The dissolution of the Soviet block and the growing disarray in the Balkans changed things. In the dawn of the 90’s Albanians, Bulgarians, Polish and Russians came to Greece seeking better fortunes, as did Africans and Asians after millennium. It worth to mention that many immigrants have died during the effort to cross the borders either by shootings by the Greek army or in the minefields across the Greek-Turkish borders along Evros river while lately they drown in Aegean sea. Despite the state murders there is a big list of immigrants murdered by Greeks in attempt to either avoid paying their wages or because of the hate that Greek people reserve for immigrants. However, if not any, few are though the cases that have been recognised under the context of “racist motive murder”. Of course in this list should have been added a plethora of unsolved murder cases of migrants, where nobody was accused.
Under this context the potential for exploitation of foreigners proved enormous while, it assured quick acceptance within the Greek society.
During the 90’s and after the first steps of Greek private television, the black media propaganda had just started. Every crime committed was linked to foreigners and was granted prime-time coverage on TV, complete with ominous music, re-enactments and special effects even if the trial would later prove the opposite for the crime. This adventure seems to have profoundly marked Albanians by “demonizing” the image of the Albanian migrant. But, according to Ioannis Panousis in 2004, a professor of criminology at the University of Athens, “There is nothing statistically to justify the link between immigrants and crime” where, “Out of 20 crimes that take place in Greece, 19 are committed by Greeks.” The same conclusions are expressed by BBC’s Helena Smith in an article in 1999.
As you probably might know, the Greek state has been organising since the early 90’s the so called “sweep operations” against immigrants. These operations took place in massive mainly against Albanians during the 90’s. With the peak to be considered the detention of Albanians in stadiums in 3 July of 1999. As BBC reports:
“Greek police, conducting a massive sweep in Athens, have detained more than 3,000 suspected immigrants.
The immigrants believed to be mostly Albanians have been rounded up in football stadiums.
The sweep, described by Greek authorities as the biggest ever, began a little after dawn.
Taking the suspected illegal immigrants by surprise, police began to round them up in public squares, empty buildings and abandoned homes.
The immigrants were then escorted in buses and under armed guard to football stadiums on the outskirts of Athens where officials checked their papers.
Greek television showed the immigrants pouring into the open air stadium with little more than the clothes on their backs. Most appeared to be young Albanian men.”
But of course there was not only the Greek state acting against the migrants but also the Greek society in total. In work, in buses, in administrative offices, in schools as well as in Universities migrants were often being offended or mistreated by Greeks.
As a reference example of the Greek hospitality, we would like to share with you 5 incidents from 90’s. The following incidents of racist violence are just a drop in the ocean. Murders, pogroms and violence against immigrants and minorities are countless.
January 1996 – Police Pogrom near Athens in the area of Skala Oropos. One police officer kills an Albanian migrant
February 1997 – A migrant woman shot by unknown
June 1996 – Athanasios Matos kills a 20 years old migrant who tried to steal 2 water melons in a garden
October 1996 – In the city of Livadia a police officer shot 20 Albanians, injured 7. One died a little after in hospital
November 1996 – Officer of traffic police kills a Roma retailer who was immobilized on the ground.
The beginning of the millennium has found Greece in a very strong position after entering the Eurozone. According to scientific researches the immigrants contributed to the empowerment of the Greek economy as a cheap labour. At the same time there was a growth in the income of Greek people while immigrants remained beneath, facing continuously economic difficulties, which with the present economic recession have been doubled.
In 2004 Greece took the responsibility to organize the Olympic Games of 2004. The working dynamic for the construction of all these Olympic Stadiums were mainly immigrants from Albania but also, Bulgarians, Africans, Polish and Asians. They were working more than 12 hours per day in very hard weather conditions very often without insurance. However, it remains unclear how many people have died or wounded for life due to accidents in workplaces in lack of safety precautions.
Ironically, after millennium the sweep operations from police were still taking place mainly against Asians and Africans but of course against all immigrants under the name “ΞένιοςΔίας”, which in normal Greek is translated as “hospitality”.
As a result, this decade would prove what in the 90’s was just prepared. The pogrom of 2004 against Albanians after a football match where, the Greek national football team lost by the Albanian national football team, was the biggest pogrom that took place in the modern history of Greece. Albanians went out to celebrate the win against the then European Champions. This celebration has been violently interrupted by both the Greek mob (fans) and the Greek riot police all-over Greece. What makes this incident special was that just normal Greeks people and not -(neo)nazis- were totally motivated to hit, stab or even kill immigrants. As a result there were five murdered Albanians and hundreds of injured. Only one murder was officially related to the football match. The other four were justified as personal disagreements (a very popular tactic of the Greek judging system), while their relatives claimed that they had been murdered due to reasons related with the match.
This Albanophobic situation had started far before, when in summer of 2004 Greek people went out to celebrate the win of the European football championship while loudly shouting the main slogan “you will never become a Greek, Albanian, Albanian”. Of course there were no reason to shout against Albanians since Albania didn’t participate in the European championship. But the Greek fans were expressing their racist opinion openly while feeling pride for their ethnicity and the national football team. Eventually, this is the time when more and more people were washed with the national pride and many fascist groups were created organising attacks not only to immigrants but also to social spaces and squats like villa amalias.
The next big pogrom would happen 7 years after. When a greek man would be stabbed to death close to the centre of Athens. Thenafter and for more than a week, immigrants would be chassed in the streets, in buses and in workplaces without any protection and under the eyes of the police. While, an immigrant was shot to death some kilometres away and hundreds were wounded.
With this and that, years have passed and the children of migrants were born and raised in Greece. Recently, an article appeared in a greek internet news portal about the increase of “students of other nationalities” in greek schools. According to the article, the number of foreign students in just 5 years has risen from 7% to the astounding number of…12%. One could ask: Why is that an issue? Who does it concern? Why are the Greeks interested in such statistics?
In 2010, the newly elected Socialist government tried to pass a law concerning the acquisition of greek citizenship. This law allowed the children of legal immigrants to apply for greek citizenship either if they were born in Greece or went through six classes of greek school. This development raised a wave of protest from the whole right-wing spectrum. Their campaign proved successful to an extent and the law did pass but with much stricter criteria, so even fewer immigrant were able to apply [the applicants were 2.653 only! while 250.000 were estimated to be waiting for a newer version of the law]. It’s worth noting that the debate on citizenship was held in the mid of the economic recession. When the then PM asked for inter-parliamentary cooperation on the issue of the economic crisis, Antonis Samaras, the now PM, and then head of the Conservatives, set as a pre-condition of this cooperation the abolition of the law for Greek citizenship. All parties of the coalition agreed. This is the ground where the elections of 2012 were taking place and exactly this is the ground on which detention camps for 10,000 immigrants were constructed in the country. Let us also say that there are 14,000 detainees in the country, while the new detention camps for immigrants are actually doubling the imprisoned population.
In 2013, a higher administrative court of the country reinforced the “right of blood” and declared the law of greek citizenship from 2010 as unconstitutional. How could they accept as equal citizens the children of the very same people that they stigmatized, the same people they exploited as illegal labour and then surrendered to the police for deportation, the same people that they murdered in cold blood for stealing a watermelon? These were the “assimilation measures” that Greek society reserved for immigrants.
But the second generation children are not the same social subjects as their parents. They were born and/or raised in Greece, they speak fluently Greek, and they know the cultural and social codes of this country. During the riots of December 2008 the so called ‘second generation’ was there demonstrating along with their non-migrant classmates. The Kathimerini newspaper at that time warned its’ readers that some of the leaflets being distributed were in Albanian language! Since then a string of defamations has followed from every possible source. The second generation kids are being stigmatized as criminals, as “non-assimilated to the greek culture”, as a potential “traitors”, etc. The arrest of the Conspiracy of Cells of Fire and the discovery that not all of their members were “pure” Greeks added the charge of terrorism to the spectrum of racist libels and Damiano Bolano, one of the members of the latter group, had to endure racist abuse at the hands of the greek cops. Not a surprise if someone remembers that these are the very same cops who voted for a nazi party at the percentage of 1 in 2.
Of course the radical left scene couldn’t remain silent and had to join the chorus of racist ‘indignados’. If someone reads their texts or their online debates, will remain with the impression that Exarcheia is under the siege of an “Albanian mafia” who sell drugs, insult women in a sexist manner and maybe even harbour “nationalist (pro-Albanian) sentiments”. But this textbook example of a moral panic wasn’t enough. They had to add insult to injury, by constructing a whole discourse around the supposedly “Albanian members of Golden Dawn”.
The ‘second generation’, the greatest part of which remains of Albanian origin, seems to receive hostile fire from any possible direction. The slogan ‘You will never become a Greek, Albanian, Albanian!’ was not just a spontaneous incident. Back then, the events seemed and were analysed, at best, by the left as a form of cultural racism set on by extreme neonazi gangs infiltrating the big masses of football fans. What is now happening, though, with judicial arguments on blood and nationality, is only that the present government took on to realize the then slogan to a certain concrete social reality today.
The abolition of the recent law for citizenship is the actual fulfilment of that early slogan. And, as explained earlier, there will be no barricades for that reason in Exarcheia by the Greek left. For us, it remains to be seen whether and for how long will the second generation put up with these racist conditions in Greece. A whole generation that grew up in Greece, will have to feed the labour force, in an environment of economic recession but with a main difference compared to their Greek friends, these youngsters will have to get permits for legal stay in the country.
Greek left as well as anarchists try to present the rise of fascism as a result of the political choices, the anger of the majority due to economic recession and state corruption. Fascism, racism, anti-Semitism, homophobia and sexism and of course anti-islamism have been always part of the national identity of the greeks.
For us, the economic recession in Greece is not linked to the rise of nationalist and fascist movement. For us, remains clear that Greek society when it comes to national issues, provides any tolerance for the “others”, whatever the “others” might be.