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Visual Anthropology

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Photographing the “Other”: Immigration and New Images of the Greek Ethnic “Self” Vassiliki Lalioti

To cite this Article Lalioti, Vassiliki(2005) 'Photographing the “Other”: Immigration and New Images of the Greek Ethnic

“Self”', Visual Anthropology, 18: 5, 439 — 456 To link to this Article: DOI: 10.1080/08949460500297356 URL: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/08949460500297356

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Visual Anthropology, 18: 439–456, 2005 Copyright # Taylor & Francis Inc. ISSN: 0894-9468 print=1545-5920 online DOI: 10.1080/08949460500297356

Photographing the ‘‘Other’’: Immigration and New Images of the Greek Ethnic ‘‘Self’’ Vassiliki Lalioti

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Significant transformations in the ways the ethnic ‘‘self’’ and its relationship to the ‘‘other’’ are perceived have led to the transgression of the two traditional poles (East and West) that were prevalent in the definition of Greekness since the creation of the Greek nation-state. By placing the photographs of immigrants published in the most popular local newspaper in Central Greece within their wider social and historical context, we can ‘‘see’’ that immigrants (a group that is perceived to be homogeneous and transcendental) constitute a new axis around which the negotiation of ethnic identity and otherness in Greece is now conducted.

INTRODUCTION Anthropological research recognizes the central place of migration in both organizing social interactions between different groups, and negotiating images of ‘‘us’’ in relation to the ‘‘other.’’ Migration constitutes a significant meeting-point of the self and the other, where issues of borders, membership and exclusion, as well as of cultural hegemony, social stratification, and cultural difference are inevitably raised [Brettell 2003]. Traditionally, understanding behaviors and stances, perceptions, power relations, as well as processes of preservation and change of cultural and ethnic identities, were considered secondary to the economic aspects of migration. The current literature, however, approaches it as a sociocultural phenomenon focusing on the identity of the migrant, which is viewed as a process rather than as a fixed and final category. Interest has shifted to the various processes of social, economic, and cultural movement, thus rendering its strictly spatial determinant problematic [Glick Schiller et al. 1995; Lomsky-Feder and Rapoport 2001]. This shift of interest is closely related to the gradual abandonment of static conceptions of identity, thereby challenging notions such as cultural homogeneity, theories of essentialism, and stereotype. Categories like ‘‘immigrant,’’ ‘‘identity,’’ or ‘‘host community’’ were considered to be essentialist characteristics, that is ‘‘fixed, non-changing properties, intrinsic to the individual and his=her culture, if not his=her genes’’ [McInvr 2002: 1]. Today, however, increasing emphasis is placed on concepts such as VASSILIKI LALIOTI studied social anthropology (M.A. and Ph.D) at the University of Durham, in Durham, UK, and since 2002 has been a lecturer in the Hellenic Open University. Her publications (in the journal History and Anthropology) and her research interests have been in the fields of social memory and ethnic identity, migration, and visual anthropology. E-mail: vassiliki_lalioti@hotmail.com

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interconnectivity and the permeability of borders, thus allowing for the hybrid and comparative character of all identities to come to the surface while the original categories are deconstructed [Ventoura 1994]. During the last 15 years Greece as well as other Mediterranean members of the European Union (Italy, Spain, and Portugal) have seen a dramatic shift in their migration patterns. From countries of emigration they were suddenly transformed into countries of immigration facing a spectacular growth in foreign populations (mainly from Africa, South America, and the Balkans) [King and Black 1997; King et al. 2000; Naxakis and Hletsos 2001]. In Greece, immigration has mainly been the subject of sociological research investigating its effects on the socioeconomic level [Psimmenos 1998; Lambrianidis and Lymperaki 2001; Marvakis et al. 2001; Naxakis and Hletsos 2001]. Anthropological studies have focused on (a) the relationship between immigrants of various ethnic origins (mainly Albanians) and the host community; (b) the ways this relationship affects the immigrants’ ethnic identity construction and expression processes [Petrinioti 1993; Petronoti 1996; Veikou 2001], and (c) on the racist and xenophobic attitudes of Greeks towards the newcomers [Petronoti 2000; Triandafyllidou 2000; Pavlou 2001]. This article adopts a new approach to the study of the sociocultural aspects of immigration. By analyzing published photographs of immigrants, it demonstrates relations of power and cultural=political hegemony within the wider European context. The research utilized the photographs of immigrants that were published during 2003 in Thessalı´a, the most popular local newspaper in Thessaly (Central Greece). These photographs were taken by Greeks and were aimed at a Greek audience. As such, they can be viewed not only as collective representations of the ‘‘other’’ but also as revealing aspects of the ‘‘self’’ and reflective of the intergroup relations. By analyzing what it means to be an immigrant in these photographs certain things also can be understood of photographers themselves while ‘‘viewers and subjects [are] immersed in specific and changing social, political, and aesthetic relations’’ [Faris 2002: 80]. Photographs reveal aspects of the culture depicted as well as of the culture of the person who takes them [Edwards 1992; Scherer 1992; Lutz and Collins 1994; Collier 1995; Mead 1995]. Recent discussions ‘‘concentrate more on the social contexts of making and using images and less on the photography as text’’ [Ruby 1996: 1346], thus giving emphasis to the process of production and negotiation of their meaning, which is not perceived as something fixed and final. Since one of anthropology’s main concerns is the investigation of identities and ‘‘othernesses,’’ the analysis of photographs may contribute significantly to the study of immigration, this crucial meeting point of ‘‘us’’ with the ‘‘other.’’ The photographs used in this article are not anthropological, in the sense that they were not taken by an anthropologist in order to use them as ethnographic data. They are, however, used as such because meaningful information can be derived from their representation of the ‘‘other,’’ and also from the way in which they include and reveal aspects of the ‘‘self.’’ In fact, it was their having been taken by Greek journalists, who are not trained anthropologists, and because they were aimed at a nonspecialist audience of Greeks, that made them such a valuable data set. The photographers unknowingly carry not only common prejudices


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and feelings towards the immigrants but also the predominant popular notions of their cultural identity. Their imagery is untainted by the scientist’s purposefully detached approach to an object of study, free of the self-critical awareness of stereotyping, and not restrained by the self-consciousness creeping into work that is to be presented to an audience of peer-researchers. Current visual anthropological literature treats photographs as ‘‘cultural artifacts,’’ which give meaning to ‘‘political, economic, and social understandings, preconceptions and stereotypes’’ [Scherer 1992: 33]. Within this framework, the analysis of the photographic material collected for this study contributes to a better understanding of the process of negotiation of Greek ethnic identity in the field of migration, which constitutes a site where people rethink their identities and their relationships to the rest of the world. Nonvisual material collected through fieldwork supports the ‘‘reading of the image’’ [Edwards 1992], since it helps to place these fragments in the social context of their production and consumption. From September 2003 until January 2004 I conducted fieldwork which included participant observation in the city of Volos (Central Greece) as well as open interviews with journalists working in Thessalı´a, and people working in public services (municipality, prefecture) and nongovernmental organizations dealing with immigrants (Arsis) in the city of Volos. All of my informants are inhabitants of Volos, men and women, in their early 20s to mid-40s. They come from various educational levels (elementary school to university) and all of them belong to the middle socioeconomic stratum. During the informal interviews I placed special emphasis on these informants’ comments on the photographic material. I did not ask them specific questions but let them say whatever they felt like in relation to the images. This was a revealing process since it allowed me to investigate the similarities as well as the variation in people’s responses, ‘‘embedding’’ thus the photographs into their social and cultural context.

LOOKING AT PHOTOGRAPHS OF IMMIGRANTS The city of Volos (the Municipality of Nea Ionia included) has 80,000 inhabitants and is the capital of the Prefecture of Magnisia (206,000 inhabitants), one of the three Prefectures of the wider area of Thessaly (Central Greece). According to the Labor Exchange data, 7,000 immigrants have acquired a work permit in the city of Volos, another 1,000 in the nearby small town of Almyros, whilst there are still 6,000 applications pending. The composition of this labor force is as follows: 80 percent of them are Albanians and 20 percent Bulgarians, Russians, Ukranians, Moldavians, Romanians, Serbians. There are also between 10 and 20 Pakistanis and Nigerians. Most of them are men, of whom 70 percent work in rural occupations and 30 percent in construction, and 20 percent are women who work mostly as cleaning ladies, waitresses, and dancers in nightclubs. A very small percentage also works in factories. Immigrants live mainly at the edge of the city, although many of them have rented apartments in the center of Volos and Nea Ionia. In Nea Ionia, immigrants have moved into a quarter of vacant houses (rsa pqorutcija) originally built for refugees (Greeks who were deported from Asia Minor in 1922). Since Albanians


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constitute the largest group of immigrants in the country, immigrants in Volos (and everywhere in Greece) are generally identified as Albanians. Inversely, the word ‘‘Albanian’’ has come to be a synonym for the word ‘‘immigrant.’’ In the sound and view of the word ‘‘immigrant,’’ all of my informants were automatically answering my questions referring to Albanians (a phenomenon also reported by Seremetakis 1996 and Petropoulou 1998). If I wanted them to talk about a group of immigrants of a different ethnic origin I had to specifically mention it. This immediate association is also reflected in the fact that, although there are neither photographs nor articles referring to this ethnic group in the newspaper (except for short press releases from the police bulletin), verbal narrative on immigrants refers almost exclusively to Albanians. Thessalı´a is the most popular local newspaper in Thessaly in general and in the city of Volos in particular. It was first published in 1898, and according to the locals it could be characterized as a rather left-wing newspaper. Research in the archives of the newspaper has shown that within the last year (2003) references to issues related to immigrants have not been rare: I wrote down 50. Press releases are the most common and their themes include: (a) the arrival in the country of illegal immigrants and the inhuman conditions of their trip, (b) police reports about prosecution of mainly Albanian immigrants for criminal offences, (c) deportation of illegal immigrants, and (d) slave traders’ arrests. Articles with various statistical data concerning the country as well as the wider area of Thessaly are very common too. These data usually refer to numbers of immigrants, applications for residence permits, immigrants with work permits, immigrant students in the schools, number of births, and so on. Articles that analyze social issues related to the presence of immigrants in the country in general and in Volos in particular are quite rare. They mainly deal with the immigrants’ role in the economic life of the region and the country, the conditions of their life and work, their reception by the local community, the immigration law, as well as with social phenomena like racism and xenophobia. A concise overview of the newspaper coverage on immigration issues shows that reporting from the perspective of dominant political actors such as government, state authorities, or the police forms a common practice. It is reproductions of the police bulletin, by far the commonest reference to immigrants, that ‘‘recycle’’ news about criminal activities, thus making them seem more frequent than they actually are. Emphasis is also given to illegal immigration (and the illegal networks supporting it) and on immigrants’ working and living conditions, while their politicization as non-Greeks that comprise a part of Greece is almost ignored. Although references to antiracist actions and initiatives taken by the locals are quite common in Thessalı´a, they mostly appeal to humanitarian feelings and aim to cultivate tolerance towards foreigners by adopting a paternalistic attitude towards minority claims [Petrakou 2001; Triandafyllidou 2002]. References to immigrants usually appear in the pages entitled ‘‘Local Reportage’’ and ‘‘Epijaiq osgsa’’ and coexist with other articles on issues related to the local community and country news. Extended articles are usually accompanied by photographs. Looking at this visual record as a whole one can easily ‘‘see’’ the features that compose the image of the ‘‘ideal immigrant’’: (1) he is male and in his early 20s and 30s, (2) he is illegal, (3) he is always in some public space,


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(4) he is never alone, he is always with a group of compatriots, (5) he is always lying or sitting on the ground or floor (in only two photographs he stands), and (6) he always looks tired, wretched, desperate (only in one photograph is the subject actually smilling). There is never a caption (only the title: file photo) and in most cases they do not ‘‘photograph’’ the specific event that the article is about. The impression of the ‘‘ideal immigrant’’ is, thus, supported by the reappearance of two photographs in almost half of the relevant articles. The first one [Figure 1] appears in five different articles (1=1, 21=4, 20=6, 12=8, and 1=9), which all refer to incidents related to illegal immigrants. It shows a group of five men who are around 30 years old, who have Asian features, and they are all sitting on the floor. Two of them look at the camera, one is staring somewhere outside the frame of the picture, one holds his legs and is probably sleeping, and one has his head totally bent—he is probably sleeping too—but he looks as if he is bowing to the viewer. The five of them are wrapped in blankets, and they all look exhausted. The title of the first article is ‘‘New ‘shipment’ of illegal immigrants from Asia to Magnisia,’’ and refers to the arrival by ship at Magnisia and the arrest of more than 30 Asian (most of them Pakistani) illegal immigrants. The title of the second article is ‘‘Initiatives for the illegal immigrants.’’ The article is about expressions of solidarity towards illegal immigrants who were arrested and kept in a detention camp in Alexandroupoli (Thrace, in

Figure 1 This photograph appears in five articles referring to different incidents related to immigrants in Greece.


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NE Greece). These initiatives included humanitarian aid (clothes and food), concerts, and so on. The photograph is placed next to another one which shows a boat on a beach, and five people dressed in heavy clothes and boots. Although there is neither a caption nor any other indication that might lead to the association of this picture with the headline of the article, it reproduces the stereotype of the illegal immigrant who arrives in Greece by ship. The title of the third article is: ‘‘Good drubbing to two persons for transporting illegal immigrants.’’ This is the only example of photograph with a caption: ‘‘Illegal immigrants: some use them in the worst way.’’ The article refers to two Greeks who were arrested in the city of Xanthi (Thrace, NE Greece) for transporting illegal immigrants in a lorry (41 Burmese, 4 Chinese, 2 Afghans, 1 Bangladeshi). The title of the fourth article is: ‘‘137 illegal immigrants were arrested.’’ The article refers to 137 illegal immigrants who were arrested by the Turkish police near the borders with Greece (Entirne). The title of the last article is: ‘‘A never-ending immigrant drama.’’ Here we see that the picture we were talking about until now was a detail of a bigger photograph. It shows a big room full of men sitting and lying down, wrapped in blankets. This article refers to 20 illegal immigrants (7 Afghans, 9 Pakistanis, 1 Indian, and 3 from Kashmir) who were arrested the previous day in the island of Evia. The second photograph [Figure 2] shows three persons, two of whom are lying and one is sitting down. Several other people are lying around, as we can understand by the hands and feet that can be discerned. Two of them are looking somewhere outside the frame of the picture, while the third one rests his head on his hand and is looking at the camera. The photograph appears for the first time (8=1) in an article entitled: ‘‘Numbers of illegal immigrants declining.’’ The article refers to data presented by the Minister of Commercial Shipping, according to which the number of illegal immigrants that have entered the country within the year 2002 has declined (45 percent of 2001 figures). The photograph reappears (24=8) in an article entitled: ‘‘23 illegal immigrants are waiting for the deportation decision.’’ It refers to the 23 illegal immigrants from Afghanistan and China who arrived at Trikeri (Magnisia) the previous day. Next to the photograph in bold letters we read: ‘‘With agony about what is to come painted on their faces, they hope that they will not take the way back.’’ The picture is zoomed in on the face of the man who is staring at the camera, and is placed next to a photograph of the police station of Nea Ionia, where the immigrants are kept, waiting for the decision to be made. ‘‘Horror trip for Chinese illegal immigrants’’ is the title of another article (14=8), which refers to a Chinese woman who jumped from the lorry that was transporting her and twenty other Chinese people on the Athens-Thessaloniki national road and was found dead, near Volos. The photograph [Figure 3] that accompanies the article shows a group of men in a room, sitting on the floor. These men do not look Chinese but the features of the image associate them with the ‘‘ideal immigrant.’’ They are in a group, they are sitting down, and they look exhausted. Another article entitled: ‘‘Five illegal immigrants were drowned,’’ ‘‘three of them were children’’ (15=8=2003), refers to a ‘‘tragedy’’ that took place offshore Lesbos (N. Aegean), when a wooden boat with more than 35 illegal immigrants from Afghanistan tipped over, and three children, one woman and one man died. Two photographs accompany the article. The left one shows several people on


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Figure 2 ‘‘Illegal immigrants are waiting for the deportation decision.’’

the beach; two of them are ministering to a wounded man who is lying on a stretcher, another one is lying on a palette. The right one shows a group of men squatting [Figure 4], all but one looking towards a fixed direction. Two other men in uniforms (military, police or harbor guards) with hats and black glasses stand behind them as if they are watching them. PHOTOGRAPHS OF THE ‘‘OTHER’’—IMAGES OF ‘‘US’’ Narratives of the ’’Self’’ and the ‘‘Other’’ By accompanying newspaper articles on particular incidents related to immigrants, these photographs are used as documents, they stand as evidences of


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Figure 3 ‘‘Horror trip for Chinese illegal immigrants.’’

Figure 4 ‘‘Five illegal immigrants were drowned.’’


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the pre-photographic reality, of the truth that is described in the texts. Since the 19th century, when the belief in the universality of the visual image was tied to its fidelity, images have played a central role in the need of the press to establish an authoritative record of what it has seen. The attribution of scientific qualities to the new invention due to its machine-made images cultivated and promoted the ideas of objective journalism and rational public discourse. According to Craig this notion of photography as document in journalism may be linked with the Enlightenment’s ideals of rationalism and objectivism and be ‘‘placed within the context of the decline of the political party press and the rise of commercial journalism’’ [1999: 38]. Today, although the credibility of other kinds of photography may be questioned and new technologies raise suspicions over their truthfulness, news photographs remain the bearers of the flag of objectivity. This may also be deduced by the intention of newspapers worldwide to ‘‘preserve the integrity of news photographs by instituting formal guidelines governing the use of the digital-imaging technology’’ [Schwartz 1999: 175]. All photographs, however, are interpretations of reality rather than records of it. They do not consist of imprints of reality but they produce reality, since they are ‘‘material products of material apparatus set to work in specific contexts, by specific forces, for more or less defined purposes’’ [Tagg 1988: 3]. As a consequence, rather than treating these photographs as ‘‘evidences’’ of certain historical facts, we will investigate the particular social context within which they have been produced and consumed. Photographs are as much the result of an active signifying practice in which those taking the photo select, structure, and shape what is to be taken. Photographers reproduce existing stereotypes ‘‘looking’’ through the ‘‘eyes’’ of the community they are part of. Mainly through selection processes (selection of what to photograph and selection of what to publish) a specific image of the ‘‘other’’ is constructed which matches with the prejudices that photographers (and editors) already carry. Thus the specific way in which Greeks, as members of the receiving community, photograph immigrants creates a particular narrative about the ‘‘other.’’ The photographs presented above produce and reproduce an image of the immigrant, the ‘‘ideal immigrant,’’ who has neither a name nor any individual or collective identity other than that of the immigrant, has no private space, is tired, desperate, and so weak that he cannot stand on his feet (he is always lying or sitting on the ground or floor). These photographs create categories and not individual stories, they illustrate ‘‘typical’’ samples of immigrants, leaving ‘‘no space to speak of character and individuality. Rather, the concern is almost exclusively with external signs and how these may be read as signifiers of collective behaviour’’ [Pinney 1997: 44]. Looking at these photographs in Thessalı´a made my informants feel ‘‘sorry for these poor guys, who have to suffer all these (dangerous trip, insecurity, fear, loss, poverty, even sickness and death) in order to have a chance of living a better life’’1 (Vassiliki, female, 35 years old, public servant). According to the informants’ interpretation of the image, immigrants adopt a rather passive stance, waiting to see what will become of them, what others will decide about their fate: they stand in queues outside public services, they are in rooms sheltered after their arrival in the country receiving first aid, they are near the sea where the boat in which they arrived was found by the locals and the authorities, they are in


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streets and city squares (‘‘pias´ re1’’) waiting for someone to hire them for a day’s work. They even pledge their submission to this ‘‘other’’ [Figure 2], who holds their fate in his hands. This visual narrative of the ‘‘ideal immigrant’’ is further supported by the fact that specific photographs reappear in many articles referring to different incidents or issues related to immigrants in Volos. Of course, regional or even national newspapers do not have budgets, resources, expertise or even the will to photograph each particular newsworthy event. It is common practice, then, to keep a stock of images on ‘‘issues’’ that are likely to be recycled in the news, feature or editorial articles. This practice can provide a possible explanation as to why photographs are used repeatedly in Thessalı´a. It may also explain why the photographs of immigrants published in the newspaper are not captioned and why it does not ‘‘photograph’’ the specific event that the article is about. Nevertheless, these images become generic, providing typical representations of the image while specifics like time, place, and context become irrelevant. Photographs of immigrants are thus transformed from indexes into symbols, and are deployed ‘‘less for [their] news value than for [their] valence as symbolic marker[s]’’ [Zelizer 1999: 103], moving the specific stories ‘‘from the contingent and particular to the symbolic and abstract’’ [ibid.: 111]. This visual narrative seems to be in contradiction to the Greek verbal image of immigrants that informants produce and reproduce in their everyday discourse. In their own words, Albanians in particularly are perceived to be people who attach great value to money, since they used to live in a system where they did not have any and they do not know how to handle it. That is why they are compared to children who were very restricted in their home and suddenly they are all alone in a foreign country and they ‘‘do not know what to do with the freedom they have’’ (Varvara, female, early 40s, psychologist). They are aggressive, demanding, and impudent. They do not open up and they do not let other people get close to them or to their families. But above all they are suspicious, they do not trust other people, and finally ‘‘no matter how good they are they will try to deceive you . . . it is in their culture’’ (Stella, female, 25 years old, schoolteacher). Although none of my informants had ever been deceived by any Albanian, they reproduced this stereotype because ‘‘as a group they have given us this bad impression’’ (Stella). This bad impression has mainly been created by the media, which play a decisive role in the formation of the dominant public discourse concerning immigrants in Greece [Pavlou 2001; Triandafyllidou 2002]. They also contribute significantly to the processes of construction and reconstruction of the main conceptual categories through which social reality is being perceived individually and also collectively, reflecting extant power relations. Both these narratives (visual and verbal), however, are categories in a complex Greek discursive activity on the ‘‘other’’ who is perceived to be inferior to ‘‘us.’’ The presence of immigrants in the country ‘‘gave everyone, even those who belong to the lower social strata, the opportunity to feel superior’’ (Varvara). In the everyday interaction with the other, the host community members’ feeling of superiority is best expressed, as many informants pointed out, in the way Greeks look at them: ‘‘We look at them disparagingly . . . many immigrants complain about the way Greek people glance at them on the streets: You look down on us . . . and we understand that you underestimate us’’ (Angeliki, female, 27 years old, psychologist). As Malcolm Collier argues, photographs are ‘‘complex reflections of a relationship between


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maker and subject in which both play roles in shaping their character and content’’ [2002: 36]. Taking pictures is always a process of selection influenced by the identities of those taking the pictures as well as by their relationship with the subject. The photographs of immigrants in Thessalı´a are the results of a selection process intending to create a specific image of the ‘‘other’’ reflecting also on the ethnic identity construction process, which is characterized by some sort of selectivity too. By taking and viewing photographs of immigrants, Greeks select and appropriate images of the ‘‘other’’ that satisfy their current needs: to find cause for feeling superior to less powerful people and equal to the powerful people of the West. Although the image of the ‘‘other’’ is identified with Albanians, the feeling of superiority is extended over anyone (Asians, Africans, East Europeans) who does not come from the West, and is, thus, considered to be economically, socially, and culturally inferior to ‘‘us.’’ Thus the feeling that Greeks belong to the modern, advanced, and powerful West is strengthened, whilst the impact of the traditional, primitive East on the Greek social, cultural and ethnic ‘‘self’’ is weakened. Commenting upon the photographs as well as on ideas and practices of immigrants, my informants were actually reflecting upon their own ethnic self. Phrases like ‘‘they do this, but we would never do it’’ were very common. For example, Albanians are considered by informants to be overall culturally backward, like the 1950s Greek emigrants to Western Europe. They describe ‘‘the stage of their cultural evolution’’ in terms of their attitude to family and work: ‘‘They get married very young . . . and they do not let their wives go out of the house,’’ ‘‘family is very important to them as it was for us in the 1950s,’’ ‘‘they come here and work like dogs, like Greeks did in Germany,’’ ‘‘they must demand to have Albanian schools here like we established Greek schools in Germany’’ (Eleni, female, 43 years old, journalist). Religious orthodoxy is universally seen as an indispensable attribute of the Greek identity: to relinquish it in order to become accepted in a new social and cultural milieu is an act to be condemned, to maintain the religion against all odds a source of great pride. Because of this, Greek people condemn all foreigners, but Muslim Albanians in particular, for attempting to gain acceptance in the local community by getting baptized: ‘‘They baptize their children, they give them Greek names and make them Christians. This is something we never did’’ (Panagiotis, male, early 40s, journalist). Informants not only perceive the process of assimilation to the receiving society as a clear sign of unforgivable submission of the weak to the powerful, but they also feel great pride in themselves, and consequently superior to other people, for managing to avoid being assimilated by the host societies they had ever emigrated to. The way Greek emigrants of the 1950s are compared to foreign immigrants in Greece today reflects the desire for contemporary Greeks to identify with the powerful of the West: what Germans, other Western Europeans, and Americans were for the Greeks in the 1950s, Greeks are for the Albanians, Pakistanis, and so on today.

Elements of an Ethnic Identity Construction Process The ethnic ‘‘self’’ in Greece is perceived through a specific feeling of superiority, which rests initially on the achievements of a culture of the distant past and


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consequently on the contemporary image justified by the fact that Greeks are ‘‘the distinctive heirs of the ancient Greek civilization and [. . .] that ancient Greece constitutes the perpetual cultural matrix of Europe’’ [Veikos 1993: 38]. At the same time, the image of the East (mainly the association with Turkey and remnants of the era when Greece was part of the Ottoman Empire) is an everpresent, common and convenient justification for the negative aspects of the Greek character, the peripheral placement of modern Greece in relation to the West, and the state’s inability to keep up with ‘‘progress’’ in Europe. This polarity dominates everyday discourse and expresses a ‘‘contradiction, which exists throughout the whole spectrum of the codes through which the collective self-presentation and self-cognition are counterbalanced’’ [Herzfeld 1987: 147]. Contradictions are not, of course, a unique Greek characteristic but an element common to all ethnic identities. In the case of Greece, however, they represent ‘‘the counterbalance of self-knowledge and self-presentation against more powerful others’’ [Papataxiarhis 1998: xix]. They do not constitute a restriction, a limit or anything negative in the process of the construction of an ethnic identity, but rather create relationships of multileveled negotiation of meaning. For Europeans, Greece has been a place of ‘‘their own’’ although far away from them in time (ancestral and thus removed through mythic time) and in space, but not ‘‘them.’’ In the same way, Greeks perceive themselves as belonging to Europe but as not being Europeans in every sense. There is a way, however, in which Greeks are supposed to be different, as far as the way in which they handle their sense of superiority is concerned. Classical antiquity does not only symbolize a specific culture of a great national significance for modern Greeks but is also perceived to be the origin of the past of Europe as well. The reconstitution of homogeneous identities largely through appeal to an ancient ideal is not a unique phenomenon, but it is only in Greece that the revival (of an ancient ideal) is supported by the agreement of almost the entire world. So ready are others to accept the idea of Greece as ancient that Greeks themselves at times find it difficult to insist on their modernity. For Greeks ‘‘to be modern is to discover tradition, to exoticize it,’’ so Greece, as a country on the margins of Europe, is characterized by two diverging forces: ‘‘the certainties of [its] past (often manufactured by the State and its elites, often in association with the West), and the uncertainties of [its] modern vulnerability’’ [Sant Cassia 2000: 298]. We could also detect here perceptions of polarization between East and West that are prevalent, and according to which Europe (the West) has the ability to modernize while the rest (the East) can only copy, perpetuating thus the division of the world into modern and traditional, advanced and primitive [Goody 1996]. For some Greek scholars [e.g. Tsaousis 1998], Greece is a country experiencing an identity crisis because the content of this identity remains obscure and ambiguous. According to this view, ‘‘the identity crisis is the central problem of the neo-Hellenic society, the constituent element of the contemporary Hellenism, and the axis around which our modern history revolves’’ [Tsaousis 1998: 17]. Thus here is a rather defensive definition of Hellenism, which seeks to establish identity not on the affirmation of ‘‘us,’’ but on the rejection of the ‘‘other,’’ leading to an effort to retain its integrity through isolation and ethnocentrism. There is also a tendency among many non-Greek academics to see Greece as a country


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in constant pursuit of its identity. This approach could reflect Western rationalistic views of identity as something essentially homogeneous and unified, without actually denying the possibility that conflict and competition can also be present. It reproduces the notion of the marginality of Greece that exists in international affairs and is reflected in ‘‘the very marginality of Greek ethnography in the development of anthropological theory, where [. . .] the Greeks of today are a people neither dramatically exotic nor yet unambiguously European’’ [Herzfeld 1987: 20]. Coming to close contact with a different ‘‘other’’ in their city, inhabitants of Volos see that most immigrants are eager to assimilate in the Greek society. According to my informants, Albanians especially will do whatever it takes to assimilate into the local community, discarding elements of their culture, such as customs, ways of life, even language and religion: ‘‘There is an Albanian family living opposite my house, they are not Christians, but they decorate a Christmas tree for their little children’’ (Eleni). The Greeks cannot understand how they may be willing to forget their language, which is considered to be one of the most significant elements of a cultural and ethnic identity, something that differentiates them from the rest of the world: ‘‘Children do not speak their language. Even at home they speak Greek. Language is a very important thing. It is like pulling up your roots. And as you grow older you need to hold on to your roots’’ (Eleni). This attitude is perceived by my informants to be something negative, since they perceive assimilation as being submission to more powerful others, something that ultimately confirms and strengthens the superiority and uniqueness of their ethnic self in relation to the ‘‘other.’’ This sense of superiority, however, coexists with the fear that ‘‘someday we will be working for them’’ (Katerina, female, 60s, housewife). Immigrants are considered to be hard workers and determined to make money to improve the quality of their life. After 10 years in Volos many of them have managed to have bank accounts and to invest their money in land and buildings (apartments). Some of them have become contractors and Greeks already work for them. In addition, the fact that ‘‘Albanians give birth to more children than Greeks’’ (Katerina), reveals a new contradiction in the modern Greek ethnic identity construction process. The sense of superiority against less powerful others coexists with the fear of losing not only the purity of the Greek genius and consequently the distinct ethnic self [Lalioti 2002a; 2002b], but also the advantages that derive from this identity: ‘‘I would be annoyed if they got Greek citizenship.’’ Since ethnic ancestry, religion and language mark the boundaries of Greek society, as the receiving society, immigrants are preselected by these criteria, and Greeks wish them to remain excluded or internally segregated, and thus illegal (the headlines of most articles in Thessalı´a referring to immigrants stress their illegal status) [Petrakou 2001]. Different ethnic groups were always present within the borders of the Greek nation state, but Greeks selected not to ‘‘see’’ their contribution in the formation of the Greek ethnos. However, the arrival of millions of immigrants in the country during the last decade has dramatically changed the social scenery, in which the ‘‘others’’ have now imposed their presence on the local population. The ‘‘other’’ becoming visible, Greeks cannot pretend that they do not see them anymore, thus threatening the certainties not only of the future of Greekness, but also of its unique glorious past [Just 1995].


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The arrival of immigrants will inevitably affect the ethnic identity construction processes of members of the receiving community. The question is whether they will accept immigration as a part of their social reality or they will see it as a social problem that must be solved [Mousourou 2001]. In both cases, however, the presence of immigrants constitutes an aspect of the wider process of the construction of the ethnos and of the inclusion of heterogeneous populations into a collective ‘‘body.’’ Immigrants, on the other hand, live their daily lives depending on ‘‘multiple interconnections and international borders and [their] public identities are configured in relationship to more than one nation-state’’ [Glick Schiller et al. 1995: 48]. New categories of the self and the other are being constructed, while old ones receive new meanings. Transnational migration thus becomes a catalyst that sets into motion a process of transformation of collective identities, reassigning membership and determining the terms of exclusion for all groups involved.

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CONCLUSIONS In this article I have investigated the ways in which immigrants are depicted in photographs published in Thessalı´a, the most popular local newspaper in Thessaly (Central Greece). Since migration constitutes a significant meeting point of ‘‘us’’ with the ‘‘others,’’ meaningful information is derived from these photographs as far as the study of the social construction of the other is concerned, thus revealing aspects of the self too. The selection of a specific way of depicting immigrants—in a passive stance, waiting for others to decide their fate, always lying or sitting down, looking tired, even desperate—as well as the reappearance of particular photographs on more than one occasion creates an image of the ‘‘ideal immigrant’’ and a visual narrative that seems to be in contradiction to the verbal narrative that is produced and reproduced by Greeks in their everyday discourse (immigrants are demanding, cheaters, suspicious). Both these narratives, however, are categories in a complex Greek discursive activity about the ‘‘other,’’ who is perceived to be inferior to ‘‘us.’’ Within the past 15 years the massive arrival of immigrants in Greece, a sudden and unprecedented experience for locals, set in motion mechanisms of transformation of the Greek ethnic identity construction processes. Significant transformations in the ways the ‘‘other’’ and our relationship to the ‘‘other’’ are perceived have led to the transgression of the two traditional poles (East and West) that were prevalent in the definition of Greekness since the creation of the Greek nation-state (1832). Immigrants constitute a third axis around which the negotiation of ethnic identity and otherness in Greece is now conducted. Taking photographs is a selection process as much as ethnic identity construction. By taking and viewing the specific photographs of the ‘‘other,’’ Greeks select and appropriate images of their ethnic self that satisfy current needs. Although marginal to the wider European context of power relations, Greece counterbalances its ambiguous position (modern vs. traditional-exotic) by verifying its superiority against less powerful others. The image of the immigrant who looks desperate and is willing to assimilate into the host society is perceived by Greeks as submission of the weak to the more powerful ‘‘other,’’ providing Greeks with


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the opportunity to identify with the powerful West by which they have for a long time felt spurned. NOTE 1. The translations from Greek were made by the author.

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