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Thursday, 17 October 2019

Contemporary Greek diaspora in the UK and beyond

On the day of the third meeting of the SEESOX Hellenic Advisory Board, on 10 October 2019, and making use of the presence in London of the members of the Board, SEESOX organized a public event devoted to its Greek Diaspora Project at the Hellenic Centre, in partnership with the Centre and the Greek Embassy in London. This public event was a great opportunity for SEESOX to present its three-year research output to the wider London community, at a time when it had just completed its first cycle and was already setting its goals for the next three-year period.

The event at the Hellenic Centre was introduced by David Madden, Chair of the Steering Committee of SEESOX and Othon Anastasakis, Director of SEESOX/Principal Investigator of the Greek Diaspora Project and included welcoming speeches by the Greek Ambassador in London, Dimitris Caramitsos-Tziras and First Chair of the SEESOX Hellenic Advisory Board, Nikos Karamouzis. The panel discussion that followed was the core feature of the evening, and included as speakers, diaspora experts at SEESOX, policy makers and members of the SEESOX Hellenic Advisory Board which is supporting the project financially. This setting was a great opportunity for a fruitful debate on the Greek diaspora among academics, policymakers, as well as the business word. Both the SEESOX findings, as well as the inputs of the panelists, adopted exciting angles, in a well-attended auditorium composed mostly by diaspora Greeks in the UK.

A most impressive, as well as accessible and user-friendly, result of this research, is the digital map that SEESOX created in order to record and depict the presence of Greek diasporic populations all over the world. Such a map offers a unique platform for the interaction of the Greek nation on an international level, as presented by Foteini Kalantzi, A. G. Leventis Research Officer at SEESOX. It is by no means a mere theoretical exercise for academic purposes – instead, it is a valuable tool, both quantitively and qualitatively, for policymakers, as well as the legislative.
Such a tool is a product of a fertile collaboration between the academia and the private sector, which supported the initiative through funding, as Nikos Karamouzis emphasized in his introductory speech. He expressed the hope that post-crisis Greece will cultivate a culture of meritocracy, digitization, expertise and investments, so that the Greek diasporas will face a new appealing and full of opportunities country, in order for them to contribute to this new status quo, in the professional and administrative sectors.

The impact that a broadminded, forward-looking and business-friendly government can have was further stressed by Alexandros Sarrigeorgiou, President of Eurolife and new Chair of the SEESOX Hellenic Advisory Board. Greece is able to offer a high-caliber professional and educational environment, to both Greeks and non-Greeks. He himself suggested to encourage the business sector to provide internships to students of distinguished domestic, as well as foreign universities, to create an IT outsourcing community, but also the establishment of private universities.

Despite the hyper-dramatisation of the phenomenon of migration, we shall remember that our country has faced similar migration waves in the past; during the 1920s, there was an immense Greek flow towards the United States, whereas in the post-war era and up until the 1970s, there was a flow to Canada, Australia and North-Western Europe. During the last years, the main destinations of the Greek migrants are Europe and the Middle East, according to data that Yiannis Paraschis presented, as the CEO of the Athens International Airport. For one to understand the scale of the phenomenon, they should think that 15% of the trips that take place from Greeks either to or from the airport of Athens, has a diasporic character.

Concerning the traits of the migrants, it is interesting to notice that both in the public discourse as well as in private conversations, we tend to use the terms ‘brain drain’ and ‘migration’ interchangeably, with the first monopolizing the rhetoric, as Manolis Pratsinakis, Onassis Research Fellow of the Greek Diaspora Project, underlined. Nevertheless, such an identification does not fully reflect the status quo, since whereas brain drain is a significant phenomenon, with approximately half a million Greeks having left during the last 10 years Greece in pursuit of a more stable and favourable working environment, the recent wave of migration has a broader social representation.

Certainly, the majority of the people that leave the country are of the younger generation, with the average age being 32 years old. Nevertheless, a part of the migrants, are middle aged, but also we often observe migrants, who are not part of the academic, scientific and professional elite of expertise and instead, are of a low educational leave. Those findings somehow qualify the stereotypical image of the young Greek scientist who leaves for abroad. In addition, the face that should represent this wave should be a female one, since the majority of the recent migration flow is women.

On the role of the diaspora in the revival of Greece’s economic fortunes, Antonis Kamaras, country coordinator for the Greek Diaspora Project, noted that diaspora capital holders and high-ranking managers can mobilise financial resources that are not often available to Greece’s resident business community. This is due to the fact that such diaspora economic actors operate either on a global scale, or in very large economies, thus their capital accumulation well-exceeds that of Greek firms which largely operate within the crisis-hit Greek economy.

Last but by no means least, we should refer to the issue of the diasporic vote, which was particularly tackled by Othon Anastasakis sparking interesting debates. The main dilemmas, he pointed, that the legislative has to answer are three: who will vote (all those enrolled in the electoral roll, or will there be restrictions?), how will the voting process take place (by post, electronically, consulates) and for whom would voters vote (i.e. MPs from their constituency of origin, for the MPs ‘epikrateias’, or should a different category of MPs be established). While there are reactions on the principle itself by some Greeks in the homeland, we have to remember that there is constitutional provision for the diasporic vote. Yet, there is no application of this provision due to the fact that there has been no enabling legislation, approved by the majority of the Parliament, facilitating and specifying the process of the elections.

On this constitutional front, the Ambassador of Greece to the UK, Dimitris Caramitsos-Tziras, urged for a careful, slow process, against a rushed policy. He agreed with the requirement of enhanced majority, as due to the significance of the issue at stake, the broader inter-party agreement possible is required. He reminded that the turnout of voters for the European Elections in London was rather low, perhaps in a surprising way, given the passion and intensity with which the public discourse on the matter is realised.

Certainly, the diasporic populations could engage more with the domestic affairs, which would trigger institutional change in their recognition by the motherland. Nevertheless, this relationship could work vice versa, too, as the more the motherland recognizes the diaspora, a culture of engagement is being fostered more and more. This latter path seems to work better for the issue of the vote, since normatively speaking, the vote is not a political benefit, but a constitutional right that the state should guarantee and not one for the people to prove worthy.

From whatever perspective one chooses to understand Greeks abroad, the panel -masterfully chaired by Kalypso Nicolaidis, Professor of International Relations in Oxford and founder of SEESOX - agreed that the impact of the Greek diasporas is significant for homeland and has a huge potential. For as long as the status quo changes, the political and economic scenes evolve and people leave Greece in pursuit of a better life or return to the homeland, SEESOX will continue its remarkable research, always starting from the premise that the relationship between the diaspora and the motherland should be mutual, with both parties benefiting and creatively interacting. To understand this new paradigm we are now entering, we are looking forward to further findings and upcoming events by SEESOX.

Photo gallery

Vassiliki Poula (Research Associate, Greek Diaspora Project at SEESOX)

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