On January 4th, the Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras started his election campaign in Evros, near the Turkish-Greek border, where Greece has built a 10 km barrier to avoid the entrance of migrants.
In his press conference he said that “the impact of the barrier on the Greek border is very satisfactory. It is preventing the entrance of illegal migrants, which had explosive consequences in the past. This has now been prevented. (…) The barrier has worked positively for the country, and the idea that it should be pulled down, encouraging the entrance of migrants, and providing those people with hospitality and health insurance is something that will never be allowed by the Greek people” said Mr. Samaras.
This kind of rhetoric is not unique in Europe. The United Kingdom’s Prime Minister David Cameron has made numerous xenophobic statements recently, inspired by the agenda of UKIP, a hard-right party led by Nigel Farage, which came first in last May’s European elections in the UK. For this year’s parliamentary elections the political agenda in Great Britain includes a referendum about the country’s exit from the EU and limiting the flow of migrants. Similarly, in France, the socialist government of François Hollande seems to be under pressure from the rise of Marine Le Pen’s extreme rightwing National Front, and in Germany, Chancellor Angela Merkel is following an extreme conservative policy, opposed to any notion of community solidarity policy, satisfying the most conservative members of German society.
With the specter of populism hovering all over Europe, it seems as though the panic-stricken European leaders prefer to succumb to “easy” far-right rhetoric, instead of taking a more ethical stand. They don’t seem to be aware that their statements and policies strengthen extreme rightwing parties, as the people who are receptive to this kind of rhetoric are more likely to choose the original “extreme far right” party over the “mid far right” copycat.
Greece is not an exception. Over the last two years, we have, for example, witnessed in Samaras’ party extreme rightwing politicians, such as Makis Voridis, Adonis Georgiadis and Thanos Plevris, being given ministerial portfolios.
Therefore it is no wonder that Samaras began his recent campaign, photographed in front of the “barrier of shame”, thereby putting immigration and xenophobia high on the agenda of the Greek elections of January 25. Samaras hopes to get votes from the fascist party of Golden Dawn, by showing the successful reduction of migration flow in Evros, but hiding the huge increase in migration flows that occurred in 2014 on Greek islands. More than 11,000 migrants arrived last year to the Lesvos islands alone. Official statistics show that the islands‘ increase in migration was 400%, while the overall increase in the whole of Greece was 82%. The majority of migrants are refugees who fled from the war in Syria. In other words: refugees of war, who are protected by international law.
The population of these islands knows very well that the current increase is a result of the barrier in Evros, which shifts migratory flows towards the sea. The only winners of the situation are the highly paid construction companies of migrants’ prisons and migrants’ traffickers. The direct impact is the presence of thousands of immigrants in detention centers and hundreds of deaths of innocent refugees in shipwrecks. Their only sin was that they wanted to save their families from war and pestilence.
Margaret Thatcher, British Prime Minister (1979-90) and priestess of neo-liberalism had said that “If you pay attention to public opinion and the results of the polls, then you don’t govern, but obey.” When politicians are unable to get over populism, citizens themselves must work on social action to make the public overcome such preconceptions. Only then can we build new majorities that bring together people who see things differently, and who are not fooled by parties’ populist policies. Only in this way can there be hope for the kind of Greece and Europe that we dream of.
This article was originally published on Aplotaria.