Greece: citizenship for children of immigrants?

In between trying to deal with one of Europe’s worst economic crises and a crippling series of strikes, the Papandreou government in Greece has introduced a new immigration law. It would allow the children of immigrants to apply for Greek citizenship, provided that

(1) their parents have lived legally in Greece for at least 10 years, and
(2) the child has completed at least three years of schooling in Greece.

By one estimate, over 250,000 children and young adults would qualify for citizenship. As many as 100,000 of those may be of voting age.

This is a huge, huge deal. In order to understand why, you have to understand the odd position of immigrants in Greek society.
Immigrants began pouring into Greece from its former Communist neighbors in the early 1990s. The biggest group by far was Albanians — about 2/3 of all immigrants are Albanian — but there are also tens of thousands of Bulgarians and Macedonians and a sprinkling of people from further abroad (Ukrainians, Filipinos, you name it). Today nearly ten percent of Greece’s population is immigrants, and almost 20% of the workforce.

However: almost none of these immigrants have been allowed to apply for citizenship. In fact, Greece’s immigration system is quite deliberately set up to make this almost impossible. Instead, immigrant workers are allowed a work/residence permit for a maximum of one year. The bureaucracy that oversees the immigration system is famously opaque and sluggish, so workers (or their employers) must apply for permits many months in advance. Even so, the old permit often expires before the new one is granted.

In fact, citizenship by naturalization is almost unknown in Greece. Greek law recognizes citizenship jus sanguinis, “by blood”, through at least one Greek parent. Otherwise… well, the naturalization process is so difficult that the number of new Greek citizens from naturalization is a few hundred per year.

Previous Greek governments operated under the assumption that Greece simply did not want non-Greek citizens, and that guest workers were just that — temporary guests. The system was thus designed to keep immigrant workers on a perpetual treadmill, always either applying for a new permit, about to apply, or nervously waiting for one after the old one expired. All the immigrants were thus vulnerable to expulsion for any reason or none: feature, not bug.

But this consensus is now breaking down. Part of the reason is simply the passage of time. 20 years after the first wave of immigrants arrived, there are now tens of thousands of Albanians and Bulgarians who have been in Greece nonstop for most of their adult lives. They own houses or apartments, speak fluent Greek, and are settled members of their communities. Furthermore, there are now about a quarter of a milllion children of immigrants; in some schools, they outnumber native Greeks.

If a child is born in Greece, speaks perfect Greek, wants to live in Greece, and is willing to swear loyalty to the Greek state — should that child be allowed Greek citizenship?

The Papandreou administration is saying yes. However, it’s not quite that easy.

A fierce nationalist backlash has already appeared. Parties of the right — especially the odious LAOS — are accusing the administration of “diluting Hellenism” and betraying the spirit of the nation. The Greek Orthodox Church has not made a formal statement, but it’s clearly unenthusiastic about a bill that would allow thousands of Muslims and Catholics to become Greek.

And while most of the nationalist rhetoric is irrational (and much of it is outright hateful), there is a real point here. If this law is passed, or one like it, then within a generation betwen 5% and 10% of Greece’s population may not be ethnic Greeks. They’ll be hyphenated: Albanian-Greeks, Bulgarian-Greeks, Pakistani-Greeks. In a country that is over 90% self-identified ethnic Greeks, this is going to be an incredibly fast and dramatic change.

That said, there is precedent. It seems to have been forgotten by almost all parties to the debate, but something like this has happened in Greece before. At the time of Greek independence, back in the 19th century, something between 5% and 10% of Greece’s population spoke… Albanian.

The “Arvanites” were ethnic Albanians of the Orthodox faith. They moved into the penninsula during late Byzantine and early Ottoman times; by independence, they had been there for centuries. They spoke Albanian and were culturally slightly different from their Greek neighbors, but there was little discrimination or hostility between the groups. They were united by a common Orthodox faith and a common resentment of their Turkish rulers. Intermarriage was common, and Arvanites who left their villages quickly became bilingual in Greek.

More to the point, the long war of independence cemented the Arvanites into the Greek nation. After a decade of fighting alongside the ethnic Greeks against the Turks, they came to consider themselves, not Albanians, but Greeks who happened to speak Albanian at home. Over the next 180 years, the Arvanites steadily assimilated into Greece. Today only a handful speak Arvanite even at home, and they do not like being called “Albanian”.

Arvanites have been Presidents and Prime Ministers, generals and admirals, artists and businessmen and scholars. The current Archbishop of Athens, head of the Greek Orthodox Church, is an Arvanite. Nobody gives it a moment’s thought. Being an Arvanite is a complete non-issue in Greece.

So Greece has managed to assimilate a large non-Greek population once already. (Arguably more than once. But the population transfers of the 20th century are a touchy topic. Some other time, perhaps.)

That said, this is going to be a very fraught and difficult law to pass. And whether it passes, and if so in what form, is going to have a huge impact on Greece’s future.

Watching with interest.

111 thoughts on “Greece: citizenship for children of immigrants?

  1. @mirakulous:
    “For the record, I consider all nazi collaborators, scum, and I can feel no remorse about anything the partizans did to them.
    For the record, again, not all were collaborators. So you just dont have remorse period. Second of all, the issue was why you called them mine. ”
    To them clearly refers to nazi collaborators. I call them “your” because you care to defend them.

    “But many of those killed or who managed to flee deserved what they got.
    You clearly don’t understand the concept of collective punishment….”
    Do you mind reading before posting? “Many” means many, not everyone. Which ones? The ones who were collaborators, such as the scum involved in the Paramythia excecutions. Unless you object to killing these murderers.

    “First, this was not Greece, second, it was not genocide and third, it was not perpetrated against a completely innocent population as a result of some master plan.This statement is full of contradiction. If first it wasn’t greece, then why do you feel the need to defend that it wasnt genocide? ”
    Because you tried to portray this as ‘greek genocides’

    “If it wasnt greece, then you shouldn’t care what its labelled.”
    Hello? So why should I care if a post appears about how the British genocided the Germans?

    ” If it wasnt greece, as official government”
    this is a fact, not an assumption. I thought we settled that much

    “, then the third point that it was perpetuated on guilty people should not be there because if you’re not an official government then you can’t institute punishment, on guilty or not guilty people. You said it yourself that no courts were open and trials happened.”
    Ever crossed your mind that there was a war going on? Partizan military objective was eliminate the threat of these nazi gangs with the limited means available. Failing this task would mean more civillian dead.

    “So how do you know that they werent completely innocent?! YOU DON’T, by your own words.”
    No, I do because the Paramythia excecutions for example were not done by ghosts. They were done by armed Cham gangs, who did, btw fight the EDES partizans when they attacked. That there were also people who possibly had no part in the acts of these gangs(except being wives, sisters, children and so on) was unfortunate, but far from a genocide.

    “Colonel Chris Woodhouse, head of the Allied Military Mission in Greece during the Axis occupation, who was present in the area at the time, in his “Note on the Chams” official military report of 16 October 1945, clearly accepting the full responsibility for the expulsion of the Chams although criticized the vendetta way in which that was carried out, including a brief description of the situation led to the events: “Chams are racially part Turk, part Albanian, part Greek. In 1941-3 they collaborated with Italians, making the organization of guerilla resistance in that area difficult. I never heard of any of them taking part in any resistance against enemy. Zervas encouraged by the Allied Mission under myself, chased them out of their homes in 1944 in order to facilitate operations against the enemy. They mostly took refuge in Albania, where they were not popular either. Their eviction from Greece was bloodily carried out, owing the usual vendetta spirit, which was fed by many brutalities committed by the Chams in league with the Italians. Zervas’ work was completed by an inexcusable massacre of Chams in Philliates in March, 1945, carried out by remnants of Zervas’ dissolved forces under Zotos. The Chams deserved what they got, but Zervas’ methods were pretty bad – or rather, his subordinate officers got out of hand. The result has been in effect a shift of populations, removing an unwanted minority from Greek soil. Perhaps it would be best to leave things at that…
    In the worst massacre, at the town of Filiates, on 13 March, some sixty to seventy Chams were killed….Chameria Association claims that Cham Albanians that left were 35,000, from whom, 28,000 left to Albania and the rest to Turkey.”
    Which is to say that a) EDES did not act alone, but was following orders by the Allied High Command, b) 60-70 out of 35000 can hardly be called genocide is is much less than the victims of the Chams.

  2. I’m not the slightest amazed. When the tags include “Muslims” and “immigration” in the same package, the usual suspects are guaranteed to go apeshit.

    Jussi, I refer you to Doug’s description of “Mr Sarcasm”…

  3. I think we’re reaching a point of diminishing returns here, folks.

    Make final comments if you have any; I’m closing this thread later today.

    Doug M.

  4. “That there were also people who possibly had no part in the acts of these gangs(except being wives, sisters, children and so on) was unfortunate, but far from a genocide.”

    Hmmm, killing women and children who are innocent isn’t genocide. What a concept! Only a greek who defends expulsions is likely to hold this view. Not surprising.

    “Because you tried to portray this as ‘greek genocides’”

    I guess greeks killing others, arent greek genocides! My bad.

    Obviously the greeks didnt work by themselves when massacring the chams. The Allied Commission turned a blind eye to expulsions everywhere during the end of the war (czech, slovakia, poland, greece, etc). And this was part of the reparation to each country. Nothing new here. You can’t shift the blame for this to the Allies. And you can’t deny that the pretext of collaboration was an exciting one that greeks just couldnt wait to use to clear their country of any remaining minorities.

  5. “A firm believer that it’s possible to establish some kind of a state of _absolute security_….Them’s the breaks. This is the World we’re living, and it’s always been full of risks.”
    So just because we cannot have absolute security, we should abolish all controls. Just because it is possible to get cancer without ever smoking, one should smoke 10 packs a day!

    Stupidity is truly amazing!

  6. @mirakulous:
    “Hmmm, killing women and children who are innocent isn’t genocide.”
    No, it is not necessarily. Look up the word. Genocide means mass extermination(such as exterminate a nation). Killing a couple of innocent civilians is bad, but not genocide. Otherwise, all wars would classify as genocide, such as the Kossovo war(with much collateral damage), Iraq, Afghanistan, Gaza and so on. In all these cases innocent women and children were killed.
    I could say only an Albanian who defends nazi scum could hold this view, but I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt: you just don’t understand the word.
    And again the silly conspiracy theory “the pretext of collaboration”. Sure, like I said, Greece provoked WWII, so they could find a pretext to expell the poor Chams!

  7. Ajay wrote:

    Jussi, I refer you to Doug’s description of “Mr Sarcasm”…

    Hot damn! This is the _second time_ in a week when I fail to detect it, even though it was, in retrospect, glaringly obvious. And believe me, picking up these vibes used to be my forte. Truly, I’m getting old.

    … and since Doug already gave his fatwa, this was my final comment.


    J. J.

  8. Felix wrote:

    So just because we cannot have absolute security, we should abolish all controls. Just because it is possible to get cancer without ever smoking, one should smoke 10 packs a day! Stupidity is truly amazing!

    Nah, strawmen such as your comment are truly amazing.

    But I’m sure that as an intellectual giant, you can point out where I advocated abolishing all controls on immigration, which is what you’re claiming with your analogy. Or, well, you _could_ point it out, if this thread wasn’t closing soon.

    (… pardon the mistake: _this_ was my final comment.)


    J. J.

  9. Stop making a fool of yourself. You don’t know who I am or what I am. Clearly you deviate from the topic and personalize things cuz you’ve got nothing to say about this.
    I’m not defending no nazis.Pretending you’re so against nazis doesnt mean that everything you’re saying is right, just cuz ure so against nazis.
    I never claimed greece provoked WWII. Don’t put words in my mouth; I can speak myself. Once it was started though it pragmatically used it to solve a problem it had taken a stab at for a few decades before, and hadn’t completed. There were still some minorities left over after the forced assimilation and the population exchange. So this was the opportunity. Any country with the same goals would’ve done the same. So don’t feel bad about that. I’m realistic that anyone would’ve done the same, so there should be no problem admitting something that all (nongreeks) know its true.
    You’re a pretty big demagogue, and you keep deviating from the topic, you keep going from extreme to extreme. Now you’re saying the “poor chams”. No one is saying they were poor cuz they suffered etc etc, but they WERE driven out (in 1 way or another) from their ancestral, native lands. And thats a reality that sooner or later even you will have to come to grips with.

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