Honouring Greece's "Oxi" With a "Nai" for Immigrants.
On the 28th of October, Greeks will celebrate "Όχι Day
". This national holiday commemorates Greece's valiant and unequivocal "no" (όχι
) response to Benito Mussolini's threat to invade and occupy Greece in World War II. To honour the thousands of Greeks who died fighting the Italian invasion, Greek schoolchildren march in parades across the country.
Traditionally, the student with the highest marks in each school is awarded the distinction of becoming the flagbearer, leading the rest of his or her classmates in the parade. Unfortunately, this privilege has been open to attack in the past few years as some immigrant children have been
receiving the highest grades in their schools. Classmates and parents alike question their 'Greekness' and demand that only a Greek should have the right to carry the Greek flag.
In several incidents, they've gone so far as to forbid their children to march along side them in the parades--some parents even booing and spitting on the child as they marched. Because of the resentment and outright fury exhibited by some schools' parents and classmates, immigrant children succumbed to the pressure
and opted out of the parade altogether.
Although many government officials, school principals and state ministers have condemned the public outcry, many Greeks are still divided on the issue and the whole debate begins anew every year.
Prior to 2000, only Greek citizens were eligible to become a flagbearer. However, in 2000, a Presidential Decree signed into effect by the former education minister, Petros Efthymiou, specifically states that any immigrant child attending a Greek public school for two years would be allowed to carry the Greek flag in parades.
Like many European countries, Greece is trying to adapt to the sudden influx of immigrants
into a previously homogenous society. If Greece does not afford immigrants the chance to integrate and adopt a more tolerant attitude then the controversy surrounding the flag will only fuel further anti-immigrant sentiment ultimately dividing this country. It is most unfortunate that children whose only 'crime' was to be exemplary students, should be caught in the middle of it
Is someone Greek solely by virtue of where he was born or could it also entail a genuine pride, love and devotion to the country exemplified by commitment and determination to assimilate into Greek society?
I am inclined to agree with famed Greek orator Isocrates
when he said "One is not a Greek by right of birth but by right of Greek education".