Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Redefining Racism in Europe.

On the eve of the London Olympics in 2012, a Greek athlete has been disqualified for posting allegedly racist comments on her twitter account. Voula Papachristou commenting on the widely reported appearance of Nile-virus-carrying mosquitoes in Athens, she wrote: "With so many Africans in Greece, the West Nile mosquitoes will be getting home food!!!" 

Was that comment naive and ridiculous? Yes it was. But the Greek psyche has not been through what the American, British or South African "white" psyche has been. We do not have their complexes or sensitivities. Simply because we have been a homogenous nation every since we got our independence from the Ottoman Empire. 

Only recently Greece has found itself as a destination for immigrants, from being traditionally a country of emigration. And before we managed to master it or get the balances right, the severe crisis and economic downturn hit us. So as it was expected the first to get the blame were the immigrants. Not that this is ethical, but it happened so many times before in other countries. When the economy turns bad the minorities are the first to pay the price. 

It happened in most other European countries in the past too and in fact in some cases in much worse way. In Britain, many landlords that wanted to rent their property to white protestant British natives only, they used to place a sign on their windows "No Ni**%s No Irish, No Dogs." So I do not think that anyone can criticize Greece on the way we deal with our immigration problem. It is something new and it will take time to master or deal with effectively.

But it does explain how many young Greeks found as the only option for the country's future, the doctrines of ultra-nationalism and the far right. They just wish to return to what their fathers knew best, when we were a nation state and everything apparently was "rosy." When we apparently controlled our country's future and destiny. Who will tell them that those times are long gone and times have changed and that we should adapt accordingly. 

So that is how the Golden Dawn party got access to the Greek Parliament. But our politicians are only scapegoating athletes like Voula, because if she re-posted videos of the Golden Dawn from you-tube on her twitter account (as it is claimed that she did) she should not be the one to be punished.

If someone should get punished then our leaders must be the ones. They wrecked our economy and they are the ones who left Greece with no functioning immigration policies. They are responsible for the economic woes, the immigration problem, and the rising nationalism and anger among the Greek youth. Now to cover their failures and to show Europe and the world that Greece is a "civilized" country they destroyed one talented, yet naive girl's dreams. And what about the shame they have brought to our country with their corruption and incompetence? 

I agree that her comment was silly and unacceptable. And to actually support Golden Dawn definitely puts me off her personality. But the Golden Dawn has became an elected political party in Greece's parliament because of the chronic in-activeness of our ruling elites. And yes, Greece has an immigration problem that is no lie. Like most of the rest of Europe. 

But we should not deal with it by repressing freedom of speech, or trying to bring as an example a naive girl by destroying her dreams. In fact this made her a heroine and there was a huge support for her in many social networking websites.

 Any ordinary man will chose a joke like Voula's to express his or her frustration about an issue. Should we not be able to do so, in order to present ourselves as "progressive?" But that is the exact attitude who brought us to this situation in the first place. Blind and fanatical idealism of our ruling elites that left their ideas totally detached from the needs of their people. An open debate, education, the sports and arts together with inter-community projects will prove much more effective in battling racism in Greece and Europe.

Besides, the Greeks were always joking about someone. When there were no other ethnic minorities living in our country, there were jokes about the Pontic Greeks (Greeks that originated in Anatolia, on the coast of the Black Sea) the Vlach Greeks and so on. Islanders made jokes about the inhabitants of the neighboring island, northern Greeks about the southern ones and vice versa. 

Athenians made jokes about Thessalonicans and vice versa. We had jokes about the Turks, the Germans, the French or the British. Then our borders opened and almost one million of Albanians entered Greece. They were included in the everyday slander jokes of the Greeks. Nobody made any fuss about it. But now the Anglosaxon/ European disease of political correctness caught up with us and we want to prove to them that we are good boys.

Why having jokes about Africans are any different from having jokes about the Albanians or the Pontic Greeks? Or why telling a joke about any other  European ethnic group is not considered a punishable offense? The French joke about the Belgians, the Germans about the Austrians, the English about the Irish and the Swedes about the Finnish or the Norwegians. Is the only way to stop racism in Europe to force people to stop making any jokes about colored or non European people, or to ban any comments that show discomfort for an obvious problem that all countries in Europe face: immigration.

No I do not agree with Golden Dawn's doctrines of hate or with any rise of the far right anywhere in Europe. Nor I want to see "Greece belonging to the Greeks only."   But as long as everybody respects another and do not attack verbally or physically each other then I do not see why we tend to silence any voices that object to the current immigration trends in Europe. First of all Europe DOES have an immigration problem. But our leaders are to blame, not the immigrants so we should not take our anger on them. And how can we have democracy if we do not allow people to voice their opinions, doubts or opposition freely, as long as they do not offend.

Have it any other way and we could be compared to any other totalitarian regime we are so critical of. No, racism is not to question, object or express some worries about the current immigration trends in your country. If only we need to be discussing them freely. It is when we try to suppress them that they become an avalanche and break out with much bigger force than expected. If we try to educate, explain, and inform our citizens of what is happening in our countries and how we could benefit from all this, then perhaps we will see an open debate happening and a long lasting solution than trying to silence anyone who has any reservations.

I also think that if we are talking about integration, multiculturalism in Europe or the world, we must work on it both ways. All western European countries have embraced multiculturalism and soon the eastern European countries will follow suit. But what about the immigrants themselves? Those who come in Europe and expect to be accepted, back in their home countries have often problems or shameful past of their own. 

In order to discuss about racism and multiculturalism openly we will have to address inter-community issues, not just the issue of the white native European accepting the immigrant population. Racism is not only "white on black." Otherwise we are in danger of passing the message that only white people can be racists. 

How can a Pakistani for example accuse a British man for racism when themselves have an issue with Africans and Indians. If we want to create a racism free, equal society we must not focus only on the issues deriving from the objection of the native population on immigration. 

There is racism in Trinidad and Tobago between the communities of people of African and Indian origin. There is racism in India against the descendants of African migrants that arrived in the Asian sub-continent during the British colonialism. There is racism among Europeans and between the various African tribes. 

And if a Chinese man is accusing a European for racism, how is China faring in its human rights records and how they would deal with any immigrants coming outside of Asia? China is considered to be a neo-colonialist power on the African continent. I wonder how will they deal with any possible African immigration in the future into China, if they ever allow it!

Banning any silly jokes, punishing those who post them in their social networking websites, or deterring any debate or skepticism  on multiculturalism and immigration won't actually do any good on the fight against racism. If anything else, the best results can come from openness, education, willingness to discuss and readiness from both sides, the immigrants and the natives to compromise and work together to understand each other. 

And certainly any positive developments will come with a stable and thriving economy, prosperity and stability for everybody in a society. The worse enemy of a fair and democratic society is inequality, poverty and lack of education. Not the silly jokes that a young naive girl posts on her twitter account. 

The Greeks used to be a very welcoming nation and the first immigrants who entered Greece were treated nicely and respected. How we went from this to actually have neo-Nazis in our parliament is something that can be blamed solely in the horrendous mistakes that our Greek governing elite has made, with the encouragement of our European partners. 

You see multiculturalism for some is just trendy and for others just profitable business. They make millions out of the poor immigrants that are exploited in Europe. But for the ordinary citizens that no one explains to them what is going on, or even worse asks for their opinion the immigrants just remind them that their beloved country has changed and entered a new phase in its history. When this "new phase" turns bad, they simply want to reverse everything and they turn against the most obvious manifestation of it: the immigrants.

Racism always existed and most likely will always exist in a proportion of the human kind. So I honestly do not believe that there is a permanent solution to it. But if we can achieve tolerance and equality in our societies then we need not worry. Having so many races, people of different ethnic background, cultures and religions is what makes our world richer in heritage and more interesting.  All it takes is another formula from what our ruling elites have been practicing all those years, to ensure we can allow everyone in our countries to be part of this new multicultural model of our societies, benefit, be active and even celebrate it!

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