Citizenship and identity

With uncertainty persisting over whether Greece will get its new loan or face bankruptcy, with our partners in the EU and the IMF arguing over what to do with the Greek problem, this is the worst possible time for the three-party coalition to risk falling apart over changes to the law determining who has the right to acquire Greek citizenship. But maybe the rushed decision of the government to raise the issue (and its proposals for far stricter criteria) will be useful, forcing us to look at where we are and where we’re going. We may think the issue concerns only which immigrants will be naturalized, but a more important question is whether we have decided what it means to be a Greek today. And what it means to be a European.

Greece is facing a crisis that will change everything. Many are looking for a way to return to an imaginary past when only Greeks lived here and the country had no problems. But if we do not confront reality, if we continue to see the world as we want to see it, not as it is, we will not deal with today’s challenges and we will not escape the debt trap nor end our dependence on others. Will we circle the wagons – fearful of everything, suspicious of others, divided among ourselves – or will we unite the potential of all the country’s residents and open up to the world, seeking new adventures and peaceful conquests, as Greeks have always done in difficult times?

Who will we be? The indignant crowds attacking others – whether Greeks or foreigners – for ostensibly causing our problems? Or will we work according to a plan, with functional social structures and institutions, building a society based on the rule of law, equality and opportunity for all? Will we understand, at last, that everyone who lives here has a responsibility and a need to improve the country, that there is no room for division? Seeing the dangers of division, will we ignore them or stamp them out with the necessary determination?

The problems caused by many years without a serious migration policy are an excuse for an extreme reaction by a large part of our society and political parties. This leads to a dead-end and erases one of our strong points – our tolerance for differences and others, our skill in dealing with other nations and winning their trust and friendship, our desire to work hard and overcome difficulties and prosper.

Greeks abroad have always relied on this talent and, wherever they found a welcome, they created – for their own benefit and that of their new home. We can do the same here. How our government handles the issue of citizenship will determine our identity and the nature of our society for many years to come.

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