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Migrant Encounters with Power in Greece
Albrecht Dihle, Greeks and Foreigners. Athens: Odysseas. 1997. (In Greek, translated from Die Griechen und die Fremden, 1994.)
Vasilis Karydis, Criminality of Migrants in Greece: Issues of theory and anti-crime policy. Athens: Papazisis. 1996. (In Greek.)
Marina Petronoti, Portrait of an Intercultural Relationship. Athens: UNESCO and the National Center for Social Research. 1998. (In Greek.)
This review essay attempts to analyze the portraits of foreigners and migrants currently circulating in Greek media and popular culture. While Greece is still largely a culturally homogeneous country, Poles, Albanians, Bulgarians, Romanians, Russians, Kurds, Middle-Easterners, Africans, and people from as far as the Philippines, India, and Sri Lanka mingle with the local population, especially in the urban "melting pot" of Greece's big cities. These immigrants have to cope with poor language skills, discrimination in housing and labor markets, overcrowded living conditions, and intra-ethnic marginalization. The essay suggests that the study of migration as "local and global historical encounters" should avoid the limited conceptual apparatus offered by the notion of culture as a shared tradition within a given group. Such ethno-national labels create structurally opposed groups of "us" and "them" and take our attention away from the everyday encounters with power experienced by migrants throughout the world, regardless of national ascription.
In recent years, high-profile or sensational news stories have presented and reinforced stereotypes of migrants and immigrants in Greece. Commonly expressed sentiments about migrants throughout Greece today are those of apprehension or even fear. Legal or illegal foreigners, particularly those from Albania, are considered to be responsible for crime in Greece. To be fair, Greeks do make distinctions among im/migrants from Albania. Most notably, they frequently distinguish between Albanians and Northern Epirotes (or Albanian-speaking orthodox Christians from the southern part of Albania, Northern Epirus). The latter are a contested frontier population that has long been the subject of dispute between competing nation-states.
Migrants from Northern Epirus often receive better treatment in Greece than their compatriots from elsewhere in Albania. Some, in fact, have relationships (albeit subordinate ones) of symbolic kinship to Greek citizens, who serve [End Page 147] as baptismal sponsors. Such Albanian citizens are regarded by many in Greece as "brethren" of the Greek Orthodox Church. The media in Greece also devote considerable attention to allegations of Muslim Albanian oppression of orthodox Christians in southern Albania. As Hart (1999) argued, the amorphous character of the border region has remained central to both the Albanian and the Greek nation-states, despite the construction of Albanian and Greek national identities and consciousness among the heterogeneous populations on either side of the border.
Another category of foreign migrants popularly viewed in more favorable terms than Albanians is that of the "Russian Pontians." Although large numbers of Pontic refugees from the Black Sea coast of Asia Minor were resettled in Greece in 1922, a more recent cohort began arriving in the late 1980s as immigrants from the Caucasus, many from Georgia, especially after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Although most refer to themselves simply as "Ponti" (an ethnic identity), they are commonly referred to in Greek society at-large as "Rosso-Ponti" (a regional/national ascription, marking their foreignness), and by the Greek government as "Greek Pontians" (a label of national identity). Faced with the often contradictory symbolic ascription of triple (or more) identities, such migrants confront formidable obstacles as they struggle to integrate themselves in Greek society. While they are not generally blamed for rising crime in Greece, they too nevertheless face discrimination in many areas of life.
Such are the portraits of foreigners and migrants currently circulating in Greek media and popular culture. Clifford (1997) has argued that "homeland" invokes the notion of a safe place, where cross-border traffic can be controlled through tactics that maintain coherent categories of insiders and outsiders. "Stasis and purity are asserted," he puts it, "against historical forces of movement and contamination" (Clifford 1997:7, emphasis in original). As early as...