Throughout history, when societies are under extreme pressures, be they economic, climatic or disease-based, minorities in their midst will be blamed and often turned on. In Europe, Jews have been the most frequent victims of this vicious prejudice, but Muslims have also been victims and continue to suffer as well. Thus as Greeks experience a rapidly shrinking standard of living, intolerance and abuse of minorities and foreigners has increased.
The parliamentary success of the neo-fascist Golden Dawn party, came from a familiar litany of complaints about the traitors within the gates, which singled out immigrants, both legal and illegal. As happened in France, where the far-right National Front drove the center-right Sarkozy government into illiberal, anti-immigrant policies, so the Greek coalition is now responding with a clampdown on immigrants, who have made their way to Greece, generally through Turkey, seeking asylum or more likely, wishing to move on to more prosperous member states within the European Union.
A police dragnet that began on Saturday has so far picked up over 1,000 suspected illegal immigrants in a program that is planned to bring in at least 5,000 people. Among those arrested so far are 200 Pakistanis. The authorities say that they are determined to repatriate anyone who should not be in the country. Sources in Athens have indicated that the judicial procedures are likely to be swift. It also appears that any appeals against deportation are likely to be held just as quickly, with little chance the detainees will win their case if they argue that they are seeking political asylum.
While it would be wrong to condemn any country for enforcing its immigration laws, it is clear that in Greece as elsewhere in recession-hit Europe, there is an extra element of xenophobia that is driving this process. Inevitably some perfectly legal migrants are going to be caught up in the sweep, while some ethnic Greeks will feel empowered to take out their racism by denouncing members of minorities, who are entitled to live in their country and have very probably become full citizens.
The liberal values the EU claims to enshrine are under threat and so too are the diversity and multiculturalism that has characterized the continent for the last half century. Making scapegoats out of minorities, especially Muslims, will do nothing to ease recessionary pressures. It will, however, inject an evil poison into every society that fails to clamp down on fascistic nationalist tendencies and their codswallop about racial purity and ethnic hatred.
If one looks at Greece, the real culprits are successive governments that have connived at profligate spending, run up mountainous debts and falsified the books in an attempt to conceal their dishonesty. Greeks don’t pay their taxes because everyone knows tax collectors can be bribed to go away. The people who deserve the greatest condemnation are the members of the establishment who have been busy salting wealth away outside Greece, often in the form of luxury properties. Their impact on the country’s fortunes is far greater than that of a few thousand illegal immigrants.