‘Being Greek’ more related to adopting customs and a way of life than having Greek parentage

Effrosyni Char­i­topoulou

Pre­vi­ous­ly, Ange­lo Tra­moun­ta­nis has explained why young Greeks may be chal­leng­ing some well-estab­lished atti­tudes towards Greek iden­ti­ty. In this arti­cle, Effrosyni Char­i­topoulou demon­strates that the Greek pop­u­la­tion as a whole may be open­ing up to new under­stand­ings of “Greek­ness”.

Until the 1990s Greece was main­ly a coun­try of emi­gra­tion, and for a long time Greek soci­ety was char­ac­ter­ized by a high degree of eth­nic homo­gene­ity. How­ev­er, with the arrival of immi­grants from East­ern and Cen­tral Europe at the end of the 20thcen­tu­ry, this pat­tern grad­u­al­ly changed, and Greece trans­formed into a coun­try of immi­gra­tion.[1]By impli­ca­tion, the social back­ground of Greek res­i­dents became com­par­a­tive­ly to ear­li­er decades more diverse.

Despite this, until recent­ly Greece’s cit­i­zen­ship regime reflect­ed the pat­terns of emi­gra­tion. Greek nation­al­i­ty could be acquired pri­mar­i­ly on a jus san­gui­nis basis: it could be passed to peo­ple main­ly through their par­ents. Nat­u­ral­iza­tion was extreme­ly rare, as the require­ments were rather restric­tive. This made it almost impos­si­ble for sec­ond-gen­er­a­tion migrants, who were either born and raised or raised in Greece, and whose num­bers have thus grown, to acquire Greek cit­i­zen­ship. How­ev­er, in July 2015, the 4332/2015 Law, backed by the rul­ing SYRIZA par­ty and the PASOK and Pota­mi par­ties, was intro­duced. This Law relaxed the high­ly restric­tive cit­i­zen­ship regime and thus offered a legal path­way for sec­ond-gen­er­a­tion migrants to acquire Greek cit­i­zen­ship.[2]The main pre­req­ui­site for nat­u­ral­iza­tion is par­tic­i­pa­tion in the Greek edu­ca­tion­al sys­tem.[3]Official sta­tis­tics sug­gest that in the peri­od up until mid-2018, approx­i­mate­ly 80,000 chil­dren of migrant descent acquired Greek cit­i­zen­ship on this basis.[4]

Against this back­ground, how do Greeks define “Greek­ness” today? Do they still con­sid­er that the right to Greek cit­i­zen­ship should be deter­mined on the basis of parental eth­nic­i­ty, or do they con­sid­er oth­er char­ac­ter­is­tics essen­tial? Data from the Voic­es on Val­ues sur­vey sug­gests that Greeks asso­ciate “Greek­ness” with the adop­tion of cus­toms and way of life, while a blood-based under­stand­ing of it, although still com­mon, is not con­sid­ered the most impor­tant dimen­sion to be seen “Greek”.[5]

Specif­i­cal­ly, as shown in Fig­ure 1, 42% of Greeks believe that the adop­tion of Greek cus­toms and way of life is essen­tial for some­one to be con­sid­ered Greek, while 27% say that an abil­i­ty to speak Greek is also essen­tial. In oth­er words, the char­ac­ter­is­tics Greeks most com­mon­ly define as essen­tial to “being Greek” are acquired rather than innate.

Fig­ure 1: Per­ceived essen­tial char­ac­ter­is­tics for a per­son to be seen as Greek

At the same time, an impor­tant minor­i­ty also con­sid­ers that “Greek­ness” is inter­twined with blood-based char­ac­ter­is­tics: 25% of respon­dents high­light that Greeks should have at least one Greek par­ent, a view in line with the pre­vi­ous jus sagui­nis Greek cit­i­zen­ship regime. The places of one’s birth and res­i­den­cy are essen­tial to defin­ing some­one as Greek for 23% and 20% of Greeks respec­tive­ly, reflect­ing a jus soli under­stand­ing of “Greek­ness.” Sur­pris­ing­ly, belong­ing to the East­ern Ortho­dox Chris­t­ian reli­gious denom­i­na­tion is con­sid­ered an essen­tial pre­req­ui­site for some­one to be seen as Greek by only 20% of Greeks. Giv­en the Greek Ortho­dox reli­gion is a cen­tral com­po­nent of nation­al iden­ti­ty[6]one would have expect­ed a larg­er per­cent­age of Greeks to con­sid­er this char­ac­ter­is­tic as essen­tial to “being Greek.”

Draw­ing on evi­dence from the Voic­es of Val­ues sur­vey, it seems that Greek pub­lic opin­ion is some­what in line with the wider def­i­n­i­tion intro­duced by the new cit­i­zen­ship regime. More Greeks asso­ciate “Greek­ness” with a way of life than with “blood” or “soil.” Ulti­mate­ly, this more inclu­sive under­stand­ing of “Greek­ness” means that sec­ond-gen­er­a­tion immi­grants are able to share the most “essen­tial char­ac­ter­is­tics of being Greek.”

Effrosyni is cur­rent­ly pur­su­ing a doc­tor­al degree in Soci­ol­o­gy at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Oxford. She holds an MSc in Soci­ol­o­gy from the Uni­ver­si­ty of Oxford and an MA in Eco­nom­ics and Inter­na­tion­al Rela­tions from the Uni­ver­si­ty of St Andrews. Her research inter­ests lie in the field of polit­i­cal soci­ol­o­gy and specif­i­cal­ly on issues sur­round­ing proso­cial behav­iour, atti­tudes towards migra­tion and far-right vot­ing. She has served as an A. S. Onas­sis scholar. 

The views and opin­ions expressed in this arti­cle are those of the author.

[1]Triandafyllidou A. & M. Veik­ou. (2002), “The hier­ar­chy of Greek­ness: Eth­nic and nation­al iden­ti­ty con­sid­er­a­tions in Greek immi­gra­tion pol­i­cy,” Eth­nic­i­ties 2(2): 189–208.

[2]Note that a sim­i­lar law had passed in 2010, but was short-lived. For a dis­cus­sion, see: Christopou­los D. (2017). “An unex­pect­ed reform in the mael­strom of the cri­sis: Greek nation­al­i­ty in the times of the mem­o­ran­da (2010–2015),” Cit­i­zen­ship Stud­ies 21(4): 483–494.

[3]Note that if the per­son was born in Greece, few­er years of Greek school­ing are required to apply for Greek citizenship.

[4]See https://www.hellenicparliament.gr/UserFiles/67715b2c-ec81-4f0c-ad6a-476a34d732bd/10722178.pdf, last accessed 14.11.2019 (in Greek)

[5]The Voic­es on Val­ues sur­vey pre­sent­ed Greek respon­dents with a num­ber of char­ac­ter­is­tics, ask­ing them to say which they con­sid­er nec­es­sary for a per­son to be seen as Greek.

[6]Chrysoloras, N., 2004. “Why Ortho­doxy? Reli­gion and Nation­al­ism in Greek Polit­i­cal Cul­ture,”Stud­ies in Eth­nic­i­ty and Nation­al­ism 4(1): 40–61.



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