Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Day Five June 12th Studio Work and Dinner at Koutouki Taverna

Lectures on Population: Dimitris Christodoulou (KEMO-Research Center for Minority Groups) and Miltos Pavlous (Director, Institute for Rights Equality and Diversity)

Dinner at Koutouki:

Lectures: Day 5 Friday June 12th
Lecture on Population: Miltos Pavlou (Director, Institute for Rights Equality and Diversity, www.i-red.edu)
Migration, Miltos Pavlou explained to us, deals with every aspect of society. It is linked to a set of problems both creating them and reacting to them. It offers an opportunity to redesign society, moreover a mixture of civilizations creates progress. Politicians might say we don’t need unskilled migrants, but that is not so --- informal workers, without a legal path to employment, comprise nearly 50% of the Greek economy and the formal sector greatly benefits from the informal sector. For example, without migrant labor, the 2004 Olympics would not have been successful. This is a major shift: to accept the migrants’ contribution to Greek society. ‘Migrant’ historically used to describe those who went to USA or Australia, it meant Greeks abroad. Today migrants coming to Greece have gained recognition and are referred to as ‘migrants’. An intermediate term was ‘economic migrant’.
But a new phase has been entered with the economic crisis of 2008 and ‘migrant’ has acquired a negative meaning. The majority of incoming migrants in the 1990s were Albanians and Greek natives from distant origins. These migrants have a strong compatibility, culturally and musically with Greeks . They were accepted without discrimination. Albanians keep saying they are no longer target of discrimination. But the new migrants, those from Iraq, Afghanistan, or Pakistan use Athens as a entry portal to Europe. Only about 2% of these migrants get permanent residency, the rest are stuck here without passport or papers to go anywhere. There are as well many criminal networks operating within these new migrant groups. Street vendors, for example, are exploited by their own criminal networks
On the other hand, Pavlou believes that crime waves are artificially constructed by the media, spreading the fear of a diffused criminality throughout the city. ‘Ghetto’ in Athens is a new word in 2008. If you say ghetto, then ghetto becomes a ghetto – no one goes there --- ghetto means separation – but this fear is linked to economic crisis and to fear of crime waves. The major newspapers now openly express racist discourse, warning for example ‘If you drive your car through certain neighborhoods don’t get out’, when actually you can safely walk in these areas. Furthermore the media supports the rise of far right groups, represented since 2007 for the first time in Parliament helping to shift the focus to the single issue of immigration. And police have also cooperated with far right groups, not allowing migrant groups to enter into public space, or disrupting the publication of a minority language dictionary. Separation has brought new problems to Athens.
When you don’t have right to vote, no right to express your opinions, you cannot participate in public space of the city. Yet migrants participate by negotiating public space. Omonia Square is a good example. The square has been the heart of rural Athenians, it is where people go to meet, where migrants meet locals, where different groups begin to understand each other not keep themselves at separate distances. It used to be that different groups lived in polykatikia horizontally: the new groups renting the underground while more prosperous the upper floors. Migrants from the Middle East and Africa are now forming ghettos: they cannot be integrated into the formal economy and are confined to being illegal street vendors. They are fertile ground for intolerance --- treating people as things, they are denied rights, sent back to their homelands, excluded. This is a vicious circle: sent back at state expense they will pay more to return, smugglers are given new opportunities, more brutalized groups will enter the market, more corruption will result, more fear developed – all of which reinforces the new ghetto situation. The solution, instead, Pavlou argues, is that the migrants’ rights must be protected, and it should begin with their rights to achieve economic benefits.

Dimitris Christodoulou (KEMO- Research Center for Minority Groups)
Dimitris spoke to us about how security and migration are related in the EU countries. Do we have to give up some of our freedom in order to gain security? He contests this idea: the extreme right wing counts on fear, fear creates a political agenda which mainstream elites also follow. Human rights are not against freedom. Between the two world wars citizens paid to redistribute wealth in society, to guarantee social peace. Today we do not want to pay for the welfare of others, we let the market deal with this problem. The first wave of immigration could be handled by market solutions but not the 2nd wave. The state and the EU must create a new agenda for social integration – education, health, housing, etc. --- otherwise security of all is at stake.
There are two perspective on the public space of the political community. One is integration which merges the space of the migrant with the space of the local --- but the question is how to integrate these spaces? Does one destroy their public space, annihilate their perception of identity, their culture, their religion in order to create a common public space, which is really my public space, not their public space? On the other hand this may have positive outcomes of integration. The second perspective is recognition. You can be different to a certain extent, but we will negotiate how different you can be. We make a new balance where the final choice depends on the collectivity who decides that we want a school, a mosque, Fridays is a holiday, and so forth.
Dimitris also spoke about borders. We can close borders and exclude others: if I invite you, you can come to my home but elsewhere the doors are closed. The European state excludes, it imposes restrictive measures, it does not integrate, it does not assimilate, it prefers ‘others’ to be far away. Hence my public space and your public space will never meet – therefore the only route is illegal migration
We can open borders somewhat and keep two public spaces closed and completely different. This leads to the creation of a ghetto – you can be yourself in your area, but I have low esteem of you, and you deserve that lowness. We tolerate those who go to a mosque, but Greeks retain power over those tolerated – they control the ‘others’ to go there, create your own space, we can be some kind of good neighbors but can never be in the same space. Always the relationship between migrants and state, or minorities and majorities, is based on power relations – the state is always the strong one, but there are also power relations within minority community itself. Thus social cohesion and political emancipation is difficult, because power relations within minority groups, gender relations, religious domination, etc. can be repressive.
Do rights mean integration? Dimitris thinks not: rights are humanitarian, there are no natural rights --- if you have no membership in a community then you have no rights, if you are part of a political community then you have rights.

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