The expression “Greek by genos” is a commonly used but rather vague criterion of “Greekness”. The word “genos” (γένος) in its wider sense can be translated as parentage, race, breed, lineage, species and more. Defining someone as “Greek by genos” may mean “Greek by birth”, “Greek by blood”, “born to Greek parents”, “of Greek lineage”, “ethnic Greek” or any variation of the above, depending on the political intention of the speaker. For the extreme-right, it can go as far as meaning “someone who has Greek DNA.”
Besides the fact that Kostarakos, as Greece’s top military figure, may or may not be entitled to comment publicly on matters of policy, it is noteworthy that his comment came in a context where the issue of national identity is hotly debated in Greece. In 2010, then-Minister of Interior Giannis Ragousis (PASOK) had pushed through parliament law 3838/2010 which set a number of criteria for children of immigrant parents to obtain Greek citizenship. Categories of children immediately eligible for Greek citizenship under this law included children born in Greece to immigrant parents who both lived permanently and legally in Greece for at least 5 years at the time of the application for citizenship, and children who completed 6 years of education in the Greek education system while residing permanently and legally in Greece. These conditions were quite restrictive due to the difficulty for immigrants to secure residence permits in Greece for an uninterrupted period of 5 years or more; but the Ragousis law represented a sea change in the naturalization process of second-generation immigrants, as Greek law up to that point made it close to impossible for immigrant children to acquire Greek citizenship.
During the election campaign and in his early days in power, Prime Minister Antonis Samaras had pledged to repel this law, claiming, in particular, that it would contribute to fighting crime. Before however Samaras’s government actually made a move to repel it through parliament, the law was struck down by by the Council of State, which announced on 14 November 2012 that it deemed the terms of the law unconstitutional. The Council of State’s decision, which was finally published on 06 February 2013, specifically said that the minimum requirement for an alien resident to be naturalized should be proof of a “genuine bond with the Greek State and Greek society” which could not be adequately demonstrated by formal criteria such as the number of years of residence or education in Greece. In his enthusiasm about the Council’s decision, the Samaras government announced before it was even published that all naturalizations would be suspended until further notice, drawing ire from the Ombudsman who reminded the government that laws remain in force until they are abolished or amended by parliament. Upon publication of the Council of State’s decision, Samaras announced that a new citizenship law would be drafted to take into account the Council’s recommendations – although how this “genuine bond” would be demonstrated remains unclear.
It goes without saying that the issue of naturalization is a favourite topic of Golden Dawn, the far-right, neo-Nazi party that entered parliament following the 2012 general elections and currently holds 18 MP seats. This is a party that describes undocumented migrants as “invaders” who threaten to “alter the purity of the Greek race” and whose proposed policy on immigration includes, among other things, immediate detention of immigrants in camps and deportation to their home countries, while the penalty for crimes committed by immigrants would be imprisonment in labour camps. Another favourite topic of Golden Dawn is the status and situation of the armed forces, in line with the party’s militaristic ideology. It is therefore unsurprising that Golden Dawn MP Polyvios Zisimopoulos has repeatedly put through parliamentary questions on the matter of naturalized students in Military Academies, for example on 12 July 2012 and as recently as 21 February 2013, days before Kostarakos’s comment on Twitter but also before 85 MPs from New Democracy proposed the following amendment to a bill put forward by the Ministry of Education and Religious Affairs, Culture and Sports on the “Ratification of the agreement between the Government of the Hellenic Republic and the Government of the Federal Republic of Nigeria on economic, scientific and technological cooperation.”
Due to the particularity of issues that have to do with our national security compared to other European countries, but also to the acute problem of illegal immigration faced by our country, as well as the recent law about nationality and its consequences, it is advisable that genos is reinstated as a criterion in all military and police academies as a pre-requisite for admission, with an exception for covering specific needs as deemed necessary by the General Staff.
Applicants to Higher Military Education Institutes (ASEI), Higher Military Academies for Non-Commissioned Officers (ASSY), Police Academies and Academies training officers of the Port Authorities and the Greek Coast Guard must be Greeks by genos and nationality. Omogeneis [Diaspora] Greeks who are not Greek nationals are also eligible and will obtain nationality without further formality upon enrollment. The head of each branch or body [of the armed forces] can decide to allow, in order to cover specific needs, the enrollment of candidates who are not Greeks by genos, provided that these do not exceed the number of two (2) per academy.
The presence on this document of signatories such as Makis Voridis and Adonis Giorgiadis, whose sympathy for far-right ideologies and previous membership in far-right organisations and political parties is well-known, raises the question of what is meant by “Greek by genos” here. Is this amendment – which was submitted, once again, by two-thirds of New Democracy’s MPs days after a parliamentary question by a Golden Dawn MP on the matter at hand – intended to keep naturalized immigrant youth out of military and police academies? Is its purpose to ensure that there will be no “fifth column” of Albanian-born naturalized officers in the armed forces and the police? Can its interpretation be extended to include other groups, such as Greek Jews, who are, after all, mostly Sephardim from Spain, Portugal and Italy, or the Turkish-speaking Muslim minority of Thrace, or the Roma community of Greece? Does it mean that colonel Mordehai Frizis, who was killed on the Albanian front in 1940, should never have been promoted to that rank? Or should we assume that, as a Romaniote Jew, Frizis should be considered as a bona fide Greek? This was discussed on Twitter between Democratic Left MP Maria Yiannakaki and New Democracy MP Andreas Psycharis, who is also a signatory on the proposed amendment.
Yiannakaki: Mordehai Frizis, the Greek-Jewish officer who was killed while fighting heroically in the Greek-Italian war, was not Greek by genos.
Psycharis: Greeks of Jewish religion are Greeks.
Golden Dawn rushed to issue a triumphant statement on 25 February when the amendment proposal was put forward, describing it as a great victory for the party and emphasizing that the amendment came after the parliamentary question by Zisimopoulos to the Ministers of Defense and Interior. The statement concludes:
“There is no need for further commentary to highlight that this is another great victory for Golden Dawn and another concession for New Democracy, which is now clearly following our political agenda in its vain attempt to limit the loss of its voters to Golden Dawn.”
The proposed amendment was condemned by opposition party SYRIZA through its website dedicated to people in uniform (see here and here) but also by the two junior government coalition parties, PASOK and Democratic Left. The PASOK statement emphasized that previous legislation requiring that candidates to military academies be “Greeks by genos” had been struck down as unconstitutional and that the only case in which the Greek Constitution stipulates “genos” as a criterion for eligibility is the President of the Republic, who must hold Greek nationality from his father or mother, while this criterion may not be reproduced for any other public position. PASOK further noted the absurdity of allowing naturalized citizens to become government ministers or to perform their military service while banning them from reaching the rank of officer, and qualified the intervention of the Armed Forces’ General Chief of Staff as “unacceptable.” The Democratic Left statement was extremely blunt in its criticism of the 85 MPs from New Democracy who submitted the amendment proposal, saying that it was a symptom of “obscurantism that qualifies as at least medieval.” Democratic Left concluded: “Those who turn the Armed Forces into a field of ideological and political confrontation undermine their unity and effectiveness in times of crisis for our country.”
A second Golden Dawn statement issued in response to PASOK and Democratic Left on 26 February added:
“The ban on foreign students in Military Academies is a great Victory for Golden Dawn and is the vindication of a struggle we conducted for many years. The honoured uniform of Greek Officers cannot be given away to Albanians, Asians and Africans, and our country’s Armed Forces will not become subservient to foreign agents, because that was the will of a decadent, anti-Hellenic leadership. These two degenerated parties, PASOK and Democratic Left, have already set themselves on the margins of politics and society.”
In addition to the 85 New Democracy MPs, Golden Dawn and Independent Greeks have said that they would vote in favour of the amendment, which is due for discussion in parliament on 28 February together with the bill put forward by the Ministry of Education. This means the amendment is set to receive at least 123 yea votes, short of the 151 required to make it law. It remains possible, although unlikely, that the amendment will pass, should 28 of the remaining 44 MPs who were elected with New Democracy vote in its favour.
The amendment was withdrawn from the Ministry of Education bill as irrelevant. It will be brought to parliament again on Tuesday attached to another bill.