Citizenship in Greece Impossibility for the Second Generation of Migrants

The content of this paper does not reflect the opinion of the DGAP.

Responsibility for the information and views expressed herein lies entirely with the author.

German Council on Foreign Relations New Faces Conference Paper

This paper is based on a presentation made at the “New Faces Conference: Citizenship and Political Participation in the Mediterranean” in February 2014, held within the framework of the EU-Middle East Forum (EUMEF) at the German Council on Foreign Relations.

by Christos Iliadis


Greece has recently seen intense internal debate over “second-generation” migrants and their right to citizenship. The country’s citizenship code, launched in 2010 by the center-left government, introduced citizenship not only as part of state sovereignty but also as a right for those meeting certain criteria. However, in early 2013, key provisions of the law were ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court on the grounds that the Greek “national community” should be protected from losing its character. As a result of this ruling, hundreds of thousands of children of migrant origin do not today have a right to Greek citizenship. The naturalization process will, moreover, remain extremely difficult and expensive for them when they become adults.

This article argues for a new politics of citizenship that promotes citizenship participation, approaching citizenship as a practice of freedom and not only as a legal relation defined by the state.

Introduction Migration poses new challenges to the traditional conception of citizenship.

It introduces a rupture in the link between the “citizen” with the co-national.

These challenges are vivid in countries of the northern Mediterranean, which receive high numbers of immigrants from regions located to the south. The debate in Greece over “second-generation” migrants and their right to citizenship is characteristic of a dispute over different conceptions of citizenship.

The country’s citizenship code, launched in 2010 by the center-left PASOK government, introduced citizenship not only as part of state sovereignty but also as a right for those meeting certain criteria. Key provisions of the law were soon ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court on the grounds that the Greek “national community” should be protected from losing its character.

As a result of this ruling, today hundreds of thousands of children of migrant origin do not have a right to Greek citizenship, and obtaining citizen status through naturalization is extremely difficult for them and their families even when they become adults. This article argues for a new politics of citizenship that will promote citizenship participation, approaching citizenship as a practice of freedom and not only as a legal relation defined by the state. What is Citizenship?

Different Forms and Functions New approaches extend the traditional conception of citizenship beyond legal rights and formal membership into a society. Citizenship is not only considered a formal relationship between an individual and a state, or a privilege of the – 3 – sovereign.

Rather, it is an identity for the subject and a right that is forged by participating in everyday practices with fellow citizens. As a legal category, citizenship constitutes a formal relationship between an individual and a state, defining certain rights and responsibilities. In this formal relationship, citizenship: • defines an “us and them” relationship, creating a community of those who hold the same citizenship and leaving out those that do not; • is a name for the individual given by a state; a state calls someone a “citizen” (e.g. Greek, or a Turk) or a “third-country national”; this designation – like all designations – describes a citizen (“Greek citizen”) but also constitutes a citizen by saying to someone that he/she “is a citizen” with certain characteristics, rights, and responsibilities; • shows who the state wants for its citizens and who it wants to exclude; when a state grants citizen status to an individual, it implies a desire that this individual should be a citizen and its faith in the individual’s ability to honor this status. In addition to a formal relationship between an individual and a state – and to a certain extent, as a result of this formal relationship – citizenship has another crucial characteristic. It constitutes a certain identity for the subject.

This identity is formulated not only by the formal status of a “citizen” but also by his or her participation in everyday practices with fellow citizens. In that way, citizenship is a form of belonging (and not a legal term) that is developed through the interaction with others and through participation in public processes. Linda Bosniak has summarized the different characteristics of citizenship as follows: “For liberal and democratic societies citizenship is always dual and contradictory.”

On the one hand, “citizenship functions as the basic framework for inclusion and democratic belonging (universal citizenship)” but on the other hand, “citizenship presupposes the existence of a limited and bounded national – 4 – community based on the exclusion of non-members (bounded citizenship).”1 That is why identity is one of the core elements of citizenship, and the latter is a mechanism of subject formation.2 It is these two forms of citizenship that one recognizes in the words of Odysseas Tsenai, an ethnic Albanian who became the center of a dispute on whether Albanians should be able to hold the Greek flag during school parades. When Tsenai was asked “did you feel like a foreigner while living in Greece?” he replied: “Of course I felt like a foreigner with the Greek flag incident, or whenever I had to go to a public authority. But in my everyday life with my friends and classmates I do not feel like a foreigner.”3

The Debate over “Second-Generation” Migrants in Greece In Greece – as in many other countries – citizenship is mainly considered a privilege that the state gives to those capable of honoring it. That is why the Greek state has historically granted citizenship to certain groups or individuals because they were considered “of the same soil” as the Greeks (omogeneis) or because of an individual’s impressive performance. The athletic prowess of basketball player Giannis Adetokunbo is a recent example of the latter.4

On the other hand, hundreds of thousands of Greek citizens were in the past deprived of citizenship status because they were considered enemies of the state; many Greek communists, Slavic-speakers of Greek Macedonia, and ethnic Turks of Greek Thrace are three twentieth-century examples. The citizenship code of 2010 introduced two key elements into Greek law that broke with this tradition. First, it outlined the state’s obligation to explain its grounds for rejecting an application. This secured the transparency of the process, as all rejections could be subject to appeal and removed citizenship from the “dark” area of state sovereignty. Second, citizenship became a right of those fulfilling certain criteria and not just a privilege granted by the state. Candidates who met the criteria – i.e. those born in Greece or who had attended – 5 –

Greek schools for six years and whose parents had lived legally in the country for the previous five years – were now able to obtain Greek citizenship simply by applying for it, without needing to undertake the difficult and expensive naturalization process. The law, furthermore, was to give legal migrants the right to vote and run in local elections. The 2010 citizenship code provoked a long and angry political debate on who should be a Greek citizen. Indeed, it was the last big public debate to take place before Greece officially entered into economic crisis some weeks later. Politicians, academics, journalists, students, human rights activists, the church, second-generation migrants, and everyday people expressed their opinion on the bill. And rightly so: for the first time in Greek political history, a nationality code would make more categories of people eligible for acquiring citizenship. That represented a U-turn away from the traditional conception of Greek citizenship: the sole privilege of those born to at least one Greek parent. After an appeal in the Supreme Court, two key provisions of the citizenship law were deemed unconstitutional and were cancelled in April 2013.

It was determined that Greek citizenship cannot be automatically granted to secondgeneration migrants and that non-citizens cannot vote in local elections. One of the basic claims of the court was that citizenship should be linked to Greek national identity. Citizenship should therefore be “the final step of an integration process for those that have acquired an original bond with the dominant community,” as the Court put it. In contrast, the criteria of 1) birth to parents legally staying in the country and 2) studying for at least six years in a Greek school were for the court “formal criteria” that are not able to manifest this original bond. The Supreme Court decision introduced certain characteristics to Greek citizenship and defined them as constitutional.

First, citizenship is viewed as part of the sovereignty of the state, not a right for people who meet a set of standards. Second, citizenship should be granted at the end of an integration – 6 – process and not as part of an integration process. In order to become a (Greek) citizen, a candidate should thus be already part of the Greek ethnic community. Also, a foreigner (or the child of a foreigner) should, according to the court, manifest an “original bond” to Greek society before he or she obtains Greek citizenship. An individual’s naturalization process – even for children who were born and raised in Greece – should therefore be the only route to obtaining citizenship. Finally the court introduced the distinction between those of “Greek soil/origin” and those that are not, arguing that the first should have priority over others in terms of citizenship.

The court’s decision and the interpretation of Greek citizenship that it fixed as constitutional have certain implications, not only for the perception of Greek citizenship but also for hundreds of thousands of Greeks of other ethnic backgrounds who cannot obtain the Greek citizenship. Today, for the first time in the country’s history, almost 10 percent of Greece’s population does not possess Greek citizenship.5

Migrants and (especially) their children who have lived for years in the country and consider Greece their only home do not in practice have access to citizenship or the right to vote. Children and the youth belonging to the second generation include up to 200,000 people, and the number is growing.6

These children and young adults born to immigrant parents are considered (and treated as) “aliens” and “third-country nationals.” They often have no official documentation and no rights at all. In the best cases, they are able to obtain the status of “long-term resident.” Such children, born or raised in Greece, within the European Union, have access to formal citizenship only after they are 18 and only through a naturalization process on an individual basis. In practice, very few of them go through this process, as it is expensive, very bureaucratic, and time consuming. They get by with a temporary residence status which they need to renew every few years and they can lose it at any time if they are not able to find a job. Even if they feel and live like Greeks, they do not hold Greek citizenship. – 7 –

The ever-increasing number of people who have lived in Greece for years – many of them with their families – and act as Greeks without possessing Greek citizenship, gives rise to what has been called “impossible citizens.” Their inclusion in Greek society is a social reality but a legal impossibility. New Politics of Citizenship The annulment in 2013 of the 2010 citizenship code, taking place in a period of economic crisis that affects not only individual but mainly social rights, deepens the democratic deficit and has a negative effect on democratic processes in Greece. Because of it, a large number of people who consider themselves Greek are officially treated as aliens, unable to participate in the public sphere on an equal footing with Greek citizens. A new politics of citizenship is urgently needed, one that will promote citizenship participation and approach citizenship as a practice of freedom and not only as a legal relation “owned” by the state.

Citizenship as a practice of freedom should include all those who have developed bonds with their country of residence in order to participate equally by having a say and negotiating how power is exercised and who exercises it. Political struggles for more democratic forms and practices of participation, together with established struggles of democratic participation, can fundamentally change the ethos of citizenship and democracy.

Christos Iliadis is a post-doctoral researcher at Panteion University (Athens) and works as a trainer-facilitator for the Council of Europe on Roma integration in Greece. He earned his BA in political science and history from Panteion University (Athens) and his MA in political science from the University of Athens. An alumnus of EUMEF, he obtained his PhD from the department of government at the University of Essex in 2012. –

EUMEF is a dialogue and exchange platform on developments in the Arab region and Europe geared toward young and mid-level professionals from North Africa, Turkey, and the EU. This publication is part of a series intended to showcase a new generation of scholars, politicians, journalists, and representatives of civil society and shed new light on legal, political, and media developments as well as broader social trends in the EU and its Mediterranean neighborhood. It is realized with the support of the Institute for Foreign Cultural Relations (ifa e.V.) and the German Federal Foreign Office. Notes 1 Linda Bosniak, The Citizen and the Alien: Dilemmas of Contemporary Membership (Princeton, 2006), pp. 8–9. 2

See also: William Connolly, The Terms of Political Discourse (London, 1974); Mae M. Ngai, Impossible Subjects: Illegal Aliens and the Making of Modern America (Princeton, 2004); Andromachi Papaioannou, “Who Can (Not) Be Greek? Citizenship, Identity and Belonging among Youth of Sub-Saharan African Background in Athens” (PhD diss., University of Bolognia, 2013); James Tully, Public Philosophy in a New Key (Cambridge, 2010). 3 Odysseas Tsenai, interview (in Greek), Antapokritis, February 10, 2010 <; (accessed, October 15, 2013). 4 Giannis Antetokounmpo is a typical “second-generation” migrant. Born in Athens in 1994 to Nigerian parents, Giannis does not have Nigerian nationality, as he has never been to the country. Nor, after 19 years in Greece, could he obtain Greek citizenship. He lived with a residence permit until April 28, 2013, when he entered his name into the 2013 NBA draft and was selected fifteenth overall by the Milwaukee Bucks: a spectacular position, and the highest ever for a “Greek” player. Less than two weeks later, on May 9, Giannis officially obtained full Greek citizenship. The intervention of the prime minister was required – along with numerous pictures with him – for a 19-year-old boy born and raised in Greece to become a Greek citizen. 5

The International Organization of Migration estimates the percentage of immigrants in Greece in 2013 to be 8.9 percent of the total population. If to that number we add refugees, asylum seekers, and others under international protection (almost 73,000 according to the UNHCR), we reach 9.5 percent. Other estimates hold the percentage of migrants (both regular and irregular) in Greece to be over 10 percent. 6 The estimate is based on official data on schooling of children without Greek citizenship (almost 120,000 in 2010 according to the official Institute of Education, IPODE), plus the number of births over the past five years.

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