Feeling European - Greece celebrates 40 years of EU membership


Melina Mercouri, (1920-1994)
Melina Mercouri, (1920-1994)

The President of the European Parliament, David Sassoli, is visiting Athens on Thursday and Friday, 27-28 May, on the occasion of the 40th anniversary of Greece’s accession to the European Economic Community (EEC).

This important anniversary was also mentioned in this week’s New Europeans 6th talk in its Reflections on the Future of Europe series, following a great presentation by Jelena Dzankic on EU Citizenship. Jelena Dzankic talked about the ways in which individuals can acquire and lose EU citizenship and this was followed by a discussion with panelists, as well as the audience watching on Facebook  about the meaning of this citizenship and of European identity, including the revisiting of some of the ideas I presented in the first talk in the series on how Europe can become a feeling!

The 40th anniversary of Greece joining the EU is a great opportunity to highlight how Europe can indeed become a feeling! Greece joined in 1981, seven years after the collapse of a brutal dictatorship that ruled the country for seven years. One of the most prominent activists who campaigned against the dictatorship was the award-winning actress Melina Mercouri, whose Greek citizenship was revoked by the fascist regime  in response to her actions, triggering her famous riposte: I was born a Greek and I’ll die a Greek.

Following the restoration of democracy in 1974, Melina Mercouri was elected to the Greek parliament and also served as a Minister of Culture (playing an instrumental role in the institution of the European Capital of Culture) and she is also described in the official web-site of the European Union as an EU pioneer.   Melina Mercouri’s inspiring life and actions are a great example of why citizenship is not about legal status and how and why Europe (and EU citizenship) can become a feeling, feeling passionate about ideals such as those that inspired Melina Mercouri and many others to fight for freedom and human rights and against dictatorships (not just in Greece, but also Spain and Portugal, as well as the European countries behind the Iron Curtain).

Feeling Greek in the spirit of Melina Mercouri and by extension feeling European is about the defending of key EU values: guaranteeing democracy, the rule of law, human rights and respect for and protection of minorities.  It is about remembering the struggles of Europeans against dictatorships and authoritarian regimes in our continent in the past, but also about being vigilant and supporting the struggles against dictatorships today, and standing, for example, in solidarity with the people of Belarus , expressing outrage about the hijacking of a European airplane on an EU domestic flight from Athens to Vilnius, and demanding the immediate release of Roman Protasevich and Sofia Sapenga and all the other political prisoners.

Being and feeling European (regardless of nationality and country of origin and including of course people who come from outside Europe) is about being united in diversity in defending these ideals and universal values in Europe and beyond!

About the author

Dimitris Ballas is Professor of Economic Geography, University of Groningen and co-author of the Human Atlas of Europe.

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