By now, the broader cause of the thousands flooding the streets of Greece in recent days must be well known: Six years of full-blown economic depression. An austerity regime crammed down the nation's throat by international finance that has sent wages plummeting and left 65 percent of all youth unemployed and a social safety net buckling under the pressure. This is to say nothing of the unchecked rise in anti-immigrant scapegoating and racist violence. Or the fact that no fewer than 18 admirers of Hitler now sit in Greek parliament.
But the most direct and immediate cause of this latest unrest–the push toward a potential tipping point–can be traced to the violent death of a left-wing rapper.
In the early morning hours of September 18, not long after midnight, 34-year-old Pavlos Fyssas was walking with a group of friends on the streets of Piraeus. According to friends and eyewitnesses, Fyssas and his companions were leaving a cafe when a group of around 20 thugs wearing black T-shirts and military apparel–identified as members of the far-right Golden Dawn party–accosted them, threatened them and got violent.
Fyssas' crew tried to escape, but after turning down a one-way street, they were confronted by another group of fascists. A car pulled up, blocking the exit, after which the driver got out and stabbed Fyssas; once in the stomach, twice in the heart.
It took 20 minutes for the ambulance to arrive. During that time, Fyssas slowly bled out, but managed to identify the man who stabbed him: 45-year-old Giorgos Roupakias, a supporter and likely member of Golden Dawn with ties to the nearby Nikaia branch of the party. Not long after reaching the hospital, Fyssas died from his wounds.
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Fyssas wasn't an "unknown." He wasn't an immigrant whose death or assault the government was able to shrug its shoulders at. Golden Dawn has already been implicated in plenty of those cases, and more often than not, its members have walked away scot-free. Fyssas, however, was native-born, a dedicated and respected member of the left and the anti-fascist movement to boot. Shameful as it is that it took the death of a "true Greek" to get the government's attention, that appears to be the case.
As Spyros, a 25-year-old member of the radical left party SYRIZA told Vice magazine, "First, they were allowed to beat up immigrants, and now they've started freely attacking anyone with views opposing theirs."
What's more, Fyssas had a high profile. His hip-hop persona, Killah P, is described by the Guardian's Athens correspondent Helena Smith as one of Greece's best-known rappers.
Initial reports painted the attack on Fyssas and his friends as fairly random, originating back at the cafe when one of his friends made a remark against Golden Dawn. This wouldn't be surprising; fascists aren't exactly known for taking criticism well. But as more details have become known, as the nature of the attack has unfolded, it seems more and more likely that he was targeted.
One anonymous former member of Golden Dawn, when asked about Fyssas, admitted that he was well known in the organization, and "was in the crosshairs, because he had anti-fascist songs. There were verses which offended Golden Dawn…He was anti-fascist and sang about it, and they knew it." On top of that, sources have recently revealed that Roupakias received several phone calls from the party's office in the hour leading up to the attack. This was no random scuffle, it seems; this was a planned ambush.
Making matters worse are reports that though police were nearby, even witnessing what was happening, they did nothing. Again, not a first for the Greek police, around 50 percent of whom voted for Golden Dawn in the last election.
That a gang of Nazis attacked and killed a left-wing, anti-fascist hip-hop artist while police looked on is so bitterly predictable that it almost seems strange to try and unpack it. Golden Dawn have gone out of their way to terrorize artists deemed unacceptable before. Last fall, a run of Terrence McNally's play Corpus Christi, which portrays Jesus Christ as gay, was forced to shut down after attendees and actors were assaulted several nights in a row by members of the group–including at least one member of parliament.
Clearly, the party has only gotten bolder since then; Fyssas' murder came only days after 50 fascists attacked a group of Greek Communist Party members and put nine of them in the hospital with serious injuries.
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All of this carries obvious echoes of Italy and Germany, the squadristi and brownshirts storming through towns and targeting anyone and everyone outside their approval. Socialists, trade unionists, Jews, gays and disabled persons driven underground. Surrealism and jazz declared "degenerate," a whole generation of musicians, artists and composers whose futures disappeared in the horrors of Treblinka, Sobibor and Auschwitz. And just as the avant-garde of the '20s and '30s represented all that was impure and threatening to Mussolini and Hitler, hip-hop's history as a style and sound originating in poor communities of color naturally puts it on modern fascism's hit list.
For its own part, Killah P's music seems to have been an exploration of the link between the personal and political–that place where one's alienation leads them to reach defiant, radical conclusions. The day after Fyssas' death, a video of his song "Siga Mi Klapso, Siga Mi Fovitho," or "I Won't Cry, I Won't Be Afraid," including an English translation of the lyrics, was posted online. At the time of writing it's gotten over 200,000 views.
Musically, the song takes a cue from Greece's experimental music scene. Sampling Giannis Aggelakas' folk-rock-poetry collision "There's No Way I'd Cry," the song's jaunty arrangement is sped up and tightened into a tense, almost manic beat.
Lyrically, it's not hard to see how so many young, futureless, radicalizing kids would want to identify with what Killah P is saying:
And to those that threatened me with burning chains,
I want them to know that I will not bother with fear.
Let them come and find me at the mountaintop,
I'm waiting for them and I will not bother with fear.
Appropriately enough, Fyssas' refrain in the song–that he "won't be afraid"–itself carries a political importance. Part of that importance is in the twists of translation. According to Greek-American socialist Stavroula Harissis, "The phrase usually gets translated as 'I will not fear' though it's actually much more linguistically rich and complex. Personally, I think a better translation is something like 'Yeah right, like I'm afraid.'"
This sarcastic rebuke–a bold thumbing of the nose when directed at violent thugs like Golden Dawn–has by now become a common slogan in the Greek antifascist movement. It can be heard in chants on demonstrations, and seen on stickers plastering over racist graffiti.
More than a political turn of phrase, it's become a visceral declaration of dignity in the face of circumstances that are increasingly and undeniably inhuman.
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Clearly, a segment of the Greek population have again taken this message and run with it. Even before Killah P's death, public sector unions had declared a 48-hour strike against government-mandated firings on the 18th. But as the news of his murder quickly spread, anti-fascist demonstrations were also called in over 20 major cities.
In Piraeus, the anti-austerity demonstration of 5,000 quickly gave way to clashes between anti-fascists and police. In many other cities–Athens, Thessaloniki, Larisa, Trikala–anti-fascists joined demonstrations of teachers and hospital workers.
Some have called these demonstrations the biggest in recent years; from the looks of it they certainly seem to be the most violent. In Athens, police fired tear-gas cannisters directly at people's heads, resulting in one protester losing an eye. In the western city of Patras, demonstrators hurled molotovs and bricks at Golden Dawn's offices. Similar scenes played out in Chania, on the island of Crete.
Meanwhile, Golden Dawn have been somewhat put on the defensive. Spokespeople denied any involvement with Fyssas' death. Nonetheless, a speech by party leader Nikolaos Michaloliakos scheduled for the next day in Nikaia–where Roupakias has attended branch meetings–was abruptly canceled. There is now open talk among politicians of declaring Golden Dawn an illegal party. Several anti-fascist marchers and protesters–particularly young people–have declared Fyssas' death the beginning of the end for Golden Dawn.
All of this was set in motion mere days before representatives of the notorious "troika"–the European Union, International Monetary Fund and European Central Bank–visited with conservative Prime Minister Antonis Samaras on Sunday, September 22, to discuss the terms of Greece's financial future. Samaras has spent his past several speeches insisting that the worst is behind them, even going so far as to label his reforms a "success story."
Vasiliki Angelakou, a striking teacher in Athens, had a simple reply to this: "Where is the success story when our kids are going abroad because there are no jobs?"
More civil service strikes have been called in the coming week, and teachers have announced that they'll be staying out at least through Monday and Tuesday.
The scale of protest, as well as the connections being drawn between the struggles against fascism and austerity, have some wondering whether Greece is entering a new phase of resistance. Writing in the newspaper Ekathimerini, journalist Nikos Xydakis has speculated whether Greece has crossed a "red line" of sorts.
If it has, then the divisions are stark. Golden Dawn has a clear view of the world it wishes to build; one in which expression, diversity, creativity and ultimately all that makes us human is summarily banished. Just as clear is how the government's vicious austerity members have left the door open for fascists and racists to exploit people's fears. The choice between a more just, democratic world and abject barbarism has seldom been clearer.
Whether the radical and revolutionary left–along with the masses of workers–are able to not just counter this horrifying vision but present a tangible alternative to it is certainly the most urgent challenge ahead. There's much more at stake here than the memory of one emcee. But if Greek workers are, as Fyssas declared, truly losing their fear, then there may yet be hope on the horizon.
Special thanks to Stavroula Harrisis for her research, knowledge and translation help with this article.