No longer so attached to the idea of Greek ethnicity

By Ange­lo Tramountanis.

Young peo­ple in Greece may be buck­ing some well-estab­lished trends about Greek iden­ti­ty and its mean­ing, accord­ing to research by the Open Soci­ety Euro­pean Pol­i­cy Insti­tute and d|part

Until the ear­ly 1990s and the first influx of immi­grants, Greece saw itself as almost exclu­sive­ly eth­nic Greek, most­ly East­ern Ortho­dox Chris­tians. Any­thing dif­fer­ent was per­ceived as for­eign and regard­ed as a poten­tial threat.

Accord­ing to a 2017 Pew Research Cen­ter sur­vey, two-thirds of Greeks con­sid­er that “real” Greeks share the same cus­toms and tra­di­tions, and half believe that being Chris­t­ian is essen­tial. In anoth­er sur­vey by the research group dia­NEO­sis in 2018, 54 per­cent of respon­dents said that to be con­sid­ered Greek, a per­son has to adopt Greek cus­toms and the way of life.

Yet Greece can no longer claim, if indeed it was ever the case, to be a homoge­nous coun­try. The arrival of immi­grants, first from the Balka­ns and lat­er from Asia and Africa, has giv­en rise to strong anti-immi­grant feel­ings. At the same time, Greece’s young peo­ple have been grow­ing up in an increas­ing­ly diverse envi­ron­ment. Has this been a deter­min­ing fac­tor in the chang­ing of their atti­tudes? And what are the impli­ca­tions of this new­ly tol­er­ant approach for the open society?

Dimin­ish­ing impor­tance of eth­nic homogeneity

Because mod­ern Greece has been built on the myth of cul­tur­al and eth­nic homo­gene­ity, it is hard­ly sur­pris­ing that nine out of 10 Greeks, as the dia­NEO­sis sur­vey sug­gests, believe the coun­try has been wel­com­ing too many immi­grants. But new research from this Voic­es on Val­ues project indi­cates a pos­si­ble change in young people’s attitudes.

The sur­vey col­lect­ed data on open and closed soci­ety atti­tudes, ask­ing respon­dents how essen­tial var­i­ous attrib­ut­es were for a good soci­ety. To the state­ment, “That as few immi­grants as pos­si­ble should come to Greece”, 42 per­cent of those aged 18–25 did not see this as essen­tial (Fig­ure 1). This rel­a­tive­ly high per­cent­age is even more strik­ing when com­pared to respons­es from old­er age groups: some 75–81 per­cent of old­er peo­ple believed that a good soci­ety requires as few immi­grants as possible.

Fig­ure 1: How essen­tial is the fol­low­ing for a good soci­ety? “That as few immi­grants as pos­si­ble come to Greece.”

In the state­ment, “That every­one should live by the nation­al val­ues and norms of Greece”, young Greeks once again demon­strat­ed dif­fer­ent atti­tudes from the old­er gen­er­a­tions (Fig­ure 2). One out of four (27%) of those aged 18–24 didn’t think this way. They are also the age group that is least focussed on this view (only 34% con­sid­ered it as absolute­ly essen­tial, com­pared to at least 44% in the case of 25–35-year-olds).

Fig­ure 2: How essen­tial is the fol­low­ing for a good soci­ety? “That every­one lives by the nation­al val­ues and norms of Greece.”

The East­ern Ortho­dox Church has been a cor­ner­stone of Greece’s mod­ern iden­ti­ty, with only small pock­ets of oth­er reli­gions, notably the Mus­lim reli­gious minor­i­ty in West­ern Thrace, and a Catholic com­mu­ni­ty in the Cyclades islands. Mem­bers of these reli­gious minori­ties have always been con­sid­ered eth­nic Greeks.

Nowa­days, most of the new immi­grants to Greece are Mus­lims, and we have looked at atti­tudes towards them among dif­fer­ent age groups.

One of the state­ments peo­ple were asked to respond to was whether or not it is essen­tial for a good soci­ety “that non-Chris­tians only vis­i­bly prac­tise their reli­gion at home or in their places of reli­gious wor­ship” (Fig­ure 3). Our find­ings were that only 42 per­cent of the 18–24s agreed, and 58 per­cent did not. This is a strik­ing dif­fer­ence from all the oth­er age groups, as most of the survey’s respon­dents felt that non-Chris­tians should not prac­tise their reli­gion publicly.

Fig­ure 3: How essen­tial is the fol­low­ing for a good soci­ety? “That non-Chris­tians only prac­tise their reli­gion at home and in their places of reli­gious worship.”

Con­clu­sion: The way forward

Two points are impor­tant. The first is that Greece’s found­ing myth of cul­tur­al, eth­nic and reli­gious homo­gene­ity appears to be evolv­ing, if grad­u­al­ly. Amer­i­can psy­chol­o­gist Gor­don Allport’s Inter­group Con­tact The­o­ry has demon­strat­ed that when peo­ple are born and raised in a mul­ti­cul­tur­al soci­ety, their rela­tion­ships with oth­er young peo­ple from dif­fer­ent eth­nic, cul­tur­al and reli­gious back­grounds make them more open and wel­com­ing. This appears to be the case in Greece.

The sec­ond con­sid­er­a­tion is the severe impact of what The Econ­o­mist recent­ly described as “the deep­est depres­sion suf­fered by any rich coun­try since the sec­ond world war.” Its impact was par­tic­u­lar­ly bru­tal on the younger gen­er­a­tion, with youth unem­ploy­ment peak­ing at 49.8 per­cent in 2015, and still the high­est in Europe (43.6%). The pro­por­tion of young Greeks not in edu­ca­tion, employ­ment or train­ing (known as NEETs) was sec­ond in 2017 only to Italy (24.2% to 25.5%). The sit­u­a­tion for young Greeks is so frus­trat­ing that since 2008 more than 420,000 have emi­grat­ed, in a clear instance of “brain drain”.

How­ev­er, and this is sig­nif­i­cant, accord­ing to the Voic­es on Val­ues data the effects of the eco­nom­ic cri­sis have not pushed younger Greeks into espous­ing the anti-immi­grant rhetoric of pop­ulists and far-right par­ties like Gold­en Dawn. If any­thing, young Greeks appear instead to be embrac­ing open soci­ety attrib­ut­es in a way that sets them apart from the old­er gen­er­a­tions. The com­mon under­stand­ing of what it means to be Greek is def­i­nite­ly changing.


All­port, G. W. (1954). The nature of prej­u­dice. Cam­bridge, MA: Perseus Books

dia­NEO­sis, (2018), What do Greeks believe: 2018 (Τι πιστεύουν οι Έλληνες: 2018), Retrieved from: (last access: 8/8/2018) (In Greek)

PEW Research Cen­ter. (2017). What It Takes to Tru­ly Be “One of Us.”, Retrieved from (last access: 8/8/2018)

Ver­tovec S., 2007, “Super-diver­si­ty and its impli­ca­tions”, Eth­nic and Racial Stud­ies, 30 (6), 1024–1054.

Ange­lo Tra­moun­ta­nis is a researcher at the Nation­al Cen­tre for Social Research (EKKE) in Athens.


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


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