Most Greeks believe foreigners are an asset to the economy’s development

A recent survey by the Technical University of Crete has confirmed that despite the existence of some racism and xenophobia among Greeks, particularly regarding issues on which there is a lack of information, there is also a high degree of acceptance of economic immigrants in Greek society. Although 40.18 percent of Greeks believe that immigrants contribute to unemployment among locals, 51.28 percent believe that immigrants have given the Greek economy a drastic boost. The overwhelming majority (80.35 percent) said economic immigrants and refugees should be able to open businesses here, and 81.34 percent feel they should also be able to buy property. Even more felt that immigrants should not be subject to higher taxes than Greeks. It is almost 15 years since the first wave of economic immigrants arrived in Greece. During that time, conflicting tendencies have emerged, ranging from tolerance to fear. Stereotypes have been formed and prejudices cultivated that have sometimes threatened Greeks’ image as an accepting and hospitable nation. The survey shows that Greeks are not quite as racist as we thought. In some areas, at least, we cling to the Greek tradition of non-discrimination and of assimilating foreigners. It is true that in Greece, racist phenomena were never very apparent. There has been rivalry, for political and other reasons, but there has never really been a general feeling of superiority over or disdain for others. Since consecutive waves of immigrants have slowly spread out into more professions and into more sectors of society, things have changed considerably. Greeks have displayed xenophobic reactions to large masses of illegal immigrants or to their presence in specific sectors of economic and political life, but there has not been any generalized, overall reaction. Greeks do not want to put foreigners into ghettos. They don’t want their children to go to different schools (89 percent), nor do they want them to go to different hospitals (93 percent), to live in separate neighborhoods (81.3 percent) or have separate jobs (80.3 percent). Although we agree that «others» can become members of our society, and we don’t want them to live in ghettos, most of us don’t want them involved in political life, to be represented in Parliament or to hold high office. Assistant Professor Christos Skiadas, who directed the survey, drew attention to some differences from one sector of the survey to another, regarding Greeks’ attitudes to foreigners. While in general the overwhelming majority of the population has a favorable attitude to foreigners with regard to coexistence, and while most want foreigners to be naturalized after five years’ residence and work in the country (five years is the European Union average, whereas current Greek legislation requires 10 years), nearly a quarter (22.1 percent) do not want foreigners to acquire Greek citizenship. This is an inflexible attitude that deserves the attention of the authorities and the adoption of specific policies. As for the treatment of immigrants who break the law, a large percentage (39.69 percent) think they should be deported, although an even larger percentage (47.94 percent) think they should receive the same treatment as Greeks. Acceptance quickly turns to rejection when it comes to the issue of political representation and appointments to high office. While 69.65 percent favor foreigners’ participation in organizations and other representative bodies, 51.57 percent do not think they should be active in politics, 60 percent say they should not be allowed to stand for Parliament and 65 percent reject high office for immigrants. «Greek society is in need of more information about what happens in other countries,» said Spyros Haritos for the Greek Center for European Studies and Research (EKEME). «We have to realize that just as Greeks who went to Germany to live were able to become part of German society, immigrants in Greece should be able to do the same. There is no inherent danger in letting an economic immigrant acquire Greek nationality. But, of course, this takes time.» «This is a new situation for Greece,» added Skiadas. «It took decades for a Greek to become a member of Parliament in Germany. Greeks are still setting up obstacles for immigrants regarding certain issues. But that alone does not constitute racism.» The nationwide survey of a random sample of 1,018 people was carried out for EKEME last month in view of a conference on racism which began yesterday and ends today. The conference was opened by Skiadas, who is director of the data analysis and forecast department of the Technical University of Crete. A further study is planned among immigrants themselves in order to provide a fuller picture.