It was a late afternoon, sometime in the 1960s. Some friends walked into the salon of the Hotel Astoria in the center of Irakleio for a drink. Several local people were getting out of the hotel, and that was unusual for that time of day, as Astoria’s bar was a hot spot on late afternoons. But when the friends walked into the salon, they found out the reason of the massive exodus: Three soldiers from the American base in Gouves were sitting in one of the tables – and two of them were blacks. Now, it is true that the Irakleiotes had problems with the American soldiers, because they were driving recklessly on local roads and were not subjected to the laws of the country. But this was different. The people in the bar of Astoria did not want their fun space contaminated by “negroes”, and they said so. They actually added that they were not racists, in general, because “Greeks are not racists”, but that they just did not like American soldiers sitting near them. And that was a time when many local families were making a decent living because they were employed at the base… which was successfully dismantled a few years later only to become an abandoned garbage dump today (but that will be the subject of another blog).
What would be the situation if there would not even be a profit to be made? Fast forward to the plight of the refugees from Syria on our land. These thousands of unfortunates, without a country, a home, or a future, are suffering their Golgotha scattered all over Greece, on the islands and in the mainland, with national borders all around them sealed shut, having no idea what is happening to them or what are the intentions of the Greek State regarding their repatriation, settlement or resettlement, or deportation. And while in limbo, they at a minimum expected their children to be able to go to school, so that at least the next generation of unfortunates will have a chance to survive somewhere by being literate. But no, the local Greek communities are worried that their children will be contaminated – physically and culturally – by the refugee children (Domino of reactions for refugee children in schools – Kathimerini, 1 October 2016). “A few days after the opposition of the Parents’ and Guardians’ Association of the 2nd Primary School of Filippiada in providing space for the teaching of the children of refugees, with a statement setting other than health grounds, claiming religious and cultural reasons, the Kos Associations also refuse to allow their children to share the same school buildings with the refugee children”.
They claim that these children have not had immunizations or medical checkups, and therefore they may bring diseases into the schools. But do they offer an alternative? Do they organize as local communities of concern to find a solution for these children? Do they hire doctors to perform these immunizations and checkups? Do they offer alternative spaces and teachers to teach these children? No. They just refuse to admit the children into their schools. How different is that reaction from the one where parents object to an Albanian kid, best student in the graduating class, carrying the Greek flag in the parade? This is not racism? What kind of a society are we becoming? Where are our community values? What kind of “Christians” are we? What kind of “Socialists” are we?
Yes, Greece is a country in trouble. We are bankrupt, we are on the bottom of the pit, and we have incompetent, self-serving politicians ruining our country. But what do we do ourselves? NOTHING.