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The possibility of being ‘ethnic’ in Greece21 January 2020

The concept of ethnicity has come up particularly after the 2nd World War. There is no doubt that the NAZI experience had made it necessary to make a change in the understanding of identity. While ‘race’ had been a trademark for defining identities before WW2, now it has turned to ‘ethnicity’


Salih Canbaz | Sociologist-Writer

This was simply an effort of making modern states more temperate against the minorities. Taking into consideration that ‘race’ had been giving a privileged status to the mainstream society and the opposite to the minorities, the change of understanding of identity became a sine qua non fact.

When we look at the emerge of ‘ethnicity’ we can see that it dates back to Ancient Greece where city-states had ethnically homogenous form. These mainstream peoples were named as ethnos (nation), while on the other side, the foreigners were named as ethnicos (ethnic). Thus, this form of use, inspired the USA, the country which was continuously receiving migrants. The NAZI experience made the states all over the world unwilling to use the ‘race’ as a definition of identity, so the USA started using ‘ethnicity’ in a same way as the Greeks did.

So it can be unquestioningly said that, each migrant group such as Italians, Asians, Irish etc. became an ‘ethnic group’ as being completely distinct not only from the mainstream WASP (White, Anglo-Saxon, Protestant) society but also from the other ethnic groups too as they completely differ culturally, linguistically and historically.

The concept of ethnicity has reached to a worldwide use, but how meaningful it is. Does each sub-cultural group of every country have cultural, linguistic and historic differences between each other? For example, when it is looked at the structure of Turkey the sub-cultural groups cannot be separated as they have a common historical experience dating back to 1000 years ago. So the widespread use of ethnicity can be dangerous for some societies when it is used in an incompatible way with their own social realities.

How about Greece? Is it meaningful to talk about ethnicity in Greece or can it be dangerous too? Looking at the character of the country as a nation-state, we see that it is a country constructed with a mono-ethnic ideal, which approves only the Greek-Orthodox identity as a mainstream society. So, talking about ethnicity in Greece can be dangerous neither for Greek people nor for the Greek culture but for the racist mentality.

That is because of the cultural, ethnic and historical differences of the minorities in Greece both with the Greek-Orthodox people and each other as minorities. For example, a Western Thracian Turk has nothing to do with an Albanian or a native Greek. But it is possible to keep their existence alive which can also make Greece’s name heard all over the world in the context of cultural tolerance.

To conclude, the ethnic factor of identities is an inevitable reality in today’s countries. The countries which are capable of dealing with ethnic groups in a friendly atmosphere succeed in development, while on the other hand, those who keep their racist attitude despite the NAZI experience cannot find the opportunity to make a good show in the world arena.

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