OPINION

The Greeks’ migrations

The history of the Greeks is an endless river that springs up from the depths of central Asia and finds its homeland at the foot of the Balkan peninsula, across the Aegean and in Asia Minor. From there, like blood pumped by a powerful heart, Greeks spread out across the world. The fate of their homeland – the prosperity or hardships of little Greece – always determined the emigration or return of its children. After they conquered the area we now know as Greece, the Greek tribes quickly expanded – either through the establishment of colonies around the Mediterranean and Black Sea, through war (such as the Trojan War and Alexander’s conquests) or through trade. The shortage of arable land and lack of other natural resources obliged the Greeks to become seafarers, mercenaries and merchants. They learned the art of survival far from friends and family – they became the first cosmopolitans, the first global citizens. As adventurers, they opened new trade routes and created Greek settlements, large and small, everywhere – from the deserts of the ancient Middle East to the modern-day suburbs of Melbourne. The past century saw great developments in the Greeks’ migrations, an epic that has still not found its poet. With the opening up of the «new world» of the Americas, Oceania and Africa, hundreds of thousands of Greeks left their villages in search of a better life. They took root outside their homeland, creating new centers of Hellenism far from the familiar coasts of the seas near Greece. But the Asia Minor Catastrophe, the persecution of the Greeks of Turkey and Stalin’s deportation of Greeks from the Crimea and the Caucasus, again pushed Greeks deep into central Asia – and also resulted in more than a million coming to Greece. This new blood (rich with the experience, wealth and ingenuity that Greeks acquire when they live abroad), strengthened the anemic Greek state, which took on its current form only after World War II. At the same time, hunger and the stifling horizons of post-war Greece pushed tens of thousands of young Greeks to leave for Australia, Germany, Belgium and other countries in search of hope and a better life. Also, many students who studied abroad realized that only outside Greece could they fulfil their expectations, that only as emigrants would they be judged on their merit and be paid according to their worth. With the billions of euros that flowed into Greece from the European Union, it was no longer poverty that forced the more restless, the more daring Greeks to seek their fortune elsewhere. Now it was the lack of opportunity and the thirst for knowledge that inspired the descendants of ancient seafarers to migrate. In the past few years, things have changed once again. Instead of poor Greeks leaving, poor foreigners are coming to Greece while it is the Greeks with the education and means to do so who have been seeking their fortune elsewhere. The foreign immigrants gave new life to Greece’s countryside, propped up the social security funds and helped complete major construction projects. Now the global economic crisis is laying bare all of Greece’s problems. In addition to the dysfunctional social, educational and political systems, our economic problems can no longer be hidden behind borrowed prosperity. The lack of competitiveness, for which Greek workers are the least to blame, and high debt are undermining the future. The problems faced by other countries are leading to a drop in tourism: The money that we have become accustomed to expect will not be coming; we will have to seek it elsewhere. The solution for Greeks has always been to look beyond their country’s limits. The Balkans, the Arab states, Russia and Turkey were always favored areas for trade and settlement. In these regions the Greek presence has waned or disappeared entirely, but the past serves as a foothold for the future. Greek communities in foreign lands – as well as isolated professors, students, contract workers, sailors and entrepreneurs – are like firm stepping stones in history’s river. They show that for those who dare, home is not just the tough and beautiful country of their birth or ancestry, but the Earth itself.