Pew Research Centre, a credible American research institute specializing in social research, released recently the results of its survey in some European countries. The research aims to explore the views of European citizens on minorities, diversity and national identity.
Main conclusion is that the refugee crisis of recent years has significantly affected perceptions in Europe concerning the integration of immigrants, has created a climate of fear, has intensified prejudices on the relationship between terrorism and immigrants and appears to have enhanced the trends to liaise national identity to criteria such as language, traditions and religion.
There are of course major differences from country to country recorded in the survey, including differences among age groups, education levels and political affiliation in the range left – right. It is really revealing to read the whole survey.
Conclusions regarding Greece are very sad. In almost all relevant questions related to the negative perceptions and opinions of the Greeks against the “diverse”, Greece scores either at the top of the list or too high, usually competing Hungary. Usually, Italy and Poland follow relatively close, whereas much lower score countries of Western Europe and Scandinavia. Indeed, in a combined indicator for “non-integration” of minorities used by the researchers, Greece unfortunately, scores highest at 13.72 near the absolute negative score of 16.
Therefore it is not surprising, that when it comes to inter-connection between national identity and Christian religion, more than one in two Greeks deem very important for one to be Christian in order to be a “true Greek”, while the relevant index for all other Countries is far behind.
The survey also reflects that the refugee crisis has increased the prejudices towards minorities in general, mainly of course towards Muslims. In many countries negative views for Muslims and Roma are dominant. For Jews, the survey found significantly lower rates of negative opinions with a median of 16% across all countries. Greece takes the lead here too with a percentage at 55% of negative opinions on Jews .
Let me make clear that such findings cause to me neither fear nor impression. I am not afraid and I am not surprised as a Jew in a country where half of my fellow citizens refuse that I can be a “true Greek” if I am not a Christian and have a negative view of Jews.
I shall not be surprised either by the assurances that usually follow such surveys by institutional bodies (State, Church etc.). “Things are not as surveys tell, there is no anti-Semitism in Greece”. As has happened in the past, more will work on devaluing the research rather than to interpret its findings and to identify some actions so that when repeated in a year, results will be better.
A few months ago the Metropolitan of Thessaloniki said in public that “it will be a crime if other peoples and religions mingle in Thessaloniki”. I have not noticed following this statement a protest from anybody or any institutional condemnation. A few years ago in his article in the daily newspaper “KATHIMERINI”, he defended the inextricable relationship between Christianity and Hellenism of the city of Thessaloniki, and did not say a word about the Jewishness of the city for over 500 years, as he would like to wipe it out.
When protesting against such phenomena, the usual response you get is “Do not deal with these, they are exceptions. The official position is different”. And I do not doubt it is so. There are organized efforts in Greece to combat anti-Semitic stereotypes. Such as the programs of the Ministry of Education for teaching the Holocaust in schools and the recent initiatives of Mayors of Athens and Thessaloniki who both signed the statement of the Global movement “Mayors against anti-Semitism.”
However, at the level of Greek society, the result as unfortunately depicted in the survey, is that the “official position” has a hard time to be adopted by the public.
Those who believe, if any, that Greece does not deserve this position of ranking first in negative views about Jews (and not only), will have to act for changing it. And these are Municipalities, Local Governments, the Government, Public Administration, the Justice, the political parties, the Church and Institutions in education, culture, sciences, social affairs, trade unions etc.
In the past, there was an excuse, saying: “Make no mistake, It is not anti-Semitism, people are against Israel, but are confused and express views against Jews”. Personally, I never thought this argument was valid. And today ? Bilateral relations with Israel at their best point ever, why does not this translate to a decline of negative views about Jews?
Because the issue is deeper, it begins with Education and its role in an organized society that must not be intimidated and defensive to diversity. A society which will be able to integrate “the different” and at the same time will recognize its right to retain its characteristics, Its religion, language, habits and traditions. The survey suggests that in Greece all above are treated either as unnecessary luxuries or as a defeat of the system which is addicted to the ONE and has no reason whatsoever to see the OTHER.
And finally, let’s not hear again the familiar “If you do not like it, you may leave”. I declare that I shall not leave because I feel Greek and I shall fight here, in my country, the battle to convince this 55% of my fellow citizens that I do not recognize them any right to doubt about it and accompany it with standards of faith.
Jewish Community of Athens