A young Afghani immigrant boy has unwillingly found himself at the epicenter of an ugly controversy in Greece.
Greek prime minister Alexis Tsipras welcomed Amir, the young elementary school student to his office on Saturday, concluding a story that has brought out the best— and worst elements of Greek society.
The story begins with Amir’s “good fortune” to be selected in a school raffle, the winner of which would have the honor of carrying the Greek flag in the annual Oxi Day parade in Athens.
The leftist government of Syriza replaced the longstanding merit-based system that was in place in Greek schools for decades which rewarded the top performing student in each class with the honor of carrying the flag in the annual parade with the “lottery system.”
Many cried foul at the time claiming the government was doing away with a merit-based system that rewarded top students with one based on luck.
At the time, the education ministry said the move was intended to give all students the same opportunity to carry the flag, regardless of their educational accomplishments.
Amir won the raffle fair and square in his school when his name was selected in a drawing and he would have the honor of carrying the Greek flag ahead of his fellow classmates.
But xenophobia would rear its ugly head when school officials objected and abruptly took that honor away from him, awarding the flag-carrying honor to a Greek pupil and giving Amir the school’s sign to carry instead.
For days, the decision of the school officials to prevent Amir from carrying the flag divided the nation. It was the top story in media as nationalists defended the school’s decision, claiming that only Greeks should have the honor of carrying the Greek flag in a parade.
Others protested the school’s decision, arguing that rules are rules and all students should have the opportunity and that taking that honor away from Amir was both racist and xenophobic, not to mention unfair.
Photographs from the parade with Amir carrying the sign, instead of the flag, fueled more attacks and counter-attacks from both sides, revealing a tale of two Greeces— one that wants to be welcoming to foreigners and help them integrate into Greek society and another that would prefer they never arrived in the first place.
Things got ugly when Amir’s apartment was vandalized and rocks and glass bottles were thrown through a smashed window at 3:00am, waking the entire family, including Amir, who found amongst the debris, a hand-written sign that said “Go home to your country.”
Amir and his family arrived in Greece on a raft, fleeing war and Taliban extremism back home in Afghanistan.
He said in an interview that he thought the West was supposed to be “more civilized” and tolerant than what his family experienced in Afghanistan, where people are stoned to death by the Taliban.
Greek prime minister Alexis Tsipras has attempted to right the wrong by welcoming Amir to his office and present him with… a Greek flag— like the one he never got to carry during the October 28th parade, because some in the country didn’t find him worthy.
Many called it political grandstanding by Tsipras, while others were happy to see the young boy smile and have the opportunity to do what was supposed to be his right, since he did win for and square.
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