Young Greeks 2018 - No longer so attached to the idea of Greek ethnicity

                     By Angelo Tramountanis

Young people in Greece may be bucking some well-established trends about Greek identity and its meaning, according to research by the Open Society European Policy Institute and d|part

arthur yeti 407026 unsplash finalUntil the early 1990s and the first influx of immigrants, Greece saw itself as almost exclusively ethnic Greek, mostly Eastern Orthodox Christians. Anything different was perceived as foreign and regarded as a potential threat.

According to a 2017 Pew Research Center survey, two-thirds of Greeks consider that “real” Greeks share the same customs and traditions, and half believe that being Christian is essential. In another survey by the research group diaNEOsis in 2018, 54 percent of respondents said that to be considered Greek, a person has to adopt Greek customs and the way of life.

Yet Greece can no longer claim, if indeed it was ever the case, to be a homogenous country. The arrival of immigrants, first from the Balkans and later from Asia and Africa, has given rise to strong anti-immigrant feelings. At the same time, Greece’s young people have been growing up in an increasingly diverse environment. Has this been a determining factor in the changing of their attitudes? And what are the implications of this newly tolerant approach for the open society?

Diminishing importance of ethnic homogeneity

Because modern Greece has been built on the myth of cultural and ethnic homogeneity, it is hardly surprising that nine out of 10 Greeks, as the diaNEOsis survey suggests, believe the country has been welcoming too many immigrants. But new research from this Voices on Values project indicates a possible change in young people’s attitudes.

The survey collected data on open and closed society attitudes, asking respondents how essential various attributes were for a good society. To the statement, “That as few immigrants as possible should come to Greece”, 42 percent of those aged 18-25 did not see this as essential (Figure 1). This relatively high percentage is even more striking when compared to responses from older age groups: some 75-81 percent of older people believed that a good society requires as few immigrants as possible.

Figure 1: How essential is the following for a good society? “That as few immigrants as possible come to Greece.”

Capture fig 1

In the statement, “That everyone should live by the national values and norms of Greece”, young Greeks once again demonstrated different attitudes from the older generations (Figure 2). One out of four (27%) of those aged 18-24 didn’t think this way. They are also the age group that is least focussed on this view (only 34% considered it as absolutely essential, compared to at least 44% in the case of 25-35-year-olds).

Figure 2: How essential is the following for a good society? “That everyone lives by the national values and norms of Greece.” 

Capture fig 2

The Eastern Orthodox Church has been a cornerstone of Greece’s modern identity, with only small pockets of other religions, notably the Muslim religious minority in Western Thrace, and a Catholic community in the Cyclades islands. Members of these religious minorities have always been considered ethnic Greeks.

Nowadays, most of the new immigrants to Greece are Muslims, and we have looked at attitudes towards them among different age groups.

One of the statements people were asked to respond to was whether or not it is essential for a good society “that non-Christians only visibly practise their religion at home or in their places of religious worship” (Figure 3). Our findings were that only 42 percent of the 18-24s agreed, and 58 percent did not. This is a striking difference from all the other age groups, as most of the survey’s respondents felt that non-Christians should not practise their religion publicly.

Figure 3: How essential is the following for a good society? “That non-Christians only practise their religion at home and in their places of religious worship.”

Capture fig 3

Conclusion: The way forward

Two points are important. The first is that Greece’s founding myth of cultural, ethnic and religious homogeneity appears to be evolving, if gradually. American psychologist Gordon Allport’s Intergroup Contact Theory has demonstrated that when people are born and raised in a multicultural society, their relationships with other young people from different ethnic, cultural and religious backgrounds make them more open and welcoming. This appears to be the case in Greece.

The second consideration is the severe impact of what The Economist recently described as “the deepest depression suffered by any rich country since the second world war.” Its impact was particularly brutal on the younger generation, with youth unemployment peaking at 49.8 percent in 2015, and still the highest in Europe (43.6%). The proportion of young Greeks not in education, employment or training (known as NEETs) was second in 2017 only to Italy (24.2% to 25.5%). The situation for young Greeks is so frustrating that since 2008 more than 420,000 have emigrated, in a clear instance of “brain drain”.

However, and this is significant, according to the Voices on Values data the effects of the economic crisis have not pushed younger Greeks into espousing the anti-immigrant rhetoric of populists and far-right parties like Golden Dawn. If anything, young Greeks appear instead to be embracing open society attributes in a way that sets them apart from the older generations. The common understanding of what it means to be Greek is definitely changing.

The author, Angelo Tramountanis, is a researcher at the National Centre for Social Research (EKKE) in Athens.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are his own.


Allport, G. W. (1954). The nature of prejudice. Cambridge, MA: Perseus Books

diaNEOsis, (2018), What do Greeks believe: 2018 (Τι πιστεύουν οι Έλληνες: 2018), Retrieved from: (last access: 8/8/2018) (In Greek)

PEW Research Center. (2017). What It Takes to Truly Be “One of Us.”, Retrieved from (last access: 8/8/2018)

Vertovec S., 2007, “Super-diversity and its implications”, Ethnic and Racial Studies, 30 (6), 1024–1054.


The economic crisis has shaken Greeks’ confidence in an open society

By Angelo Tramountanis

final w credsGreece entered the 10th year of its prolonged economic crisis with per capita GDP down by a quarter, and households’ disposable income by 30 percent. Unemployment in 2016 was still the highest in the EU at 23.6 percent overall, and the youth unemployment rate at 47.3 percent.

The collateral damage of the crisis has been a decline in the open society values of democracy, tolerance and acceptance of outsiders. The first part of this article focuses on the Golden Dawn neo-Nazi party, which rose from insignificance to being the third biggest political party in Greece. The second part examines Greek attitudes towards immigration, and how these have changed.

The inexorable rise of Golden Dawn

Golden Dawn is not the only far-right party to have emerged in Greece in recent decades, but what distinguishes it from the others is its defence of Nazism and violence. Founded in 1985, this ultra-nationalist, anti-parliamentarian movement has been involved in violent attacks and murder, using openly Nazi propaganda. Until 2010, it appealed only to a few, winning 0.46 percent of votes in the 2009 European elections, and 0.29 percent in Greek elections that year.

Since then, the picture has changed. Exploiting the effects of the economic crisis and migration, Golden Dawn garnered 5.29 percent of votes in Athens in 2010 and a seat on Athens’s city council. Its leader gave the Nazi salute to cameras at the inaugural meeting.

Golden Dawn quickly set up a for natives-only solidarity network, with free food, “Greek-only” blood banks, and with party members accompanying old people to ATM cash machines to protect them from muggings. They also started to terrorise immigrants and immigrant-friendly organisations openly, when before they claimed not to, with Human Rights Watch documenting several cases ascribed to Golden Dawn of hate crimes and xenophobic violence.

The 2013 election results came as a shock when Golden Dawn had climbed from 0.29 percent in 2009 to almost 7 percent in the double parliamentary elections of 2012 (6.97 percent in May, and 6.92 percent in June). It did so mainly by attracting voters from other far-right parties. The typical Golden Dawn voter is young, male, moderately educated, and often unemployed.

In earlier years, Greece’s state institutions had been perplexed and generally ineffective in their handling of this phenomenon, but the 2013 murder of anti-fascist rapper Pavlos Fyssas opened a window of opportunity. The public prosecutor labelled Golden Dawn a criminal organisation, and party members were arrested and arraigned to a lengthy trial started in 2015 and has been closely well monitored by the media.

It is tempting to link the economic crisis and the rise of Golden Dawn, but other significant factors include a steady decline in political trust. Not only do Greeks increasingly distrust political institutions, they also feel abandoned, insecure and disappointed. The 2008 crisis saw a sharp decline in optimism.

The remarkable rise of Golden Dawn in the 2012 elections was initially interpreted as a one-off rejection of the political establishment, reflecting anger and frustration at the effects of the economic crisis. That is probably not the whole truth. After the 2015 elections, Golden Dawn became the de-facto third political party in the Greek Parliament with almost 7 percent of the vote (6.28 percent in January, 6.99 percent in September). In 2018, exit polls showed Golden Dawn with 8 percent of the vote, so although Golden Dawn hasn’t grown as fast as far-right parties in other Member States, it has settled into a stable position within the Greek party system.

A lukewarm take on immigrants

When immigrants started arriving in Greece in the early 1990s, the media characterised them en masse as ‘criminals’. Greeks saw a sudden surge in crime that was mostly attributed to immigrants, and in particular Albanians. The myth of the criminal migrant became so well established by the mid-1990s that some 90 percent of Greek police officers blamed that increased crime rate on migrants.

Opinion surveys regularly reported public scepticism towards immigrants, with the 2002-2003 European Social Survey (ESS) confirming that when compared to elsewhere in Europe, Greece was among the least welcoming towards immigrants.

By 2010, 59 percent of people questioned said that immigration was bad for the country because it caused a rise in crime (75 percent), and weakened Greek national identity (57 percent). These figures have barely changed since then; a 2018 survey by research institute diaNEOsis suggested 9 out of 10 Greeks believe the country has welcomed too many immigrants over the last 10 years.

These perceptions get worse when it comes to Muslim immigrants, with 65 percent of Greeks viewing Muslims unfavourably, and six out of 10 wanting migration from mainly Muslim countries to be stopped. A survey by the National Centre for Social Research found 8 out of 10 Greeks arguing that Greece should accept no more Muslim migrants, or just a few[1].

Yet in practice many Greeks also show strong positive feelings towards refugees, and there is tangible evidence of solidarity. Two out of three Greeks say that the country shouldn’t close its borders, six out of 10 have shown solidarity to refugees, and two out of three (67 percent) expressed feelings like compassion and sadness. Two-thirds of Athenians polled said that the settlement of refugees has caused no problem in their neighbourhood, and a majority (72 percent) is in favour of refugee children attending public schools and municipality day care centres (65 percent).

Surveys have measured the impact of the economic crisis on attitudes to migrants. According to diaNEOsis, two out of three Greeks (65.4%) believe that migrants increase unemployment. It’s a view mostly held by unemployed people (71.5%), and those who can’t cope financially (87.8%), or can barely cope (71.5%). The recent shift of Greek voters to the far-right means this view is shared by supporters of the right (83.9%) and far-right (82.6%), and particularly of Golden Dawn (84.8%).

Two out of three Greeks also argue that immigrants have a negative impact on the economy (65.4%). Again, this attitude is attributed to unemployed Greeks (68.6%), as well as those barely coping financially (67.5%), or not coping at all (66%). It is that of voters for the right-wing populists of Independent Greeks (89.1%), Golden Dawn (66.6%) and the liberal-conservatives of New Democracy (66.2%), or those of the centre-right (73.6%), right (69.5%) and far-right (69%).


Greece’s economic crisis has mainstreamed attitudes that previously were scarcely spoken. The rise of far-right organisations and sceptical attitudes towards migration poses a clear threat to notions of the open society.

It could be argued that Greeks remain deeply sceptical about migration and its impact on Greece. The sudden influx of migrants since the 1990s into a relatively homogenous society has caused a knee-jerk anti-immigrant reaction, and the media has cemented and justified these feelings. Only with a new discourse on open society will we be able to increase our knowledge and understanding of this new environment.

The author of this article, Angelo Tramountanis, is a Researcher at the National Centre for Social Research (EKKE) in Athens.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own



 EKKE - National Centre for Social Research (2017), Health Inequalities Among Migrant Population, Retrieved from: (last access: 6/5/2018)

Ellinas, A., (2013) The Rise of Golden Dawn: The New Face of the Far Right in Greece, South European Society and Politics, 18:4, 543- 565

diaNEOsis, (2016), The Refugee issue and Greeks (Το προσφυγικό πρόβλημα και οι Έλληνες), Retrieved from: (last access: 6/5/2018) (In Greek)

diaNEOsis, (2018), What do Greeks believe: 2018 (Τι πιστεύουν οι Έλληνες: 2018), Retrieved from: (last access: 6/5/2018) (In Greek)

Georgiadou, V., (2015), Drawing from the reservoirs of the Right. Electoral castles and voters of the Golden Dawn, in Georgarakis, N., and Demertzis, N. (Eds), The Political Portrait of Greece: Crisis and the Dislocation of the Political, National Centre for Social Research - Gutengerg, pp 207-233 (in Greek)

Georgiadou, V., Rori, L., (2013), Economic crisis, social and political impact. The new right-wing extremism in Greece, Anuari Del Conflicte Social, Observatori Del Conflicte Social, Barcelona, 322-339.

Karydis, V. (1996) The Criminality of Immigrants in Greece: Issues of Theory and Anti-crime Policy (Η εγκληματικότητα των μεταναστών στην Ελλάδα: Ζητήματα Θεωρίας και Αντεγκληματικής πολιτικής) Athens: Papazisis (in Greek).

Karakatsanis, N. M., & Swarts, J. (2007). Attitudes toward the Xeno: Greece in Comparative Perspective. Mediterranean Quarterly, 18(1), 113–134.

Psarras, D., (2012) The Black Book of Golden Dawn, Polis, Athens. (In Greek).

Public-Issue. (2010). Attitudes of Greeks towards migration (Οι Έλληνες απέναντι στη Μετανάστευση), Retrieved from (last access: 6/5/2018) (in Greek)

The author of this article, Angelo Tramountanis, is a researcher at the National Centre for Social Research (EKKE)  and a research fellow at the Institute for the Study of Migration and Diaspora (EMMEDIA).

 The views and opinions expressed are entirely his own.


[1] (last access: 10/7/2018)