Foreign media and some politicians in Europe have rushed to criticize Greece for the way it is treating the refugees and migrants stuck at the Greek-Turkish border in Evros. Without wanting to gloss over the situation or conceal possible isolated incidents, the reality is that the Greek state is managing a very difficult situation, not only with efficiency but also calmly and responsibly.
Greece needs to maintain the delicate balance between its obvious right to protect its borders – recognized by partners and allies abroad and the opposition at home – and specific actions required by international law.
At the same time, everyone agrees that Turkey is using human suffering to forward its geopolitical goals and economic demands. During the last few months, though, as more refugees and migrants arrived in Greece, several members of ruling New Democracy have been ousted from the party because of their objectionable behavior.
The most recent case involved a party member who described a fire at a warehouse on the island of Lesvos operated by Swiss refugee NGO One Happy Family, as “one happy night” on his Facebook page. He went on to respond to criticism by saying that a photograph of the incident was “more idyllic than the sunset in Santorini!”
This incident followed two other expulsions of party members. The first called on the Greek authorities to “throw the refugees into the sea” and wrote that “when our people went to Germany, Switzerland and Belgium they were legal, moral and modest; who are these blacks?” The other had called an Iranian refugee who posted a comment on social media against fascism a “monkey” and told him to “go back where you came from.”
We could argue that it is alarming to find people with such extreme views inside the country’s biggest political party and indeed it is. However, it is better for the political system and for the country that the center-right party acts like an umbrella that leaves little room in the political spectrum for far-right parties to form, as has happened in many European countries – most recently in Germany with the emergence of the AfD.
In Greece, those voices are lost among the moderates of the democratic center-right. The message conveyed by the party’s quick reaction and the immediate expulsions of cadres with extreme views, is that the government – and for that matter, the country’s entire political system – does not tolerate extremist behavior and treats the complex and very sensitive issue of dealing with refugees and migrants seriously and with moderation.