Summer Blues: The Fascist Shadow over Greece.
The sun is blazing from a cloudless sky. I write this sheltering from the mid day heat looking out over the sea and the hazy outline of the Turkish coast. Samos is really a paradise in so many ways and yet I feel an overwhelming sense of sadness. And in this I know I am not alone.
Vassilis is an out of work carpenter, whose open workshop was the first building you passed as you climbed into the village. Its doors have now been closed for 2 years. He does not expect it to ever open again. He is now a full time farmer working his lands including a variety of animals from a few goats, to rabbits and chickens. He captured some of this melancholy when he said why do we always say we are good (kala) when we meet people? Who is feeling good these days he asked? Who are we kidding?
The election results don’t help. At least if Syriza had won enough votes to form a government we would have least had some hope and some excitement as they tried to throw out the terms of the bailouts. As it is, we have more of the same as before if not worse. The Troika and its acolytes having terrorised the electorate as to the consequences of tearing up the austerity deal have now made it clear that there is going to be no reward for keeping Syriza out. The consequence is that we are all now waiting for ‘more shit to happen’.
More specifically, the election results revealed that the neo fascist Golden Dawn party got 16 votes in the village. Just under 10% of the total that voted in the village (their national share was 6.9%). These sorts of figures with a few exceptions were repeated across Samos and indeed nationally Golden Dawn garnered some of its highest votes from island populations especially in the Dodecanese. I have no idea as to what explains this phenomenon. Nor do I understand the strong vote in Ambelos where we have no refugees living permanently and which is light years away from the urban centres where larger groups of refugees have sought survival in the most hostile of environments materially and ideologically.
For me and many like me the emergence of Golden Dawn sheds a deep and dark cloud over Greece. Contrary to many who believed that the May vote for Golden Dawn would collapse as people realized its true ( fascistic) character their vote actually held steady and in places like Samos actually increased. Moreover in the six weeks between elections Golden Dawn rather than play down its cruelties and intolerances actually raised the ante. Rarely a day passed without some media report of Golden Dawn violence including those who had recently been elected as MPs taking a prominent role. Their policy pronouncements were given wide circulation such as their demand that all refugees and those without papers should be thrown out of hospitals and clinics and their places given to Greeks. This included children. They also gained publicity for their gangs who threaten employers of ‘foreign’ workers and place them on notice of violent reprisals if they should not sack such workers and replace them with Greeks. Hardly the actions of a party that thought that downplaying its racism and inhumanity was essential to prevent its May voter base from evapourating.
Both the previously dominant New Democracy and Pasok parties have played crucial parts in creating the context for racism and fascism to flourish. Both these parties have blood on their hands as they sought to deflect anger over austerity on to the innocent backs of the refugees. As Nick Malkoutzis noted in Ekathimerini on March 30 2012:
Judging by the content of the debate in Greece over the past few days, one might think that the most pressing issue facing the country ahead of the upcoming general elections is illegal immigration rather than the economy. The two coalition partners, New Democracy and PASOK, have attempted to outdo each other by trying to appear determined to tackle a matter to which the crisis has lent extra weight.
Leaders from both parties have not hesitated to crank up their racism in a bid to gain popularity especially from Greek victims of austerity who they seek to manipulate by their ridiculous claims and exaggerations. The March 2012 comment from Samaras the now prime minister from New Democracy is just one example when he said that “our cities have been taken over by illegal immigrants, we have to reclaim them.” Pasok cabinet minister Xrisochoidis (citizen protection) declared that illegal immigrants were responsible for most crimes and that law and order was the major concern of the Greek people. Health minister Loverdos, also Pasok, said that illegal immigrants should be put in separate units in the hospitals and all immigrants from certain countries should be put in quarantine. Invoking a commitment to public health, both Pasok and New Democracy have argued that refugees and undocumented migrants pose a health risk through their chaotic life styles. Disgracefully, they targeted some of the most vulnerable of the vulnerable, street sex workers arguing that they were responsible for the increases in HIV infection and went even further with high profile arrests of migrant sex workers and then publishing their pictures and profiles on the internet and other media outlets. The fact that programmes focusing on HIV and Aids have been slaughtered by austerity is rarely mentioned. And never are the factors that press often enslaved sex workers to have unprotected sex with their punters explored.
If there is any sort of countervailing argument these tend to resort to firstly admitting there is a problem about illegal migration to Greece and that the state’s response is and has been chaotic and uncoordinated. This is usually followed by data that shows that Greece faces some major demographic challenges for which refugees and undocumented migrants might be the answer. Malkoutzis’s piece in Ekathimerini is typical in this respect:
With less than 10 children being born for every 1,000 inhabitants, Greece has one of the lowest birthrates in the world (205th out of 221 countries ranked in the CIA World Factbook last year). Its death rate — 10.7 per 1,000 inhabitants — is one of the highest in the European Union (44th on the CIA’s global index). In simple terms, this means there will soon not be enough people working and producing wealth to cover the cost of running the state and looking after the country’s aging population.
At the moment, Greece has an old-age dependency ratio of about 30 percent, which means there are three people of working age for every pensioner. This ratio is projected to be close to 60 percent by 2050. Unless Greeks start producing more babies — a prospect that has been stymied by the current crisis — or integrating more migrants into its society, there is no way the country will be able to function. Most EU countries face a similar problem but Greece’s is compounded by the fact that many of its young, bright people are packing their bags and leaving. This is creating a huge gap that needs to be filled.
(March 30th 2012)
Such information may modify the views of some but are these really the principal grounds on which we should be fighting against the rise of fascism in Greece and the generally appalling state policies of neglect, incarceration and torture? Have we abandoned any sense of humanity, with the result that people’s worth and right to live in security is determined only by their potential and actual economic contribution?
Violence and Hate
“It is like Afghanistan during war. When we leave home in the morning we don’t know if we will come back at night. That is the situation for us in Greece now”. These words from an Afghani refugee in Athens opens the Human Rights Watch’s (HRW) short video which accompanied their report on racist violence in Greece which was published earlier this week (10/7/2012: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c_h1D8dBgUU). Much of the video and the Report tell us nothing especially new but it is no less important for that as it details the escalation of violence against refugees, the collusion of the police and the state authorities in general (eg no systematic data collection of race hate crimes; pressing victims of violent crime not to submit charges and even threatening them with detention should they want to proceed etc) and not least it includes the voices and faces of those subjected to this daily terror. The latter testimony is deeply distressing.
But even more distressing are the comments posted under the video on the YouTube site. Here are just a few examples:
- Human Rights? lol..
I will come into your home -?I will eat your food. I will piss in your bed. I will shit on your floor and I will toy with your daughter.
When you set me in my place and let me know that I am not allowed to be in your home because of these mishaps, I will run to your 'Human Rights' and let them know you have breached mine.
Greeceis not a trash can for escapees of an uncivilized world.
351gt 4 hours ago
- HRW is a far left, communistic, anti white? smear machine.
if you are not of a Greek ethnic back ground, you have zero right to be in Greece.
that is just a fact.
Pakistanfor the Pakistanis, Afghanistan for the Afghanis, and Greece for Greeks.
seems reasonable to me.
FatherofSmoke 7 hours ago
- This is pure propaganda! 30 Greeks have been murdered by illegal immigrants only in 2012 and according to the video THEY are afraid to leave their homes! Well guess what.. Greeks are afraid even inside? their homes! 59% of the crimes committed in 2011 were done by illegal immigrants, 11% by Greeks and 30% unknown identity (probably foreigners). It's time for them to go home..
panos8814 9 hours ago 2
It is impossible to judge how widely these views are held or the extent to which they are gaining ground. It is impossible to know at the moment at least, how many voters of Golden Dawn hold these views. Do those who live in Ambelos or Samos more widely share such views? Just how safe are our refugee friends here ? Will our Palestinian friends who are coming to visit us with their 2 young children in 2 weeks time be safe as they cross Athens to catch the ferry? These have become real questions for us now. And it’s not a good feeling.
But what we can be sure about is that the ‘success’ of Golden Dawn in the recent general elections has profoundly boosted the confidence of the neo-fascists and fueled its activities on the streets. It is simply inconceivable that Golden Dawn won’t seek to build on its electoral base and seek to create branches and structures in those areas that look most fruitful. The tolerance of the most outrageous racist comments in much of the media and from within New Democracy and Pasok provides an incredibly fertile environment for Golden Dawn.
Until recently the main opposition to the fascists and racists has come from the ‘street’, as David Frum noted:
Hope comes mainly from the reaction of civil society. In recent weeks local anti-fascist fronts have sprung up from below in many places, with scant support from the official left. Mass anti-Nazi rallies, mobilising many thousands of people, shook the principal cities of Greece. There is even talk of self-defence groups, comprising locals and immigrants that will fight Golden Dawn in the streets and provide to all the security that the state now offers to few.
Drawing on long and popular anti-fascist sentiment in Greece, the ‘street’ has yet again moved in advance of the organized Left for as Frum observed:
The left grievously underestimated this threat all these years, hoping that it would evaporate by itself. Its leadership still has no strategy to counter the spread of fascism. Syriza until recently took democratic normality for granted, while the Communist party seems determined to repeat all the blunders of the German communists that brought Hitler to power.
Both parties refused to mobilise when Golden Dawn, with the support of the police, created a fief in a central Athens neighbourhood. Years of insouciance, in which thousands of attacks against immigrants provoked few reactions, led to deputies being beaten in front of the cameras. And even then, they refused to call for mass mobilisation against the thugs. The perceived moral of the story was that when fascists strike the left leadership, the latter shows a most Christian meekness. This instills little enthusiasm in the rank-and-file, and even less self-respect.
However, this is now changing as parties such as Syriza wake up to the dangers posed by the rise of Golden Dawn and have started to throw their weight behind popular anti-racist/fascist resistance. The response from the elites to these developments has been largely to re-present and relegate the plight of refugees as some kind of sectarian conflict between the right and the left and not as a matter which shames and undermines the entire society.
The following is taken from an odd libertarian right wing blog – Hellas Frappe- run by a Greek/Canadian. Entitled “Special Report – Illegal immigrants and leftists provoking civil war against Greeks in Piraeus” illustrates something of this tendency:
For the first time in modern Greek political history, Greek political parties openly sided with illegal foreign immigrants from countries such as Pakistan, Bangladesh, Afghanistan and other areas against Greek citizens. The Radical Coalition of the Left (SYRIZA) and other smaller parliamentary parties (or as they claim to be anti-racist organizations) of the Left such as far-left ANTARSYA, etc which belong to the Coalition, helped several illegal immigrants on Thursday night to organize an undemocratic rally in the area Agios Nikolaos in Nikea (Piraeus) against the Golden Dawn Party.
Even with the publicity the protest received from television channels which have never hidden their ties to the Left such as MEGA, the participants at this gathering did not even manage to gather more than 300 people together. The mood became very heated, and illegal immigrants even began to attack common Greek citizens who had gathered outside of Golden Dawn's offices in a cry of support. Thanks to local police, no injuries or damages were reported……………….
Friends, when illegal immigrants demand that a political party which gained 7 percent of the electoral vote of the GREEK PEOPLE be closed down (because they think, or fear something but cannot back it with evidence) then you can expect nothing but trouble. Certainly these foreigners were influenced to stage this protest from the anarchist backed ANTARSYA party which is known to despise the Golden Dawn party and has clashed with it on more than one occasion.
No one has the right to demand that a political party close down its offices, someone better advise these people that we have a democracy here and unlike their countries do not stone people because they do not wear Burgas[sic], or burn them alive for adultery[sic]……..
Only Greek voters decide who should be punished, who should move forward and who should rise in government, and this does not include a handful of people who illegally entered into our country and have no right to demand anything!
We know that the only reason the Left supports these immigrants is because they want to raise the amount of voters they have, that is also why they advocate that we legalize them, and we also suspect many other things as well, but have you asked yourselves why the Pakistanis so fixated on the Golden Dawn party, …….
(July 5th 2012: http://hellasfrappe.blogspot.gr/2012/07/special-report-illegal-immigrants.html)
As always, silence on racism and fascism, implies complicity and this complicity, especially from Greece’s political elites also poses questions. Why have none of the leading ministers spoken out about the disgrace of this treatment of fellow human beings? Why are they so sanguine about the growing and clear evidence of police involvement with and support for the fascists? Why have no initiatives been launched such as simply compiling the extent of racist violence? Why has there never been action taken to root out the routine torture of detained refugees which has been detailed in report after report both from within and outside Greece? (See for example, I came here for peace: the systematic ill treatment of refugees and migrants by state agents in Patras’. Pro Asyl June 2012, http://www.proasyl.de/fileadmin/proasyl/fm_redakteure/Presserkl_Anhaenge/Patras-Webversion04D-DS-k.pdf). Why does so much of the mainstream media tolerate the outrages of Golden Dawn and indeed often goes further in presenting Golden Dawn leaders as ‘decent’ and concerned people publishing profiles which emphasise their light side – such as their love for their kids, families and neighbourhood?
Is it remotely possible that this complicity has more sinister possibilities other than just deflecting attention from the real reasons for the humanitarian tragedy that is unfolding daily here? Divide and rule is a cardinal principle of rule by the few. But isn’t it just as possible that escalating race violence and nightly clashes on the streets between the fascists and the anti-racists will play into the hands of those who long for a return of the junta and its promise to restore order and discipline. Is this why the police, according to the HRW Report, are telling the refugees caught up in attacks that they should not be trying to lay charges against their attackers but instead should fight back? Who precisely stands to benefit from such disorder and the fact that central areas of Athens and other major cities have become at night, no go areas for ‘foreigners’? Athens 2012 is not Berlin 1929, but there are more than a few chilling parallels. And Greece has a military which is powerful and with a track record in junta making!
What is further troubling is the lack of any sustained public debate/concern about the role of the police and other agents of state security. Whether dressed up as Ninja Turtles or just in their everyday uniforms the violence of the police is notorious. YouTube carries endless clips of police routinely attacking refugees and protesters. But as in so many countries today, the police are allowed to act with impunity against their own people. It is disquieting to say the least to be in a place where the police are allowed such freedoms to be cruel and inhumane. Yet apart from left parties such as Syriza demanding a reform of the police there is virtually no critical comment from those in power and with influence.
Instead we have a situation where on the very day that the newspaper Ekathimerini (July 10th 2012) led on the Human Rights Watch Report with a headline of “Racist attacks carried out 'with impunity,' says rights group” the paper’s editorial demanded that the pay and conditions of the police and the armed forces should be significantly improved. The editorial was headlined as “Protecting those who protect us”. What a joke!
As you might expect writing all this does not make for a happy writer! These developments and issues are not somewhere else out there. They are here and in your face. It affects many of us greatly and deeply. You look around with new eyes and new anxieties.
But before concluding this blog post I want to reflect for a moment on the relationship between the advance of fascism in Greece and austerity. It seems that for many, across the political spectrum, that this relationship is taken as a given truth demanding no further explanation or analysis. I too have taken a similar position and for good reasons which are all too familiar – scapegoating; divide and rule; media influence and so on. But I am increasingly concerned that we need to probe deeper and ask more questions especially about the outpouring of sheer hatred and violence. Just what has happened to these people? Just what are the connections between austerity and fascism, especially as there are so many people here who are appalled, frightened and shamed by the fascists?
I also feel we need an analysis that looks at the experiences arising from the large migration of Albanians to Greece during the 1990s. As now with the refugees, Albanians were cursed from pillar to post and every social problem and nearly all crime was attributed to Albanians. As now, so then, Albanians were discriminated against in virtually every aspect of their lives, from housing, to schools, to medical treatment to employment. As now, the state role was control and containment. As now so then the numbers involved were claimed to be around 1 million. Yes there were many, but as ever it is always to the advantage of the racists to claim exaggerated figures. As now, so then, Albanians irrespective of their skills were expected to survive on the most demeaning, unpleasant and lowest paid work that few Greeks would touch.
I recall only too well a close friend telling me in 1997 how ashamed she was about the hostility and violence against the Albanian refugees and how she had always thought – and had been proud – of her country as being free of the endemic racism she had encountered whilst working in England. Greece she said was a country with a massive diaspora who knew what it means to be a stranger in a foreign land and in whose culture hospitality to strangers was a core value. All of this was shattered by what she saw happening to the Albanians in Athens.
And let us not forget, that for most of the anti-Albanian furore, Greece was not under austerity and in fact had climbed by 2004 to become the 22nd richest country in the world and was prospering as the major Balkan economy with all the rich pickings that came from the collapse of Stalinist regimes in the region.
Interestingly, although there are still many Albanians living and working in Greece, they are no longer the focus of the fascist’s fury and hate. This is now the preserve of refugees especially those of colour – African, south Asian, Afghan etc. Why is this? Similarly, one symbol of Greece’s poverty has been the expansion of Chinese owned and managed clothing stores. They are ubiquitous and even on Samos there must be nearly 10 such shops in Vathi and Karlovassi selling cheap clothes and household accessories. Again, there appears to be little anti-Chinese sentiment.
So the racism here has particular characteristics and dimensions and it has dramatically escalated in periods of both ‘growth’ and austerity. These are issues we need to understand and not simply apply some sort of formulaic response that simply accepts the relationship between austerity and fascism/racism.
Finally, some words that do make sense!
Human beings are members of a whole,
In creation: of one essence and soul.
If one member is afflicted with pain,
The other members uneasy remain.
If you have no sympathy for human pain,
The title ‘human’ you cannot claim.
By Sa’adi Shirazi
Quoted by Amin
May 13, 2012 – Patras
(From, ‘I came here for peace: the systematic ill treatment of refugees and migrants by state agents in Patras’. Pro Asyl June 2012, http://www.proasyl.de/fileadmin/proasyl/fm_redakteure/Presserkl_Anhaenge/Patras-Webversion04D-DS-k.pdf)