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03
Jun2013

Facing Neo-Nazis in public: A Story about an Anti-Fascist Motorbike Patrol

Arguably, the so-called Greek crisis is not only linked to the deregulation of the economy, but with a wider social and political deregulation. In reference to the latter, the majority of the older political schemes collapse under the weight of their contradiction, with new powers emerging in their place. The most notorious newly emerging political party is the extreme-Right wing Golden Dawn (GD) which became a parliamentary force receiving approximately 7% of the vote (over 400,000) in the double election of May-June 2012. What is more, electoral surveys suggest that if elections were to take place today (May 2013) GD would receive over 10% of the vote. But GD is not entirely new. It has existed since the mid-1980s – yet until 2010 it was a tiny group carrying out attacks against antifascist activists and migrants alike.

After the Second World War, Greek state authorities were employing a wide nexus of explicitly extreme-Right state and para-state apparatuses targeting the Left. Some of the most notorious activities of the extreme-Right parastate (parakratos) were the assassination of the Left-wing MP Lambrakis in Thessaloniki 1963 and the assassination of the high school teacher Temponeras in Patras in 1991, during a students' and teachers' uprising. They both had their sculls cracked by notorious local members of the extreme-Right Greek parakratos. The dictatorship of 1967-1974 was a glorification period for that Greek extreme-Right parastate, since for seven years it turned into the state proper. From time to time, some of the extreme-Right parastate members were ‘sacrificed’ as and when it was deemed necessary (like the murderers of Lambrakis and Temponeras who spent some time in prison) yet overall a characteristic is that fascist and neo-fascist elements in Greece have been operating within relative immunity if not outright protection by the state authorities.

Golden Dawn as a 'Cherry'...

Another general characteristic of the extreme-Right parastate in Greece is that it was usually embedded within wider activities and campaigns of the official state authorities and it was rarely an autonomous political force.  The boundaries were blurry: for example although the long extreme-Right tradition and the involvement of leading GD figures into the activities of the para-state [1], GD as such had very few members up until 2010. One of the reasons for its small size was that many neo-Nazi, neo-fascist and junta-phile elements were absorbed by the parliamentary system dispersed across other Right-wing parties. Despite its size it was appearing often as the cherry on the top of the patriotic cake, baked by various governments in crucial moments of Greek post-dictatorial history.

For example: the moment when the conservative government of Mitsotakis (1990-1993) was implementing the first concrete legal adjustment towards an explicitly neoliberal system, was also the moment when his government decided that the Republic of Macedonia should not be allowed to carry its name. That decision indeed came with a 45 years delay, since the Socialist Republic of Macedonia (predecessor to the Republic) was founded as part of the Federal Yugoslavia in 1944. Apropos, the current PM, Samaras as Minister of Foreign Affairs was a key figure behind the nationalist explosion of the early 1990s. During the large rallies – organised among other by the government— the neo-Nazis of GD made their public appearance as perfectly respectful part of the ‘Macedonia is Greek’ campaign. During the largest of those rallies in Omonoia Square, GD attacked migrants and some of the new, at the time, squatted anarchist social centres. The same social centres that were attacked and evicted by the police in the winter of 2012-2013 (see Psaras 2012).  

Another example of Golden Dawn becoming the extra bit attached to the patriotic/nationalist soup came in the late 1990s and early 2000s. Back then, the country was  transformed overnight into a superpower in sports with its top moment being the success of the Greek football team in the European Championship of 2004. That was a period when the Greek flags and national anthem was heard more and more in stadiums across the world and from there via the TV to everyone’s home. That was also the period when some of the champions were accompanied in parade from the airport to the centre of the city for the fiesta down-town, organised by the state authorities to honour their success. Back then, Olympic champions were treated more or less as national heroes and indeed from one point on, they would acquire automatically an officer’s post in the Greek army.

All these phenomena were embedded within a peculiar new type of nationalism. This nationalism was promoted by the third-way social-democrats government of Simitis (1997-2004) but also by the conservative government of Karamanlis (2004-2009). Both of these governments worked hard to promote a number of adjustments towards a neoliberal form of governance, but also to portray the small Greek state as the newly emerging superpower in the Balkans, but also as the only EU and euro-zone country in the region, expanding (business-wise) to the newly opened markets of its neighbouring post-socialist countries. All that patriotism was boosted even further, when Greece became an Olympic Games host country, one among powerful countries such as the USA, Australia or China. Fitting with the prominent governmental slogans of ‘Powerful Greece’, ‘Growth’, ‘Modernisation’, and the ‘European Greece’ of European Integration and so on, all these “successes” were presented by corporate media and governments as national success.

It was within that climate that the ‘Light-blue Army’ (Galazia Stratia) appeared. This is an outright neo-Nazi fun club of the Greek national football team, controlled by GD. It started in 2000 and it was empowered during the 2004 successes of the Greek national team. The president of the club was Panagiotaros, the current MP of Golden Dawn who acquired international fame when he declared during his BBC interview to Paul Mason that GD is preparing for a civil war against the anarchists and migrants. But indeed the ‘Light-Blue Army’ was treated by the mass media and governmental factors either with a guilty silence, or as a respectful fan club of the team, following and supporting “our kids” to their battles around the world. Indeed, every Greek was supposed to have a share in these successes and everyone was supposed to be proud of the team and its supporters. Meanwhile Galazia Stratia was recruiting nationalist hooligans in the football fields, while attacking in organised way migrants every time a success of the national team was celebrated down-town. Getting some of their nationalist slogans chanted by thousands in moments of national pride such as “You Albanians will never become Greeks”.  

Burning migrants’ shops

Indeed Panagiotaros together with other Nazi MPs and candidate MPs were known to comprise the core of the very few Golden Dawn ‘activists’ when the group was tiny. Until the recent past usually when the few GD skinheads were trying to organise something in a public space by themselves or autonomously of other institutional power usually they were blockaded by counter-rallies. Antifascist organisations and individuals would occupy the site many hours in advance, waiting for the Nazis forcing in fact the event to cancellation or in a much smaller happening under heavy police protection in different site from the one announced. However, in February 2008, the Greek riot police (MAT) operated together with GD against one such antifascist counter-rally in the centre of the city. Indeed such a join operation had been seen before  (e.g. when anarchists had occupied Athens Polytechnic in 1995 in solidarity to the prison inmates of the country who had rebelled demanding better conditions in prison) GD members joined the police forces on Bouboulinas and Patision streets. However, this time was evident that neither police officers, nor the neo-Nazis cared to hide their join operation from cameras as used to happen in the past. That was an incident signifying a changing paradigm regarding the activities organised by the neo-Nazi party.

After the revolt of December 2008. Neo-Nazi resident committees started occupying public spaces in Athens centre and declaring them as no-go zones for migrants and anti-fascists (Dalakoglou & Vradis 2011). On May 2011, a few days before the Syntagma movement, the assassination and robbery of a greek man by two migrants gave the opportunity to Golden Dawn to organise one of its larger rallies followed by organised attacks against migrants and anarchist squats in the centre of the city - and especially Villa Amalias, which eventually was evicted by the police on December 2012. Gradually, GD started legitimating more and more its presence and its discourse in public sphere and within public spaces. Every time a new GD local branch opened, several hundreds of supporters appeared under Greek and GD flags. GD start appearing on squares and churches during local festivities, parading and chanting slogans. Simultaneously, night-time and daylight attacks against migrants become a near-daily routine during 2012 and 2013, with entire areas of central Athens now becoming very dangerous spaces for migrants.

Under these circumstances, motorbike antifascist ‘patrols’ appeared in the streets of Athens during 2012. The aim was to express antifa presence in the areas where neo-Nazis attack and threaten migrants. In late September one of these patrols met a group of skinheads, clashes followed and motorbike police units of DELTA [2] arrested most of the anti-fascists, leaving the neo-Nazis intact. The torture of the antifascists that followed in the police headquarters made the Greek Police famous internationally (see Margaronis 2012). Although the police torturers made their own neo-Nazi affiliations explicit to the arrestees, the Minister of Police Dendias denied the testimonies of the antifascists, declaring from the Greek Parliament podium that he will sue ‘The Guardian’ because the UK newspaper revealed the torture. Soon under Nikos Dendias some of the anarchist squats which comprised strongholds of antifascist activity in central Athens were evicted by the police, opening urban space to fascist activities. Antifascist patrols continued after the September incident. One of the largest of these patrols took place in November 2012, with hundreds of motor-bike riders participating:



A couple of months later we carried out research in the area, in front of another shop owned by African migrants, one street away from where the clashes took place in September. The migrants from various sub-Saharan countries, agreed that it is very unsafe to walk by yourself out if you are black in that neighbourhood of Athens. Attacks occur all the time and you have nowhere to seek help. In May 2013, one of the skinheads who clashed with the antifascists during the September 2012 incident –and he became a “victim” and then the main witness against the 25 antifascists– was arrested. The reason for his arrest, eight months after the September incident, was arson. He set a migrant’s café on fire, right in the same neighbourhood.  Given the long legacy of authorities’ protection to the extreme-Right attacks and of course the recent event that involved him personally, the man felt secure enough to first assault and threaten the African business owner, telling him explicitly that he will burn the café and later staying true to his word, setting it on fire together with his group.

 

by Dimitris Dalakoglou


References
Dalakoglou D. 2013 Neo-Nazism and Neoliberalism. In Working USA, vol 16(2): 283-291

Dalakoglou D. and Vradis. A. 2011 Spatial Legacies of December and the Right to the City. In Vradis A.  & Dalakoglou D. (ed.) Revolt and Crisis in Greece. Oakland CA: AK Press

Psaras D. 2012 The Black Book of Golden Dawn. Athens: Polis

Margaronis M. 2012 Greek anti-fascist protesters 'tortured by police' after Golden Dawn clash. In The Guardian 9/10/2012

Notes

[1] GD's leader Michaloliakos has spent time in prison for his involvement to bomb attacks, organised by para-state apparatuses against the Left (See Dalakoglou 2013).

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[2] A counter-protest police unit funded after the revolt of December 2008. It is notorious for its offensive tactics (speed on motorbikes through the demonstrators’ crowd aiming to injure them) but also the extreme-Right wing affiliations of its officers (Dalakoglou 2013).

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