Anti-immigrant view being 'legitimised' in Greece
Anti-immigrant and nationalistic discourse has existed in Greece since the 1990s, say experts, but has become more radical with the economic crisis.
For Golden Dawn, the neo-facist movement that scooped 6.9 percent of the vote in the June election, the simmering discontent has proved fertile ground.
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“People can now stand up in the middle of a cafeteria and start declaring without a thread of shame that they voted for the Golden Dawn,” says Aristotle Kallis, a professor of Modern and Contemporary History at Lancaster University.
“The Golden Dawn does not create a new phenomenon in Greece. The Golden Dawn, through its radical action, through its very populist action, are legitimising a particular anti-immigrant rhetoric and anti-immigrant point of view in Greece,” said Kallis.
He noted that the party is also targeting the radical left in Greece, including journalists, students and politicians.
The Golden Dawn brands people who oppose their views as “anarcho-communists”, an old-fashioned term Kallis says was commonly used in the 1960s when the country was politically polarised.
Manolis Kypreos, a Greek journalist who worked for the Gastone media group, is familiar with the tactics of Golden Dawn supporters.
“Day-by-day attacks and threats are becoming more [frequent] from the members of the Golden Dawn. The police [are] just sleeping or the police officers are blind or very slow to react,” he told EUobserver in an email.
Kyreos says the Golden Dawn constantly threaten him either through twitter or notes left on his car. “You fucking leftist deaf journalist. Your end is coming. We are coming for you,” was one of the messages he found taped to his car in the morning of 19 August.
He is suffering from near-total hearing loss after anti-riot police tossed a stun grenade at him during a protest against EU-imposed austerity measures at Syntagma Square in June last year. He was taking photos and had identified himself as a journalist.
Kypreos says immigration has profoundly divided the nation with some, like the Golden Dawn, making claims that force is the only appropriate measure to restore the country to its former “glory”.
“Foreigners out!” and “The Garbage Should Leave the Country!” are among some of the party’s favourite slogans.
“The issue with the Golden Dawn in Greece, must be a concern for all of Europe. It is not only a Greek problem,” said Kyrpeos.
He claims members of the party had joined ranks with anti-riot units to help disperse the demonstration last year.
In June, around 30 members of the party broke into the Panteion University in Athens and beat leftist students who had organised an event against the party. Five people were reportedly injured.
Efstathia Lambropoulou, a lecturer in the university’s department of criminology, said the Golden Dawn have not attempted to enter the premises since.
“It happened only once,” Lambropoulou told this website from Athens. “I think it was and is over-estimated. The media and the students overemphasised the reactions or the activities of the Golden Dawn. It is much more rumour than really action.”
Meanwhile, an anonymous writer posted a 2,500 word letter on the Golden Dawn website making veiled threats to the editor of the foreign news desk of Kathimerini, Xenia Kounalaki.
Kounalaki had published a piece called “Banality of Evil” in April calling upon media outlets to blacklist the Golden Dawn from their coverage.
The letter, published five days after her article, also mentioned Kaonalaki’s 13-year old daughter. Kounalaki went to the police to file a complaint and was told to stop writing “negative” reports on the party. They could not protect her, she says.
The Pan-Hellenic Police, in some cases, have also been accused of brutality against their own citizens and failing to convict those responsible for hate crimes targeting immigrants and undocumented migrants.
A July report by Amnesty International claims human rights abuses by Greek law enforcement include torture and other ill treatment during arrest or detention. The incidents, says the NGO, are not isolated.
Of the 63 cases of violence recorded by the Racist Violence Recording Network – an UNHCR initiative - over a three month period at the end of 2011, 18 were perpetrated by police officers whom the network claims “seem to act as members of extremist groups”.
The network noted that the incidents recorded were only a fraction of actual cases.
Europol, the EU’s police agency based in The Hague, noted in a report in April that growing concerns over austerity programmes combined with disillusion with mainstream politics may lead to an increase in violent right-wing activities.
“The threat of violent right-wing extremism has reached new levels in Europe and should not be underestimated,” said the report.