Saturday, August 11, 2012

Greece Cannot Allow That To Happen

I wanted to write something light.  Something that would get my mind off my race to finish the new Andreas Kaldis novel by the end of August, and forget that for the first time in a decade I won’t be on Mykonos in September and October.  But I’ve delayed my US book tour for Target: Tinos long enough. 

I shall miss those months in Greece, they are the best of times.  But perhaps this fall the next six words of A Tale of Two Cities will prove more appropriate.   I hope not.

On that note, let’s take a test.  What was the first thing that came to mind when you saw the photograph at the top of today’s blog?  The Greek Meander or the Nazi Swastika?

How about both—A Greek Nazi Symbol? 

It is the symbol of Chrysi Avgi (Golden Dawn), a far right party that until this year was a fringe group dismissed by all.  It now has eighteen members in the Greek Parliament (of 300) representing 7% of the popular vote. 

Chrysi Avgi Magazine cover boy, Rudolph Hess
Although the party officially disclaims any intended resemblance to the Nazi symbol and colors, its leaders have used the Nazi salute, expressed public admiration for Adolph Hitler and others leaders of The Third Reich, shown undisguised, unvarnished hatred of immigrants (along with others who don’t fit their image of pure Greek), and demonstrated an uncanny ability for manipulating public opinion that would make Joseph Goebbels, proud—Adolph Hitler’s Minister of Public Enlightenment and Propaganda. 

I greatly admire the Greek journalists condemning the dark side of civilization represented by Golden Dawn, but I’m appalled by how many of prominence and authority in and out of Greece are still quick to dismiss them as nuts.  They should know better.

They are not nuts or crazies.  They are, as their Leader declared after being elected to Parliament in the first of two Parliamentary elections in 2012, something else:  Golden Dawn is a movement of which to “Be afraid.”  

Chrysi Avgi leader, Nikolaos Michaloliakos
It took three parliamentary elections in Germany in 1932 before Hitler became Chancellor in 1933.  Greece has five months to go in 2012 and Golden Dawn is relentlessly pressing its agenda in brilliant exploitation of the anger and frustration of a populace suffering through its equivalent of The Great Depression.  So successful is Golden Dawn in their public relations efforts, that the three parties comprising Greece’s governing coalition are rocked back on their respective heels trying to show that they, too, can be “tough on immigrants.”

The problem is that governments forced to deal with serious problems on a macro level can never effectively compete in a show of “toughness” where all its competitor need do is “small” things that appeal to the bile of so many, especially when it’s known there is nothing to fear from a government utterly afraid to hold them accountable.
Free Food in exchange for IDs in Athens' Constitution Square

How can an organized government compete against this sort of public relations driven shows of “toughness”:  Packs of men beating individuals of color nearly to death…threatening non-Greek shop owners to leave a community “or else”... using Athens’ parliament square in open (and unpunished) defiance of the Mayor’s order denying them the right to do so for their purpose of passing out free food only to Greeks prepared to demonstrate the purity of their ethnicity by submitting identity cards and blood types to Golden Dawn’s representatives for recording and use in who knows what fuhrer purposes (no typo)…forming a lynch mob to storm a police van transporting a 19 year-old Pakistani man accursed of a horrific crime against a 15 year-old Greek girl as part of their show of how they would protect Greek women against the immigrant hordes (forgetting for the moment that their party’s spokesman (and former special forces soldier) had recently repeatedly punched a female opposition party member in the face during a nationally televised election debate).

Those “little” media driven demonstrations of vigilante toughness will always be more appealing to the masses than the true private toughness required to address the root problems of illegal immigration ignored for so long by so many past governments for any number of politically expedient reasons.

The homogeneous Greek society of a few decades ago is no longer.  At least ten percent of its population is now immigrants.  Accept it.  There is no going back. And trying to mimic the methods of Golden Dawn with “programs” of immigrant round-ups and deportations that are universally condemned by groups such as Amnesty International only lends credence to the vigilantes and their own Final Solution for the immigrant problem.

What confronts Greece is not new to Greece or indeed the rest of the world.  What is needed though, is new: fearless thinking.

And if none is forthcoming, permit me to be so presumptuous as to present a warning right out of the pages of TARGET: TINOS.  It is a segment that served as the frame of reference for all that followed (and for which Marilyn Stasio of The New York Times made Target: Tinos one of her picks of the summer, he said in BSP):

“There are serious people in the E.U. looking for any justification for ending financial aid to Greece.  So far the arguments against us are purely financial.  That we don’t work hard enough, we’re corrupt, we don’t want to pay taxes.  You know the routine…

We don’t want to do anything that might give our enemies different ammunition.”

“What sort of ammunition?”…

“[O]ur adversaries would love to switch the focus of the debate from our country’s financial problems to our national character.  Paint us as indifferent to the plight of non-Greeks, an intolerant place where only Greeks are treated as deserving of protection, and all others be damned.  It’s a volatile, irrational, and emotional argument but one that could turn world opinion against us if it found traction in the press.  And then it would no longer be just a question of denying us further bailout funds, but whether or not to drum us out of the E.U.”…

And the longer this case remains open the greater the chance of some foreign reporter seeing glory in a story that shocks the world into action against us by linking Greece to words like ‘intolerance’ and  ‘genocide.’  We cannot allow that to happen.”

I'm likely to see more of this after today.
I’ve blogged about this before (I Will Not Be Silent) and no doubt will again for one simple reason:  Greece cannot allow that to happen!



  1. A very scary, but truthful assessment of one of the biggest issues facing Greece today, Jeff. The world watches, but doesn't step in to condemn these actions. Which lends credence to another quote: Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it. I pray not, for the sake of our beloved Greece, and for the sake of all of the wonderful people who inhabit its borders, whether they be Greek by birth or not. We're all Greek in our hearts, and doesn't that matter most?

  2. Jeff, I never hear anything about this here. Fascism is on the rise everywhere it seems, but your Greeks bearing grudges make our terrifying TeaParty look like a bunch of Franciscan monks. I am afraid for Greece and for its immigrant population. But this is one of those times that I wish I believed in prayer. What can we do? There has to be something.

  3. Thoughtful, frightening piece, Jeffrey, and the conditions for the rise of Fascism in Greece aren't all THAT different from the conditions in Germany back in the dreadful day. I'm with Annamaria -- there must be something people outside Greece can do.

  4. I greatly admire the Greek journalists who've stood up to direct and indirect threats. What must be done is what they are trying to do: keep the light shining brightly on the vigilantes, on what they are doing, and on those protecting them--out of sympathy, fear or prayer that they'll just go away. Light generates heat, and enough heat might just get those who could do something about it to act.

  5. When times are bad, and people are suffering, the situation is rife for someone--anyone--who promises change to come in. And perhaps the only people arrogant enough to believe they could create sweeping changes in a highly complex situation, which took years to establish and will likely take as many to...un-establish, are crazy. Hot-headed. Play on people's hatreds. Not to put too fine a point on it.

    I hope that we all remember so that history doesn't have to repeat itself.

  6. The Greek people are not represented by the vigilantes any more than are Americans by the Klu Klux Klan. What is truly to fear is not a Fascist takeover in Greece--they suffered in WWII more than virtually any country--but that until the basic courageous, hospitable nature of the people drives the opportunistic political exploiters away, a lot of innocent people could get hurt.

  7. J, I shared this with friends and mentioned particularly that AWFUL flag. Thinking about it, I conclude that those disgusting Golden Dawn thugs are doing the rest of us a favor by adopting Third-Reich-like paraphernalia. It makes it much easier to show them up for who they really are. In the words of Indiana Jones, "Nazis! I hate those guys."

    Are ordinary Greeks trying to defend the innocent?

  8. The flag makes my stomach hurt. This is so sad. When I think of Greece, I think of shining principles, and shining seas. It is so disturbing to me that hate has become so acceptable. Reading about your tour will be much more pleasant than the news here in the states this fall.

  9. Interesting point, Annamaria. Perhaps more should see the movie. I have no answer to your your question, except to say the party is publicly decried and most Greeks I know shake their heads in disgust at the the thought of what it stands for.

    I think the same way, Lil, which is why I wrote this. As for the news in the states, I'd far prefer to be here this fall, on Mykonos. But duty and book tour calls.

  10. Very good post on the neo-fascist thugs in Greece. It's horrendous. That's it.

    What they are doing to immigrants, including the documented, shopkeepers, and others is just outrageous and so incredibly destructive to all of the Greek people.

    It's like what the brown shirts did in Germany to Jewish shopkeepers and others as a prelude to the full murderous pogroms.

    It is sickening. I hope the Greek people as a whole come out strongly and rebuff and resist these racist ruffians. It's the only way. Whatever international support and solidarity can be given from groups and individuals should be done, in whatever way it can.

    To my thinking, as an activist, it would be great if people in other European countries -- labor unions, human rights groups, community groups, people of all nationalities, including immigrants, religious figures and ordinary people -- could demonstrate solidarity with the Greek people and deplore the neo-fascists.

    I remember some years ago when the ultra-right National Front in France was being very bellicose against immigrants, and a million people demonstrated against them, people from every income level, community, nationality, etc. And they backed off for awhile.

    This needs to happen all over Europe. And I dare here, too, in solidarity with the Sikh community and other immigrant groupings, given what's happened in Wisconsin recently.

    1. Thank you, Kathy.

      Greeks are extremely proud of their land and culture, as they should be. They are also dispirited by the financial crisis rocking their country and angered at threats they see to their way of life in the flood of illegal immigration brought on in large measure by Greece being the European Union's unofficial "filter trap" for so many fleeing the East and Africa for Western Europe. It is a situation ripe for exploitation by nationalistic demagogues.

      But as fervently as I believe this is not "a family problem" to be swept under the rug, I also fully realize that only the Greek people can address it--and believe me the great majority most certainly want it addressed, especially those who remember the realities of the Junta Dictatorship years.

    2. Unfortunately television and newspapers dictate public opinion to make believe that immigrants are responsible for the economic crisis and rise in crime. Human dignity and rights are altogether ignored thus those hit hardest by the depression, a million immigrants without asylum and work permits and over a million jobless Greeks, are easily manipulated targets of the Golden Dawn. They are mostly members of the police, armed forces and anybody being paid to do their dirty work and pogroms. The government locks into this cycle of manipulation to control the indignation and polarity amongst the people and away from themselves and corruption. In many cases, justice has become a terrible joke. Protesters are clubbed, sprayed and confined while foreign support groups ousted. As for the church, a look at Golden Dawn's motto "country, religion, freedom" promotes total independence, closed borders, self-sufficiency plus a leap back into the past when women stayed home. I suspect that most Greeks keep a low profile to avoid civil unrest and further instability but also that anybody 'coming to our rescue' might have a hidden agenda.

  11. Jeff, there was actually a piece on NPR this morning about the anti-immigrant violence in Greece. If you want to hear it, send me an email at and I will send you a link.

    1. NPR? That's interesting! Do you think they're following MIE:) Thanks, Annamaria. I'll email you for the link.

  12. Well, the problem is the global economic problems and extreme poverty and joblessness in so many countries, and then desperate people go to European countries looking for work.

    No one would leave their homelands and families and go through what many immigrants go through to try to find a way to earn a living. And then to meet discrimination, bigotry and hostility after all that!

    It's not their faults as it was not the fault of the Jewish people that Germany had an economic crisis in the 1920s and 1930s.

    Yes, true the Greek people remember the junta and I'm sure they all remember what happened during WWII or they know from parents and grandparents.

    I hope they can push back the ultra-right.

    1. Kathy, it seems to me that illegal immigration is likely the greatest long term problem/dilemma confronting the Western World, brought on by the factors you raise and a few others, such as war and disease.

      If you're a young person in a land where your life is sufficiently enough in danger or futile that you realize it is, and you see an opportunity to escape, to search out a life in one of those Western countries where life under virtually any analysis is objectively better, wouldn't the irrational decision be NOT to try?

      For many it is reduced to the most elemental of risk/reward analyses: life or death.

      How the developed world ultimately chooses to address that reality may be the truest test of how far civilization has advanced. Or regressed.

  13. I was up on some but not all of this. Thanks for this disturbing post. I am at the moment terribly concerned about the right-wing tilt and propoganda in the U.S., so much so that I had gotten behind on what was going on in Greece. How did we in the U.S. get to the point where a major party has a v.p. candidate intent on letting women die in childbirth if the choice is between the woman or the fetus; i.e., Ryan. Santorum, a candidate who would not allow birth control nearly was the Republican nominee. How did we get a Republican v.p. candidate (Ryan) who is lying about Social Security so that he can steal it from those in the future? When anyone criticizes the Republican party in the U.S. they are being "negative" but the Republicans can make up stuff about decorated veteran heroes (as they did about John Kerry) with no push-back against them. We have our own very, very dangerous ultra-right faction so unfortunately Greece is not alone.



    1. Brenda, I share your dismay at Mitt's pick (there must be a funnier way to say that, but the subject leaves me humorless), though frankly this is nothing new for Republicans. The party has long been hijacked by the far-right and Romney (still no humor comes to mind) doesn't have the "orhidia" to stand up to them. His private pitch to the moderates will probably be something along the lines of "Hey, don't worry, I'm just doing this to get elected, I don't agree with those nuts." Or perhaps he'll whisper in receptive ears, "Don't worry, I'll be just like Obama, only..." Believe at your peril.

      HOWEVER, I do not see in the Republican candidates anything close to the sort of avowed fascist drive described in my post. Yes, attitudes as extreme and even more so exist in the US, but despite my disagreement with their policies I don't see that in Mitt or Twit. Aha, it's come to me.

  14. As reported today in Athens newspaper, "Kathimerini":

    A 19-year-old Iraqi immigrant died in an Athens hospital on Sunday after being stabbed late on Saturday night by five unknown persons riding motorcycles, police said.

    The assailants had earlier targeted two other immigrants, one from Romania and one from Morocco, who managed to escape.

    Public Order and Citizens' Protection Minister Nikos Dendias on Sunday condemned the attack.

    "The state will be relentless toward all those who commit crimes, regardless of their pretext," said the minister, adding that the authorities will launch an investigation in order to bring the culprits to justice as soon as possible.

  15. Jeff, I agree that for immigrants, even for those coming to the U.S. from Latin America, it's often a life or death choice. Many do risk their lives. NAFTA only made people more desperate to find jobs.

    And I agree that immigration, spurred on by economic conditions and no options in their homeland, spurs people to leave to try to find a way to earn a living.

    When I read of boatloads of immigrants sinking or being diverted somewhere where those on board are taken and held in detention centers, it is heartbreaking.

    What is to become of all of these people?

    Your latest post about the murder of an Iraqi immigrant and attacks on the Romanian and Moroccan immigrants are just outrageous and heart-rending. These are human beings who want to live and work.

  16. As you point out, Kathy, it is a world wide problem, requiring world wide attention. Always has, always will, always waiting.

  17. I'm not so worried about fascism in the U.S., although those Tea Partiers are no day at the beach, and some are very frightening, indeed, but I am worried about Romney and Ryan hoodwinking people by their alleged "new" economic plan, which translates into destroying Medicare and Social Security.
    Millions of people rely on these programs and they keep them out of the worst poverty.
    I hope folks come forward and expose them to everyone.
    Democracy Now just hosted Eric Larson who excellently explained the right-wing's intentions to demolish these two earned-benefit programs and why this is so damaging and dangerous to tens of millions of people.
    But this doesn't get out to the mainstream.
    And the right wing can get people to vote for things that are not in their interests.

  18. Kathy, you've inspired me to do something I generally don't do. This post has generated such a healthy exposition of views that I've decided to violate my cardinal rule and re-post it Sunday--together with an explanation for why I'm doing so--on my regular 19th of the month blog slot on my publisher's website,

    I was going to focus on my upcoming September-October book tour, but all that info is available on my website and, besides, its more important that word get out on the subject of this post!

  19. Jeff, you're absolutely right! These issues are critically important.

    And I spoke too soon when I said that I wasn't so worried about the right wing stifling civil liberties.

    Last night's news reported that Arizona's Gov. Brewer issued an edict that would deny driver's licenses and other public benefits to undocumented immigrants -- including to those whom the Obama Administration extended rights to.

    So I am worried about immigrants' civil and human rights here, too. I should have said that above.

    I wish everyone here could just support civil and human rights for all and extend kindness and compassion to everyone.

    This divisiveness and mean-spiritedness is just so wrong -- whether in Greece, France (where Hollande just ordered some Roma camps closed) or here.

    P.S. I'm still waiting for Target: Tinos from my library -- (im)patiently.

  20. Now we've got two New Yorkers impatient with your library! I think we've got a critical mass thing going here:).

  21. Golden Dawn are no different than the far right Republican Party in the US, feeding on ignorance . They too are anti-immigration and homophobic. Thankfully the general population don`t listen.

  22. Mykonos Blogger, I wish you well in your thinking. If what you wrote were true--and you know it is not--there is one distinct difference: you can get away with bigoted thinking in the US, not bigoted acts.

  23. This has happened in America in the past and is currently coming back around again. In the early days of Statehood in Alabama (where I was born and raised), there was a move to ban anyone of Indian (Native American) descent from being in the Legislature (that would have banned everyone there at the time as the records showed all had a Mother, Grandmother, or Great-Grandmother of Native American Descent). We fought a war over the vile institution of Salary. We damn near came to war when Women wanted the right to vote. The Civil Rights Movement damn near threw us into another War. Gay Rights and Immigration are tearing us apart now. I hope and pray Greece can pull out of this. I myself have so many different races coursing through my veins, I would be kicked out of every country on this earth (yeah, I'm a Mutt and proud of it). I hope and PRAY that both my follow Americans and the Greeks, whom I have come to adore, see common sense in this matter.

    1. I share your prayer, Glenn, and sadly admit that in following the news of the two countries I love, at times I'm confused as to which is which. The politics of both seem driven more by self than country and polarization of the populace used as cover for failed government policies and inaction...festering discord and, at times, violence.

  24. Allowed to think in a bigoted way here but not carry out bigoted acts? Where is the line drawn?

    What about the guy who murdered six members of the Wisconsin Sikh community? He apparently flew a Nazi flag at his army post. He bought guns, was a member of white supremacist groups, signed up for the Klan, avowed the worst racism and then acted out his bigotry by killing six good, innocent people.

    Many acts go on in the U.S., which stem from extremely bigoted thinking and then organizing.

    There are Minutemen at the U.S./Mexican border who carry out violence against immigrants. Arizona Sheriff Arpaio and his gang carry out horrendous policies aimed against Latinos/as, including physical brutality.

    There are all kinds of inequities here, including in the stop and frisks in my city, which the civil liberies groups have been fighting.

    There are NRA-promoted Stand Your Ground Laws, which are racist in nature.

    For my two cents: I say it's the Civil Rights Movement, the Gay Movement, the Women's Movement, immigrants' rights groups, unions, civil liberties groups, and more who have made changes here.

  25. Hi Kathy,

    I did not mean one cannot "carry out" bigoted acts in the US, I meant one cannot "get away" with bigoted acts.

    Sadly, bigotry and hate between "us and them" has been with us since Cain slew Able, and no matter how the world evolves it will always be you properly point out.

    All that a society can do is show zero tolerance for those who "carry out" their thoughts in harmful action. Yes, punishing those who chose to violate the polity's laws after the act has been committed is of small solace to the harmed, but it is all that a free society can do.

    Sadly there is no Philosopher King in this world, for the question always comes down to, "Whose philosophy shall be king?"