Fear and Loathing in Athens
Greetings from Greece, land of privatization, fascist parliamentarians and immigrant round ups. Also the land of some of the most inspiring and brave people I’ve met during the END:CIV tour. I’m currently producing a report from here and I need your support. Please click here to learn how.
The situation Greece is so complex it’s a bit hard to unpack or figure out what to focus on. I came here to screen my film but also to produce a mini-doc on self organized neighborhood assemblies. Many of these assemblies were organized following the protest occupation of Syntagma square on May of last year. You could say it was Greece’s version of Occupy, before Occupy. The purpose of these assemblies is to not only strengthen political bases in localities, but to take care of practical stuff like food health care and self-defense. Some are older than the Syntagma occupation, like the assembly in the neighbourhood of Petralona. One of the persons I interviewed told me that they foresaw the economic meltdown and decided to organize in the style of their Argentinian counterparts.
The folks I spoke to did not want to be videotaped, and instead I recorded rough translations of their answers, but never their voices. These people are not hard core anarchist militants, they are students, doctors, teachers, speech therapists etc. But security concerns, as well as a feeling of not wanting to speak for the entire group, kept them from speaking “officially” on video. As you can imagine, this presents a challenge for me as a video producer, but I certainly understand.
The security concerns for some people had to do with losing their jobs. But most were concerned at being identified by the police and fascist groups. I know the word “fascist” gets tossed around a whole lot in activist circles in North America, but here it carries the full weight of the word. You see a fascist political party, Golden Dawn won 21 seats in the Greek parliament. These are nationalist right wing extremists, who have taken advantage of the dire economic situation here to further their agenda. They adopted the “Roman salute” and their logo looks like a modified Nazi swastika. They are vehemently anti-immigrant and members have been known to attack migrants, homosexuals and their supporters. They deny the holocaust and several people tell me that they have police officers within their ranks. Last thursday a spokesman for Golden Dawn violently attacked a female member of the Communist Party on national TV. As I write this the police have not yet apprehended him.
The following day I went to a massive anti-fascist rally in the centre of Athens. Many immigrants defiantly joined thousands to express their rage at Golden Dawn. The following day, the LGBT community, who also face violent attacks by fascists marched in the thousands as part of Athens 8th Pride parade.
A woman I spoke to during the Pride festivities, told me that because of her solidarity work with migrants and homosexuals, a bomb was thrown at her home. She also told me that the collective historical memory of Greece’s fascist and authoritarian dictatorships had not faded. This helps explain why people here fight so damned hard: They don’t want to go through that again. But to put this in context, when you look at the history of Nazism in Germany, one key aspect to Hitler’s rise to power was the small numbers of seats it secured in the German parliament. The economic conditions in Germany at the time were dire and Hitler’s populist nationalism and his promises of jobs and stability helped gain him the support of the German people. The conditions in Greece are very similar, but the bogeyman of Golden Dawn is not the jewish people, but huge influx of immigrants from Asia and Africa. Their parliamentary seats effectively “legalize” the group and gives them access to government money and media appearances.
Because of Greece’s geographical location it acts like a portal for immigrants from Asia to Europe. But some say it acts a more like a dam than a portal. Many migrants seeking a better life in Europe, enter from Turkey to Greece. Once here they are basically stuck. Albania and Macedonia, which border Greece to the north are not part of the European Union and have border checks. Bulgaria is not yet part of the Schengen agreement, that makes member countries to have open borders. To make matters worse, the Dublin II agreement, which Greece signed in 2003, puts to onus of processing asylum claims on the EU country in which the migrants first land. For Greece, this means the 9 out of 10 asylum seekers trying who enter the EU illegally, or about 500 people a day. When immigrants who entered through Greece are caught in other EU countries, they are returned back to Greece. Greece’s population is about 11 million people, 1 million of whom are illegal immigrants.
As many of you already know the Greek state is bankrupt, cutting many social programs, reducing pensions and privatizing government owned enterprises. The financial burden that this large influx of immigrants puts on the Geek economy is massive. This makes it easy for groups like Golden Dawn to blame immigrants for Greece’s social ills. For example, Golden Dawn has set up a free escort service, to provide security for old folks wanting to cash their pension cheques, and prevent immigrants, who supposedly would rob them of their money.
But the government has also cut aid to immigrants. Most of these folks can’t work legally, face discrimination and brutal police violence. Without the ability to legally make money to buy food and pay for housing, many face hunger. Yesterday I was invited by an immigrants solidarity group to visit a community of Kurdish refugees. Many of them were escaping political persecution in Syria, Turkey and Iran. The group that invited me is not a formal one, but rather a working group that self organized during the Syntagma square occupation. They heard about the dire situation of this community and without hesitation, brought them food, clothing and toys for the kids. Yesterday was the group’s second delivery of aid, the first one was last week. On this visit, the group and community members started to organize a festival of Kurdish and Greek music to help raise awareness to this terrible situation.
Even within this tense and violent atmosphere, the Greeks I’ve met are not feeling sorry for themselves. They are taking action, and filling the gaps that the state used to provide the best they can. This is giving them the opportunity to realize their power and jump out of their pockets of alienation, into the possibility of a social revolution.