Dimitris Christopoulos: “Citizenship is an issue of democracy”

Alekos Fassianos, “Set for the Play Let's go for a Walk” Alekos Fassianos, “Set for the Play Let's go for a Walk”
Interview with Dimitris Christopoulos
The new law on citizenship, which gives  citizenship  to the second generation kids of immigrants will be discussed and voted in the Greek Parliament on Wendsday 24 of June 2015.  We are publishing an interview with Professor Dimitris Christopoulos, counselor of the Ministry of Immigration and an expert on the issues of citizenship and immigration.
During the past years, citizenship has become a major issue of concern for the wider Left, in the sense of it being a matter of human rights.
Citizenship is a matter of democracy. It is not just a human rights issue. The  goal was not to make a law that would signify an emblematic victory of the Left over “conservative” forces. The aim has been a regulation that would be socially important, one that will solve that is, the problems that plague the lives of thousands of people, around 150,000 – but also a regulation that will stand the test of time.
What differentiates this regulation from the approach of the previous government – mainly of the New Democracy party?
Granting citizenship before adulthood is of fundamental importance and major point of disagreement. These children grow up and are socialized in our country; their life plans are the same as those of their peers. So we want them to be Greek citizens while they are still children. The previous government claimed that only an adult can bear the responsibility of citizenship.
Do you believe that the issues of constitutionality have been addressed?
The previous ruling of the State Council has been taken into account [1]. At the same time, the report of the Parliamentary Committee on Legislation (KENE) clearly states that the draft law complies with the provisions of the Constitution. This means something.
During the legal consultation procedure, there were many right-wing objections on nationality versus citizenship. What is the difference between the two?
Citizenship (itthageneia) and nationality (ypikootita) are the same thing according to the Greek legal system. This “misunderstanding” is due to the fact that the etymology of the two words is different, but the meaning is the same. Let’s get this over with: in Greece, nationality and citizenship both convey the bond that ties a person to a state. If you have one, you have the other.
What are the requirements for a child of immigrant parents to obtain citizenship?
That one parent is a legal resident of Greece and that the child is born in Greece and registered at an elementary school. Children who were born in Greece and have one parent who has been residing legally in Greece for five years prior to their birth, establish a right to citizenship as soon as they start the first grade of elementary school. There is also a provision for children born in Greece before their parent reaches the five years of legal residence in the country. These children may acquire citizenship whenever their parent completes ten years of legal residence. This means that by the fifth grade, all children born in Greece will have acquired citizenship. Keep in mind however, that most people who benefit from the law are now adults. We are struggling to sort out the past because unfortunately, we have been idle for so many years.
Education is key to the whole process. Besides, the State Council ruling indicated specific “standards”.
Children that have attended six years of high school or have completed the nine-year compulsory education (elementary school and junior high school) can acquire citizenship. In this case, the right to acquire citizenship can be exercised up to the age of 21.
During the consultation process, there was criticism regarding the age limits. Is that going to be reviewed?
There is a transitional regulation that resolves the issue to a degree. Those who fulfill the requirements of the law, either born in Greece or went to school here, may be able to obtain citizenship without time limits.
What options are available for those who do not fulfill all the requirements?
For those who have lived in Greece, the solution is facilitated naturalization. If you think of children who did not go to Greek schools or failed to graduate- and such children exist - the solution is a fast naturalization process.
Do you think that granting citizenship to immigrants may create a nationalist wave is scaremongering?
Citizenship, without being a panacea, can work as protection against a possible road to recalcitrance or radicalisation of certain national or social groups. In principle, one might say that people feel more secure and integrated in a country that offers them citizenship. And this is particularly the case with Greece who has not been able to provide a safe life to foreigners.  Of course, there are opposing experiences, such as in France. But the issue is that of class, neither citizenship, not ethnicity. Citizenship, on its own does not create, nor solves problems. Citizenship is not the key that will unlock all the doors. Greeks and immigrants alike are suffering because they are unemployed. Greeks and immigrants alike prosper when they have jobs. Citizenship does not solve all issues. And of course, it does not create them either.
You have been working in support of human rights for many years now. How has the human rights crisis been affected by the financial crisis?
If you deprive a person of what they consider fundamental, they will probably react. This is what has happened in Greece.  Elsewhere it has not, or at least to such extent. There are no imperatives or historical laws. However, when there is no consent, then deliberations and all the goods of liberal democracy are done away with. There is never enough time. So orders are issued... This is what has happened with the financial adjustment policies in our country. The economic and fiscal crisis led to the cyclical intensification of repression and the circumvention of the regular decision-making processes of a parliamentary democracy.  From the debt crisis, to a democracy crisis. This is how human rights are chipped away at. One cannot say that they support individual rights but are indifferent to social rights. Neither the reverse, as some in the Left once thought. I think that the story of  ERT [2] solemnly encapsulates this negative domino effect: from restricting the social right to work, to violating the right to information and expression through procedures that devalue democracy.

[1 ]In 2013 the State Council ruled that a previous law regulating citizenship was unconstitutional.
[2] The closing of public broadcaster ERT by the New Democracy government in 2014.
Dimitris Christopoulos is the Vice President of the International Federation for Human Rights, an Associate Professor of Political Science, Panteion University, Athens.

Dimitris Christopoulos is interviewd by Panagiota Bitsika.
First published in Greek on the newspaper
“To Vima”,   7.6.2015.
Translated by Ioulia Leivaditi

[1] In 2013 the State Council ruled that a previous law regulating citizenship was unconstitutional.
[2] The closing of public broadcaster ERT by the New Democracy government in 2014