Aug 6 2012

The not-so-hospitable Greeks

‘Behold the sparkle of champagne
The crime rate’s gone – feel free again’
                                     Dead Kennedys, ‘Kill the poor’


Illegal migration has been a galloping problem for Greece even before the crisis. But the crisis has made the situation truly unsustainable and especially in down-town Athens ‘normal’ everyday life has become almost impossible in the last few years. Large parts of central Athens have effectively been taken over by groups of illegal immigrants and petty criminals, from pick-pockets and drug users to organised gangs involved in prostitution, robberies, and violent crime. Consistent with its policy attitude to attack the symptom but fail miserably to understand the cause, Greece launched on 4 August a – can’t find a better word – pogrom against (legal and) illegal immigrants in Athens. Some 6000 have been summoned so far with over 1500 detained and awaiting deportation.

Tackling social disorder in inner city Athens is a long overdue issue and indeed a key responsibility of the state. But the events of 4 August (which are continuing and extending geographically) are hardly it. A look at the semantics is enough, I think, to make the case, but I will also touch upon the substance to avoid being accused of reading too much into things.



The operation took place on the anniversary of the installation of a fascist-like dictatorship in the country back in 1936. As with then, on 4 August 2012 Athens got bloated by police units which, admittedly in an untypically peacefully fashion, moved street by street, building by building, seeking to restore “order and social quiescence” – to quote the 1936 dictator. Quite conveniently, this happened to be on the first Saturday of August, on a day when most Athenians (who could afford to do so) were wetting their feet on a nearby beach – presumably, so that neither would they disrupt, nor would they be disrupted by, the operation. And almost incredibly, the operation was coded “Xenios Zeus“, the epithet given to the ancient Greek God – the king of all gods – to symbolise his hospitality to and patronage of foreigners.

If the official who came up with the codename was some ignorant twenty-year-old, one could perhaps see this as a tasteless joke or an unfortunate irony – and excuse the sarcasm. But the Minister of Public Order and Citizens’ Protection, Mr Dendias, who allegedly came up with the codename, is not a twenty-year-old… The minister has defended ferociously the operation and its codename, arguing that the latter is simply meant to show how the operation ‘restores the human rights of the illegal immigrants’. [I refrain from commenting on how arrogantly patronising the above statement is, even if its assertion was to be true.]

But the semantics of a generalised hunt for immigrants with a 5000-strong police force in down-town Athens suggest otherwise. They suggest that the operation is intended to send a loud message, not only to the illegal immigrants and their ‘sympathisers’, but also to society at large – and perhaps to voters in particular. A message that announces to everybody that ‘Greeks are claiming Greece back’ (note that ‘Xenios Zeus’ is only showing his hospitality to foreigners, as unlawful natives are not covered by the operation) and that the road to ‘order and social quiescence’ passes through the deportation of ‘aliens’ – whose human rights will be well respected as long as they are happy to be deported. This is not simply an operation aiming at ‘removing illegal immigrants from down-town Athens’ (and perhaps trying to disperse them so that they integrate into society more easily). This looks like, sounds like and feels like a zero tolerance policy against the (unproven) ‘serious crimes’ (allegedly) caused by the (inappropriately labelled as an) ‘invasion of immigrants’ which (according to the minister) ‘threatens to unravel our [us Greeks – them immigrants] social fabric’.



Of course tolerance to crime and antisocial behaviour (by natives or immigrants, legal or illegal) is rarely a good thing: counter-productively, it more often than not nurtures crime; and it does not by itself help address the root causes of illegality. But in the same way ‘zero tolerance’ anti-migrant policies are often nothing more than a convenient blame-shifting, a pretext for a witch-hunt against those most tragically affected by all sorts of market and government failures – in this particular case, the combined failures of the international world order (which ‘produces’ illegal immigrants) and of the Greek state (which maintains their illegality).

Most of the illegal immigrants have fled conditions at home that none of us would wish to experience. They came to a country where they thought they could make a home and start a new life; but they found covert racism, overt discrimination and a weak and disinclined state bureaucracy that used tactics of delay (not issuing work or residence permits, procrastinating with the issue of regularisation) to keep the cohorts of migrants in a legal limbo. Most of them were thus pushed into illegality because – without a legal status – they could not find lawful work. Still, the vast majority of them have not descended into crime; rather, they have become victims of exploitation, often by both natives and other fellow immigrants, invariably working under the worst conditions in the shadow / black economy. [It is through this that some of them eventually become involved in street-level crime; while it is very few, and often in direct collaboration with native outlaws, who are involved professionally in serious or organised crime.]

On the 4th of August central Athens got filled up by such people, summoned by police, driven like a herd from one place to another and stuffed in buses to be taken to police stations before being “forwarded” to hastily set-up detention centres. I don’t know how many of them were spoken to politely or were offered food and water – in the true spirit of the hospitable God after whom the operation was named. And I don’t know how many of those who had the privilege to come across the “Xenios Zeus” will actually be given access to a lawyer, will be allowed to contact their families, or will be provided with the space and conditions afforded to illegal immigrants by the international human rights conventions. Past experience does not help me here. But perhaps this doesn’t matter because, as the Minister said, “Now [the illegal immigrants] will return to their home countries… It’s the best thing that could happen to them”. At last! Thanks to the Ministry of Public Order, the tormented illegal immigrants of Greece will experience the true meaning of nostos, this noble emotion that one of the early ‘children of Zeus’ – Homer – had so elegantly paid tribute to through his lyrics, hundreds and hundreds of years ago. What can be better than this!

And so, as the law abiding Athenians return home from their short seaside holiday, they will find a city free of illegal immigrants, free from petty crime, an Athens worth living in. The illegal immigrants have been shooed away (I could almost say ‘liberated’ from their plight) and the city feels nice – and Greek – again. Let’s open the champagne bottles then: as the modern lyricist would put it, jobless thousands have been whisked away; at last we have more room to play!

Unless, that is, you are worried about civil liberties, unless you see criminality as the result of unemployment and social exclusion rather as an innate attribute of migrants. Unless you are concerned that the nature of the police operation of 4 August (its scale, its style and indeed its codename) feeds into – and (coincidentally?) reflects – the rhetoric of the 1936-dictatorship-sympathising “Golden Dawn”, the fascist party which the crisis elevated into a political force in Greece. Unless you are worried about the mainstreaming of racism and xenophobia in the country and are concerned that perhaps the ‘area-cleansing’ operations may extend in the future to other forms of ‘social deviance’, beyond illegal migration, which can also be associated to the unravelling of ‘our’ social fabric.



This is not a call for the continuation of the situation with illegal migration in Athens and elsewhere in Greece. I, too, want to see down-town Athens free of crime, free of drugs, free of deprivation and free of fear – although I am not quite sure I would want to see it ‘free’ of immigrants. But I also want to see Athens the capital of a country that treats people – and illegal immigrants ARE people – with dignity and fairness, a country whose state improves the living conditions of all by providing solutions to underlying problems and not by demonising the weakest (themselves victims of state failures in Greece and in their home countries), jumping onto the bandwagon of xenophobia and playing into the semantics of fascism.


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2 Responses to The not-so-hospitable Greeks

  1. Alexandros Liakopoulos says:

    Dear Sir,
    Proud to be your “compatriot”! Excellent article on one of the most dangerous – fatal, actually – diseases the Greek society (but not only – I will come to this later) faces nowadays: racism, xenophobia and rising of the racial, ethnic and even political prejudices. “Xenios Zeus” is a pogrom operation, designed to fulfill (or address?) a wide spectrum of different “necessities”, as Minister Dendias would put it.
    The terminology used is fabricated under a propagandistic “instructions book” spirit, aiming to shift the essence of the words, to alter its meaning by using the same terms, for a different purpose: “Xenios Zeus” came to become inhospitable, after 2500 years of being the protector and the “hospital” of the “xenos” – offering not only food and water, but also asylum and security – and this new “great quality” of the almighty ancient Greek God got connected with the Human Rights and the offering of a better future (in the “accommodation centers” the Greek Police has largely been condemned for, by European and international for a and organizations dealing with HR, ie.: Amnesty International, European Court, Council of Europe, UN, etc) to the very same people the Greek State, under the EU pressure deriving from the Dublin II Treaty, has pushed to the very edge of social reality, to the newly created Greek ghettos.
    This is a “holistic approach” on a concrete change of the perception of things, this is a clear effort to redesign social standards in Greece, to redesign “acceptance”, to redesign the very sense of Human Rights and Democracy, as we used to know them. As far as the operation “covers” the “others than us” of dark skin color, of obvious “filthiness” and of poverty beyond imagination, which characterizes the “strangers” coming from specific geographic regions (this decade, “we” have problem with the Pakistanis, the Afghans, the Iraqis and the Kurds, two decades ago “we” had the same “problem” with the Albanians, the Kossovars, the Russian-Ponts, etc.) and not from all parts of the world, and having specific economic (in)capacity rather than having specific (il)legal status, the operation is doomed to be racial, propagandistic and fascist at its very core.
    I ‘ll explain what I mean with some simple examples, which would be of great help of Mr. Dendias, should he even try to avoid his clear neonazi sentiments that drive the racial attacks of the Greek State against those who have no way to avoid the prosecution and the unjust – out of trial – condemnation to deportation, irrespectively to the dangers they face back home, which would constitute the basis for their recognition as asylum seekers and not “illegal immigrants”. So, Mr. Dendias, do you think and have you authorized the police to “control” and “process” French or American (Westerners in general) or Japanese or Chinese immigrants, no matter if he/she would be in Greece legally or illegally? No you didn’ t. You only prosecute the “Arabs” or the “muslims” or the “Asians”, in general, assuming they are the real “threat to the society” (statistics are never accepted as justifying indicator for racial atrocities exactly because they disregard the factor of the personality, generalizing on the “personality of them all”, which is the first step of Nazism). The Westerners are not “screened” under Xenios Zeus, nor the Japanese or the Chinese: they are presupposed to be legal, “till they prove to be otherwise”. Even if by any mistake they would be stopped from the Police (due to skin color or clothing, etc.), as far as they would speak their native language, they would be left to go, even without showing off of papers. If they were asked to show a passport to a police officer, none would ever think of “proceeding” it to check its validity or legality. However, this is not the case with let’s say Pakistanis, cause it is presupposed they would possibly obtain a stolen or fake passport, they would be “in our home” illegally and they would tend to be criminals or they would be criminals, “till they prove to be otherwise”.
    But the racial pogrom of “Xenios Zeus” also holds another characteristic, besides its ethnic and racial prejudiced nature: it discriminates according to the economic factor or the victims, their social status, in some sense. For instance, no police officer would ever check an Afghan trafficker of human souls or drugs or whatever else, as the trafficker never seem to be poor, he is not poor and does not “mix up” with his poor compatriots: he/she just “trafficks” them, buys them and sells them, exploits them in full till they have no more use. The trafficker (or any organized crime “officer”) is very well paid for his/her functions, which in most cases progress in parallel with Police corruption, and provides them with multiple possibilities of “looking legal”: creation of companies, networking with international “players” like embassies which provide them with papers, recognition and endorsement of the powerful world drugs cartels that are directly connected with secret agencies of various countries, etc.
    So, real illegals escape while real victims get victimized once more: the design, the modus operandi, of “Xenios Zeus” is built to deliver such a result, exactly cause the real “mafias” of the immigrants (which exist and are powerful, dealing with a multi-million euros “industry”) and the real “mafias” of State authorities meet at the top, at the level of the Minister and its “cartel-twin” level of the Baron. In most cases, a Minister and a Baron can “come to an understanding”, they could find a “common ground for their mutual interests to be covered”. However, a poor immigrant has no means in providing a Nazi Minister with nothing more than an excuse to “educate” the Greek society on Nazi-practices acceptance, in the same time he manages to cover up a massive privatization process which covers all public infrastructure, state owned banks, public accumulated capital, social capital as well, etc. So, by “fuelling up” the racial agenda and by “delivering” the “Xenios Zeus” operation, Mr Dendias seems like a great student of another Minister of another era: Dr Ghebels, who was “teaching” methods of how to “format” and “formulate” the public opinion, depending to the needs of the leaders, not the ones of the people they should protect.
    “Xenios Zeus” is an insult to human civilization, to human nature, to human rights and to the very origins of Greek culture and shouldn’ t be tolerated from the Greek society, nor from any other society. However, in the era of Televised Democracy, the same day an American “misled neonazi” (according to FT) blooded the Sikhs due to racial prejudice, all mainstream Greek media published their “relief” for the fact that – “at last” – Greece takes concrete action “to protect its neighborhoods” and to “deliver security” to its citizens. The art of propaganda has covered the whole spectrum of public discourse in Greece in an ongoing, progressive manner during the last two years. With this last proof of propagandistic use of the Greek language, which is so amazingly rich in words and meanings that cannot be blamed not to deliver any other possible names for the operation, we get to observe one more clear manifestation of the fact that Greek government becomes more and more fascist and oppressing. However, one should not just blame the “bad Greeks of the government” that are racially presupposed: this tendency didn’ t appear 3 years ago. It appeared in the same time the Greek government got under the “bailout agreements” with the EU (mainly the Germans), which pushed them to “deliver” their “national sovereignty”, creating a new kind of European “protectorate” state. This got reaffirmed with two electoral processes just 40 days ago, when “external forces” managed to shift the political outcome according to their own interests. So, while the “Europeans” got the political outcome they want and the new government “only executes the agreements with our European partners”, applying the “Mnimonio” (Baillout), the Treaties (including Dublin II) and the loan-givers interests, why should we just blame a given Mr Dendias, a given Mr Samaras, a given Mr no matter the name, and not the whole political elite that seems to become more and more fascist, as they lack more and more their social acceptance, due to incompetence, stupidity and proven scandals?
    Once more, Mr Monastiriotis, congrats for your article and thanks for giving for us all a clear and loud answer to all the “parrots” of the Media sponsored and Protectorate Greek State delivered racial Propaganda.

    Alexandros Liakopoulos

  2. Vishy Moghan says:

    I just got to read this excellent analysis. Well done. As a British citizen living and working in Greece for the last eighteen years, I have been disgusted, horrified and shocked by the rapid rise of the Golden Dawn, but worse still the total appearance of what seems tantamount to full, dare I say gleeful collusion of the police and the government with these Nazis (oh sorry! not Nazis, “patriots”).

    Greece had, it seemed to me made huge leaps forward since I first came here in terms of accepting the multicultural state of the world, and even embracing it. This dramatic setback recently has been a very hard, very cold slap in the face of everything that is human for me and others here.

    I would like to commend again your clear and intelligent analysis of the situation, but also I would like to ask; What can be done to bring serious attention to this extremely dangerous situation? I can see a very rapid unfolding of a Nazi state in the heart of Europe, all the signs are here and very clear for anyone who has a modicum of historical knowledge, and yet I see no reportage or real concern from any other European members! Is it possible that Europeans secretly hope the same conditions and events will be taken up in their countries? Or are we going to see yet another ‘secret’ genocide in the Balkans without lifting a finger?

    Thanks again.

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