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Care and Anti-Care in Greece

In her book Capricious Borders: Minority, Population, and Counter-conduct between Greece and Turkey, published earlier this year, Olga Demetriou examines the mechanisms through which particular groups of people are turned into “minorities.” At the center of these processes she identifies naming, genealogy and state care, as key modes of governmentality. Discussing a recent incident of biopolitical policing, the author shows here how “state care” continues to have more relevance as a repressive rather than an empowering mechanism in the minoritization context.




In Greece, the “management of population” (in the sense of a Foucauldian biopolitics of demography, spatial order, classification, and knowledge production) has long been racialized.


This racialism has fluctuated through different political conjunctures yielding differing policies of birth rate monitoring and incentivization. Last month “care” emerged as a tool of biopolitical policing in a discussion that went well beyond the bounds of Greece, after authorities arrested a couple raising a child who was “not their own.” The couple was Roma, the child at first assumed not, and much of the racialized presentation of the incident turned on the stereotypical discourse about “Gypsies stealing children.”


The governmentality giving rise to such discourses became evident to me years ago when Roma individuals, much like Turks and Pomaks did, used them as cultural evaluations of other Roma groups. Within these discourses, the “stealing of children” seemed to be the hyperbole that blatantly exceeded whatever grain of objectivity may have lay at the basis of such “cultural descriptions” – the claim was that “danger” (a quality often associated with western Thrace as a whole) is not a minority feature, it is the feature of particular “Gypsies.”


The media hype over the discovery of the girl found to be living with the Roma couple who failed a parental DNA test, led almost immediately to discussions over a suspected child trafficking Roma ring in Greece, in ways that seem to be reproducing the same workings of governmentality on a bigger scale. Given concerns over gaps in law and practice relating to reproduction and adoption in the country, the way in which this suspicion was automatically assumed, could be seen as an attempt to shift danger of misconduct from the state to, again, particular “Gypsies.”


Race emerged in reports on the story as the key issue: the child was blond, the “fake” parents Roma (the assumption that “the Roma are dark” was not merely insinuated, it was actually verbalized a few times). The conflation of race and class was blatant: the presence of the girl amongst the Roma was presented in the first few days as tragic, her “fake” parents vilified for lying about the circumstances of her birth, statements made about money transactions accompanying her transfer from her birth mother.


These initial reports were based on the assumption that this was clearly not her rightful place in the world, blond children deserve better, their mis-placement is a crime. Even when her biological, Bulgarian Romani mother was found, hyperbolic rhetoric continued, with speculations as to whether the girl should be “repatriated” (although she had been born in Greece) to Bulgaria, placed in foster care, or put up for adoption. Meanwhile, follow-up reporting focused on Greek police raiding other Roma settlements around the country in a hunt for other “stolen children” and on raids spreading to other countries (e.g. Cyprus and Ireland) after a flurry of Interpol exchanges on missing minors (e.g. from the UK).


While in this case trafficking or abduction are yet to be proven, the racism of this moral panic seems not only to go largely unquestioned, but to be spreading through global connections. In contrast, human rights standards relating to events that unfolded around this story (racial profiling, removal of children from families, data protection, presumption of innocence) have been under-reported, in local as much as international media. Instead, a humanitarianism that sets up the story as tragic and assigns victimhood to the child, criminality to the parents (possibly both sets), and benevolence to the state, eschews precisely this question of rights. And it does so by de-politicizing the poverty and marginalization that prompted the shifting of childcare outside the law in the first place.


Governmentality of care connects today’s panic in Greece and beyond to the discourse of “stealing children” from years ago. In the neoliberal context of Troika-monitored government spending, humanitarianism and its de-politicizing rhetoric have played a role in allowing the far-right to claim a political stake in the care of the (racially pure) Greek elderly and the impoverished. The electoral rise of the Golden Dawn party was effected through the mobilization of a double approach of care (within the race) and violence (against its “enemies”).


And this in para-state fashion, drawing on links with institutions like the police, as it turns out after last month’s arrests of leading figures of this ultra-nationalist party, following the killing by a party member of a left-wing activist. The recent insertion of humanitarian care into Romani homes exposes, under this light, the political side of such care as government against a population rather than government of.


And as this “government against” rests as much with the state as it does with para-state, the public, and the populations themselves, ‘care’ is likely to continue being interpreted through its lack and assumed as a sinister form of governance – this was also the case in minority policy following the civil war in the middle of last century.  The blond girl was assumed to have been misplaced in a Romani home, but it is chiefly the misplacement of child benefits that criminalized the couple she was living with. However the future unfolds, the corrective will never be to better those homes (in Greece, or in Bulgaria), and will most certainly start with the cut of those benefits.





Olga Demetriou is Senior Research Consultant at the PRIO Cyprus Centre of the International Peace Research Institute, Oslo. Since 2002, she has held positions at Wolfson College, Cambridge, as well as St. Peter’s and St. Antony’s colleges in Oxford, and was a researcher for Greece and Cyprus at Amnesty International’s Secretariat in London between 2003 and 2008. She currently co-edits The Cyprus Review and has co-edited the 2012 special issue of the Journal of Balkan and Near East Studies on ‘Cultures and Conflict of Heritage’.