COMMENT

Identity issues

PANTELIS BOUKALAS

Amir, an 11-year-old refugee boy from Afghanistan, is seen carrying the school sign during the student parade for Ochi Day on October 28.

TAGS: Society, Politics, Migration

Asking about the importance of a nation’s flag leads to about as many answers as asking about the notion of nation. It also results in a lot of arguments, even between people from the same ideological, social or actual family.

Not all people mean the same thing by “nation,” be it Greek or any other, but most of us understand that the people who shape this nation have never lived in a cloistered microcosm that didn’t have any contact with the rest of the planet. They evolved and continue to evolve in constant contact – whether in peace or in war – with constant give-and-take – whether voluntary or not – with all the other nations that surround it – closely or otherwise. This process, moreover, influences their genetic makeup as much as it influences their perceptions.

Controversy over the student parade for Ochi Day on October 28 has been a regular fixture of the annual celebration in recent years, as our nationalists – who are clearly more in number than those who voted for the far-right Golden Dawn party – have had the “misfortune” of seeing Albanian students among those who got top grades in their classes.

Their second misfortune was seeing teachers who decided – quite rightly too – to defend their star pupils’ right to carry the flag at the head of their school’s group in the annual parade (as had been customary for the pupils with the highest grades until earlier this year) – thus provoking the holy rage of those who like to stand on the sidelines of these displays shouting, “You’ll never be Greek, you Albanian!”

But any Albanian who wishes to become Greek can, just as was the case in different times for the Arvanites, some of whom may even be the forebears of today’s fanatic guardians of the Greek ethnic identity – if they are as proud as they claim of their ancestry, then maybe they should be more honest when drawing their family tree.

The 11-year-old Afghan Amir who was chosen by lot at his school in the Athens suburb of Dafni to carry the flag in this year’s parade had said that he was happy to live in Greece even though his father was in Germany. His joy at being picked was short-lived, because the school authorities dismissed the result of the draw and had young Amir carry the school sign instead.

The same bitterness was experienced by a young Albanian girl in the village of Emborio on Santorini, where neo-Nazi Golden Dawn supporters sabotaged the parade.

Once more this year, we got our lesson from the island of Lesvos, which is on the front line of the European refugee crisis. There, 11 unaccompanied minors from Afghanistan and Pakistan took part in the parade, among them Hadi, an A+ student. If he wants to become Greek or German or anything else, then no one can stop him.

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