Oct 12, 2012

Golden Dawn violence and police collaboration

Following up on my previous post about white nationalist responses to the Greek neonazi group Golden Dawn, I want to pull together some information and analysis about Golden Dawn itself. This post focuses on GD’s campaign of violence and its close relationship with the police. A later post will focus on GD’s fascist ideology.

Greek anti-fascists have emphasized that Golden Dawn is far more violent than most far-right parties in Europe. This violence is primarily directed against immigrants and refugees but also against leftists, LGBT people, and others who don’t fit GD’s fascist vision for Greece. The website Infomobile (“information with, about and for refugees in Greece”) reported on August 13 that there had been “more than 500 fascist attacks against migrants in the last six months.” Whether or not all of these attacks have been perpetrated by Golden Dawn members, it’s clear that the party is spearheading and driving the racist campaign.

As a snapshot of this violence, the blog ANTI published a chronology of selected racist attacks in Greece during the week following the June 17 elections. Here is a summary:

          June 17 early hours – A mob of seventy stops buses in central Athens, punches and kicks non-Greek passengers; similar attacks take place at three other locations in the city. Local kiosks of the leftist parties ANTARSYA and SYRIZA are vandalized and torched. In Chania (on Crete) a gang of four attacks two Algerians with knives and metal bars, sending them to the hospital.
           June 17 night – A group of Golden Dawn supporters attacks an immigrant in an Athens subway station, as part of wider night of violence celebrating GD’s electoral success. In Chania, a homeless Egyptian immigrant is attacked with a metal bar, and is beaten so badly that he has to have emergency surgery to remove his kidney. 
          June 18 – Two teens punch non-Greek street sellers in Alimos and hit them with clubs. A Pakistani cyclist near Corinth is chased down by a group of six on motorbikes and beaten with clubs; police dismiss the attack as an inter-Pakistani feud and arrest ten of the victim’s friends for being undocumented when they visit him in hospital. 
          June 20 – Two teens attack street-sellers in Palaio Faliro. 
          June 21 – A group of ten thugs attacks immigrant street-sellers in Kalamaki.
          June 23 – A Golden Dawn gang in the Athens suburb of Nikaia goes to every shop owned by a non-Greek and threatens violence if they don’t leave within a week; their visit is closely observed by police who do not intervene. In the Elaionas neighborhood of Athens, a group of twenty thugs attacks non-Greeks with clubs, then vandalizes four immigrants’ houses; later, the local “ordinary” Greeks attack the remaining immigrants; police respond to both attacks by arresting undocumented immigrants.

Golden Dawn’s campaign of violence is connected to the police in at least two ways. First, the Greek police are implementing their own official campaign to crack down on immigrants and refugees. Since April there has been a series of mass sweeps leading to arrests and deportations. In “Operation Xenios Zeus” (named for the ancient Greek god of hospitality), police rounded up 6,000 people in the greater Athens area in one day alone. Christoph Dreier on World Socialist Web Site reports:
“According to eyewitness reports published in the Guardian newspaper in Britain, the police teams acted with the utmost brutality. Police are said to have randomly stopped foreign-looking individuals and packed them into windowless buses. After several hours, the officers searched them and checked their papers. Those who could produce a residency permit were released; all others were taken to police stations and a temporary detention facility near Athens…. Other reports speak of humiliating scenes in which the victims had to spend hours kneeling on the ground. There are reports of violent attacks by police officers on detainees.”
These operations reflect the fact that Greece’s mainstream ruling parties have embraced nativist politics, even if they don’t endorse Golden Dawn’s pogromist tactics. As Dreier reports,
“The minister responsible for civil protection, Nikos Dendias of the conservative New Democracy, denounced refugees seeking asylum as worse than the German troops who invaded Greece during World War II. Speaking to Skai TV, he described them as ‘occupiers’ who have turned the country into an ‘immigrant ghetto.’”
At the same time, there is a close relationship between the Golden Dawn fascists and the police -- whether or not claims that 50 percent of police officers voted for Golden Dawn are correct. The chronology of racist attacks summarized above includes several incidents when police either ignored the attack or punished the victims, a pattern that has been widely reported elsewhere. Recently, forty anti-fascist protesters arrested in Athens told the Guardian that they were tortured and humiliated at the central police station, and that officers threatened to give their home addresses to Golden Dawn.

Sociologist Sappho Xenakis helps place Golden Dawn’s violence and police collaboration in historical context, noting that in the 1950s Greek police worked closely with far-right paramilitary groups in targeting leftists and labor unionists. Discussing political violence in the 2000s, she writes:
“Compounding the impact of state coerciveness has been the perceived immunity accorded to far-right violence, and open collaboration between far-right activists and the police in violent engagements. The number of organized and spontaneous attacks against immigrant, far-left, and anarchist targets by groups of far-right activists appears to have climbed over the 2000s. By 2009, far-right mobilizations against immigrants in central Athens by platoon-like formations of around thirty to forty black-clad and capped individuals, armed with sticks, were regularly being reported in the media. These acquired greater public recognition in 2010, when their ‘patrols’ became routine in the Athenian district of Agios Panteleimonas, a place of high tension between immigrant and Greek residents. The visibility of far-right violence reached a new level on May 12, 2011, with the daylight chasing and beating of immigrants by an estimated crowd of five hundred far-right extremists in central Athens (thought to include members of Chrysi Avgi, known as Chrysavgites), the reported injury of nineteen immigrants and six Greeks, and damage to the shops of immigrants.

“Furthermore, images of uniformed far-Rightists (suspected Chrysavgites) emerging from, or alongside, police ranks, armed with Molotov cocktails, batons, and knives, to attack anarchists and far-Leftists during demonstrations and riots, and even caught on film returning for protection behind these lines, has persuaded many of the existence of a close cooperative relationship between the far-Right and the police over recent years. One such illustration was provided on May 9, 2009, when dozens of far-right activists (again, suspected Chrysavgites) passed by police lines to attack Asian refugees housed in Omonia, central Athens, armed with shields, sticks, and grenades, leading to the injury of five immigrants.” (Sappho Xenakis, “A New Dawn? Change and Continuity in Political Violence in Greece,” pp. 445-6, available at Academia.edu with free login) [or even without the login -- see Comment below]
Two closing thoughts for now: First, the fascist threat in Greece is not a future potential or a secondary issue compared with the crisis of capitalism and the so-called austerity measures that the Greek state and the European Union have imposed on the people of Greece. Fascist violence is an immediate, physical threat now, and it plays a major role in defining the political and social direction of the country. Beyond that, Golden Dawn’s successes and aggressiveness inspire and embolden far rightists around the world.

Second, the close relationship between Golden Dawn and the Greek police doesn’t mean that Greek neonazism functions simply as a tool of the Greek state, the ruling class, or capitalism as a system. Historically, fascist movements have had a complex, contradictory relationship with the capitalist ruling class, serving its interests in some ways but clashing with them in others. To understand how that relationship plays out in the case of Golden Dawn, it would be important to look at tensions within the Greek ruling class (notably in relation to global capital and the EU's demands and constraints) as well as tensions between the security apparatus and economic or political elites (possibly left over from the end of military rule of 40 years ago).

Here are some good sources of information about the struggle in Greece:
Related posts on Three Way Fight:
Golden Dawn's fascist ideology, 24 October 2012
White nationalists praise Golden Dawn, 8 October 2012


Anonymous said...

Direct link to the Sappho Xenakis article: