the state policy in Agios Panteleimonas [3]. “What was the state and city council policy? The same state that transferred immigrants crossing Evros on buses to the chaotic Athens and to the even smaller chaotic Agios Panteleimonas. But what is today the policy of the state that tolerates a gang closing down the children’s park in Agios Panteleimonas creating a status of inaccessibility? According to Mr. Papaioannou, “the way the citizens form their attitude towards immigrants is to a large degree determined by the state policies”.

Mr. Papaioannou underlined that the solid ground for racism is nation-centricity, which has deep roots in the Greek society, highlighting though its class connotations. “We, as Greeks, have a problem with Iraqi refugees but we have no problem with the Emir of Qatar coming for investments or for holiday. Thus, besides origin, the social and financial class is highly important”.

“On top of that, racism is buffered. Breakouts of violence and racism hardly ever turn against the tough crime. They do not turn against the human trafficking ring. I have never seen Golden Dawn mess with the brothels of Filis street, namely where the hard financial crime, drug trade and the Nigerian drug gangs are. Racism disappears there and always turns against the weakest, the powerless”. He particularly mentioned the “racist droplets” inside the justice system and stressed the Council of State’s decision on citizenship, remarking that it is a “dark page”.

He did not fail to talk about the role of the media, emphasising that in many circumstances the journalists prove inadequate, while there are media that play Golden Dawn’s game to get “their numbers up’’. He also claimed that some media seem to have come to an agreement with Golden Dawn, reminding the headline of “Proto Thema [4]” with the old lady withdrawing money from an ATM under the protection of a “ripped” young man, who proved to be the mother of a Golden Dawn candidate.

Concluding his first speech, Mr. Papaioannou asked the question: “Are the Greeks racists?”. “In Greece, there is an intense neo-Nazi phenomenon. A violent phenomenon, seen for the first time in modern Europe, that steps on a solid racist phenomenon omnipresent in the Greek society with deep historical and social roots. I would answer that in Greece we have a major problem of racism, living and thriving in the Greek society”.


Georgiadou: “There are also Greeks that are not phobic”

“The sentence we are investigating needs a question mark. Are we racists? The issue, the way it was raised, has a concrete framing. Racism in which Greece?” was the question that Vasiliki Georgiadou asked. “In Greece of the Golden Dawn, of extremism and extremities? In that Greece there is certainly racism. There is, however, a Greece that is not phobic and his open minded. In that Greece a conscious racism is marginal”.

In the 6th District of Athens, violent and racist behaviours are taking place. During my research I witnessed such behaviours against immigrants but also drug addicts. I also witnessed, though, locals supporting immigrants”, she remarked.

Mrs. Georgiadou stressed that not all forms of discrimination are synonym to racism. “The ephemeral aversion, reservation or fear towards someone or something is not racism. We all have repressed preconceptions. In periods of uncertainty and upheaval the preconceptions are activated. That does not mean that they will also prevail. In order for this to happen, the self and the rational thought have to retreat and fanaticism has to prevail”.

“The problem in the actual circumstance is populism, fanaticism and extremism that give prominence to racism. In other words, the instrumentalisation of the stock of racist prejudices by those who, in a difficult circumstance, invest opportunistically in the fear of the weak and the insecure”. She particularly emphasized the value of education, claiming that “when there is not substantial education at school, kids tend to turn to sub-cultures. Nowadays, the subculture of black clothes and physical strength is in fashion. Racism is not a construction from scratch”.

Finally, she added the dimension of time to the issue, remarking that, according to European studies on racism in the ‘90s, Greece presented low percentages compared to other European countries. As she claimed, this picture started changing in Greece before the crisis and in particular in the ‘00s when the country was in a state of relative prosperity.

[1] Neo-nazi party

[2] God patron of hospitality and guests, ready to avenge any wrong done to a stranger

[3] Neighbourhood in the centre of Athens

[4] Weekly Greek newspaper

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