The deserted islands of reason

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It was once said that “nothing is more dangerous than an idea, when you only have one idea.” The idea touted (along with other snake-oil products) by Greek Solution leader Kyriakos Velopoulos before it was rehashed by several New Democracy deputies is that Greece move migrants and refugees to deserted islands of which, to quote ND MP Konstantinos Bogdanos, “there is a very large number.”

The proposal was met with the usual lament along the lines of “half of Greece was martyred on those desert islands.” SYRIZA MEP Kostas Arvanitis went further at the European Parliament, asking, “Are we going to build a Guantanamo in Europe?”

American essayist Henry Louis Mencken said that “for every problem there is a solution which is simple, clean and wrong.” What is wrong here is not the sad memories which still haunt public debate, but the fact that the proposed measure does not aspire to find the best possible solution for Greece, but to offer an ephemeral satisfaction for the local communities which are worried about the spike in migrant/refugee arrivals.

To put it differently, that particular “solution” may be applicable in Australia, a country whose sovereignty over its desert islands is not questioned by any third country. However, the same measure could be catastrophic in the long run for Greece because of the so-called gray zones disputed by Turkey. Are they really saying that it is OK for parts of Greece to host purely non-Greek populations? Is it really better for Greece to have ghetto islands which, apart from triggering an international outcry, could also create problems for the country? Would it not be better to integrate those who have a right to international protection?

Bogdanos does have a point when he says that “we cannot forever be tormented by certain taboos or certain sorts of post-civil war or post-dictatorship complexes.” But the same goes for the “taboos” and “complexes” bequeathed by the Turkish occupation, such as the argument put forward by Eastern Samos Mayor Giorgos Stantzos, who said that “there is no way that this island, which did not have a mosque, will accept a Muslim village.”

Faced with the big challenge of the refugee/migrant crisis, we have to discuss all the possible solutions for the country in a sober manner. We must not think along NIMBY lines. Political leaderships have an obligation to constantly explain the complexity of the problem and point out the provisions of international law – which, as a small country we rightly point out at every opportunity or threat – and through dialogue, we will ultimately reach a solution.

Published in eKathimerini.com 2.12.2019