The world values of humanism and culture are being tested by materialism and excessive individualism in terms of personal and interpersonal relationships; unfortunately the same could be said for relations between states. While mankind has experienced the frustration of this situation in the past, after World War II there was an effort to construct a new political international concept, aimed at overcoming those weaknesses as much as possible. The European Union was the political culmination of this effort; but it has not gone far enough. It has not been accompanied by the accomplishment of the mission, i.e. the essential implementation of the union, which has remained incomplete.
First the economic crisis tested the strength of the pro-European powers in the EU. Now it is the refugee crisis that is threatening to shatter – if not destroy – the vision of a united Europe. This is being done with the de facto abolition of the Schengen Treaty under the guidance of xenophobic and nationalist forces that have recently dominated the governmental contemplation of many EU countries. Greece is an exception.
Fortunately the spirit of hospitality among ordinary Greeks seems to have remained largely intact at a time of profound economic crisis and with society severely tested, with at least a third of the population unable to repay their debts and banks under a relentless and indefinite capital control status. However, while Greece is the country that has been receiving uncontrolled flows of immigrants from Turkey, the despicable xenophobia displayed by some of those governments that happen to be members of the EU has been mostly absent from both its government and society.
While the unprecedented and massive influx of immigrants from Turkey could jeopardize the smooth functioning and stability of the Greek state and the geopolitical security of the Balkans, the spirit of hospitality that countless Greeks have put into practice and shared by many more seems to have absorbed the reverberations resulting from the isolation of the country due to the current anti-European policy of the EU, the closed borders in the Balkans and the inadequacy of the Greek state administration. Even now that the Greeks know that refugees and migrants will stay in Greece for some time, they remain hospitable. This is a paradox. It is surprising how this spirit has secured the stability of the country until now. How is that possible? The fact that hospitality is a point of pride in Greek culture almost certainly plays a role, as does the memory of the
Asia Minor Catastrophe refugees in 1922, and successive migrations in modern Greek history. At the same time it sends a message to the country's EU peers that a society's values are not measured in their living standards and technological progress but in their spirit of hospitality (or lack thereof). However, Greece is unlikely to be able to confront the complex challenge of migration armed just with a spirit of hospitality.
The attitude of many countries at recent EU meetings has revealed the immaturity of their leaders when it comes to implementing the principles of European unity and solidarity, because it seems that they do not believe in them. In times of plenty everything was fine, but when difficulties emerged it was difficult to hide the weakness of the plan for a common European future. Even given the mistakes made by Greek governments, the current isolation of Greece by its partners is unjustified and unacceptable. Clearly the cultural diversity within the EU is stoking political and economic discord. What is not understood properly is that
Greece with its pro-refugee attitude today represents universal ideas and values that are in contrast to the pettiness and xenophobia of the European North. In short, the attitude of Berlin and its EU supporters in this refugee crisis will determine the viability of the European Union. If they have decided to sacrifice Greece as Agamemnon did Iphigenia on the altar of their own temporary political interests, they can be reassured that the wind will eventually blow. But it will not help the European ship complete its desired voyage to European integration but rather to fragmentation and disintegration. The sacrifice of Iphigenia would not just mean the fall of Troy, but mostly the destruction of the family of Atreus.
* Dr Evangelos Venetis is a specialist in refugee and migration studies. The coordinator of the Middle East Research Project of the Hellenic Foundation for European and Foreign Policy (ELIAMEP) recently joined the Refugee Studies Program at the Stavros Niarchos Center for Hellenic Studies, Simon Fraser University, Vancouver.