Tag Archives: Racism

Consensus, conviction and the anti-racism bill

Illustration by Manos Symeonakis

Illustration by Manos Symeonakis

It was fitting that a debate about the late British Prime Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher was being held on Monday night in Athens at the same time as Greece’s three coalition leaders were trying to reach a compromise over an anti-racism bill. Since Thatcher was a self-professed opponent of consensus and saw herself as a “conviction politician,” she may have been smiling down as the heads of the tripartite government failed to find common ground.

Prime Minister Antonis Samaras certainly presented himself as a leader with convictions when he took over New Democracy following the party’s disastrous showing in the 2009 general elections. Although less than four years have passed since then, it seems like light years away. Samaras has since had to shed many of his convictions, going from anti-memorandum crusader, to peacemaker with the troika and now standard bearer for fiscal adjustment. Greece’s economic plight and the endless capacity for the country’s substandard political system to tie itself into knots led the conservative leader down the path of compromise. Here, perhaps Thatcher’s statement that compromise “seems to be the process of abandoning all beliefs, principles, values and policies” is particularly apt.

There is, however, one thing that Samaras did not abandon, which is his apparent persuasion that New Democracy, and perhaps Greece, can be revived by appealing to the conservative streak that runs through the country. Faithfulness to tradition, religion, the nation and the armed forces are notions that can rally Greeks and unite enough of the population behind a cause to follow, Samaras seems to believe.

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Where art thou?

It was a poignant way to open what is likely to be a troubled academic year. In his customary message to elementary and middle school teachers and pupils, Archbishop Ieronymos, the head of the Church of Greece, admitted that the older generation has failed in its task to bequeath a better world upon the younger generation.

“The world that we have made for our children is unfair and divided by a deep fissure that cuts through all societies and splits them into those who are prosperous and those who are not,” he said. Nobody can doubt the accuracy of the archbishop’s assessment of the mess being passed on to young people in Greece and around the world.

However, the rapidly deteriorating economic and social circumstances perhaps demand that Ieronymos adopt a more decisive role than that of a detached commentator. The Church of Greece, though, remains bafflingly silent on the crucial issues bedeviling Greece today. The rise and condemnable behavior of far-right Chrysi Avgi (Golden Dawn) is one of the worrying developments that the church has yet to take a position on.

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Is immigration a bigger issue for Greece than the economy?

Illustration by Ilias Makris

Judging by the content of the debate in Greece over the past few days, one might think that the most pressing issue facing the country ahead of the upcoming general elections is illegal immigration rather than the economy. The two coalition partners, New Democracy and PASOK, have attempted to outdo each other by trying to appear determined to tackle a matter to which the crisis has lent extra weight.

With elections probably due to take place on May 6, Greece’s two main political parties have stepped up the rhetoric. New Democracy leader Antonis Samaras wants to repeal the citizenship law passed by the PASOK government in 2010. The law allows second-generation immigrants whose parents have been living in Greece legally to apply for Greek citizenship. Despite the fact that only a few thousand people, mostly ethnic Greeks, have taken advantage of the law, New Democracy insists it is a magnet for undocumented migrants who see it as an opportunity to obtain legal status in a European Union country.

“Our cities have been taken over by illegal immigrants, we have to reclaim them,” Samaras told members of his party on Thursday, as police conducted sweep operation in downtown Athens. Samaras’s comments are typical of the kind of language that is fueling the surge of populism threatening to overwhelm any constructive attempts to deal with the issue.

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