Poverty and intolerance

The recent attacks on Afghan immigrants in the district of Aghios Panteleimonas did not surprise anybody. Unfortunately, such incidents are expected to become more frequent and to spread. Hatred is not restricted to within the confines of Aghios Panteleimonas. Large parts of the capital, historic neighborhoods that host large numbers of working-class people, have for many years now been treated with neglect and conceit by the central authorities as well as the majority of the better-off. The older generations of Athenians left their homes in the city center for a new life in the suburbs. The old neighborhoods started to decline as the demographics shifted. Most of the immigrants who set foot in this country during the 1990s found homes in these half-abandoned districts. It made sense: Rents were cheap, and the new arrivals were the only ones willing to live in the basements. Albanians, Poles and other Eastern Europeans gave new life to these neighborhoods, to the local schools and shops. With time, they became better off; they bought their own houses; they began to integrate with mainstream society while lending it their own color. But things were different with the next wave of migrants. Those who arrived here from Asia and Africa have hardly managed to integrate – if at all. Lawbreaking, petty crime, poverty and the endless influx of migrants increased the strain on these already troubled neighborhoods. Lack of order and lawlessness became the norm. Coexistence between the different ethnic groups became hard or impossible. So now we have three groups of peoples trying to live next to each other in the midst of crisis: financially hit Greeks, the more-or-less integrated first- and second-generation Albanians and, finally, the Africans and Asians living on the fringes of society. Many of the latter cannot speak Greek or find a steady job. With our urban infrastructure in such a sorry state, with poverty fanning xenophobia and racism, and with some people organizing themselves into race-based gangs, coexistence appears extremely difficult. It’s an explosive mix. Large sections of the city have turned into human waste dumps, into societal and constitutional black holes. The state is not there; the state does not care. Trapped in intolerance and anger, some people are tempted to take law in their own hands.