Archive for December, 2012

Greece is getting stick from all sides at the moment, in particular from journalists who do not speak Greek, do not know the country well, scarcely venture outside Athens and have little understanding of what makes Greeks tick. Greece deserves some sympathy.

Greeks themselves are certainly largely to blame for their economic woes. However,  they are not responsible for the enormous problems posed by the arrival of hundreds of thousands of unwanted aliens, from cultures completely different from their own.

Greece is a very special country, with very special traditions. For all the flaws in its system of government, it has, in modern times, always been a kindly, generous, safe place, with a strong sense of what constitutes honourable behaviour. It has no history of colonial conquest or oppression of others.

It is a little place, with a population of scarcely more than ten million. Its people have a strong sense of identity, a strong sense of what it means to be Greek. And until ten to twenty years ago, its people were exclusively Greeks. Whatever transactions you or they had to conduct were conducted with Greeks.

Things began to change in the 1990s with the collapse of the communist regime in Albania, when hundreds of thousands of oppressed and poverty-stricken Albanians poured unstoppably over the frontier. “Hodja (the Albanian communist dictator) kept us like rats in a cage,” as one Albanian put it to me at that time. Greece has absorbed them, pretty successfully now. They caused their fair share of trouble and resentment to begin with, but they shared a history and a culture not dissimilar to the Greeks.

That has not been so with the waves of illegal immigrants pouring into Greece in the last ten years. For a start they are mostly brown and black, or Muslim, from the wrecked or inadequate states of  Africa, the Middle East and the Indian subcontinent. They look different, their cultures are different, their religions are different – and Orthodox Christianity is a crucial element of being Greek; we should not forget that they spent six centuries under the rule of the Muslim Ottoman Turks.

Greece did not invite them, does not need them (in that rather spurious sense that we are always told our entire economy and prosperity would disappear without waves of uncontrolled immigration) and does not want them. Why should it? Greece is Greek. Why on earth should it cease to be?

This is not a reason for hurting people or a justification for the brutish activities of the Khrisì Avyì party. It is, however, a reason why sanctimonious rights-obsessed outsiders should show some understanding of the very uncomfortable position Greeks find themselves in through no fault of their own. They are on the way to Europe; that is why the immigrants come. Why don’t they try to enter Europe through Bulgaria, which also shares a frontier with Turkey? Probably because they see Greece as a softer/safer  touch.

And Greece simply does not have the resources to cope with immigration on this scale. For one thing, it does not share that Protestant/utilitarian do-gooding, care-in-the-abstract tradition that engenders outfits like Amnesty; in Greece you care for others because they are family, because they are blood, because you are connected to them – you do not lose touch with your parents and allow them to die alone in forgotten flats or institutions. For another thing, Greece simply does not have the money or the physical facilities to provide for a population of illegal immigrants that amounts to around ten percent of the total.

Cut Greece some slack! Why is not Turkey doing more to stem the passage of these people across its territory, where, presumably, they are equally illegal?

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