Greeks top poll’s xenophobe list

The release of yet another survey – this time by the European Monitoring Center on Racism and Xenophobia (EUMC) – showing that Greeks are the most xenophobic Europeans (87.5 percent see migrants as a threat to society), may reflect a fear for a future that seems uncertain and threatening. No place in Europe is immune to xenophobia. Last year’s bomb attacks in Madrid and the murder of Theo Van Gogh – a sworn enemy of Islam in the Netherlands – whipped up racist and anti-Muslim fervor. After last month’s riots in France, officials in Brussels had to concede that after 50 years of immigration policies the assimilation of immigrants has not been achieved. One in two Europeans is xenophobic and one in three is racist, according to the survey. Half the population of the EU’s 25 member states is against immigration and one in three against granting asylum. One in five is in favor of deporting legal immigrants. Manual workers, the self-employed, the elderly and people in low-income groups are more likely to marginalize ethnic groups. Opposition to multiculturalism is greater in member states where there is high unemployment, relatively low per capita incomes and a high percentage of immigrants. City dwellers are less xenophobic than those in the provinces. Meanwhile, the media, according to the survey, has played an even greater role in shaping opinion since the introduction of global communication technology which broadcasts world events in ways that directly affect one’s view of «others.» While Greeks are generally against immigrants, only 32 percent are against giving legal immigrants political and civil rights, according to Nassos Theodoridis, a lawyer and director of the Antigone Center for Information and Documentation on Racism, the agency in Greece for the EUMC. Yet the fact remains that 59 percent of Greeks are against the idea of a multicultural society. «One only has to recall the statements made by Archbishop Christodoulos on homosexuals and ‘foreigners,’ violence against Albanians after the Greece-Albania soccer match, the attempts by the Aspropyrgos mayor to put Gypsy children in a separate school and even the rejection suffered by many economic immigrants at every step,» said sociologist and criminologist Angeliki Halkia. «As for the electronic media, the way they report crimes committed by foreigners can in no way be described as the same as those committed by nationals.» Mass immigration during the 1990s changed Greece from a relatively isolated society into a multicultural one, Halkia said. «The globalized economy does not favor regional capitalist economies such as ours, which only intensifies the phenomena of economic and social exclusion,» she said. «Meanwhile the legislative and political framework to deal with racism is inadequate.» According to Halkia, what is missing is the proper education of the public not only through the education system, but the media, non-governmental organizations and political parties, with regard to accepting and respecting people’s right to be different. «Scientifically and politically, the answer to the question of whether there is racism is not a simple yes or no. More correctly, we should say that in relation to other Europeans we are less tolerant of difference and that racism is more a reflection of our fear of the future that seems uncertain and threatening,» she said. According to the latest Eurobarometer survey, 25 percent of Greeks believe that their circumstances will worsen over the next five years and 63 percent said they were concerned about their employment situation. In such a climate of fear, it is perhaps no wonder that «cultural racism» finds fertile ground. EU policy Kathimerini talked to European Commissioner for Justice Franco Fratini and the vice chairman of the European Parliament’s Civil Liberties Committee, Stavros Lambrinidis, about the direction of the EU’s new immigration policy. Speaking to a group of journalists and immigrants who visited him in Brussels recently, Fratini said everyone had a duty to support the migrants living legally in Europe. «On the other hand, I say we should be particularly harsh with human traffickers,» he said. The European Commission proposes the assimilation of legal immigrants, and cooperation with transit countries and countries of origin. «We cannot ask these countries to be the guardians of Europe without helping them with the appropriate measures,» he explained. «These should be offset benefits so that fewer people will want to leave their countries of origin; these could be vocational programs or other ways of helping people find work, training for services dealing with illegal immigrants and asylum seekers in transit countries.» As for immigrants’ political and civil rights, Fratini said it would be very useful to increase the level of political participation in local government. «It is very important for them to participate in local elections. As for national elections, there are constitutional obstacles within the member states,» he added. Lambrinidis described an action plan on policies to assimilate immigrants to be released by the European Parliament early next year. The plan will include proposals for inclusion in education, the labor market, housing and citizenship. However, Lambrinidis pointed out that there are 25 million immigrants in the EU. «They are the 26th ‘member state,’ he said. «And while there are armies of staff dealing with the accession of Bulgaria or Romania, there is only one employee in Fratini’s office dealing with the assimilation of 25 million people.»