Universität Bielefeld

© Universität Bielefeld

Greece: In and out of Europe?

By Marianthi Kontelli


Who or what is European and who is not included in Europe? But, most importantly, what comes together with being described as European in terms of economic, political, historical and social aspects? Colonialism seems to be able to provide us with rich material to discuss these questions, as it connects the past and the present of the notion of being European.

Talking about and trying to define what „Europe“ and the term „European“ mean and imply have never been easy. Should we adopt an approach based on geography, history, or on the current social and financial situation in various countries that claim to be European? For example, do we mean the European Union when we are talking about Europe? There are many countries that belong undisputedly geographically (whatever this may mean) in Europe but are really keen on becoming part of the European Union and therefore „legitimizing“ their European character, at last. So, does becoming a member of the E.U. carry some special prestige of „Europeanization“ with it and how could this be connected with Europe's colonial past?

In any case, these difficulties seem to have created a „grey zone“ that includes countries for which it cannot clearly be stated if they are European or not. Following this path of thought this project aspires to display in which way Greece belongs to this „grey zone“, especially by taking into consideration the dichotomy between ancient and modern Greece and the recent facts concerning the Greek crisis (linked to the economy, social conditions and immigrant flows).

The relationship between the E.U. and Greece is a complicated one. Firstly, the Greek past, philosophy, history and mythology are subjects that are often linked with Europe and the E.U. On a second level, the Greeks regularly tend to refer to the achievement of becoming a member state of the E.U. in a very early stage. However, the financial crisis revealed the turbulences of this belonging and created frictions on both sides that have been transformed during the last years, after the peak of the unstable situation in Greece. What happened „then“ and what continues to happen until „now“ is still a question for many people. In this project I attempt to illuminate some of the colonial extensions of this relationship between Greece and the E.U.

The turbulences in this relationship that were mentioned before are proof that belonging to the E.U. or being characterized as European cannot be regarded as a stable situation. This is clearer if somebody takes into account the latest facts concerning „Brexit“ or the discussions about a possible „Grexit“. Acquiring the title of „European“ brings with it certain characteristics and qualities and this is why a dividing line has to exist between Europe and the rest of the world. Based on my experiences as a Greek citizen and as a Greek student in the German higher education system, it seems that Greece has been wavering around this line, in and out of Europe. Therefore, it has been made clear that there are some criteria concerning belonging in Europe, which, if not met, can have an impact on the recognition of a country as European. How this line is drawn and what these criteria are is a question related to colonialism.

All in all, the clear question regarding the analysis of the photographs is to reveal the criteria that have to be fulfilled in order to „earn“ the title of European. By using a decolonial perspective I will try to analyze the case of Greece as a country that is striving to „earn“ this title in order to prove the existence of these criteria. Belonging in Europe is regarded as a privilege that may change over time according to several factors that I will attempt to detect.

1. Board at the Language Center of the University of Bielefeld with the available languages.

At a European university ancient Greek has a guaranteed place as a classical language that can offer a basis for the understanding of modern terms or for teaching at German schools. Although a dead language, it is connected with the history and development of the European civilization.

What about modern Greek, though? It is the case of a modern language that has not found its place on the board yet. Although Ancient Greece is a part of Europe, is Modern Greece still trying to establish its European identity? Does the past surpass the present and the future in the case of Greece? Is there a differentiation between ancient and modern Greece?

„[…] Germany played little part in the slave trade and early colonialism, but its intellectuals were crucial to establishing the new world order that constructed the „savage native“ as fundamentally and inherently different.“ (El-Tayeb, 1999: 151)

Germany played an important role in shaping the intellectual basis on which several actions (slave trade) relied. However, the country did not have a major role in the implementation of these ideas (actual participation in the slave trade). Germany was mainly active on the theoretical level rather than the practical one. Greece experiences a similar kind of dichotomy. The Greek civilization has contributed a lot theoretically (philosophical and political ideas originated from ancient Greece), but is not an active and equal counterpart when it comes to shaping the destiny of the E.U. on a practical level nowadays.

This dichotomy could lead to a question with colonial extensions: What kind of criteria did ancient Greece fulfill in order to be a legitimized member of Europe (through its historical and philosophical contributions) and which criteria has modern Greece failed to meet (especially since the crisis started)? It seems that countries should „earn“ the title of European by providing a standard quality of life nowadays, by meeting financial standards, having credibility in the markets, being part and respecting the European pacts etc. If something of the above is no longer met, then being European is also in danger. The term seems to safeguard a community of countries that have a long history (European means often automatically old) and provide certain privileges to their citizens. Under these circumstances Greece seems to be in the middle between the west and the rest (Third World, e.g. Algeria, Haiti) because its well-known past aligns with the European idea, but its turbulent (mainly financial) present does not. (Abbas, 2015; Bogaert, 2015)

In relation to education, teaching and learning, we could pinpoint through this photo how choosing which languages will be taught could be an indicator of their „value“ and „hierarchy“. Excluding some languages or having a limited variety of classes and levels for some others reflects the kind of „rating“ that the languages and the countries indirectly receive and contributes to further spread these notions. For example, modern Greek was offered a few years ago at the university. When did that change and was that change somehow connected with the crisis or not? Students are mainly being educated by the things that are omitted from the curricula rather than by the things that are included in them because in this way they learn what is worth learning and what is not. (Patel, 2015: 38-39) Learning modern Greek may have been worth a few years ago, but now the prestige of this language is not the same. Excluding modern Greek from the courses offered may be interpreted as an exclusion from the European languages worth learning and deals with modern Greece as an „invisible“ part of the E.U.

All in all, the difference between these, which are from many perceived as ancient and modern Greece separately, could be used in order to investigate the process and the criteria of „becoming European“.

2. Poster for the promotion of the program „Europa macht Schule“, which engages European students in order to present their countries to pupils at local schools.

Greece is an official Member State of the European Union. However, as soon as the pupils of a school (where I conducted my project „Europa macht Schule´“) were asked if they think that Greece is a part of the EU, they answered negatively.

What is the impact of current developments (e.g. financial and refugee crisis) on the conception of Greece as a part of Europe?

„Educational research in the United States and other settler nations, as an arm of state-sanctioned positioning of intellect. It profits from and is therefore dependent on the mythology of external expert as change agent.“ (Patel, 2015: 44)

A few years ago, the Greek financial and refugee crisis were the top subjects on the news. It seems that especially the younger generation has been profoundly influenced by these incidents because it constantly receives a negative image of this country.

More particularly, a non-European image, an image that does not stand up to the „European standards“ is presented about Greece. Bailouts, loans, external committees and a national sovereignty in question are characteristics that are linked historically with „the Rest“ and not with „the West“, or Europe. History provides us with a lot of examples (Haiti, Algeria) which reveal that what happed in Greece a few years ago is not far away from the situation that countries outside of Europe have experienced in the past. (Bogaert, 2015) During this phase the external experts from various institutions and backgrounds have been central for the whole procedure. They were depicted as change agents, well-informed, knowledgeable experts that were responsible for undoing the evil that had been done by implementing a wrong way of acting. The whole attempt was regarded by many as yet another colonial practice that affected for the first time a country within and not outside Europe. According to Patel (Patel, 2015: 44), the external experts have been established as a colonial strategy in every field (including educational research).

As a result, Greece is hanging somewhere in the middle between two distinctly different worlds that are divided by a colonial line. It has been claimed by Martin (2015) that this country received a differentiated treatment in comparison to other nations in order to tackle the financial problems just because it is part of the E.U. Europe acted therefore as a community that had to protect itself from getting downgraded to a level below the one it had until then. In return, Greece has been characterized as a „semi-colonial territory“ (Martin, 2015) within Europe, a country in between two realities that has characteristics both European and non-European.

Consequently, the Greek crisis could also be interpreted from the Greek perspective as an attempt to prove that the country still deserves a place in Europe (not just in the E.U. this time) and not in the so-called „Third World“. It even risked to be called „a colony within Europe“ (Abbas, 2015) in order to keep its European place (at least in the official level), which shows that there is a dividing line between Europe and the Rest and that countries are willing to make a lot of sacrifices in order to stay „within“ the line and not to get kicked „out“ of it („within“ meaning mainly always Europe and „out“ meaning the Developing World).

In the aftermath of the Greek crisis, a few years later, it seems that this adventure will continue having long-term results on the conception of whether Greece belongs in or out of Europe or somewhere in between.

3. Map of Erasmus co-operations of the Faculty of Education (Bielefeld)

Erasmus is a program that connects European universities with each other. This year, among the southern countries of the EU (Spain, Italy, Greece) the University of Thessaloniki in Greece was the last one to still have free places after the expiration of the deadlines.

Is Greece considered an equal destination for studies by the students, as a member state of the EU? Is there lack of information about this Erasmus destination?

„In the academy, and protected through the legal system, knowledge is property. Data, publications, and even reputation, are property that are then set up to be protected for some, which has potential to be converted into cultural capital and ultimately economic capital.“ (Patel, 2015: 36)

According to colonialism studies, knowledge is closely related with the financial sector and encloses a power to legitimize or reject. Such a powerful domain must be protected and safeguarded for the few that gain status through knowledge, as well.

In accordance with the E.U. all higher institutions in the member states (always „within“ Europe and not outside) provide an equal level of education. Nevertheless, it seems that economically weak countries like Greece are not considered to be able to reach the standards and to produce knowledge equal with their northern counterparts. When people refer to Spain and Italy as Erasmus destinations, their advantages as holiday destinations often overshadow their academic characteristics, whereas in the case of Greece the language barrier and the echo from the Greek crisis seem to put the academic field of this country in an even more unfavorable position.

Consequently, it seems that the value of southern European knowledge is not the same as the value of the northern one. Moreover, European knowledge in general is legally protected (e.g. Bologna Process), whereas the knowledge of „the Rest“ is left to find its own way to recognition.

In conclusion, it should be pointed out that the reasons for this distribution of the Erasmus students in the Faculty of Education at the University of Bielefeld could be the result of other factors, as well (e.g. lack of information about this country, lack of language courses for the preparation of students). However, the result remains in general a disadvantaged one that creates the impression of a country that is once more on the limits between Europe and „non-Europe“, as far as the academic field is concerned.

4. Notice board at the university with an announcement in Greek

Even the language and the Greek alphabet places a dividing line and causes a lot of awe to Europeans that use the Latin alphabet. Modern Greek is a kind of „secret code“ to decipher, whereas Ancient Greek may seem more familiar to people who have been taught this language at school. They seem to conceive them as two different languages with different places in the European idea. Is this also the case with Greece as country that wavers in and out of Europe?

„At the risk of being florid, it?s inconvenient for that [German] imagination that Greeks are not just broken statues, stripped of paint, in the world?s museums.“ (Abbas, 2015)

This statement goes too far, perhaps, and is focused on a German perspective that is certainly not the case for everyone in Germany. Nevertheless, it highlights this antagonism between the past and the present in the case of Greece that exists in the minds of many Europeans today. Whenever I declare my nationality, this is followed by questions that reveal the attempt of people from other cultures to connect the present with the past, which are two different things in their minds: „Is ancient Greek similar to modern Greek?“, „Can people who have been taught modern Greek understand ancient Greek or are they two independent languages?“.

So, does colonialism profit from the attempt to divide the past from the present of the countries? What would have happened with the membership of Greece in the E.U., if the country did not have this rich ancient past? Perhaps this past is presented as the key to enter and remain in the world of Europe, although numbers and percentages suggest that the situation was/is similar to „Third World countries“ and although the austerity measures that were implemented are comparable with those imposed in these countries, as well.

Moreover, a new (colonial) term has been developed and associated with the case of Greece and other southern countries: multi-speed Europe or two-speed Europe. The term seems to be the official attempt to establish this „grey zone“ of countries that are in and out of Europe. Nations for which it is decided that they do not occupy a high place in the European idea or that they „harm“ the prestige and credibility of the E.U. may be included in the lower European rankings. Separating the past and the present may provide an easier way to include countries into this new category.


If we try to combine the different alphabet, Greek history, philosophy and the modern reality of the crisis, the image of Greece appears pretty complicated. Divided not just between two worlds (Europe and the Rest), but also between two eras (ancient and modern) which seem to compete against rather than complement each other. Such cases can be examined to particularly reveal the colonial dividing lines between the different worlds and to highlight that no country has a stable right to be called European (western) or non-European (non-western, „Third World“).

Colonialism is based on capital, power and sometimes on history and these are the factors that establish the criteria that have to be fulfilled in order to distribute the attribute of „European“. But for the time being, it appears that Greece cannot be categorized neither as European nor as Other. Instead, it seems to be in and out of Europe: it fulfills the criteria of a long historical and philosophical tradition, but it lacks the credentials, as far as economy, stability and social policy is concerned. Therefore, the country is placed in the „grey zone“ between the colonizers and the colonized and constitutes a third special category as it moves between the two worlds in a specific way. When it comes to philosophy and history, Greece is conceived as a classical European country from which a lot of the sources of modern ideas originate. When it comes to financial stability, credibility in the global markets and quality of life, then the country is conceived as one of the weakest in the scale of European nations and probably at the borders (literally and metaphorically) of what we call „Europe“.

As far as the initial question about the criteria for belonging in Europe is concerned, the example of Greece was attempted to be analyzed in order to show the fluidity of the term „European“, as countries seem to jump in and out of Europe as time passes and different developments arise. To belong in Europe (meaning that you enjoy a certain quality of life, a specific level of prosperity, financial and social benefits, or even that you are identified with a long historic tradition) a country has to comply and align with the values and rules of the West. In order to decide if a land meets these standards, one has to examine specific factors such as the historical roots, the philosophical tradition, the economy, the social system, the credibility in the world markets, the prestige among other nations and the academic domain, to name a few criteria that have been analyzed in the case of Greece.

Being part of Europe is therefore not stable. Moreover, even the abovementioned criteria do not seem to have the same importance, as economy may be proven more important than other factors. Or another alternative in a colonial world could be that the term „European“ may be reserved just for one part of a country (e.g. ancient Greece) that „qualifies“ and is allowed to earn the title and the privileges that come with it.