Mapping the Greek diaspora


How can we strengthen ties between Greece and its diaspora, this growing (also as a result of the financial crisis) community that includes politicians, businesspeople, academics, scientists and artists? How can the Greeks who live abroad take a step beyond cost-free, wishful rhetoric and help to tangibly change the situation back home?

The Greek Diaspora Project, launched by South East European Studies at Oxford (SEESOX), a part of the European Studies Center at St Antony’s College, marks a remarkable effort in this direction. The aim of the project is to provide a thorough map of the Greek diaspora around the world and to explore its relationship with the crisis-wracked metropolis.

Kathimerini spoke with the project’s principal investigator, Othon Anastasakis, and Antonis Kamaras, who is coordinator in Greece, on the sidelines of the recent Reload Greece conference in London about progress achieved so far as well as plans for the future. The team has already published online a multimedia map of the Greek diaspora which was produced by SEESOX and the Greek Foreign Ministry. In June next year, Oxford will host the international conference “Homeland-Diaspora Relations in Flux: Greece in Crisis and Greeks Abroad.” Organizers are currently calling for papers on politics, economics and charity. The best papers will be published in a collective volume after the conference.

Meanwhile, Anastasakis told Kathimerini, “we will carry out a survey about Greeks living in Britain – why they left, to what extent they have integrated into British society, under what circumstances they would move back to Greece… We want to carry out an in-depth study based on an as representative sample as possible.” Researchers expect to have wrapped up the study by the end of the year.

The debate on the Greek diaspora, Kamaras said, “was stagnant, it did not have the comparative dimension, it was not internationalized enough.” The aim of the project, he said, is to show how Greece is benefiting from its relationship with the diaspora, compared to other countries, like India or Israel, which also have significant communities abroad.

Many people, especially those in the field of tech start-ups, believe that Greece will come to look a bit like Israel in terms of the metropolis-diaspora ties. However, the Indian precedent may be closer to Greek standards. The mass emigration of Indians in the early decades following independence, Kamaras said, was due to the failures of the Indian economic model. Today India is still dogged by serious structural problems. However, Kamaras says, after the reforms introduced in the 1990s, the foundations were laid for the mass repatriation of Indians.

Researchers also focus on the attitudes of the homeland – on a state as well as social level – toward the diaspora. Anastasakis stresses the exclusion of expats from elections held in Greece. Exclusion, Kamaras says, feels even more acute in the years of the crisis “as these people were forced to flee because of the failures of a system that now refuses them the right to take part [in elections].”

“Greece has turned its back on the diaspora,” said the former aide of Yiannis Boutaris. Speaking about the issue of charity, for example, he said that “the requirements for making a donation are much stricter than, for example, in the case of EU funding. We do not want to fulfill requirements such as transparency, good governance and so on. We do not want to yield control,” he said.