Antetokounmpo absolves the Hellenes: The beginning of an end

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By Anastasios M. Tamis*

Greece has a long period of cohabitation and coexistence with metikoi, foreigners, slaves, settlers, outsiders, refugees, xenomerites, and immigrants to name the various categories of foreigners who settled and lived with the natives, the indigenous Greeks.  In most cases, local chauvinism had been and remained great and deeply rooted in the consciousness of the Greek since the years when the city-states of Ancient Greece created and flourished. Locality was so ingrained in the identity and consciousness of the inhabitants of a city that they used to considered as “foreigners” even their compatriots, who had the misfortune to be born in the next neighboring city. They were considered xenomerites, “foreigners” and intruders until today. I remember, in Perth,  the Kastellorizians used to refer their Mytilenian priest as a “foreigner” (“he is a xenos, however he is good”, they used to say); and  the Kytherians of Sydney and Canberra were counting in their assemblies five Tsirigotes and ten Greeks. The local chauvinism of the Greeks of the world, which gave birth to the thousands of local associations and fraternities in the vast Greek Diaspora and fragmented the power of Hellenism into thousands of community orgnaizations, was the main reason for the non-existence of a united Hellenism, a worldwide strong alliance. This local chauvinism among the Greeks, made the ordinary Greek to foresee and treat even his compatriots from the next village as a “foreigner” and therefore inferior, in a sense of devaluation and trivialization.

Of course, things had changed when ancient Hellenism broke the barrier of the city-state and began for mainly social and economic reasons to encounter and communicate with the foreign, alien, and foreign-speaking neighbors. This category also included all the Greeks who had been born in Ionia and Caria and in the other cities of Historical Hellenism, who lived in ancient Athens, without being natives, working there as migrants, as settlers. The Athenians, on the recommendation of Pericles, had passed and decided on a law that gave the right of citizenship only to those who had both parents Athenians. When, finally, Pericles had a son with a  clever and beautiful hetaera, Aspasia from Miletos, who was even many years his junior, their son was not considered an Athenian, at least as long as Pericles lived. Finally, the Athenians stipulated that it was enough for one of the parents to be an Athenian, so their son, years later, acquired the Athenian citizenship and became the recipient of his parental property. Demosthenes made his hatred of Philip of Macedon a science and “decorated” him with dozens of cosmetic adjectives to prove that he was not a pure-blooded Greek in his “Philippic orations”.

The aforementioned situations caused a strong prejudice against non-natives and consequently caused intense racism towards foreigners and migrants, whom, in addition to the nickname “barbarian”, were adorned with other adjectives, which indicated racism and discrimination, with marginalizations and inequalities against other peoples. The younger Greeks who did not happen to live with foreign peoples in the same historical-political or national environment, without experience of cohabitation, limited to the taboos of  their ethnotopic chauvinism, for example as Macedonians, Tsirigotes, Samians, Arcadians, remained with a deep prejudice towards foreigners.  This prejudice has often been interpreted with racism, phyletic violence, inequalities, exclusion, sidelining, even forced displacement and exile.

Many years have passed for modern Greeks to overcome the prejudice of their in-laws from Tirana, to accept the contribution of Polish immigrants in Greece, as well as the contribution of the economic migrant and the political refugee. I also personally experienced and witnessed incidents of insulting foreigners in Greece (not to mention  the Roma, who live in their own world), cases of violent behavior, inhumane treatment, uneven conduct, and exploitation of immigrants by our Greek compatriots. Prejudice and racism largely became a mode of life for thousands of far-right, fascist elements in Greece, and often interpreted with salary retention, psychological violence, coercion, threats and generally derailment of human behavior from its moral basis.

Fortunately, dense random events often come that redeem us from our bad behavior. In this case, Greece benefited from the presence of an African family, which fortunately found itself as a refugee in our country. A family from Lagos, Nigeria, emigrated to Athens in 1991, leaving behind their eldest son, Francis. In Athens the father Antetokounmpo, a former footballer of the Nigerian national team and his wife, a high jump champion, reared together four other children, Giannis, Thanasis, Kostas and Alexis.  Their four children were baptized Greek Orthodox, attended Greek school, grew up in the districts of Athens, and acquired Greek education. The first three, for the time being, are being transformed into ambassadors of Greek culture and sports. They enter the basketball court to play and make their cross; when the National Anthem of Greece is being heard they sing it with pride (other “Greeks” are ashamed to play the words in their lips); they had the right to choose between their homeland of origin (Nigeria) and the homeland of birth (Greece) and preferred Greece with the absolute consent of their parents.  They identify themselves as Greeks, declare their Greek identity and promote it, offering boundless prestige and substance to Greece worldwide.

The Antetokounmpo bothers and their parents entered the hearts of Greeks all over the world. They became the redeemers of Hellenism. They redeemed the Greeks from a sheer racism that they and their ancestors may had lived from ancient Greece to the present day. Most Hellenes had the opportunity to reconsider and re-appraise their standing towards those who were born in Greece, irrespective of their racial background and feel proud of their Giannis, Thanasis and Kostas Antetokounmpo. They feel gratified and contempt. Greece and the Greeks owe a lot to the Antetokounmpo brothers, not so much for their performance at the basketball courts, but more so for their contribution in shaping the conscience and identity of their compatriot Greeks, emancipated them from the prejudice of the past. After all, Isocrates always considered as equally Greeks all those foreigners who were ready to adopt and use the Greek way of life.

*Professor Anastasios M. Tamis taught at Universities in Australia and abroad, was the creator and founding director of the Dardalis Archives of the Hellenic Diaspora and is currently the President of the Australian Institute of Macedonian Studies (AIMS).

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