‘Natives’ and ‘foreigners’

‘Natives’ and ‘foreigners’

It would have been better if our political parties had been able to overcome their fears of postal and electronic votes, but the bipartisan agreement providing for Greeks abroad to vote in our elections is already a major achievement for our politics and society: for politics because it is one of the very few times we have seen broad consensus, and for our society because it is an act of unification which goes against the traditional tide of division.

It remains to be seen precisely what the law will say, and how functional the process will be in practice, as the product of political consensus is not ideal. However, it is historically important that members of the Greek diaspora and citizens who left in the past few years should be able to vote in Greek elections without having to travel to our country.

Providing for Greeks abroad to vote shows that, albeit with great delay, the chasm between those who are “here” and those who are “there” is narrowing.

This conflict can be dated to before the foundation of the modern Greek state, taking its political shape after the War of Independence, with the “natives” complaining that the “foreigners” (i.e. Greeks from outside the narrow confines of the Greek state in its initial form) were depriving them of benefits. Both sides claimed that they had sacrificed the most for independence, and, in this climate of suspicion and jealousy, they were unable to work together.

Division continued, between residents of territories that had been won earlier and the newly liberated ones, with the National Schism during World War I, with the “locals” against the “refugees” (Greeks fleeing Turkey), and with the Civil War after World War II. The echoes of these conflicts still determine our political vocabulary to a great extent, and how we see each other in our microcosm.

Beyond politics, though, there was always another important division between those who are “here” and those “from elsewhere.” In the countryside, those who stayed in their birthplace often regard those who return from the city or abroad with suspicion – fearing that they have come to claim what they (the locals) believe is theirs, even if it is common property or belongs to those who were away.

On social media, this ambivalence is evident in the mix of envy for the Greeks who left during the crisis and anger at the causes of the exodus. It is difficult to predict how much the vote of Greeks outside Greece will affect our politics. But it is a necessary step for our society to modernize and mature. Only good can come from the greater participation of people who have spread their wings and seen Greece from afar.

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