In some ways it was like any other Friday. Thimios went to his office on King Street in London, Athina headed for her office at the University of Leicester, Eva to the library of City University to study, while Katerina took her child to her local park before going to her studio.
“It’s the British way,” says Thimios Tzallas in a stolid tone. “That’s how we deal with problems here – calmly.”
In truth, however, June 24 was a very dark day for the Greeks living in the United Kingdom after the national vote to leave the European Union. “It’s the first time in 16 years I’ve lived here that I felt like a foreigner,” admits Katerina Athanasopoulou, an artist and animator who lives and works in London after marrying an Englishman. “A lot of people felt the same way all of a sudden, even Britons who voted to stay. They feel deeply saddened and betrayed. Many are thinking of leaving, going to Scotland, Canada or the US. The result [of the referendum] was alienating and explicitly xenophobic,” she says. “The reasons why people voted to leave were the same reasons put forward by the Daily Mail and the Sun, suggesting that migrants are destroying the school system and taking away our jobs.”
The first person Katerina thought about when the result was announced was Jo Cox, the Labour MP who was murdered on June 16.
“Her killing showed us that we are playing into the hands of fascism, yet people still voted as they did. I am very afraid that people will become more violent. It’s a terrible situation,” she says.
Katerina did not have any problems getting British citizenship because she was married to a Briton.
“Do I want it, though? Do I want to be a part of a country that shuts its eyes and turns its back on people? The decision was determined by older people who shut the door on the young – it was petty.”
Uncertainty has also gripped the some 35,000 Greeks studying at British universities, many of whom dream of pursuing a career there later.
“The situation is very stressful,” admits journalist Eva Tomara, who’s doing a postgraduate degree in London. “I woke up to the journalists of BBC Radio London talking about a global shock and the result leaning towards Leave. My Greek friends and I all called each other and our first reactions were the same as those of the journalists in terms of our surprise but also because of the uncertainty of what would happen the day after. Beyond the divisive effect of the result, the effects on the job market for us young people is still very vague. An exit from the EU may mean stricter immigration rules for EU citizens. It’s still early, but there are a lot of issues that concern us and will continue to concern us for the next two years.”
Tzallas is a political scientist and has lived in London for the past five years. He works at the Hansard Society, a think tank located close to Parliament.
“The shock concerns everyone. Not just those who voted Remain but also those who voted for Brexit because they too don’t know what tomorrow will bring,” he says. “For the Greeks and other Europeans working in the UK, there is a great deal of uncertainty, but mainly the problem is an exceptionally negative atmosphere. One the other hand, the situation is not much different to what’s going on Greece or what we’re afraid may happen in the United States.”
As the days pass, even more consequences from a Brexit become apparent.
Athina Karatzogianni, a senior lecturer in media and communications at the University of Leicester and a UK resident since 1996, says: “It’s not just that we don’t know by what process we can stay in the country and whether we too will have to go through the expensive and arduous process that non-Europeans have to go through; it’s also the immediate impact on our work. How, for example, will we apply for research programs? At the university we work mainly with European programs and no one knows what we’re supposed to do now. Friday was a bad day for the academic community. Britain accounted for 19 percent of European research programs,” she says. “On that Friday, many of us felt that we were no longer welcome. Yes, the EU is an organization that reproduced inequality, but I am afraid that for Britain, Brexit will mean even greater conservatism.”