How do communities (fully fledged, active, or imagined) perform citizenship? How do recent policies on urban planning and economic development in the city impact public space as the very site where citizenship is claimed, performed, and experienced? What is the relationship between practices of memory (from personal memory, to collective and institutional) and acts of citizenship? How does the memory and the archivisation of community life (in other words, the creation of a communal past) help the emergence of new demands for inclusion, rights, and agonistic togetherness? These questions were central in the colloquium ‘Being Citizens Together: Rethinking Social Citizenship in Greece: From ‘Ithageneia’ to ‘Politeiotita’’ which took place on 11 February 2023 at the National Museum of Contemporary Art (EMST). Nine months later, one of the participants, Kristina Gedgaudaitė, invited the curators of the event Dimitris Papanikolaou and Theophilos Trampoulis to reflect on the event and the notion of citizenship in Greece today. They explained why it is important to think of forms of citizenship beyond the official recognition of citizenship status by the Greek state and why they prefer the term “politeiotita”, rather than “ithageneia”, to denote such acts of citizenship. A short extract of this interview is republished here; in other parts of this blog you can find short reflections on citizenship from other participants in the event.
Not just an ordinary protest. Image by Michail Karikis
Kristina Gedgaudaitė (KG): Speaking of citizenship in Greece, you use the word ‘politeiotita’ rather than the more conventional Greek term ‘ithageneia’, used in legal documents and in Greek bibliography. Why so?
Dimitris Papanikolaou (DP) and Theophilos Trampoulis (TT): Yes, in our initial conversations we discussed the different histories of the words we use in Greece to refer to citizenship and we realised that this was not simply a matter of terminology. On the one hand, the way our generation was brought up was by constantly evoking the phrase ‘agogi tou politi’ (I remember, we even had a special civic education course in high school with that name). You could roughly translate this as ‘the education of citizens’ or ‘educating the citizen’, with the phrase so much related to a certain disciplinary and gendered framework (the word for citizen, in that formulation, gendered as male), that agogi tou politi became associated, for most of us, not with the right to have rights and the participation in a polity, but with a certain surveillance, a constant governmental check on us, if indeed we were ‘good citizens’.
In the meantime, as you point out, official documents and the legal framework has eventually opted for the word ithageneia to describe what in English we call citizenship. Now, as a term ithageneia raises a different set of connotations and complications. A composite of the words efthys (direct) and genos (a word related to natural birth, and used in modern Greece to cover a huge semantic field that includes genus, ethnicity, race, and gender), ithageneia first denotes direct lineage, homogeneity, and a certain ideology of homoge-nation. No matter how official Greek documents keep repeating that ithageneia should now be thought of as an inclusive and open noun, Greek nationalist circles, still, revindicate the term, falsely claiming that it describes a certain sense of citizenship that can only be shared between ‘Greeks in blood’. In a country where ius sanguinis, even though surpassed by recent changes in the law, still forms an important basis for granting citizenship (Christopoulos 2017), the term ithageneia conjures the ghost of a suffocatingly narrow, nationalist, racialised, and very patriarchal Greekness. It is also open to misinterpretation by circles who claim a direct continuity between ancient and modern Greece. It forms part of a certain biopolitics of the Greek nation that Dimitris Plantzos has so aptly called ‘Archaepolitics’ (Plantzos 2023). Archaeopolitics remains a core feature of a Hellenic ethnonational worldview which is responsible, among others, for many racist, anti-immigrant and exclusionary political practices in today’s Greece.
It is for these reasons that younger generations of activists and scholars now prefer the term politeiotita (or politotita) to denote open citizenship, and this is the term we put our focus on. Without underestimating how important it is for so many of our co-citizens today to have official recognition and the official documents of ithageneia in Greece, we wanted, by privileging the term politeiotita, to turn to participatory, open, and expansive, novel and radical understandings of the forms in which we experience our political being together. The event surpassed our expectations: it is always astonishing to realise how even the change of one word, can reinvigorate a discussion, help rethink its historicity and topicality and bring forth new voices, demands, and exchange of ideas.
The event at the EMST (National Museum of Contemporary Art, Athens) in February occurred during a period when the main national theatres and art schools of the country were occupied by students protesting against a new law that affected artworkers’ teaching rights. It started as a narrow debate on work permits, and it expanded to include an array of challenges, from demands on art education and the preservation of cultural heritage to the condemnation of systemic police violence. The colloquium was itself creatively disrupted by art students who read out a text explaining the reasons behind their nation-wide mobilisation and its aims. Citizenship is also made up of such moments of creative disruption and of speaking up. It is made of voices that often come unannounced, of claims that are unscripted, and of a sharing of public space that is not predetermined.
KG: What were the key aspects of citizenship you wanted to bring forth when putting together the event?
DP and TT: Our aim was to focus on aspects of citizenship that are crucial, yet often remain unaddressed by official political discourse; this is exactly where the humanities, literature, and the arts can make a difference. Taking inspiration from contemporary and progressive conceptualisations of citizenship, such as the prioritisation of ‘acts of citizenship’ proposed, among others, by Engin Isin (Isin and Nielsen 2008), and the importance of urban citizenship and performative citizenship, we divided the colloquium into three parts. Each part was conceptualized around a specific keyword that is crucially important for citizenship: space, community, and memory. Our aim was to have theorists, critics, and artists join the conversation in every part.
Our discussion about space started from underlining the primary importance of ‘urban citizenship’ in revolutionising concepts and acts of citizenship – after all, the word ‘city’ (polis in Greek) is at the very centre of citizenship (politeiotita) by definition. With the recent Greek experience in mind, we asked questions such as: how do recent policies on urban planning and economic development in the city impact public space as the very site where citizenship is claimed, performed, and experienced? Are the recently gentrified city centres opportunities to further enable, or perhaps to suspend, acts of citizenship? The increasing police violence with which peaceful demonstrations are being met in Greece, especially after the COVID-19 emergency, is a case in point: is the intensification of police violence organised in order to safeguard the city centre as a non-political, non citi-zenship zone? How do new social movements counter this situation? The context for this discussion is, for us, a moment when post-Crisis Greece has become synonymous with the 'Airbnb-isation' of its main cities and a ‘tourist-first’ mentality and when the public space in major Greek cities is being ‘revamped’ in order to support this development (e.g., the lengthy refurbishment of Panepistimiou Avenue in the centre of Athens or the new architectural interventions on the Acropolis Ηill).
We asked our contributors to discuss the relationship between political participation and the presence, demand for and participation in a community. How do communities (fully fledged, active, or imagined) perform citizenship? How does the memory and the archivisation of community life (in other words, the creation of a communal past) help the emergence of new demands for inclusion, rights, and agonistic togetherness? How are communities and identities intersecting? Let us not forget that the last decade has seen a rise of social movements in Greece – as well as the frustration of (many of) their aims. Has this thick decade bequeathed a different way of thinking about community? It has been argued that recent mobilisations against neofascism or in the wake of crimes against gender activists, migrants, and young women are constitutive of communities of mourning (Athanasiou et al. 2018); are the latter ready to assume political agency?
Starting from such questions, we wanted to debate the nature of community in today’s largely algorithmic world of new media and technological innovation. Can we talk about ‘algorithmic citizenship’ today and is this a positive or a negative development? On the one hand, algorithms and big data easily create the feeling of a global machinery of surveillance. On the other hand, they may also provide a deterritorialised platform for a more fluid, ever developing citizenship, where recognition and rights are constantly reaffirmed, renegotiated, and reclaimed, and where the membership in an official, cultural, or subcultural group is never stable or exclusive.
Last but not least, we focused on the role of memory as both a practice and an opening of citizenship today. We tend to think of citizenship as oriented towards the present/future participation in a political community. Yet citizenship, in both its narrow and its wider conceptualisations, is woven through memory; it uses memory, it negotiates and makes a claim on memory and it reorganises memory. What is the relationship between practices of memory (from personal memory, to collective and institutional) and acts of citizenship? This is a crucial point for Greece, because political participation is often understood to be coterminous with belonging to a shared community of national memory (and more specifically, of traumatic national memory).
Today, not only sanctioned, national memory, but also community memory, subcultural memory, subaltern memory, and postmemory become political platforms of belonging. Greece has experienced a wave of non-normative memorial practices that one of us has previously termed ‘archive trouble’ (Papanikolaou 2012). Anti-normative, antinationalist, and antiauthoritarian memory is registered in space and makes a claim on it. The streets where teenager Alexandros Grigoropoulos and transqueer activist Zak Kostopoulos were murdered in central Athens in 2008 and 2018 respectively have become such agonistic sites for the emergence and mobilisation of memory – with the question of their renaming to honour the victims becoming itself a larger debate about public memory and justice (Panourgia 2019).
KG: How do you envision the future of citizenship in Greece? What remains to be done for more inclusive visions of citizenship?
DP and TT: As we write this, we are deeply aware that unending queues of people applying for state recognition form every day in front of Greek agencies that are supposed to review their applications, and that it can take years for a reply to their application, let alone the granting of formal citizenship. So many people around us see years of living and working in Greece erased, as they are forced to remain unrecognised; due to the absence of official documents, they fall prey to exploitation, trafficking, and frequent pogroms – lastly in the north-eastern area of Evros in September 2023.
As became so evident during our meeting in February, one of the main demands for an open citizenship today in Greece could be viewed as archival: the effort to construct and develop archives that would bring to the centre of collective memory all that which a certain biopolitical management of the Greek population has kept in the margins. Activist and archivist Sebene Ishete shared such an archive from the project Our Stories during our event. Our Stories brings together oral history accounts, photographs, and other material documenting the life of immigrants to Greece from the 1970s onwards.
Safeguarding this diverse and rich history is an important political gesture today, as it stands to confront a xenophobic discourse that denies all history to the phenomenon of migration, and undermines the citizenship claims (and rights) of people on the move. As we write this, groups of extremists in Evros have been rounding up and attacking refugees falsely accusing them for starting the fires that ravaged one of the oldest and richest forests of the country in September 2023; a Pakistani worker, Sheraz Siaz, was murdered in central Athens on 15 August 2023; and neofascist groups in Cyprus, closely connected to (and inspired by) similar groups in Greece, organised racist pogroms against migrants and their businesses in late August 2023. In this context, it is only pressing to be able to document, to narrate, to archive, and to resist.
Last, but not least, as we write this, Greece is also coming out of a huge environmental catastrophe, first with a series of devastating bushfires that destroyed ancient forests in Rhodes and Evros this summer, and then unprecedented floods that ravaged the fertile ecosystems of Thessaly in September. Acts of environmental citizenship become now even more needed and pronounced and it is more than ever obvious that citizenship cannot be thought of outside the lived environment. Citizenship is itself an ecosystem and part of the ecosystem, a deeply relational form of being, articulated in the constant labour of a present which is, at the same time, a palimpsest of a thick past and a precarious future.
*This is an edited extract from an interview first published in the Journal of Greek Media and Culture in December 2023.
Athanasiou, Athena, Kolocotroni, Vassiliki and Papanikolaou, Dimitris (2018), ‘On the Politics of Queer Resistance and Survival’, Journal of Greek Media and Culture 4:2, pp. 269-280.
Christopoulos, Dimitris (2017), ‘An Unexpected Reform in the Maelstrom of the Crisis: Greek Nationality in the Times of the Memoranda (2010–2015)’, Citizenship Studies, 21:4, pp. 483-494.
Isin, Engin F. and Nielsen, Greg M. (2008), Acts of Citizenship, New York: Zed Books.
Panourgia, Neni (2019), ‘Recognition: Exarcheia mon amour’, Journal of Greek Media and Culture 5:2, pp. 231-249.
Papanikolaou, Dimitris (2012), ‘Archive Trouble: Cultural Responses to the Greek Crisis’, Hot Spots, Cultural Anthropology, https://culanth.org/fieldsights/archive-trouble
Plantzos, Dimitris (2023), Archaiopolitiki (Archaeopolitics), Athens: Ekdoseis tou eikostou protou.
Kristina Gedgaudaitė is a Marie Skłodowska-Curie Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the University of Amsterdam and the Reviews+ section co-editor at the Journal of Greek Media and Culture. She is the author of Memories of Asia Minor in Contemporary Greek Culture: An Itinerary (Palgrave Macmillan, 2021) and currently works on a project exploring contemporary Greek comics.
Dimitris Papanikolaou is Professor of Modern Greek and Comparative Cultural Studies at the University of Oxford. His most recent book is Greek Weird Wave: A Cinema of Biopolitics (Edinburgh University Press, 2021).
Theophilos Trampoulis is Publications Advisor at the National Museum of Contemporary Art, Athens. He has edited numerous books and has written essays on art, literature and politics in Greece and abroad. With Eleni Koukou he is co-curating the public art program ‘The Spirit of the Stairs’ in the Municipality of Agios Nikolaos, Crete (from 2018 onwards).