Using National History to Construct the Boundaries of Citizenship: An Analysis of Greek Citizens’ Discourse About Immigrants’ Rights

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In this article we advance a qualitative approach to study the interconnection between representations of history and representations of citizenship. We argue that representations of the national past are important resources on which different constructions of citizenship are based. Our empirical context is the heated debate that emerged as a result of the announcement of new citizenship legislation in Greece. We used the online comments posted in the forum of the Ministry of Internal Affairs following the announcement of the legislation to study how national history was represented by Greek citizens and how these representations functioned to form different arguments regarding migrants’ citizenship rights. Our analysis identified 4 themes in representations of national history: continuity of the nation, idealization of the past, moral obligation toward the past, and homogeneity or heterogeneity of the nation. We show that these ideas largely sustain an exclusive, essentialist, ethnic conception of the nation as a distinct, homogeneous, and continuous entity of people sharing a common genetic heritage. More inclusive arguments were based on seemingly pluralistic ideas that implicitly entailed banal nationalist assumptions or assimilatory ideas toward migrant inclusion. We conclude that commentators’ historical representations inhibit critical understanding of the past and consequently of a more open and plural understanding of the future. Future research should focus on examining how formal and informal education may promote such representations and on the political implications of these for intergroup relations in multicultural contexts.

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