In May this year a 14-year-old Afghan boy was viciously assaulted in an unprovoked attack by a group of men in central Athens. A Cameroonian man was seriously injured in a separate attack later that day. The assailants then set fire to his coffee shop, the only source of income for his family. In the same month a Syrian refugee was left fighting for his life after an unprovoked attack by a group of unidentified masked men.
Images of deep cuts on the heads; broken noses and teeth, and missing fingers are now a common feature among victims. Witnesses say the attacks, far from being random, are carefully planned and targeted. Many foreigners, especially asylum seekers now believe the Greek tradition of hospitality to strangers is over, as they face virulent racial abuse almost daily.
Who is responsible?
An increasingly popular anti-immigrant party of the far right, Golden Dawn, has been broadly linked to the violence. In every case reported so far, fingers point at members of this party, who are neo-Nazi, right-wing, and deniers of the Holocaust.
The increased attacks on migrants lie on a cocktail of government cuts and austerity measures prescribed by the EU which Golden Dawn capitalizes on in its propaganda messages.
Incidents of attacks on foreigners in Athens have become common news. In 2012 alone police reported at least 150 racist attacks against migrants, however most cases go unreported.
Masked skinheads wearing black tee-shirts marked with Golden Dawn trade marks, and in heavy boots routinely pull out migrants from buses and beat or stab them. The attacks often happen during night-time. The attackers are always in groups, often wearing helmets or masks. They carry weapons such as baseball bats, metal rods and knives.
Reports say sometimes these kinds of attacks happen in full glare of police who do nothing about it. In the summer of 2012, in response to the electoral success of Golden Dawn, the Greek government ordered mass arrests of immigrants. They also built new detention centres for migrants as a result. There are fears among human rights groups that this action encourages Golden Dawn’s violent activities.
According to Kostis Papaioannou, head of the Greek Commission for Human and Civil Rights; “In recent years, the number of violent crimes with a racist background has increased dramatically, and their rising intensity is alarming,”
He said that it is common for attackers to use weapons that severely injure their victims or even kill.
Popularity of Golden Dawn
In the face of economic hardships experienced by the Greek population Golden Dawn has emerged as an alternative voice for many, and as a result enjoys a surge in popularity. The party for instance, garnered 18 out of a total of 300 parliamentary seats in the Greek parliament last June. This amounts to 7 percent of the popular vote. While the outcome is clearly a result of a protest vote against politicians, many fear the party is getting more and more entrenched in the Greek political psyche.
In a recent opinion poll Golden Dawn ranked third among the four main political parties in Greece. This comes in the wake of economic meltdown that has left many Greeks disillusioned due to hardships brought by spending cuts and job losses. The party uses anti-immigration rhetoric to woo support. They blame the rise of unemployment on migrants and asylum seekers.
Golden Dawn’s electoral popularity stems both from those urban areas that are severely hit by austerity measures as well as traditional rural strongholds of conservative voters. Its appeal to mainly young constituency, especially men, along with many unemployed is similar to other neo-Nazi and right-wing movements in Europe.
Junior parties in a loose coalition government of Prime Minister Antonis Samaras tried in early June to pass an anti-racism bill in parliament but failed. The socialist party, Pasok, and the moderate Democratic Left brought the bill to Parliament but could not get support from the conservative Prime Minister. Samaras argued that the “Existing laws are enough.” He was also famously quoted in 2012 saying “…we need to clean the streets of Athens of immigrants…” a statement seen as condoning Golden Dawn’s violence against migrants.
Justice Minister Antonis Roupakiotis if the Democratic Left prefers a stronger anti-racism law with tougher penalties for those making racist statements. That is the Nazi sympathizers and Holocaust deniers like Golden Dawn. However this is unlikely to happen because Samaras’ party, the biggest in parliament is against the move.
The bill sought to toughen penalties on those who incite racial attacks. The result would be:
- Two year prison sentence for those perpetrating racist attacks
- Fines of up to U$26,000 per person or U$260,000 for organizations implicated
- A curb on the growing influence of Golden Dawn, the political party widely viewed as racist.
Origins of Golden Dawn
Formerly The People’s Association, Golden Dawn is a right-wing extremist political organization in Greece whose leader is Nikolaos Michaloliakos.
The party bears all the characteristics of neo-Nazism and fascism with strong affiliation to Ioannis Metaxas‘ views. Metaxas is the former dictator who ruled Greece during the Second World War 11. They use Nazi symbols, not least the praise of the former Nazi Germany.
Golden Dawn was officially established in 1980 but registered as a political party in 1993. They held their sixth congress in March 2007. On 7 November 2010 the party enjoyed a surge in political support, bagging 5.3 percent of the vote Athens’ municipality elections. They also won a seat in the City Council the same year.
During the 2012 elections, Golden Dawn’s campaign strategy focused on unemployment, austerity, the economy and immigration. As a result they won 21 parliamentary seats. However that number reduced to 18 in elections that followed in June of the same year.
The Greek authorities face up to the threats brought about by right-wing organisations such as Golden Dawn. The government must acknowledge that violence against migrants and asylum seekers exists, and should address the systemic cause of the problem. Until solutions are found, the impunity that Golden Dawn enjoys will surely perpetuate the cycle of violence that has terrorized foreigners and asylum seekers in recent months.
- Greek neo-Nazis threaten to mobilize against plans for mosque (panarmenian.net)
- Hundreds of neo-Nazis march in Athens (bigpondnews.com)
- Greece’s Neo Nazi Party Now Has Thousands Of Members Who Believe They Are At War (businessinsider.com)
- Popular Greek Neo-Nazi Group gives Greek Muslims one month to leave or be ‘slaughtered like Chicken’ (thedebateinitiative.com)
- Golden Dawn gathers strength as Greeks desert traditional parties (guardian.co.uk)