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Greece’s dawn of darkness October 6, 2012

Posted by Yilan in Yunanistan.
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Out of the ruins of Greece’s economy has risen a party of vigilantes who prey on immigrants, writes Liz Alderman in Athens.

textGaining ground …the extremist group’s logo, a Greek motif resembling a Swastika. Photo: The New York Times

The video, which went viral in Greece last month, shows about 40 burly men, led by Giorgos Germenis, a politician with the right-wing Golden Dawn party, marching through a night market in the town of Rafina demanding that dark-skinned merchants show permits.

Some do, and they are left alone. But the action quickly picks up as the men, wearing black T-shirts with the party’s name, destroy a stall with clubs and scatter the merchandise.

”We saw a few illegal immigrants selling their wares,” Germenis says in the video. ”We did what Golden Dawn has to do. And now we’re going to church to pay our respects to the Madonna.”

textKaiti Lazarou at her newspaper and cigarette kiosk. Photo: The New York Time

Just a few months ago, the name Golden Dawn was something to be whispered in Greece.

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But three months after the extremist group won an electoral foothold in Parliament, talk of Golden Dawn seems to be on everybody’s lips.

In cafes, taxis and bars, Greeks across the political spectrum are discussing the palpable surge in Golden Dawn’s popularity, which has risen in recent political polls even as the group steps up a campaign of vigilantism and attacks against immigrants.

The poll gains come amid growing disenchantment over rising illegal immigration and with the government of the Prime Minister, Antonis Samaras, which is being forced by its international lenders to push through $15 billion in additional austerity measures. If Greece were to hold elections soon, Golden Dawn could emerge as the third-largest party in Parliament, behind Samaras’s New Democracy and the left-wing Syriza. Presently, Golden Dawn is the fifth largest, with 18 out of 300 seats.

”We have a major socio-economic crisis in which several hundred thousand Greeks are losing ground,” says Nikos Demertzis, a professor of political sociology at the University of Athens. ”And you have a rising number of immigrants in Greece, many illegal. This is creating a volcanic situation where all the classic parameters for the flourishing of a far-right force like Golden Dawn are present.”

Golden Dawn’s tactics are similar to those it used before elections in June. Preying on fears that immigrants are worsening crime rates and economic hardship, the group has been stepping up attacks against immigrants, many legal citizens, with the police frequently standing by.

It is also reaching out to the Greek diaspora. The group recently opened an office in New York, announcing its presence with a sleek website depicting a stylised Swastika against a darkened Manhattan skyline. The website was disabled by hackers less than a day later and remains down.

Golden Dawn has also established an outpost in Australia, where Greeks have been emigrating by the thousands to escape the crisis in their homeland.

The group is still far from being a major threat to Samaras’s party, or to his fragile three-party coalition government.

Most Greeks express alarm at the group’s rise, and anti-fascist organisations in Athens are continuing efforts neighbourhood by neighbourhood to counter its increased vigilantism.

Yet rising political and social discontent is rich fodder for Golden Dawn as it tries to cultivate a larger base. These days, it is not uncommon for conversations to evolve into laments about the ineffectiveness of Samaras’s government, before a mention of Golden Dawn’s rise in the polls slips in.

”People have no faith in the political system,” says Dimitris Kaklamanos, 41, a worker at a Shell petrol station in Piraeus, on the outskirts of Athens.

Kaklamanos says he had long voted for Pasok, the Socialist party, but grew disillusioned with corruption and the ineptitude of its politicians. Now he feels attracted to Golden Dawn, he says, whose popularity he expects to continue to rise, especially as the group replaces police and government services in poor areas where the state has almost ceased to function.

Other political parties ”know that Golden Dawn is gaining power and they see that as a threat,” Kaklamanos says. ”But Golden Dawn are the only ones out there demonstrating they care about the Greek people.” He cites food and clothing drives conducted by the group across of Athens, as well as protections it extends to vulnerable Greeks in neighbourhoods where crime has surged in tandem with illegal immigration.

Kaiti Lazarou, 55, the owner of a newspaper and cigarette kiosk in Piraeus, agrees: ”I have gotten food and potatoes from them in Syntagma Square. I would not be surprised if they become the government one day, and why shouldn’t they?”

In an interview, Samaras said that hundreds of thousands of illegal immigrants fleeing hardship in Africa, South Asia and now Syria were creating ”major distress” in Greece, which they use as a gateway to the European Union after entering through Turkey.

He appealed to Greece’s European partners to modify immigration accords so that other countries could take on a greater share of Greece’s immigration burden.

With more than 1.5 million immigrants in a country of about 11 million, ”this is creating extremism” that feeds the popularity of Golden Dawn, Samaras said. Outlawing the group could backfire by fuelling its popularity, he said.

Demertzis says Golden Dawn is effective because it does more than just utter political platitudes. Its members ”do their propaganda through deeds, exactly the same way that the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt does, or Hezbollah in Lebanon”.

In Golden Dawn’s case, the most high-profile activities centre on anti-immigrant campaigns, like the one documented in the video.

In another raid, filmed and posted on YouTube, in the town of Missolonghi, Greek shopkeepers shout at Golden Dawn members as they walk through a fruit and vegetable market kicking over stands loaded with produce. The raid was led by another Golden Dawn MP, Costas Barbarousis. ”These tactics were used in the dictatorship!” one woman cries.

”It’s the current government that brought more power to Golden Dawn because the people are angry at what the government is doing,” says Iakovos Zorzios, 73, a retiree whose pension has been cut.

”How can we not be angry when the government cuts our earnings so much?” Zorzios says. ”How can they expect us not to support Golden Dawn?”

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