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  • Give Birth for Greece! Abortion and Nation in Letters to the Editor of the Mainstream Greek Press
  • Alexandra Halkias
Abstract

At a time when Greece is seen as having a vulnerable position in the European Union, a heated debate is taking place within the Greek public sphere about the best path to modernization. In the shadow of this discussion, the perceived low birth rate is often represented as the number 1 or number 2 national problem, called to [inline-graphic xmlns:xlink="http://www.w3.org/1999/xlink" xlink:href="01i" /]. Abortion is an issue of great concern within this press coverage and acts as a lightning rod for deeply rooted cultural anxieties that are increasingly disallowed in other sectors of the public sphere. Thus this public consternation about abortion offers important clues that reveal a largely unacknowledged common ground shared by the disparate narratives of Greek national identity. Specifically, the nationalist narratives occurring in the right and centrist sectors of the Greek press harbor a common image of Greece as a religious state. It is suggested that open acknowledgment of this shared conception, and perhaps even its strategic redeployment, might do much to help move Greece out of its current foreign and domestic impasse.

Introduction

"For every one birth, we have two abortions!" This was the headline of a story published in the right-wing daily newspaper Apoyevmatiní, 25 August 1993. Next to it was a drawing of a stork holding a bundle in its mouth and flying through a big cloud. The bundle the stork was carrying had the letters "SOS" written on it. The article below the headline went on to tell the story of a nation in crisis, of women who seem to be having too many abortions and not enough babies, and of the existence of an important relationship between the two. In a contemporary variation of the ancient Greek saying stating that the biggest enemies of man are fire, woman, and water (), Greek women are portrayed here as the root of Greece's current problems.

While Apoyevmatiní tends to be a fairly sensationalist right-wing [End Page 111] daily, this article emblematizes the mainstream Greek media's coverage of abortion and the low national birth rate throughout much of the 1990s. Greece is reported as having the highest rate of abortion in the European Union.1 At the same time, the 1990s have seen a new wave of widespread concern about the low annual birth rate, a concern that is called the for short and currently results in approximately 100,000 to 110,000 births per year for a population of ten million. Invariably, the two statistical phenomena are linked in dhimografikó discourses and the conjunction of the two has resulted in a steady stream of articles appearing in the mainstream national press and elsewhere that refer to the dhimografikó as "Greece's no. 1 or no. 2 national problem." In this coverage, abortion tends to act as a lightning rod for deeply rooted cultural anxieties.

Surfacing in this coverage again and again is a pronounced concern about the territorial survival of Greece as an independent modern nation-state surrounded by "hostile" neighbors ranging from the newly formed Macedonia to what is commonly represented as "a growing Islam." While these developments raise difficult and serious questions, they concern not the population's biological survival but rather Greece's foreign policy—namely, the ways in which the country is positioning itself in various parts of the international political scene and how a country desperately struggling to achieve a practically impossible alignment with the Maastricht Treaty's conditions might most productively imagine itself to be an independent state.

As this paper shows, the dhimografikó seems to offer itself as a site for funneling the increasingly strong internal tensions that Greece faces as it crafts its own modernity. On the one hand, there is the perception of yet another round of "heightened" danger at Greece's many contested geographic borders; on the other, there is the challenge of reformulating a domestic policy that might begin to respond adequately to the conflicting demands presented by a series of long-standing problems (such as the burgeoning public service sector...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1086-3265
Print ISSN
0738-1727
Pages
pp. 111-138
Launched on MUSE
1998-05-01
Open Access
No
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