In Ancient Greece, the region known as Laconia, or Lacedaemonia, belonged to the kingdom of Sparta. As the annals of historical chronicles reveal, the Kingdom of Sparta fought the Kingdom of Athens in the Peloponnesian War. Sparta won that war, and Athens, previously the strongest city state in the ancient world, was reduced to a devastated shadow of its former self.
According to some historians, the “helots” who dwelled in Laconia and nearby Messenia, were permanently enslaved by the ruling Spartans, forced to perform agricultural labour and other tasks.
According to Plutarch, they were ritually humiliated and mistreated and even slaughtered in the autumn, when the harvest was over. If a Spartan killed one of them, he would not receive any punishment.
Other historians such as Aristophanes of Byzantium alleges that the helots occupied a “middle status” between slaves and servants. They were tied to the agricultural land and served and supported the Spartans.
The same conundrum could be said to describe the condition of those that toil the agricultural lands of what was formerly Sparta and is now Greece.
These new slaves of former Sparta are no longer the helots but Pakistanis and Bangladeshis.
Like their forbears, the almost slaves of ancient times, they too toil the agricultural fields, picking oranges which are squeezed to produce organic orange juice for wealthy Europeans. The similarities do not end there.
Like the helots of Ancient Sparta, the Pakistani and Bangladeshi workers in the region are forbidden from engaging in activities that the other inhabitants of the region can do freely. They are forbidden from going to the beach, they may not rent houses, and they cannot receive service at restaurants.
The almost-slaves of the modern Peloponnese are thus forced to live in warehouses or chicken coops with a lucky few able to house themselves in derelict buildings. For the privilege of these habitations, they must pay 50 euros.
Like the autumnal slave massacres of ancient Sparta documented by Plutarch, the modern almost slaves of Laconia regularly face assaults. Last year, a group of 33 Bangladeshi farm workers were shot by their farm supervisors because they gathered to protest the working conditions at the camp.
According to the workers interviewed by Amnesty International, the supervisors threatened the workers that they would kill them and the shooting went on for nearly 20 minutes. The workers in that strawberry farm were found to have been living in sheds made of plastic sheeting, with no access to clean water and no bathrooms.
The slaves of ancient Greece had likely fared better.
In another incident, a Pakistani migrant worker, Mohammad Asif reported that he had been assaulted by the Mayor of Evrotas Ioannis Grypiotis and then sent to a detention camp for 18 months. When he returned, the Mayor saw him again and threatened to hit him once more.
Another Pakistani worker, Nadim Asif, said that he was assaulted by the police because he could not immediately produce his papers. The officer broke his hand.
A Pakistani worker named Ibrar Hussein was also punched and kicked by the police. When another, Rizwan Ahmed, accused a police officer of assault, he was taken the police station and beaten up and told that he had no right to be anywhere in Greece except the farm that he worked on.
Police in the region are said to carry out regular raids of the migrants’ houses, kicking and hitting them with trunches for no reason at all.
The rise of various racist and neo-Nazi groups in the region has only exacerbated the problem and provided a justification for what is in effect the new slave class of the region. The racial and religious differences that the migrant workers have from the local population allow all sorts of racist and bigoted stereotypes to be attached to them.
On their side, the workers fleeing prospects of employment in Pakistan itself continue to make their way to any place else, even a Greece where they will become almost slaves. In this way, global inequality and local bigotry combine to revive the ancient and exploitative custom of slavery.
Now known as migrant workers, the Pakistani slaves of Modern Greece are tied to the land, divested of their dignity and reduced to something less than human. Living in sheds and under tarps, picking the good fruit for others and fed the rotting fruit that no one else will eat, they like millions of others, are part of the new global underclass.
The semantic tricks and loopholes of the developed world no longer label them slaves, but they continue to live like them and die like them, providing a testament that the modern world is not a moral world, its innovation, the slapping of new labels on old evils.