The immigration debate

Two decades since the end of the communist system in Europe and the ensuing population exodus, Greece has finally addressed the issue of immigration. The political controversy kicked off with the change of citizenship rules introduced by the George Papandreou administration, and it will continue to deepen. Following the Asia Minor disaster in 1922 and the exchange of populations, the political elite of the time argued that the devastating defeat would, at least, strengthen ethnic homogeneity. And so it was for some 60 years, until Greece opened up its borders with the hope of securing cheap labor. Until, all of a sudden, it realized it had turned into a multiethnic state. Greece was unprepared for an influx of that magnitude. The health system came under serious pressure. The standard of state education, especially in urban centers, declined; entire neighborhoods turned into ghettos; crime rose. Responsibility for this state of affairs lies with the governments of the past 20 years. However, now that many migrants have been assimilated into the country’s economy and their children attend Greek schools, the question concerns the status of newcomers. Faced with a similar challenge, French President Nicolas Sarkozy (who is born to a Polish father and a Jewish mother from Thessaloniki) launched a debate on what it means to be French today. Back in the 1840s, the claims made by Jakob Fallmerayer, who questioned the ancient roots of the Greeks, sparked a creative debate that saw Konstantinos Paparrigopoulos incorporating Byzantium in Greek history lessons. These days, the integration of migrants presents us with a fresh challenge. Those who believe in self-evident truths that require no verification are either intellectually idle or see the Greek state as a historical relic that has run its course.

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