Greece: the anti-fascist argument must also be anti-capitalist

Anti fascist graffiti Athens


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. Continue reading

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Our immigrant students left Greece for Canada and paid for fake passports

Burned out mosque with golden dawn graffiti Attiki
Photo: Burned-out mosque daubed with Golden Dawn insignia, Attiki. By 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.

In t his interview, Amalia Vasilakaki, a language teacher who teaches free Greek language classes for immigrants in Athens, talks about the problems her students, who are all immigrants, are dealing with in Greece as they are targeted by fascists and the Golden Dawn. There’s a transcript and recorded interview with three of her students here.

“The language school operates everyday, I deliver Greek language courses to immigrants. Following austerity and the financial crisis, and the rise of racism in the last year, most of the students have left. They have left Greece.

There is a video which one student of mine videoed. Most of the students in this video are already outside Greece – they have already left. Four have emigrated to Canada [among those in the video], one married a Spanish girl and he was working in Spain, and then moved to Algeria and he is now working for a Spanish multinational. He has Spanish citizenship.

To cut a long story short, those remaining in Greece are those who are trapped. They cannot leave. They are undocumented, they don’t have money, they don’t have the contacts.

Apart from my former student who married the Spanish girl and became an EU citizen, the rest, who went to Canada, have done it in an illegal way.

They deposited [money] and used fake Bulgarian passports. So, as far as I’m concerned, I think the major issue at this point of time, is the immigration ring. These people are earning lots of money – they are bribing the police and other people. They have links with the mafia. The police are collaborating with foreigners to promote these immigration rings.

We have been operating for around 15 years delivering Greek language classes to immigrants because we believe that we should show our solidarity with them and this is all we can do.

We are like “cheeky” students who learn from each other, we exchange knowledge about our cultures but we are not an NGO [non-government organisation].

We are contributing to this from our own budget for materials, like photocopies etc. My other job is teaching Spanish and Greek.”

Alexandros is a dentist and also teachers Greek at the language school. In this interview, he speaks about his students and the rise of fascism in Greece.

“I teach Greek here. I also speak German and English, and I want to start teaching German. I used to come here for many years before and I have been teaching here for seven years, and I can tell you that most people don’t come here to stay. They are in transit.

There are big problems with Golden Dawn in Greece. We are now the only Parliament in Europe with such a far-right presence and people are very afraid, especially dark skinned people. [Fascism is] rising fast and I am very concerned regarding this.

“What can be done? This is a hard question. Massive demonstrations of all the parties and people against Golden Dawn is necessary. I am very sad to see this happening, especially for elderly people who lived through the German occupation in Greece, like my father.

In my opinion, 50 or 60 percent of the police support Golden Dawn. When reforms happened in the army following the military junta, the same did not
happen with the police.

Austerity, the IMF, the Government, the Troika, the strong nations of the EU – they are all bullshitting the public. It is new loans for old interest.

Let me ask you something – in Greece, the Troika make us implement these cuts, but in the UK your own government does it – why?

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Greece, hospitals, healthcare and cuts: Interview 7

Olga KosmopoulouAs the general strike continues in Greece, we publishing more transcripts from interviews we recorded last week with people who are dealing directly with cuts and austerity in Athens. Earlier interviews are posted in sequence below this one.

This post is a transcript from a recorded interview with Olga Kosmopoulou, a doctor who specialises in  infectious diseases , including HIV medicine. She works at the General Hospital of Nikaia.

In this interview, she talks about the problems her patients are facing, the political and economic situation in Greece and how this relates to health care and possible solutions for the future.

Speaking about her patients
“I would like to speak on behalf of my HIV patients.

Most of them live in this area, which is one of the poorest in Greece. Not everyone has free access to medicines and free access to healthcare. They have a lot of problems, which have increased over the last three years.

Problem number one: most of them are already stigmatised. It’s not easy for them to find a job. All these patients used to live on a benefit which was cut down. So, I know when I see some of them, they are going to face hunger during the winter. Some of them are going to be homeless during the winter.

Some of my patients are IV drug users. During the last three years, we have had an epidemic of HIV disease in IV drug users. Many are homeless and almost none are insured. We don’t have many social workers and many people who come here cannot be insured at all. They come here and say ‘please keep me in the hospital because I need a roof over my head, and food’, but I cannot do it for everybody.

The state has destroyed rehabilitation programmes. They say that we are doing better, but in fact, the places where people can find methadone are full. They don’t have enough doctors, not enough nurses, not enough psychiatrists and not enough support in general. They don’t even give syringes. On the other hand, the poverty among families made most of these people practice prostitution, which led to a very sudden rise in HIV.

All Greeks have seen their income diminish, but among them, the most frail patients with chronic diseases are desperate right now. They have to pay just to get into the hospital. They have to pay for a prescription. They have to pay part of the cost of their medicine. Sometimes, they don’t find the medicine they used to take, or they are forced to take another medicine by another company.

If people are diagnosed with HIV, they do have access to drug treatment. But, there is a frightening situation, because every time I ask for tablets, I have to refer the patient and the drug companies answer ‘”e approve the scheme, but we warn you that it is your responsibility to advise the patient to get insured.” But, the patient is not able to get insured. There is no insurance for most Greek people at the moment. There are well over 1 million people unemployed… and they are uninsured.

There are no preventative measures, like condoms. Of course not. It’s a joke. Non-governmental organisations may provide syringes and support. This is not correct. The state should organise this.

I don’t think anyone has time to find out which neighbourhoods are being particularly affected. To show you the size of the problem in Greek society, in this corner [points to corner of the room] last year, every month we collected food. We provided this food to schools in a poor area ,as the teachers were asking for food for children and their families. Last year, this corner was always full with food, and now, starting from September onwards, I haven’t been able to collect anything because they have cut down the salaries of the people.

The insecurity they feel makes them reluctant to help others. Although there is solidarity in Greek society, it’s going to have an end and this is the proof. Middle class people and poorer people are not able to help each anymore in the same way they used to. The food is running out. Philanthropy cannot be the solution.

The other disease that is increasing is suicides. We never had a high rate of suicide in Greece, because the weather is so good and family bonds are so close, so people felt secure. Now, we have a high rate of suicide, a high rate of psychiatric diseases, a high rate of depression. There are too many people taking tablets. On the other hand, psychiatric patients with severe illnesses have had their benefits cut down and they don’t have money, not even for cigarettes. The places where they used to stay are closed. So many of them are homeless. It’s really cold over winter, starting in November, through to early March. You can die on the street.

I see about 10 people everyday on the ward, sometimes 20 a day, sometimes 30 a day. When I work in casualty, we see more – about 300 a day at the general medical hospital.

In outpatient clinics, people come to get examined. Sometimes, I substitute for social workers… everything.

On treating everybody
This is a special place because in my way, I am a political person. I see immigrants. I treat people [who do not have] papers. I see everybody without asking for the fee of €5. Me and my colleagues have been downstairs several times to stop patients paying.

On Golden Dawn
I hope I will never meet them. They don’t dare to get into the hospitals yet. But they have declared that they are going to come to the hospitals and take the immigrants – they mean every foreigner – and get them out of the hospitals. But, of course, outside the hospital, there are a lot of Pakistani people living in this area. They have been beaten several times by Golden Dawn. They are legal immigrants.

On solutions and the future
There is no future inside the European Union. The EU doesn’t express the will of the people of Europe. It expresses the will of bankers. I don’t think there is any future inside this European Union. I think the problem is for the whole of Europe, not just Greece. Greece is just a kind of experiment. It was very easy to say ‘oh you’re Greek, you’re lazy,’ which is not true. That makes other people take in what was happening to us without saying anything.

We have two solutions. We can either accept it and go into the darkest years of history, or we do not accept this. I am very, very afraid, because I would not like to live in such times. I am very afraid that people will need their own revolution to get power again. If they don’t, they are going to live in very, very dark years. People in Greece have to take power in their hands.

They don’t have this power by voting. The politicians threatened us [during the last elections, with] -‘if you don’t vote for us, we are going to have to leave the Euro’, which is funny. If you don’t have any money, you don’t really care whether its drachma or euro or anything. I firmly believe that without revolutionary methods…I don’t mean violence – but people in Greece, and other countries like Greece, have to understand that its very important to go radical.

Affected personally
This is like a thunderstorm. We have seen our lives change to such a degree that sometimes, I don’t have money for the mortgage anymore. This means that I would be without a house. My brother and sister and their children would also be without a house [they live together now]. It is not only me – this is a whole family.

An [example of an everyday danger/worry is] – I think – “do I have enough gasoline to go to the hospital?” because public transport doesn’t help. I need two hours for that. To make time for my patients, I need to use my car. We are a middle class family – in wintertime, we decided that we wouldn’t use any heat in the house, except for the bedrooms and the place where the kids study. And we are doing well compared to others. Most people in Athens will not have enough heat during the winter. My salary has been cut by 40% and now they are going cut it by another 20%, from a salary that was about 50% or 60% that of a medical specialist to begin with.

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From Greece: a generation of young immigrants who’ll hate Europe like hell. Interviews 4,5,6

This is another transcript from the recorded interviews Abi and I made last week in Greece.

This transcript is from a recording made last week with three young men – all recent immigrants – in Greece. Two were from Togo and one from Nigeria. There’s an audio from that interview here:

We spoke to the three men at a centre and cafe where free Greek language lessons are held for immigrants. All three had paid agents for transport and help getting into Greece (through Turkey) and all had been promised that they’d be able to study and work in Athens. None had been able to get a job and none had been able to get papers to stay or to study.

All three had been either abused or physically attacked by the police – one of the men, Koffi, 25, pointed to a large lump and cut above his eye where, a few days earlier, he’d been hit by a bottle that the police had thrown at him. Two of the young men were planning to leave Greece as soon as they had the money together.

So. They will return to Togo and Nigeria without their money and with an utter loathing of Europe – something Angela Merkel and cronies might want to keep in mind. There was a certain nationalism forming in the minds of these young men: a nationalism based in part on a feeling that home was considerably more civilised and sophisticated than Europe and in part on a fury at Europe’s vile treatment of them. Could be interesting for Europe, if this generation of young, rejected immigrants decides on revenge when it comes of age.

Saheed Aylula, aged 22. Home country: Nigeria. Has been living in Greece for three years.

“The reason why I came to this country is for education. I’ve been here for three years.

In my country, I studied accounting. I believed that when I came here would continue with my education and pay for myself with a part time job. Unfortunately, I found out that was impossible for me. I’ve been to many place to look for a job – to look at something I can do to finance myself, so that I can continue my education. They give us a form to fill in and say that we will call you when we need people.

I tried many, many cafes, so that maybe they can employ me, but unfortunately, none of them can give me a job.

So, I started to sell something.

[I have been] selling photographs and posters. Sometimes, that sells and sometimes I can’t [sic]. [Then] one of my friends told me that there is a school where I can learn Greek here for free, so I came to here and [I’m] learning Greek. Before, I cannot speak any Greek. And the people you want to sell something to – you want to talk with them before they buy something from you. Unfortunately, I would say [to them] – would you speak English? and they would say No, only Greek. So, it was very difficult for me to communicate with them and that’s why I’m learning Greek.

To be frank, I cannot stay here.

If I had known how this place has been, I wouldn’t have come. This country is a … I think I need to go back to my country, because there’s no room for [me to develop here]. You can’t get any benefit from here. There’s no job. There’s no future. So, I’m planning to go back to my country.

In Nigeria, we have corruption, but I think Nigeria is better than here. If I don’t have papers to move forward, there is no way I can proceed to another country [in Europe]. [Anyway] – I’m seeing that all of Europe is having an economic crisis. Even moving to another European country… I don’t know what I can do there. I can’t believe that I will face a problem like this there.

I came alone. My family is still in Nigeria, but one of my brothers is in Canada. So, the others of my family are in Nigeria.

We are facing many problems here. First of all – they don’t like foreigners. Just take a look. If I’m on the bus, I can not get people to sit down with me. If there is two seats there, I cannot get people to sit next to me. You can go to any restaurant or any cafe here and you cannot see blacks working there. They don’t like the foreigners. They don’t like the blacks. That’s what I said – you can go to many restaurants, many cafes and many shops and you cannot see blacks working there. I didn’t expect it to be like that. That’s why I’m going back to my country. I can settle down and enjoy my family. I cannot see a future here.

The police? – countless times the police have been racist to me. A friend of mine, three or four months ago now – the guy was macheted. They [the perpetrators] were wearing black. They macheted the guy around nine or 10pm. So, that’s the reason why I don’t feel like walking around at night.

The police – [they’ll say] – ah, excuse me, can I see your passport? And they [do this]… [makes a gesture to demonstrate someone flicking someone else in the face]. That was,…the fury. We cannot wait for two minutes before they are stopping you. Many people in the bus stop – they will say if you don’t have a passport, you cannot stay here. So, that’s why I’m saying maybe I would not be able to live in another country. Maybe it’s better for me to go back to my country.

It’s worse now than it was [three years ago] when I came here.

Of course I am scared here. I live in Pagrati. I live with my friend. My friend is from Nigeria as well. He is finding it difficult as well. He is not working. I haven’t worked for a single day since I got here. I’m selling things – that’s how I buy food. It’s not enough. I regret coming to Europe.

For me….they don’t believe that foreigners or immigrants have…brains or can share anything. They don’t believe that immigrants are intelligent.

When you’re selling the photographs, the police will stop you – the municipal police. They move you around. They can arrest you.

I’ve spoken to my parents. They also call me and they say come back. My father is a businessman and my mother is working on a farm. They have got good jobs. They are not so rich and they are not so poor. They are in the middle.”

Koffi, aged 25. Home country: Togo. Has been in Greece for three months.

“I came here for education. I was studying economics. I wanted to learn Greek and English. I wanted to finish my schooling. That’s why I came here.

The police attack us every day. It’s been very difficult. We don’t have time [the chance] to work to get money. We don’t have time [the chance] to get out to learn the language. The police stop us every day. They attack you.

They know us… they know if you don’t have the papers. They hunt you like you are a thief or something. [They] bring us to the station to ask if you have the papers. Why? They have you go to the police station before they even ask you to see your papers. They don’t like to see the black [sic]. Why? Why don’t want to see the black? In other countries, they like black people. In Africa, we treat white people like us.

We collect bottles to sell to recycling. Sometimes, you get just two euros in a day to survive. [People collect bottles, then put them in recycling machines for a few euros].

[I live with] 15 people together in Victoria.

I thought Europe would be a good area – a place that it would be easy for me to go to school, to learn something good. I’m not able to study here, because we don’t have a chance to meet people to learn.

[I don’t want to go home]. I want to fight and to let them know that the immigrants can contribute.

I want to learn Greek. I want to go to school here. It is very hard for people who don’t go to school.

I would go back home, but in life – everybody wants to be the best, to have a good life. I’m here to learn, to know something, to get knowledge – but [given] the conditions, it is not possible.”

Eden, aged 27. Home country: Togo. Has been in Greece for ten months.

“I wanted to continue my studies. I study history.

It’s a little bit difficult. They don’t tell you the real situation with the country that you’re going to face. So they [agents] help you get here and when you get here, you find the reality. It’s crazy.

Me – I was thinking that when I got here, I would have a time [when I got] a paper to be registered in a university, but when I got here, I realise that I had to go get a pink card. It’s called a pink card – it’s a refuge card. It’s not an easy deal to get one. There’s a fight here every time to get one.

For me, I left my country – normally, the person [someone looking to emigrate to Greece from Africa] will pay to get there. To pay, you take a plane to Turkey and then you come here by boat or something like that. It cost €3000 – paid that to an agent to get here. They say it’s going to be great – you can go to school, you can get a job…

It’s really hard being here. You have to face it. Because the police – the big problem is the police. They are harassing [us]. If you are in the danger zones – some parts are really dangerous.

I’m not going to stay I’m waiting for the end of the year to go back to my country. I have finished my studying in Togo – I have learned African history and done design also. So – I wanted, after learning Greek, to complete my design skills.

But there are no human rights here. You don’t see them here.

The police are very racist.

Koffi says: There is no human rights. The way the police behave with people – they don’t treat you like you’re human. There’s nobody to help. At home – it’s your country, you’re more relaxed. You don’t have any problem in that country.

Eden: It’s just like a lot of grief. I’m looking forward to going home. I hear that the pink card does not allow you to go to the university [anyway]. I don’t consider myself as a refugee.

Koffi says – This place that you go to get the pink card – this is the place that I have this problem (points to the injury on his head). The police threw a gas bottle. I don’t have this pink card. It’s where we queue for the pink cards.

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Cuts and segregation: Athens and the UK

A report by me and Abi in the New Statesman today on our recent experiences in Athens:

“Dead-eyed, austerity continues to march Europe deeper into poverty, shock, fascism and other forms of oblivion. Reporting that and the wider experience is a crucial part of the response of those of us who refuse to accept that most people exist to serve out as austerity’s fodder. To put it another way – everyone everywhere needs to know when and where poverty and fascism are taking people out across Europe and anyone who is in a position to report that should be doing so. So, we went to Athens last week.

Right away, race was an issue. Abi: “I spoke to Greeks in London who told of anarchist friends being beaten up alongside immigrants. Before we left, I’d heard that the American government issued a statement warning dark-skinned Americans in Athens to be careful when leaving their hotels at night. I assumed that as a dark-skinned British person, that probably applied to me as well.

Many of the Greek people we met wondered why the UK government was pursuing cuts with such passion off its own bat. A dentist we spoke to said: “In Greece the Troika is forcing us to implement these cuts. In the UK, your own government is doing it. Why?” Certainly, the evils being inflicted on people in the UK in the name of bank bailouts and corporate welfare – the Atos assessments, care cuts, bedroom taxes, council tax benefit cuts, housing benefit caps, rocketing rents, workfare, falling wages, the relying on foodbanks and all the rest – often came to mind while we were in Athens. The rise and rise of Golden Dawn may not be replicated here, but the heaping of cuts and blame on people who can least afford to shoulder those things sure as hell is.”

Full article here.

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“I don’t mind the Golden Dawn. They are young and they are Greek.” Interview 3

Photo: Christos Mpampouras. By Abi Ramanan, Athens, October 2012.

This is the third transcript from the recorded interviews Abi Ramanan and I made in Athens last week. 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 over the next week.

There’s more background and the first interview (with a Golden Dawn voter called Kelly) is here.

The second interview with highschool teacher Pavlos Antonopoulos is here.

This is a transcript of a recorded interview with Christos Mpampouras, 61. He is a drummer and was a farmworker. He told us that he has a small farmworkers’ pension. He is originally from Ipeiros and now lives in Athens. He visits the municipal soup kitchen in Omonoia twice a day for meals. There were hundreds of people queuing for lunch when we went to the soup kitchen at about midday on Friday 26 October. Many of the people in the queue were elderly.

On needing the soup kitchen
I’ve been coming here for about five years, for two meals a day. I have very good relations with the people who work here. If they need help with shipping or unloading things, I help out.

It used to be that maybe about 250 Greeks came here, but now it’s probably increased to 500 people for each meal. A lot people really need it, but there are also people who don’t need it. Most of the people who come for food are older people like me, but there are also a lot of young people who are drug addicts. There is no reason why they should come.

I used to work part-time with my drums. There wasn’t a lot of work and my [farmworkers’] pension is one of the lowest in Greece. A friend brought me here [to the soup kitchen]. I don’t have my own house in Athens. I rented one before the crisis. After that, I didn’t make enough money to pay the rent, so now I’m staying with a friend temporarily. Of the 500 regulars I know who go to the soup kitchen, maybe 100 have their own house.

On the rise of the Golden Dawn
I don’t have a problem with the Golden Dawn, because they’re Greeks and they’re also young people and they don’t have work. I don’t think they’re fascists. I don’t know why people call them fascists. The politician [communist party MP Liana Kanelli] who got slapped on television [by Golden Dawn MP Ilias Kasidiaris] – I liked her and I used to vote for the Communist party myself, but she was very provocative on that television show. I think she was calling him a fascist, so it was not surprising that he got angry. The Golden Dawn – they’re not that bad. They haven’t hurt me and they’re Greeks and they’re young.

On immigration
I’m okay with people coming from Syria, or Iraq, because they have war, but I can’t understand why people come from Albania and take my job and my pension. Albanians – go to Albania. Go to your country instead of here. I’m not a racist. An Albanian comes here, makes some money which in his country is a lot of money. He makes a fortune. If I work for five months, I won’t make that sort of money.

Drugs in Omonoia
There are lots of people here on drugs. They sell the drugs in matchboxes. Mostly, the black people sell them, but sometimes, when the police come, they give the matchboxes to Greeks because the police don’t search them. That means that the black people don’t get caught. When the police leave, they get back the drugs and they keep selling them. The blacks go [and wait] outside the hospitals for drug addicts, so that they can sell them drugs.

Everyone is responsible for the crisis, because everyone was living outside of their means. It is my fault as well, because I didn’t save enough money before the crisis. My father in the village used to have a phrase which roughly translated says “the river doesn’t always bring wood.” You can’t always expect the river to bring wood and now the river is no longer bringing wood.

I’m 61 years old and I won’t receive the pension I’m entitled to until I’m 65. I thought that I would be all right until I was 65, but now I’m unemployed, because nobody will hire me at 61.

I have a son. We haven’t spoken in years because I was divorced. I don’t want to contact him and I don’t really have anyone in the family who I can seek out and talk to.

The food at the soup kitchen
The food is clean. Monday, they have lentil soup. Tuesday, it’s chicken. Wednesday, it’s fish. Sometimes, there’s meatballs, so there’s a variety. The food is good quality, but I can’t put as much salt in it as I want. You can’t go there and say – I want to put more salt and pepper in. It’s not like when you make your own food.

When there’s chicken, it finishes very quickly. Usually, there isn’t a problem, but if they have something nice, it goes very fast.

They had a lot of soup here. Soup is fine for the morning, but I don’t like it when they have soup in the evening, or for lunch. Soup is very little for lunch. You don’t feel like you’re eating. You eat more like a person in the church foodbank, because you can add oils and spices.

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I told the fascists to leave the school and they said they’d stab me. Interview 2

Video: graffiti on a torched mosque and a school in Kallithea where teachers have been running antifascist campaigns:

Last week, I went to Athens with a friend called Abi Ramanan. 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 over the next week.

There’s more background and the first interview (with a Golden Dawn voter called Kelly) is here.

This post is a transcript with a teacher called Pavlos Antonopoulos. He has been a teacher for 30 years – the last 12 at an Athens highschool. He describes the neighbourhood and school catchment area as working-class. His students are aged between 15 and 17. He is also a well-known activist.

In this interview, he talks about the Golden Dawn’s increasingly bold attempts (the last one just three days before we met) to make contact with his students – to get into the school and to talk to students. He also talks about drastic cuts to school resources, the government’s plans to cut funds and the number of teachers further by merging Antonopoulos’ school with another and his belief that Greece and working people will only have any sort of future if the troika is foiled, austerity is abandoned and the country returns to the drachma:

On the growing confidence of the Golden Dawn:
“A few days ago, three older former students [one-time students of the school] – they were about 20 or 21 years old – they came into the school and were speaking with students.

The person who was on the school’s security door didn’t mind [that person let them in], so they came in. They may have been sympathetic to them. They may have been afraid. When I saw them, I asked them to go out [to leave]. Two weeks earlier, [they’d tried to get into the school] but when I asked them to leave, I was successful. They went out. [This time, though], three days ago, they argued when I told them to go out. They started to say many things. I threw them out, but when they were at the gate, they told the security person “we will take care of you”, but that they would stab me.

I went to the manager – the president of the school. I told him, but I don’t think he understood what I told him, so I went to the police station. I was lucky – because the police officer had a little girl who was a student in my school [so he knew me]. That was the only way [I got a hearing].

We had a big conversation about this and I asked him to bring the three young men to the police station to have a talk. I told him that I would go to court – so yesterday, he called me and I went there and he called the three there. We had a conversation – all of us. Of course – they said “we didn’t say those things. We didn’t mean it.” Some days before, the fascists had made an announcement that they would fire all teachers in the area who speak against fascism. We decided to speak in the classrooms against fascism, against the Golden Dawn and now, they try to stop us.

On food and books
[In] the last year, we noticed that many students didn’t have enough to eat. We had a meeting with a council of parents and they told us that in our school, they had about 15 cases like this, where the children didn’t have food. We tried to form a group to help them. Where I live, we have one union like this…Kids are swooning, because they don’t eat. We paid for the food ourselves – teachers and the other parents… We [also] give free lessons for the children that can’t pay. [When] we have demonstrations and strikes, we take the children. We try to make them fight against the situation.

Last year, we didn’t have books. It was the first time since the war that we didn’t have books. We made copies from all the books and gave them to children. Of course – that was more expensive than books, but they didn’t want to give money for books, so they pressed us to give money ourselves, from our pockets, to do photocopies.

[They are merging] two schools in our area – my school and another. This means many more children in the classroom now, because the school has merged. It’s part of the cuts. They merge schools into one with the same number of kids. They try to use less [sic] teachers, so they increase the number of pupils in the class. We lost about ten teachers as part of the merger in these two schools.

That is one thing. The second is that they cut our [teacher] salaries. They changed everything. A new teacher now takes about €580 per month. If you think that three years before, the salary was about €1000 – they’ve cut about half the salary. [Meanwhile prices go up]. For petrol – in two years, the price is has about doubled. Now, it is about €1.80 per litre for gas and now, to heat houses, it’s going to something like €1.40.

Leaving the Euro
We believe that this is the solution now for the working class – we have to leave the Euro, because we can’t make our own economic policies [while we’re in Europe]. They [the troika] use the threat that we’re going to go out of the Euro every time that they want to pass more austerity measures.

We can’t control our salaries, or our prices – nothing, because the Euro is stable. If your money supply is controlled by the EU, you can’t do anything. We have to change our policy. We have to start producing what we started closing several years before – clothing, sugar, the shipyards. We don’t produce anything now. We import. If it will continue in this way, we will collapse in two or three years.

Motivating students
The young people have lost their belief in the future, so it’s very difficult for us to make them focus on their lessons and to prepare for university, because they say – “we’re going to the university and after, we will not have jobs.” Most of them will look for a way to leave Greece. We try to force them to fight to change the situation. That means that they have to fight for their schools, for their books, for money for the schools.

They can’t find jobs. I have three children – one is 37, one is 34 and the youngest is 24. None of them works now. The first one lost his job two years ago. He’s tried to find a job everywhere, but he can’t find any job. The second is my girl. She has a degree in fine arts. She can’t find job anywhere. The last – he has a degree and he can’t find a job. My daughter has a boyfriend now and she wants to get married, but I said – forget it for the next ten years. There are too many problems.

On immigration
Immigration is a big problem, because Greece is the gate to Europe. Thousands of immigrants come to Greece, because they want to go to other parts of Europe. Of course [I understand why they want to come here]. The problem starts in their countries, because they are bombing. I went to Gaza some years ago when Israel was bombing it. I couldn’t believe that people could live in that situation. They were bombing from the air and tanks. I stayed a few days. I thought I was in hell. People can’t stay there.

They are trapped here – it’s a trap in Greece for them. Like in the second world war – they used the Jews [to blame for economic problems]. Now they use immigrants. We believe that the solution is first to give them papers. We have to recognise that they exist. Second – we have to open the borders and say to them “Go where you want.” For the immigrants who want to stay here – you have to give them places to stay.. Of course – they [austerity’s supporters] use them to make as scapegoats.

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Greece, cuts, cruelty and voting for the Golden Dawn – interview 1

Audio recording of interview with Kelly, 27 October 2012: Why I voted for the Golden Dawn.

Last week, I went to Athens for several days with a friend called Abi Ramanan. We interviewed as many people as we could about the economic crisis, service cuts and the rise of fascism. We’ll be publishing a number of articles about the experience – we have one in particular that focuses on the racism and warnings about her safety that Abi had to contend with and that I – because I am white – did not. In some respects, our trip had an air of segregation about it.

Abi first called me in about March this year to suggest the trip. She’d just visited Athens, where she’d been interviewing people about the appalling results of austerity there. She knew that I was interviewing people around the UK who were on the sharp end of this government’s cuts – people who were losing care services, benefits, homes and any hope of rescue – and wanted to know if I’d join her on another visit to Athens, to talk to more people and compare cuts stories from Greece with cuts stories in the UK.

I thought that idea had plenty of merit. Making contacts across the continent and swapping notes and plans for fightback seemed a sensible move, particularly as austerity continues to march Europe deeper into poverty, shock, fascism and other forms of oblivion. Reporting that and the wider experience is a crucial part of the response of those of us who refuse to accept that most people exist to serve out as austerity’s fodder. To put it another way – everyone everywhere needs to know when and where poverty and fascism are taking people out across Europe and anyone who is in a position to report that should be doing so.

On this site, we’re publishing transcripts of the recorded interviews we made in Athens. We have about ten to post, which we’ll do over the next few days. We’ll add links to our other articles as they appear. We’ll also be adding the audios from the interviews when we’ve had time to upload them.

This first interview is with Kelly, 31. We met her last Saturday. She voted for the Golden Dawn in the recent elections and plans to vote for them again. She explains why in this interview.

Kelly studied communications and works in telecommunications for four to six hours a day. She earns around €400 a month, plus commission. She also works as a stylist. She lives in Kallithea with her parents and her brother. 

On the political situation, paying the bills and trying to find work:
“I am pessimistic. [There are] many problems. The working class is suffering, I was living a lie. My parents, my tutors and the system told me how my life would be and I realised it wasn’t true.

I don’t know how to get through this and live the rest of my years. I feel it was all a lie because I can’t have the work I think I deserve. I can’t have a family. The crisis isn’t only economic. We don’t believe in things now – it is also a crisis of confidence. The political situation isn’t only in our pockets with work. It’s in our minds – we can’t trust anyone anymore.

Depression, anger, [the fact that] we can’t make dreams is a common feeling, especially among young people in Greece.

[I believe] that the situation has been caused the socialist party of George Papandreou – they took advantage of the good circumstances in the previous period and as a result this generation has to suffer.

On the appeal of the Golden Dawn
“I’m not here to say Golden Dawn are good. I’m here to explain the intention of the Golden Dawn voter. I don’t have a problem with immigrants. If an immigrant came to my house and wanted to eat, I’ll be the first person to give him food. I’m very generous and all Greek people are too – they will help anyone.

But I believe that I would prefer to vote for a party that says [things like] – “you know what? I’m the worst. I’m a fascist” – but [at least] are honest and straightforward in what they do. Not like the other parties who say – “I’ll increase your salary and your unemployment benefit will increase”, which are all lies. I appreciate the fact that Golden Dawn members are very straightforward and don’t want parliamentary salaries, but normal ones.

Golden Dawn is also against the memorandum and the most important reason for their appeal is because it’s a stroke [a hit] against the other political parties. It’s revenge. I believe that Golden Dawn is an extreme party, but I believe that the political system is a jungle and is also extreme. The existing system is pro-austerity.

The worst thing in Greek society is the cultivating media that misleads Greek people. For example, they say that Golden Dawn is anti-immigration, but at the same time, they are selling the country. So, to mislead [divert] us, they tell us about Golden Dawn, but the situation is more complex than that. They are cultivating us. They use Golden Dawn as a means to divide people.

I would not like to see a government with Golden Dawn as the main political party. I feel they should be in opposition, because I’m a little bit afraid of them. Even though I can understand the intention of someone to vote for Golden Dawn, I’m not sure that they should be government. Also, I don’t believe any political party can lead Greece out of this crisis. Only going back to the drachma will solve this. At first there will be a slump but in the future we will grow again.

In every party, there are bad people. When there is a protest in Syntagma, some anarchists will take advantage and start to burn the city, in Golden Dawn, there are some – not fascists, but psychos who will take advantage of situations. I’m afraid and a little bit concerned of what comes out of them, with all the news of attacks on immigrants. It’s more extreme than what I thought, but, if there were elections now, I would vote for Golden Dawn again.

On Golden Dawn’s attacks on immigrants
I don’t believe that all the stories are real. But, one day on the bus, there was a big man who started shouting at an immigrant – “get off the bus!” and “get your legs down!” and things like that. I freaked out. That makes me angry. But – I have had situations in the last year [with immigrants that I’ve had to deal with]. I went out for a walk at 11 o’clock at night. There was a man – a Russian or something like that – in his car. He was in the car with a junkie. They had a fight and the junkie got out and started to scream, I waited for a bit and then started to walk.

The driver saw me. He started following me inside the car. He started speaking to me – he kind of blocked my way two times with his car. It seemed like he was coming out of the car and maybe to try to grab me in an assault. I started to run and luckily my house was only ten seconds from this place. There is a problem in Greece – the immigrants here don’t want a better future. They don’t want to work and make families. They are from jails, they are engaging with crime, they are not civilised people. They rape [and] they are thieves. Not all the immigrants – but a lot of the immigrants here are like this. I know this from my own personal experience and from various other incidents. This is not from the media, but from my friends and people I know. Not from the media.

I am against Golden Dawn going into schools and hospitals, but, I also condemn the mainstream media for not giving them equal publicity to other political parties. They have no space in the media and so they have to go from door to door to spread their message and communicate their ideas.

Some of them are fascists but some of them aren’t. I am not a fascist person.”

On the past, friends, family and the drachma
I didn’t follow politics when I was younger. In Greece, when you support a party, you get some benefits [from that] – work and so on, so maybe I should do it, but I prefer to vote for Golden Dawn. I have always lived in Athens and I don’t think I want to leave, even with [the economic] situation. I believe that Greek people are very generous and very polite. We have a good energy. I have travelled to some countries and I believe that believe Greek people are the best.

The majority of people oppose the drachma policy – they say things will get worse and worse. I know people who have voted for Golden Dawn, who are like me, who are not fascist people, and other parties are criticising them again and again. The real fascist people are the other parties. I would never call someone a fascist for what they believe in.

[My friends are] considering leaving Greece, but we none of us want to leave. We love our country. To go away you have to have money and you need work. It is more difficult. Around ten percent of my friends are interested in Golden Dawn.

My parents find the situation very difficult. They feel sad about our generation and the dreams they had for their children, the destruction of the healthcare system and the reduction of pensions. They did not vote for Golden Dawn. I am the black sheep of the family. They understand why I did vote for them though. They didn’t criticise me.

 

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