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The Weekend Neos Kosmos : 12 March 2016
DIGITAL.NEOSKOSMOS.COM THE WEEKEND NEOS KOSMOS | SATURDAY 12 MARCH 2016 7 NEWS Migrant crisis CONTINUED FROM PAGE 1 Mr Tsipras retorted on Twitter that Mr Tusk should "focus efforts on implementing our common decisions and not encourage those who ignore them". Leaving Greece in the lurch Under pressure at home to reduce the influx, Ms Merkel acknowledged the western Balkan states' action "will obviously bring us fewer refugees, but they put Greece in a very difficult situation". Her Vice Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel noted while some at home were "secretly pleased that the Balkan states ... are doing Germany's dirty work", their actions would not help in the long term. Ms Merkel is battling to avoid leaving Greece in the lurch as the number of asylum seekers stranded there is still steadily growing. Since the migrant crisis began, several nations have imposed some form of border checks and obituaries for Schengen are already being written. Greek authorities said on Thursday there were 41,973 migrants and refugees in the country, including some 12,000 stuck at Idomeni on the closed Macedonian border. The EU has been locked in dispute over how to stem an unprecedented influx of asylum seekers that reached more than a million in 2015, many from Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq and most aiming to reach wealthy Germany, Austria and Scandinavia. Ms Merkel wants a comprehensive European deal with Turkey to stop asylum seekers from jumping on unseaworthy rubber boats to get to Europe. The plan involves joint action with Ankara to tighten the EU's external borders, while also distributing migrants and refugees among EU members. "If we do not manage to reach a deal with Turkey, then Greece cannot bear the burden for long," she said. "That's why I am seeking a real European solution, that is, a solution for all 28 (EU members)," stressed Ms Merkel, who was once vilified in Greece over her hardline push for austerity, but is now standing firmly by Athens. In the meantime, asylum seekers also did not appear dissuaded by latest developments, and were still risking their lives to cross to Europe. At least another five asylum seekers, including a baby, drowned as they tried to sail from Turkey to Greece, local media reported on Thursday. Greece very safe Greece is a very safe government and Canberra's latest travel advice for those travelling to Athens is not reflective of that, according to the CEO for Greeks Abroad, Mihalis Kokkinos, who is currently touring Australia. According to travel advice on the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade website, petty crime is a serious issue in Greece and is on the increase in tourist areas. Mr Kokkinos says every tourist that has visited Greece knows it's a safe country and that they do not feel threatened or intimated. The travel advice tells Australians to exercise particular caution around tourist attractions in central Athens and the islands and to be "extremely cautious on bus and train as pickpocketing, bag snatching and even the slashing of luggage resulting in theft of personal belongings are regular occurrences". It also says that Australians should be vigilant when walking alone in isolated areas after dark, especially in the Athens suburb of Omonia and the two railway/bus stations of Larrissa and Peloponissos. According to the travel advice, tourists have been the victims of serious physical and sexual assaults in Greece, including in Athens and on Greek islands. It advises Australians to be aware that racially-motivated and homophobic attacks have also been reported in Greece. Mr Kokkinos says that Australia has every right to advise its citizens but pointed out that Greece is a very safe country and attracts many millions of tourists every year. The travel advice reminds Australians that capital controls exist in Greece and that they should have sufficient cash in various denominations to cover emergencies and unexpected delays. It also warns them that protests and demonstrations can occur in cities across Greece with little warning and Australians are advised to avoid all protests and demonstrations as they may turn violent. OPINION ELENA PIAKIS It’s not all Greek to me As more and more refugees flee war-torn Syria and other parts of the Middle East, the Greek islands are being wearied by an indefinite flow of boat arrivals. Meanwhile, a merciless war rages on social media. Sadly, the plight of refugees attracts not only compassion and sympathy, but also insensitive tirades of xenophobic Facebook commentators: "the illegal immigration is plain disgusting and not only are they there illegally, they leave their filth everywhere without a care" and "the Middle Eastern countries are destroying our beautiful country". Not to mention the ever popular "send them back". Greece's refugee crisis has unleashed a nauseating backlash among Greek Australians. These selfstyled Greek Australian patriots, who live 15,000 kilometres away from the "beautiful country" they feel so strongly connected to, are the products of a Greek community which has disregarded an evolving Greek cultural identity. Stuck in a conservative mindset, their ruthless stance on the humanitarian crisis in Greece reflects a skewed notion of what it means to be Greek. The patriotism that controls the Greek community in Melbourne stems from the upheld traditionalist values that are outof-place amidst 21st century culture. And I've been immersed in this brand of Greekness long enough to be repelled by its backward nature. Greek Orthodox churches are filled with those who meet one of the key requisites for being 'Greek': blind faith. Often enough, the devout who fill the nave every Sunday are the same people who oppose gay marriage, who advocate the binary distinction of gender roles, and who undervalue any non-Greek ethnicity. Often enough, the keyboard warriors vilifying refugees also tick all these boxes. The other requisites for joining the Greek Australian club are equally sophisticated: eating Greek food, listening to popular Greek music, knowing the steps to a few Greek dances and frequenting Eti- had Stadium for the soccer. This philistine conception of Greek cultural identity, which is dangerously false, licenses so-called Greeks to arrogantly flaunt the Greek flag and declare their racial superiority. Too often have I attended Greek parties and sporting events that have resulted in a tormenting chorus of racial slogans. This is not Greekness. This, fitting all its boorish criteria, is called chauvinism. As many Greeks in Melbourne are revelling foolishly in nationalistic pride, a contrasting phenomenon is occurring in the very country these rigid-minded assume they represent. Despite inadequate funds and resources, the refugee crisis in Greece is being met with compassion and goodwill. A stream of around 126,000 refugees - averaging around 1,500 arrivals a day - have arrived in Greece since the beginning of this year. Between 100 and 300 of these refugees arrive daily at the Greek island of Kos, where the mayor of Kos himself is on the frontline, providing makeshift homes and offering bags of food and other goods to the thousands of migrants who temporarily reside on the island. George Kyritsis, like the many citizens he represents, embodies a word in the Greek language that struggles to find its equivalent in any other language. Philotimo. It's the word that fosters the innate act of welcoming complete strangers with open arms, as if they were family. This Kyritsis emotionally acknowledged in a video released by Al Jazeera Media late last year: "There are many anonymous citizens … who, from their nearly non-existent money are helping these people." Fitting this exact description are two residents of another Greek island, one that is even more affected by the refugee influx: the island of Lesvos, and they are grandmother Emilia Kamvisi and fisherman Stratis Valiamos. In a separate Al Jazeera video, they demonstrate a benevolence that is very much prevalent amongst Greek islanders. "We would go after lunch and sit with [the refugees] and keep them company," said Ms Kamvisi, whose memory of her parents' plight during the Nazi occupation is rekindled by today's refugee crisis. Meanwhile, Mr Valiamos' display of self-sacrifice is highly admirable. "They are leaving in order to stay alive. They are not leaving to go on holidays," is the plain reality that drives him to rescue innumerable refugees from rickety makeshift boats as they arrive at the island. This duo's compassionate outreach to those who have suffered is exceptionally laudable, so much so that they have been nominated for this year's Nobel Peace Prize. No matter status, age or wealth, Greeks in Greece don't hesitate to lend their modest support to those who stumble upon their shores. Sure, xenophobia in Greece prevails, as it unfortunately does everywhere else in the world. But the longevity of one word, philotimo, which has its roots in ancient Greece, defeats any isolated occasions of racism. Meanwhile, in a Greek community far from Greece, one of the most sophisticated words in the Greek dictionary has been shrouded by regressive ideology. The Greek society in Melbourne is largely frozen in the conservative culture of the ‘50s and ‘60s, when the great waves of Greek immigration occurred. These Greek immigrants, who had endured the economic strain of post-war Greece, left their homeland for a country where the language was foreign and the culture was alien, and hence they were forced to form an attachment to what they knew. Thus their determination to maintain a specific version of Greek culture in Australia became its very impediment to growth, making Melbourne's future community of the Greek diaspora effectively hidebound. Greek culture in Melbourne has been strained so much that it is now a mere façade, and the irony of this is discovered in Greece, the very country the delusional Greek Australian nationalists assume they represent. As these conservatives crouch behind the icons that embellish church walls, people in a culturally, ethnically and socially diverse Greece are demonstrating a very different tradition, one that lies outside the complex and subjective notion of cultural identity. One that isn't infected by blind pride and ethnocentricity; by patriotism with no cause. These Greeks are demonstrating a tradition that is deeply ingrained in Greek history. They are demonstrating the true essence of what it means to be human. * Elena Piakis is a student majoring in media at Melbourne University.
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