Greece: Hate Aid
She was standing patiently in the middle of the line, half tired, half bored. In her left hand she was holding a large, empty basket, in her right a newspaper, titled with the thick, red letters: ΧΡΥΣΗ ΑΥΓΗ (Golden Dawn). The middle-aged woman was quiet until she saw the TV crews. When the cameras turned on, she started shouting, spitting poison with every single word: “Out with the filthy foreigners! We don’t want them here!”
Beside her, tens of desperate people lowered their eyes, turning their backs to the cameras just to hide the face. No one reacted to the middle-aged woman. They weren’t standing in the line to talk or demonstrate about anything: they just wanted to fill their empty baskets with food.
Humanitarian aid events are not rare nowadays in Greece. Due to the financial crisis, thousands of families live below the poverty line. Compassion and solidarity are growing. Every day the Church offers meals to the poor; municipalities’ “social markets” sell goods at low prices; farmers hand out their unsold for free; NGOs provide elderly people with medicines; ordinary citizens offer a plate of food to an unemployed neighbours. No one asks anything in return.
There was only one precondition for those who are suffering from the economic crisis to receive free food: they have to prove that they are Greeks. Members of the party were checking ID cards before filling empty baskets with goods – spaghetti, rice, olive oil, milk, potatoes, bread – all produced and offered by Greek companies. The middle-aged woman with the empty basket and the newspaper was very proud, holding not only her ID, but also the party’s member card.
This was not the first time Golden Dawn has offered humanitarian support on the condition that the recipient prove s/he is Greek. Just a few weeks ago, members of the party announced a voluntary blood donation campaign for Greek patients only. It seemed like hubris in the birthplace of Hippocrates; the Medical Association of Greece refused such an offer.
Nationalism is the cornerstone of Golden Dawn’s ideology. Officially, the party’s leadership denies any connection with neo-Nazism, but one can easily notice swastika-like symbols on the black T-shirts of party members. But it’s not simply the ideology that has been the main reason for Golden Dawn’s remarkable rise in the recent national elections: some 426,000 voters (6.9 per cent) gave the party 18 of the Parliament’s 300 seats. Golden Dawn ran a campaign based on fears of unemployment, austerity, and above all high criminality, in particular focusing on crimes committed by immigrants. During the last months, members and supporters of the party were accused of patrolling downtown Athens, provoking or even beating immigrants (some had to be hospitalized). Just a few days after the elections, some 50 motorbike riders armed with heavy wooden poles threatened legal immigrants in a suburb of Athens, demanding they abandon their shops within a week or else the shops would be burned.
Golden Dawn has rejected all such accusations. However, Human Rights Watch recently reported a dramatic increase in violent acts against immigrants in some parts of Greece and accused the authorities of doing less than needed to control this situation.
But even more alarming than this violence against immigrants is the rising public tolerance of it; more and more Greeks believe the authorities are not able to combat crime or control illegal immigration. That’s why in some cases citizens don’t call the police – they call Golden Dawn’s local offices. The “lads with the black T-shirts” (as their leader Nikos Michaloliakos describes them) are willing to take the law in their own hands.
Earlier this week, a group of about 20 members of Golden Dawn attacked a police vehicle that was transporting a 19-year-old Pakistani who had admitted to abusing a 14-year-old girl. The crime had shocked the whole society. The alleged offender described to the police how he attacked the girl on a beach just to steal her mobile phone; then he raped her and hit her head with a heavy stone. The girl is still in critical condition in a hospital.
Last month, another group threw petrol bombs in a derelict factory in Patras, which is known to be used by immigrants for shelter. That incident took place just a few days after a Greek man was murdered by three Afghans.
Greece is a gateway for immigrants from Asia and Africa: over 80 per cent of those entering the European Union do so through Greek borders and islands. European laws require member states to return illegal immigrants to the country from which they entered the EU. That’s why Greek authorities frequently called on other European governments to do more to help. Hundreds of thousands of illegal immigrants remain in the country, looking for a chance to move to other EU cities. More than one million are estimated to live in the Athens area. Some neighbourhoods are being turned to ghettos,where crime and drug dealing is rampant. In those areas, Golden Dawn got almost 20 percent of the vote in local and national elections.
Recently, Greek police began an operation targeting illegal immigration in Athens. They rounded up over 5,000 people and sent them to camps. Those without the necessary paperwork are supposed to be repatriated. But even that is not enough for Golden Dawn
, which requests immediate deportation of all illegal immigrants.
Xenophobic syndromes and anti-immigration rhetoric is the basis for the rise of the far-right not only in Greece, but in other EU countries, like France, Netherlands, Hungary, and Finland. Together with the economic crisis, the mixture is explosive. “We are the upcoming Greece” was the main headline of the ΧΡΥΣΗ ΑΥΓΗ newspaper. “Vote for us to clean up the country” was the sub-headline.
Copies of the newspaper were handed to those waiting in line at Syntagma Square. Their bags filled with food – and propaganda.
All images by the author.