Metics of the world

Never have so many people been on the move as they are today. One can fly to any destination on the planet in a matter of hours. And yet, amid this unprecedented freedom of movement, people remain closely bound to the country of which they are citizens. The individual is at the epicenter of concentric circles comprising country, regional union (such as the European Union in our case) and the international community (such as the United Nations, the World Trade Organization, the International Monetary Fund, the International Court of Justice). But, apart from these, this is the age of globalization and climate change, so the influences brought to bear on the individual come from many directions. Even if people did nothing else but stay at home in the village of their ancestors and keep farming the way they have done for centuries, the changes that are sweeping our planet would come to them. Cheap agricultural products from distant lands, the collapse of subsidies and protectionism, immigration, climate change, pollution are among the increasing number of factors that will force our farmers to change their crops or profession. At another level, television and the Internet will make our farmers feel that the world is changing around them. Even if they are rooted to the past, farming the very same plot of land that their families had always farmed, they would feel like strangers. Also, never have there been so many people up in the air – literally and figuratively. According to the International Air Transport Association, more than 2.13 billion passengers traveled aboard aircraft in 2006. This is a daily average of 5.7 million people in the air every day. Of them, 2 million flew from one country to another. They travel on business, as tourists and for study abroad. But also, large numbers of people are moving in search of a better life – or for a few years’ work away from home. Migration policy academics estimate that more than 150 million people are currently migrants. This means that, at least for a while, many of them will live as «metics» – people who are free but do not enjoy the full rights of the citizens of the countries in which they will be staying. We are familiar with metics from the time of ancient Greece: They were either Greeks from another city state who chose to earn their living among the citizens of another city (who would never view them as equals), or they were freed slaves. Today, however, even citizens can feel like resident aliens in their own country. Because almost everyone has traveled, modern people are acquainted with the unsettling sense of being a lone individual coexisting with foreigners who tolerate him (at best) and on whose good will the visitor depends. But the sense of alienation can now spread at home. It is not only that we are subject to decisions taken by the EU and its institutions (which, in Greece’s case, are on the whole beneficial), as well as other international organizations such as NATO and the WTO, which make us feel that we are not masters of our own destiny. We feel that we are second-class citizens when we see our country and our politicians out of step with the times, when we see them missing opportunities and evading modern-day challenges. We feel – for better or worse – the effects of globalization in our skin and fear that nothing stands between us and the rest of the planet. This feeling could stem from direct factors, such as an influx of immigrants or changes in the climate and weather, or from indirect ones, such as the flood of information that shows us how other people live: We may «tut-tut» with compassion for those who have less than us, but we can also be angered by the fact that we have not kept up with others. And so, as globalization gathers momentum, we can judge our own city, our own country, relative to «other» countries. We try to walk on sidewalks that are broken or occupied by cars or motorbikes, we battle to deal with a public administration that is incompetent (and unrepentant) and we watch our fellow citizens get embroiled in fights for no good reason. We watch the world change while our country remains stuck in a complex web of fear and complacency. We see our efforts wasted. Our children are in danger of not learning as much as the children of others, of not keeping up with the world. It is then that we feel like strangers in our own country.