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Tuesday, 17 February 2015

Hoxha the Greek

After the fall of the Berlin Wall, communism declined all over Europe, and people from communist countries were able to move freely. At this point, many citizens of former communist countries entered Greece, whose borders never really needed controlling during the communist era: Greece was surrounded by the sea in the south which created a natural border that was difficult to navigate, with Turkey in the East and Italy in the West, countries whose politics never targeted Greece from the migration aspect, and finally the communist countries in the north, who guarded their own borders for their own purposes. But when communism began to lose favour and free movement was granted, Greece was an obvious choice for Eastern Europeans (as we often label the citizens of former communist countries), and since 1990, many Eastern Europeans, primarily Albanians, are a permanent fixture of Greek demographics. But a whole generation has passed since then, and immigrants' children have been born/raised in Greece: the Albanian in Greece is now a Greek Albanian.

I've written before about Albanian people in Crete. 25 years down the track, we are talking about a second generation of Albanians who have been born and/or educated here, and they are now creating the third generation of Greek Albanians. Despite being born in Greece though, their citizenship status still creates problems for them in terms of official documents, and they remain a kind of Hellenic alien. The previous government was set to recognise some rights of second generation immigrants, but this is now being vetoed by the present government's coalition partner (who says that it may show preference in recognising the third generation - and so the chase goes on).

The second and third immigrant generation has essentially grown up and been educated in Greece. They speak Greek perfectly, without an accent, and they do not stand out among the general population, given that Greeks come in similar shapes, colours and sizes as they do. Despite the subtle differences between Greeks and Albanians in terms of their appearance (they tend to be shorter, paler and slimmer than Greeks, and they sometimes dress differently), Greek Albanians are thoroughly assimilated, and can be found in all sectors of society, save one: the public service, which in Greece is still reserved for 'real' Greeks.

The way that Albanians have assimilated in Greek society reveals a lot about Greek society itself. I'll use a few examples of Albanian people I know and have contact with, who show 'typical' Greek societal traits. My Albanian contacts are simply copying society:

1. My daughter recently came home feeling rather grumpy, after we told her that she couldn't stay longer than 9pm at a Sunday night party at a friend's house. "But the party hasn't even started!" she complained. The next day was a school day and the start of a new working week. Didn't her Albanian friend's parents know this? I'm sure they did. But this is just how the average Greek in their neighbourhood holds parties.

2. An Albanian friend recently told me that he is no longer sure about his legal status in Greece. He had a resident's permit, but during one of the least stable political periods of Greece in 2012, he stopped paying his social welfare contributions - like many Greeks - given the lack of monitoring. But now that the system has caught up the non-payers, he owes a lot of money - like many Greeks - and if he doesn't pay it, he will be asked to leave the country - unlike his Greek counterparts, because they are living in their own country.

3. My husband recently picked up an Albanian from the police station, where he had spent two nights in a cell. His crime: driving without having a driver's licence. Driving without a licence was quite common in Greece, up until the law came down harder on unlicensed drivers, albeit relatively recently, and now the general rule is that people will not risk it. This man has been living in Crete for more than a decade, is married and has three children. He had no legal status in Greece. but this was not a problem when the law was lenient, and he was just doing what other Greek citizens were also doing. Now that it's harsher, he finds himself in great difficulty, much greater than the average Greek: legalising his status in this country will require a lot of money.

The crisis is said to have taken its toll on all residents of Greece, irrespective of their background, and many Greek Albanians have had to reassess their existence, in the same way as other Greeks, in their country of birth. For many Albanians born in Greece, Greece remains their homeland in most senses, even food-wise, as can be seen from the highly authentic looking Greek food, prepared, cooked and sold in North London, by Albanian-Greeks.

The arrangement of the food in this cosy-looking takeaway restaurant has little to differentiate it from the typical Greek mayirio found all over the country. In fact, it felt like I was looking at the dishes on display in the Agora of my own hometown. The reviews of the restaurant attest to its Greek authenticity - but the facebook site is quite telling of a different story. The names in the likes and comments are not at all Greek.

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