OPINION

Re-generation

The government’s decision to grant citizenship to immigrants and their children makes sense on so many levels that it is difficult to see why it is the subject of such virulent opposition. It is reasonable to expect a lively and informed debate on an issue that will change the fabric of Greek society but at present the discussion appears to be dominated by the simplistic and emotional extreme right-wing stance that «this is our country and we don’t want to share it.» Let’s look at the issue from a broader perspective. Greece, with its negative birthrate, needs as many immigrants as it can get. Foreign workers and their families already provide a lifesaving injection for the economy and the social security system. From the time of the first legalization process in 1998, an influx of young, healthy workers has been responsible for providing funds to and sustaining the social security system. In addition, immigrants’ bank deposits have continued to grow as locals went on a spending frenzy stoked by cheap loans; banks say that immigrants’ accounts were worth 2.5 billion euros early last year. They have taken out housing loans worth 100 million euros, or 5 percent of the total. Immigrants are crucial to the farming and construction sectors, doing the jobs that Greeks will no longer do. Many of them have quickly developed into entrepreneurs and now provide jobs to others. Just as important is the fact that immigrants provide a range of services which have allowed both parents in each Greek family to work rather than stay at home to care for children and elderly relatives. Above all, though, immigrants have contributed to the growth of Greece’s population, which would have shown a decline in the last 10-year census in 2001 were it not for the influx of about 1 million people. This is invaluable in terms of any effort that will be made to save the social security system. Over the years, the vast majority of immigrants have become part of Greek society. In 2008, a study by the Research Center for Equality found that one in 10 immigrant women had married a member of another ethnic group – a Greek in 90 percent of such cases. In addition, the children born to immigrants in Greece are estimated to number about 250,000. With the great wave of immigration starting at the end of 1990, many of them have passed right through the Greek education system, from kindergarten to university graduation. The principal argument presented by the New Democracy party in its opposition to the immigration bill is that it allows citizenship to be granted to children who have at least three years of Greek schooling, proposing instead the full nine years of mandatory schooling that applies for all Greeks. The argument is moot, as most immigrant parents are dedicated to their children’s advancement through education, but it allows New Democracy to put up a fight and so steal some of the extreme right’s thunder. Aside from the many economic and social benefits accruing from an increase in the number of citizens, the debate should also focus on the identity of the citizens of Greece. It is time that Greeks came to terms with the fact that their ancient nation has always been an amalgam of natives and immigrants, not a pure race descended from Homer’s time. We are now living through one more surge of new blood, with all the opportunities and challenges that this presents. Things are changing, whether we like it or not. Taking the initiative and trying to control how our nation will be shaped, as the government has done, is far better than trying to stop the tide, destroying the lives of immigrants and missing opportunities for a stronger Greece.