Greece's Politics of Fear: How a Brutal Austerity Regime is Leading to Attacks on Immigrants and Activists
Employees of the state-owned Labor Housing Organization (OEK) protest on February 16 outside the Labor Ministry in Athens against the government's decision to shut down the organization.
What's really happening in Greece is ripping off the European welfare state and the re-fabrication of social and economic relations based on the values of fiscal discipline and private economy.
Greece seems to be the guinea pig in the experiment for Europe to come, as many argue. It is no accident that the means used for this experiment have so far been the construction of collective guilt, political blackmail and much social pain.
Or at least, that was the story until some time ago. For the past few months, I dare say, things are reminding us of the escalation of tension that preceded the fall of the regimes in the Arab world, in analogy: The suppression of freedom of speech, a significant increase in the state violence against protestors which has already caused an international outcry, and the street terror by far-right extremist thugs who are going after immigrants and their properties, is changing the image of European Greece.
The suppression of freedom of speech became evident when investigative journalist Costas Vaxevanis was taken to court after publishing a list of possible tax evaders in his magazine Hot Doc. The infamous "Lagarde List" consists of 2,000 names of holders of bank accounts in the Swiss branch of HSBC.
It was handed over by the French authorities to the Greek officials in 2010, in order to be scanned by tax authorities for tax-evasion. However, while other European countries proceeded to the control on the taxation of wealthy nationals who had taken their money to Switzerland, it was lost by two Greek finance ministers in a row, according to their own testimonies in a parliamentary committee, which questioned the case.
Vaxevanis argues that this list maybe the proof of corruption in the political system that is running the country for more than 30 years now.
Politicians, who are eager to cut pensions and wages, are not ready to touch their powerful friends.
Soon after Vaxevanis's prosecution, Kostas Arvanitis and Marilena Katsimi were taken off air from a Greek state television channel for reporting on the case of 15 anti-fascists being tortured at police headquarters.
Attacks on immigrants
Despite the strong evidence presented publicly and international organisations like Amnesty International adopting the claim, the Greek government is refusing to prosecute those responsible for the offences.
At the same time, "Corpus Christi", a provocative theatrical play that presents Jesus Christ and the apostles as a company of gay men, was cancelled following protests from the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn party and other religious groups.
In a similar case, the author of the satirical page "elder Patitsios" on Facebook was prosecuted for breaching a law against malicious blasphemy. Elder Paisios was a Christian orthodox monk who was believed to have the gift of prophecy, although the church never declared him to be a modern-time saint. His page criticised the exploitation of people's religious faith by far right-wing media.
And soon after, a citizen journalist was arrested because he posted pictures of a Golden Dawn gathering in the island of Corfu. On Ochi Day - October 28 - which commemorates the resistance of the Greeks during the Second World War following the Italian army's invasion in 1940, the citizen journalist took the pictures of anti-fascist groups confronting a Golden Dawn gathering next to the official parade and posted them on Facebook.
Along with the suppression of speech came the suppression of protesting. More than 200 workers were arrested in just one week in October for participating in demonstrations against the austerity measures.
Now, anti-fascists know very well that they will have to face the police when confronted with the Golden Dawn members.
On September 30, 15 demonstrators were arrested and tortured for demonstrating on motorbikes and trying to defend members of the Tanzanian community who were being attacked by extreme far-right men.
Again, the story captured the attention of people worldwide, but failed to change the Greek government's tolerance to racist crimes.
Racism and fascism are becoming a trend now. In downtown Athens and in the troubled area of Agios Panteleimonas, the whole neighbourhood went through two days of tension.
Racist thugs attacked immigrants and ransacked their properties in retaliation to a barber's murder. A local barber was stabbed to death by an unknown assailant and the racists believed the culprit to be an immigrant.
Three immigrants were stabbed and shops were completely destroyed, while in different parts of the city, Golden Dawn members attacked the gay community and leftists.
Egyptians, Nigerians and Pakistanis were forced to close their shops early and go into hiding to avoid more violence.
As hate crimes are being "legitimised", the instances of them are on the rise. On November 4, a young immigrant from Egypt was found beaten and tied with a heavy chain by his neck to a tree in the island of Salamina, near Athens.
His employer - the immigrant was employed at a bakery - surrendered to the police and admitted beating and chaining him because he suspected his employee of theft. The very same day, another immigrant from Bangladesh was chased and stabbed in the leg by three Greek offenders for no obvious reason.
This is the picture of a country where the standard of living is deteriorating and radical consensus cannot be achieved anymore. When consensus is not reached with persuasion, then it is being forced with coercion.
Official or unofficial, power structures are exercising fear politics just like what we saw in the Arab world before the revolutions, but this time it is European style. And again it would be wrong to portray Greece as a country where fascism and racism dominate.
A few days ago, an anti-fascist solidarity concert was held and thousands of Greeks gathered to protest against racist attacks on immigrants and rising tide of far-right extremism.
On many occasions, people have expressed solidarity with the weaker sections of society regardless of colour, race or sexual orientation. Anti-fascist rallies have become more and more common these days in the country.
In this atmosphere, Greece is entering one of its most intense political periods since the austerity programme started in 2010. The three-party government is voting in parliament today on cutting 18 billion euros in the next two years from wages, pensions and social benefits.
The austerity measures also include: Laying off 150,000 public workers over the next two years, a two-year extension of the retirement age from 65 to 67, drastic cuts in unemployment benefits as well as all pensions above 1,000 euro per month.
These measures are not just quantitative expressions of the financial crisis. They will not only impoverish the Greeks even more, but also drag the economy further down the path of recession. They will have a qualitative effect on society which has spread fear and anger in the population. They will create more room for the politics of fear.
The workers are trying to change the agenda once again by bringing to the fore the need to protect the welfare state as the guarantor of the democratic system, which is in the historical core of the European project.
While entering the scene this week with continuous general strikes and demonstrations against the new measures, they will try to stress that no ruling elite has the right to just kill it.
It might be the case that the worker's struggle is not just for labour rights, but for Greece's own European identity. And if so, then it is also for Europe's European identity.