Mayor Kaminis was one of the first Greek officials to talk against Golden Dawn and its practices. Commenting from New York on the Golden Dawn crackdown he said that he will feel justice when the practices of Golden Dawn will be eliminated completely.
“The problem of neo-Nazism in Greece is a very complex one but I believe that this crackdown was a good first step.”
Kaminis had been a target of the group and was attacked in the past by Golden Dawn members.
“I was never afraid of them because when you are in my position there is no room for fear, said the mayor.”
The mayor’s speech was titled Ensuring Rights and Reducing Discrimination. Read the full transcript below:
Ladies and Gentlemen,
It is an honor to be speaking in this important conference convened on the issue of migrants and development.
In the limited time that I have, I will briefly present to you how the municipality of Athens during my term in office since January 2010, has worked to integrate immigrants in the city’s social and economic structures.
I hope that our example can contribute to a broader understanding of how the integration of immigrants is an important component of, as well as an asset to viable development strategies in multicultural societies.
For some years now, the city of Athens has been confronted with a particularly thorny set of problems and profound challenges. It is estimated that about 20% of the city’s population are immigrants who are legal residents. At the same time, the city has been a destination or transit point for tens of thousands of illegal immigrants. They have sought lodging and means of living in the city’s neighborhoods, placing a tremendous strain on its social and economic fabric.
Over the past three years, the social and economic situation both of legal and illegal immigrants (as of many Greeks too) has rapidly deteriorated. The country’s economy has been in an unprecedented recession (Greece’s GDP has dropped by 25% since 2009) with unemployment rising as high as 28% (and more than 50% among young people in their 20s and 30s). Immigrants have been profoundly hit by the economic decline and the galloping unemployment.
Unfortunately, a number of important national reforms aimed at their political participation and legal integration have stumbled in the past few years. In particular, a 2010 law that granted voting rights to non-EU immigrants in local elections (EU citizens already have such rights), andfacilitated the acquisition of Greek citizenship for second generation immigrants, has been struck down as unconstitutional by Greece’s highest court. We very much hope that it will not be too long before courts reconsider and change their mind on this issue.
But Athens has another characteristic that renders the integration of immigrants particularly challenging: it is the stronghold of Greece’s extreme right-wing party of ‘Chrysi Avgi’. This party has rallied support behind an aggressively anti-immigrant platform. Since 2010, it has seen its power rapidly expand, gaining a bit over of 6% of the national vote in the 2012 national elections and 16 seats in the Greek parliament. Those of you who have been watching the news these past couple of days know that ‘Chrysi Avgi’ and its local chapters are not very different from a common criminal organization. Its menace and aggression has been especially directed against immigrants with regular attacks and pogroms against the most vulnerable among them.
I do not have the time now to discuss the complex factors that have rendered Greece’s capital and largest urban centre the seedbed of this extremist right-wing party. But I can tell you that its presence and actions have created a particularly inhospitable environment for the integration of immigrants.
From the beginning, the municipal authority of Athens has opposed Chrysi Avgi’s right-wing extremism, its abuse of immigrants and its defiance of democracy, in an uncompromising manner.
► We regularly denounced vehemently their violent nationalism, their vulgar populism and chilling xenophobia in public;
► We established an office in the municipality to support immigrants who want to report racist attacks against them, revealing the extent of right-wing illegal and criminal actions. In connection with this, we formed theCity of Athens Migrant Integration Council, which supports, cooperates with and participates as an Observer in the Racist Violence Recording Network (coordinated by the National Committee for Human Rights and the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).
►With the support of the police, we prevented the party of ‘Golden Dawn’ twice from taking hold of the city’s central squares in order to give food handouts ‘to Greeks only’.
On all those fronts, we stood up to denounce any official tolerance of their actions, and to ardently defend democracy and rule of law against racial hatred.
Now, let me turn to the constructive actions and the policies that the municipal authority of Athens has pursued to promote, both directly and indirectly, the integration of immigrants.
(1) In the first place, we formed the Athens’ Migrant Integration Council, an advisory body, whose creation was foreseen for all municipalities in the last local government reform. The City of Athens Migrant Integration Council though is the first Greek State institution which provides for the participation and representation of the migrant communities in it. Today, there are 23 communities active in the Integration Council. It convenes monthly, it provides various kind of support to immigrants in connection with their social problems, their interactions with the public administration, and many other issues. With the Council’s advice and support, we try in the municipality to simplify the administrative procedures, and to minimize the social and financial cost with which migrants are burdened in their transactions with the state.
(2) Secondly, we have consistently applied the principle of non-discrimination and the inclusion of immigrants in all our actions, services, and policies. This is most clearly evidenced in the social policy of the Athens municipality – which in many ways is our flagship policy. From the start, ensuring social cohesion has been our core concern in the light of the profound economic crisis plaguing the country and the city since 2010.
Despite the sharp reduction of municipal revenues and central transfer (by 40%), we expanded the existing structures of social support, while also putting in place new ones. We have altogether created an extended network of social solidarity, which provides for the sustenance of thousands of people, Greeks and non-Greeks alike.
I only have time to refer briefly to a few examples, among many.
► The Athens’ municipal nursery accommodates 5.500 children. It accepts all children irrespective of ethnic-racial background or nationality, provided that they meet certain criteria related to family income and employment situation. We accommodate hundreds of children from Albania, Romania, Egypt, Syria and other countries. Day carers are offered training programs aimed to help them address and promote acceptance and diversity in class.
► Immigrant families are among the main beneficiaries of our newly established Solidarity Junction, a host other large social programs implemented by the Municipality in collaboration with the private sector, volunteers and active citizens. They provide for the basic needs of 3,500 registered families who live below poverty, and offer more than 10,000 meals daily, among others, all without any discrimination on ethnic, racial or nationality grounds.
(3) Not only have we applied a diffused and active policy of non-discrimination across the social services that we provide. We also activelypursue the inclusion and integration of immigrants in the city.
We do so through a variety of positive measures and actions, such as Greek language classes for parents (500 immigrant women have already enrolled); employment programs offering training to migrants who want to start their own business or get employed in the private sector; youth centres and inter-faith workshops in neighborhoods where ethnic tensions run high; and other neighborhood-based actions, to bring together immigrants and natives of different ethnicity, religion and language. More than 2000 people have participated in such activities so far.
(4) Many of these positive measures that I just mentioned, have only been possible because of the extrovert and integrated development strategy that the Athens municipality has pursued during this period of profound recession. We have developed cooperation schemes with European partner cities, in view of exchanging best practices in various fields, the migration issue being one of them.
We have developed a strong European agenda. We succeeded in securing 120 million euro from the EU structural funds for the present financial period – the only Greek municipality to have done so. These funds are managed by us, with the Athens Development Agency acting as amanaging authority, and independently from the central government. Thus, we have succeeded in moving very quickly in implementing our projects.
Besides funding the actions and programs aimed at immigrants’ integration, which I already mentioned, these EU funds are being invested to upgrade the city’s infrastructure. They are channeled into urban development projects to boost local entrepreneurship and urban economic growth.
(5) In our EU-funded development strategy, we actively work for the social-economic integration of immigrants but also to support and sustain the city’s multi-ethnic character. We treat immigrants a local resource, but also as a bridge for forging close ties of international collaboration. For example, we have successfully implemented a training program for Chinese immigrants legally residing in Athens. The goal was to help them make the transition from being importers of cheap Chinese goods, to becoming exporters of Greek and Mediterranean food products, as well as travel operators. This program has been implemented by our Municipality in cooperation with the Chinese embassy in Athens. It has both helped the city’s Chinese community to cope with the dismal consequences of the economic crisis and to find a new niche in the city. At the same time, it has already had a visibly positive impact on our city’s economy.
Greece and the EU are in the process of redefining their place in the world and in the international economy. This has been a painful process, but also a critical turning point, at which local governments and cities have a crucial role to play: upholding human rights, promoting tolerance and multi-ethnic integration, as well as stimulating local economic growth. It is this multifaceted set of challenges, to which we have sought to live up to in the Municipality of Athens.