The rhetoric of xenophobia

The conservative shift by society, as recorded by a Public Issue poll published by Kathimerini on Sunday, is cause for sadness but comes as little surprise – the numbers have never really sided with our flattering self-proclaimed ideological views. Both Greek and international studies have revealed that beneath the rhetoric of hospitality there hides discontent, fear, aggression, denial and even contempt. In December 2005, two studies published by the same paper revealed that Greece came first in Europe with 84.73 percent of its residents who see foreigners as a threat. Back in those days, Giorgos Karatzaferis’s right-wing Popular Orthodox Rally (LAOS) was not quite as powerful as it is today, yet it cultivated xenophobia with its «A Greece for Greeks» message, reaching the masses through private television. Now, in the contest between the country’s two largest parties, both have begun championing «zero tolerance» toward migrants, telling us that the only lesson they learned from June’s European parliamentary elections was that they should sidle closer to the rhetoric of LAOS, and toe the line that dresses bigotry in the cloak of pragmatism. Of course, «zero tolerance» is supposed to apply only to illegal migrants. In this hospitable country, however, legal migrants can become illegal in an instant, and can then be shown the door. They can pay their dues over and over again, throw in some more cash for the middlemen and, at the end of the day, their status comes down to how one individual bureaucrat feels. Or maybe in one of the many sweeps, an ill-willed policeman could simply tear up a green card, a passport or an ID and that person could cease to exist. Or what about the hundreds of children born to migrants here, children that grow up here, study here and know no other home, yet they are never granted citizenship, or even a birth certificate? This kind of track record should put Italy’s Silvio Berlusconi to shame as he boasts about his tough measures.