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Published on September 13th, 2012 | by Katharina Obermeier
Image © [caption id="attachment_11045" align="alignnone" width="566"] © By Steve Jurvetson; via Flickr; Taken on June 27, 2012[/caption]   For many, the eurozone crisis has become associated with high-level diplomatic meetings between German, French and Italian leaders. There have been statements by the President of the European Central Bank, and opinion pieces by economists arguing over the technicalities of bringing growth back to the eurozone. But in Athens, far away from the politics of Brussels’, people are seeing a new face of the crisis, less bureaucratic and more frightening: xenophobia. Dislike for foreigners or those perceived as outsiders is not exclusive to Greece, or to times of economic hardship. However the dramatic change in the situation of legal and illegal immigrants to Greece in the last few years is a stark example of how economic breakdown and hatred of the ‘other’ are connected in the form of xenophobia. Human rights organisations have been noting an increase in violence against refugees and migrants in Greece for the last few years, correlating with the collapse of the country’s economy. These tendencies came to fore during the summer, following the national elections in which the far-right party Golden Dawn won nearly 7% of the vote, giving it 18 seats in the national parliament. The success substantially boosted their visibility in Greece as well as internationally. Golden Dawn supporters have been linked to a frightening number of incidents involving intimidation and physical attacks against the immigrants, whom they hold responsible for the country’s economic and social downturn. In a recent video, members of the far-right party (identifiable by their black shirts) are shown demanding that merchants at a market show their documentation, then proceeded to smash suspected illegal immigrants’ stands. What makes these incidents all the more disturbing is the level of tolerance towards them among Greek authorities. There are many reports of the Greek police overlooking threats and violence aimed at immigrants, suggesting that the surge in xenophobia is not merely a fringe phenomenon, but part of a wider systemic and societal change in attitude. The Greek government, struggling to deal with the social ramifications of an on-going economic crisis which has brought the country to the brink of bankruptcy, has made a desperate bid to reduce violence and crime by  detaining suspected illegal immigrants en masse in order to deport them While their motives may be considered understandable, this policy is in effect sanctioning the criminal actions by Golden Dawn supporters, in making immigrants responsible for the country’s economic problems and the government’s inability to solve them. Although Greece is the most extreme example, far-right xenophobic parties are on the rise all across Europe. Citizens demotivated by the eurozone crisis seek a scapegoat for their troubles and to protect what they perceive as diminished resources for ‘their own kind’. Most disturbing is  that this xenophobic mentality is increasingly creeping into mainstream commentary  on and attitudes on the crisis itself. Prominent centrist politicians in many EU countries are portraying the politics of crisis management as a zero-sum game pitting their citizens against those of another country. Those who  gain assistance from another EU member state automatically consider it a loss to their own country and economy. In the same way that Golden Dawn supporters are turning Greece’s immigrants into the ‘other’, Germans are defining Greeks as ‘the other’, and Italians and Spanish are doing the same thing to Germans, the ‘other’ now encompasses those from within the EU. In the end, this type of nationalist attitude and rhetoric prevents the level of international cooperation necessary to solve an EU-wide crisis. And everyone loses, together.

2

Greece’s Summer of Hate

© By Steve Jurvetson; via Flickr; Taken on June 27, 2012

 

For many, the eurozone crisis has become associated with high-level diplomatic meetings between German, French and Italian leaders. There have been statements by the President of the European Central Bank, and opinion pieces by economists arguing over the technicalities of bringing growth back to the eurozone. But in Athens, far away from the politics of Brussels’, people are seeing a new face of the crisis, less bureaucratic and more frightening: xenophobia.

Dislike for foreigners or those perceived as outsiders is not exclusive to Greece, or to times of economic hardship. However the dramatic change in the situation of legal and illegal immigrants to Greece in the last few years is a stark example of how economic breakdown and hatred of the ‘other’ are connected in the form of xenophobia. Human rights organisations have been noting an increase in violence against refugees and migrants in Greece for the last few years, correlating with the collapse of the country’s economy. These tendencies came to fore during the summer, following the national elections in which the far-right party Golden Dawn won nearly 7% of the vote, giving it 18 seats in the national parliament. The success substantially boosted their visibility in Greece as well as internationally. Golden Dawn supporters have been linked to a frightening number of incidents involving intimidation and physical attacks against the immigrants, whom they hold responsible for the country’s economic and social downturn.

In a recent video, members of the far-right party (identifiable by their black shirts) are shown demanding that merchants at a market show their documentation, then proceeded to smash suspected illegal immigrants’ stands. What makes these incidents all the more disturbing is the level of tolerance towards them among Greek authorities. There are many reports of the Greek police overlooking threats and violence aimed at immigrants, suggesting that the surge in xenophobia is not merely a fringe phenomenon, but part of a wider systemic and societal change in attitude. The Greek government, struggling to deal with the social ramifications of an on-going economic crisis which has brought the country to the brink of bankruptcy, has made a desperate bid to reduce violence and crime by  detaining suspected illegal immigrants en masse in order to deport them While their motives may be considered understandable, this policy is in effect sanctioning the criminal actions by Golden Dawn supporters, in making immigrants responsible for the country’s economic problems and the government’s inability to solve them.

Although Greece is the most extreme example, far-right xenophobic parties are on the rise all across Europe. Citizens demotivated by the eurozone crisis seek a scapegoat for their troubles and to protect what they perceive as diminished resources for ‘their own kind’. Most disturbing is  that this xenophobic mentality is increasingly creeping into mainstream commentary  on and attitudes on the crisis itself. Prominent centrist politicians in many EU countries are portraying the politics of crisis management as a zero-sum game pitting their citizens against those of another country. Those who  gain assistance from another EU member state automatically consider it a loss to their own country and economy. In the same way that Golden Dawn supporters are turning Greece’s immigrants into the ‘other’, Germans are defining Greeks as ‘the other’, and Italians and Spanish are doing the same thing to Germans, the ‘other’ now encompasses those from within the EU. In the end, this type of nationalist attitude and rhetoric prevents the level of international cooperation necessary to solve an EU-wide crisis. And everyone loses, together.

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About the Author

Katharina Obermeier

Katharina considers herself a German-Canadian hybrid. She grew up in Germany and completed her BA in International Relations at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada. Politics, especially in relation to concepts of nationality, have always fascinated her, and she is particularly interested in international political economy. During her studies, she was an avid participant at Model United Nations conferences, and helped welcome international exchange students to her university. She is currently completing an internship at a Brussels-based trade association and hopes to work in European affairs in the future. In her political writing, Katharina marries social democratic principles with a keen interest in the European Union and its implications for European politics and identity. She writes to counteract simplistic ideas about politics and economics, continuously attempting to expose the nuances and complexities involved in these subjects.



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