Greece has developed as a relatively homogeneous society as witnessed through the development of nation-state institutions, socio-economic development and urbanisation. Greece recognises a Muslim minority in Thrace and the Roma population is dispersed throughout the different regions of Greece.
A major issue to be addressed today is the large numbers of migrant workers, refugees and asylum seekers who have moved to all parts of Greece in increasing numbers from 1990 onwards, more than half of them from neighbouring Albania, and more recently from Central Asia and the inadequacy of mechanisms for their cultural integration. The effects, both positive and worrying, of the multicultural situation found in inner-city and some rural areas, is yet to be fully studied and understood.
The Greek state embraces an approach of socio-economic and cultural integration, balanced by respect and recognition of cultural diversity. To take the example of the Roma people, an inter-ministerial commission had been established as early as in 1997 to address the issue of their social integration in Greek society. Within the scope of this policy, the Ministry of Culture developed cultural and educational initiatives, co-funded by the 3rd Support Framework Programme of the European Commission and implemented in co-operation with local government. The programme aimed to develop cultural infrastructure for Roma settlements, to promote literacy and skills in the arts (such as music and photography) among Roma people, and to make their creativity and cultural traditions known to society at large. Photography exhibitions and music events by Greek Roma, arising from this programme, took place in various venues, including the 2004 programme of the Hellenic Foundation of Culture in Berlin. An “Integrated Action Plan for the Social Integration of Greek Roma” had been launched in 2002, including educational programmes for children and adults. In 2011 the Byzantine and Christian Museum participated at the EU- funded programme Roma Routes aiming at encouraging intercultural dialogue between Roma and non Roma by all partner organisations, as well as exploring and promoting Roma cultural heritage at a European level. Within the framework of the project, the Museum developed educational activities and cultural events that took place in June 2011 aiming to promote access by Roma visitors to a national museum.
The Ministry of Culture has also developed and implemented multicultural educational programmes, directed to children of non-Greek immigrant families in the centre of Athens and elsewhere. Changes in immigration legislation in 2005 removed knowledge of Greek as a pre-requisite for residence permit issuance, and established Greek language programmes for immigrants of working age under the auspices of local government. Significant initiatives have been launched with regard to the preservation and valorisation of monuments linked with non-Greek cultural heritage, including 42 major Ottoman monuments and several synagogues in all parts of Greece. Radio programmes in the main languages spoken by migrant workers’ communities are regularly broadcasted by the public broadcasting channel ERT; in addition, Athens International Radio, an initiative of the Athens City Council, broadcasts general audience daily programmes in several languages including Albanian, Russian, and Arabic.
There is a declared policy against racial discrimination, racist and xenophobic behaviour and stereotyping of the media. Despite a strong tradition of tolerance and hospitality, it is not clear, however, how Greece can avoid problems of xenophobia and cultural exclusion already faced by other European countries with large immigrant populations. Under these circumstances, institutions such as the Ombudsman, with its annual report on discrimination and monitoring programmes and the work of different NGOs, play a paramount role in supporting equitable treatment of groups such as the Roma, the Muslim minority of Thrace and non-Greek economic immigrants.
On the other hand, educational and cultural policies are seen as key for the promotion of diversity. An important role in discouraging cultural and ethnic stereotyping is played by the National Radio and Television Council, the Code of Journalistic Ethics and the draft Code of Ethics for Information and Other Journalistic and Political Programmes.
Greece ratified the UN Convention on the rights of persons with disabilities (30/02/2007) as well as its optional protocol (27/09/2010). In line with Law 3304/2005 (Implementation of the principle of equal treatment regardless gender or origin, religious or other convictions, disability, age or sexual orientation) and following the EU Directive 2000/78/EC, there is now a Commission for Equal Treatment established under the Ministry of Justice supervising the implementation of the Protocol and the directive in cooperation with the Ombudsman and the Hellenic Labour Inspectorate.