Photo: Abi Ramanan, October 2012
These are more transcripts from the recorded interviews that Abi Ramanan and I made in Athens several weeks ago. We interviewed people there about the economic crisis, service cuts and the rise of fascism. We’re publishing transcripts from the recorded interviews we made on this site. The full collection of our interviews from Greece is here.
This is an interview with Nikos (aged 18 and taking his high school exams), George (aged 19 and a university student) and Artemis (a high school teacher). They all live in the neighbourhood of Kallithea. They are part of the Initiative Against Fascists and Fascist Violence – an anti-fascist group where all decisions come out of general Assemblies as direct democracy. They take direct action on the street. A recording of the interview will be added soon.
Video: graffiti on a torched mosque and abusive graffiti on the school in Kallithea where teachers have been running antifascist campaigns. George showed us the frence on the school where the graffiti was painted:
In this interview, Nikos, George and Artemis talk about the rise of Golden Dawn, the anti-fascist tactics they use to fight them and how confrontations have escalated since the austerity crisis.
Nikos, George and Artemis: “What we are doing – there is a strong link with workers movements and the anti-fascist approach. We are adopting a holistic approach. Fascists at the moment fight the working class and those who are left leaning. There is a strong presence of the Egyptian community [here in Kallithea] and there were racist attacks against them for the last year. All these attacks taking place are being backed up by the police or along with police officers. Last year in May, there was a racist attack in Kiprou Square. Police officers were actually there on the spot – looking, but doing nothing. We could talk about numerous incidents like this but we want to focus on the area.
From December 2011 until May 2012, there were numerous incidents and at the end of April last year, there were approximately five immigrants detained in the police department of Kallithea because the police wanted to check their documents. So, when they walked free, two of them were told in the police department – you can go, but bear in mind a few blocks later, you will get attacked. [The police said this] in an intimidating and sarcastic way.
But they weren’t trying to warn them – they were threatening them. Those immigrants were actually attacked. There was a bunch of people on three motorbikes, wearing helmets. They asked where the immigrants were from. One immigrant said ‘Egypt’ and they started to hit them with crowbars [and son on]. These were legal immigrants. The guy who said that in the police department was allegedly a plain-clothes police officer. We were told about this from the immigrants themselves.
The day after this incident, many immigrants assembled in Kiprou Square in solidarity with the immigrants that were beaten up. Our anti-fascist initiative was informed of this demonstration; we knew that it was happening.
There was a bunch of 20 guys, dressed in black. When the crowd dispersed, they attacked an immigrant and stabbed him. He was rushed to hospital and we went with him. This was two incidents of violence in a row. It’s very important to underline that this took place following the elections, when Golden Dawn got into Parliament with 7% of the vote.
This gave them a big boost in confidence and their presence became much more visible. Before this they were working on the periphery, but following the elections, they went completely out of control. We [the anti-fascist movement] responded promptly and the fascists actions were minimised.
[This anti-fascist movement] started being active at the end of February 2011. So, it was an initiative of teachers, members of the local branch of union of high school teachers, along with other grassroots movements, high school students, other teachers, the unemployed. We all gathered together to start being active. This was triggered by an incident when around ten 15-year-old students attacked an immigrant passing by with steel bars. They were students from this school.
For the previous incident, there is no concrete reason but generally speaking, Golden Dawn has done a lot of work here in central Kallithea to try and influence in schools. There is strong evidence that this attack was racist, because at point in time, there was intimidating graffiti outside this school, threatening teachers who support anti-fascist movements. (see video at the top of this post for images of the graffiiti).
Golden Dawn appeal to younger students aged between 13-15 years old the most in this area, because they are in a pre-adolescent phase. They don’t yet have a coherent ideological framework. They are easier to manipulate and it’s easier for Golden Dawn to have an impact.
What halts fascist action is a large anti-fascist presence in the neighbourhood. While fascist action was escalating [earlier], it stopped completely. A massive anti-fascist presence in the neighbourhood by us and other anti-fascists managed to stop them completely and we reclaimed the space where fascists used to congregate, and people couldn’t go before.
It was important how we put these anti-fascist actions in a political framework. Golden Dawn voters voted for them not mainly because of race and immigrants, but mainly, and this is so important, it was because they are anti-government and anti-austerity.
In fact, it was a means of taking revenge and punishing those who were responsible for the crisis. Those fighting fascism within the official government will not have a positive impact because it’s the same system that keeps Golden Dawn in power.
Fighting fascism is strongly related to fighting the system. By placing the anti-fascist argument in an anti-capitalist framework, we will have more success, as capitalism is the backbone of the initiative here. This is what we write on our press releases – Golden Dawn is part of the system, they work with the elites and not against the elites interests.
There is a strong link between trying to find a way to highlight the negatives of, for example, tomorrow’s National Parade and the materials that we give out. Tomorrow [Sunday 28 October] is supposed to be about national coherence and unity, saying No [Ohi Day]. The leader at the time was a fascist who said ‘no’ to Italy, so in reality, it has nothing to do with unity. It was the people who actually said ‘no’ and fought against the Nazis. Not all of the people were against fascism though. The majority of society was; the working class, the middle class, youths, they all fought. While this was happening, the elite took a lot of money and fled to Egypt and there was also a section of society who were happy to collude with the Nazis. Golden Dawn are now saying that the real patriots were the ones who did collaborate with the Nazis.
All the above information is in the leaflets that we are giving out tomorrow at the National Parade. This is the challenge that Europe, including the UK, faces. The left in Greece has more of a ‘class struggle’ approach and analysis, [whereas, in the UK there is a huge disconnect between the left and the working class – interviewer]. Ideology with practical application is lacking in the UK. Three years ago, the middle class was squeezed. Now, it affects everyone which is why people are leaving are Greece. Golden Dawn are trying to break the working class, by pitting immigrants against Greeks, young against old, private sector workers against public sector workers etc.
“The future? Lets see. I [George] am in my second year of studying journalism at university. I have been working in a café for €2.50 an hour equals €20 for 8 hours. I doubt that there will be any chance for me to work in journalism. The best scenario for us is to get odd jobs to survive.
[Nikos] I was working with my father doing building and painting during the summers, which wasn’t paid. The money that was being made went straight into the household and for the family. My father couldn’t afford to pay me.
[Artemis] I have 13 years of work experience. I went through tough exams to become a teacher. I was earning €720 Euro p/m for nine months, as part of my salary was deducted for taxation as part of the bailout agreement. A couple of years ago, I used to earn €1,200 Euro p/m. Following austerity, it has dropped lower and lower. I now earn €800 a month. The point that we are all trying to make is it doesn’t matter how much you earn – it’s whether you have enough to live. Travel, the cost of a telephone, electricity have all shot up. Not to mention the extra taxation. We are struggling to survive, meet our daily needs and pay the bills. Golden Dawn try to portray me as the ‘well off’ of the working class to people who earn, for example, €300. They suggest that they should blame me because they are earning less. They are using a divide and conquer approach to the working class.
The tactics Golden Dawn use to recruit are numerous. They go into factories to see if immigrants are working there. They have set up an unofficial recruiting agency – ‘Greeks in and immigrants out’. This would just devalue wages for everyone – noone’s salary would go up that way. The salaries of the Greeks nor the immigrants would improve.
In an area (outside Attiki), they are taking advantage of those who have been attacked by austerity and are vulnerable. Older people are getting phone calls from Golden Dawn to see if they need anything or want accompaniment to the supermarket.
Therefore, Golden Dawn are actually giving a boost to austerity with militant policies via disgraceful tactics which are serving the interests of capitalism. Hitler followed similar policies.
Golden Dawn have been asking to see the percentage of immigrant children in university dormitories. However, the government has the same policies as Golden Dawn. Samaras has also said that the number of immigrant children in kindergartens is too high and they need to be removed. No investigation is happening into who is funding Golden Dawn. 4 million Euro official funding is available as they are in parliament. The Greek elite invests socially and economically in Golden Dawn. Pasok is dead. The left are trying to find their feet. New Democracy has no cohesion. Golden Dawn are choosing people who are desperate, they are not improving conditions or salaries for anyone, they are just trying to create a compliant workforce.
The Olympics led to a ‘Great Greece’ sentiment. It was a big confidence boost.
We take direct action on the street. 2,500 people came to one anti-fascist concert in Attiki. There were three demos with immigrants and Greeks and a solidarity fair. Every weekend, we hand out flyers and talk to people. The role of networking varies across organisations. We condemn symbolic actions; it is very important to combine all actions and go to the streets, because that’s there the fascists occupy.
We cleaned up Kiprou Square of the fascists. Also, we call strikes and ask people to join them.