Monthly Archives: April 2015

The Greek Crisis explained with My Big Fat Greek Wedding

I put this together to take a break from the seriousness of the crisis. With much love and hopes for a sensible end to this current mess!

Once upon a time, there was Greece

 

Greece wanted so badly to be like the rest of Europe

 

With some trickery from Goldman Sachs, they succeeded!

 

The years passed and the same two governments kept rotating.

 

And then, disaster struck. A giant fiscal imbalance was uncovered.

 

Things got bad.

 

Really bad.

 

Everyone began to freak out that Greece would leave the Eurozone.

 

The citizens of Greece began to lose hope.

 

It was time to change governments.

 

But the same old ideas were proposed again and again

 

Maybe our approach at the Eurogroups was all wrong…

 

So the negotiation team was reshuffled

 

But in the end, we’re all Europeans

 

And maybe we can find common ground after all

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Why the Golden Dawn coverage reminded me of the Peter Sutcliffe case

The so-called trial of the century launched in Athens this week as the process begins to bring nearly 70 Golden Dawn party members including 18 politicians to justice.

For those of us who have been following Golden Dawn’s antics, their frightening rise to power, the arrests, the short-lived belief that this would be the end for them, the wait for the trial date and finally the trial date, this Monday was a bit of an anticlimax. A few short hours into the process, the court was adjourned until the 7th of May.

Golden Dawn’s thuggery and brutal crimes are an open secret. What eventually led to the arrests was the murder of Pavlos Fyssas, and it was from this pivotal point onward that the situation began reminding me of the media coverage of the Peter Sutcliffe case which formed part of a university lecture about media stereotyping when I was a journalism student.

Peter Sutcliffe for those who don’t know was the infamous Yorkshire Ripper. He was found guilt for 13 murders over five years, ending with his arrest in 1981. Murderers and prostitutes. Neo nazis and illegal immigrants. They both occupy a miserable space on society’s compass.

In the beginning, his targets were prostitutes, and though people were disturbed they didn’t particularly pay that much attention. They didn’t move in those circles. They were safe. It was when he started murdering women from other sectors of society that the public outrage finally kicked in.

The moment Peter Sutcliffe claimed his first victim who was not involved in the sex trade was when the media and the public uproar began in earnest. The seriousness of the problem escalated immediately, now that he was killing ‘innocent girls’ (as opposed to not so innocent prostitutes) as a senior West Yorkshire detective put it.

This same rhetoric gets repeated again and again when it comes to vulnerable people who fall victim to serious crime. We can’t relate to them, so we don’t really consider it our problem. The life of a prostitute and the life of an illegal immigrant both involve an elevated level of risk which we theorise they made a choice about.

It was the same awkward, uncomfortable language and public outrage that occurred when Pavlos Fyssas was murdered by a Golden Dawn supporter that reminded me of the media coverage and public response to the Peter Sutcliffe case.

Golden Dawn have been known for a long, long time to be involved in many brutal crimes. Not satisfied with beating up illegal immigrants, they soon turned their attention to the LGBT community, journalists and the disabled. Of course the public by and large condemned these events (where they heard of them, a media blackout meant few of the attacks were covered in news and it was up to social media and bloggers to cover them) but they couldn’t relate to them. Not an illegal immigrant or other minority group? You’ll be safe. Nothing for you to worry about here.

The authorities looked on and did not much at all about the growing confidence with which Golden Dawn acted. Internet comments probably decorate some wall in the Seventh Circle of Hell, but the vitriol against foreigners and support for Golden Dawn on online videos, articles and forums got so frenzied that they became unreadable for me.

Every time I heard about another minority group member being attacked by them, I felt a pang of fear. It’s really something you can’t relate to if you are not a foreigner, because my husband didn’t understand why Golden Dawn bothered me at all. I sensed the change in the air, and for the past three summers I haven’t worn my traditional clothes outside the house even though they make a great, comfortable choice for the hot summers of Athens.

It just made me too uncomfortable. I’d had too many “I’m not a racist, but…” conversations with people I knew, and I didn’t know any more where Golden Dawn supporters might materialise. I was not safely beyond their reach in a bubble of Greekness.

Still nothing happened.

And then Pavlos Fyssas was murdered and the media and public reaction exploded. All over the TV in debates, guests banged their tables furiously, mostly talking along the lines of “See? They’re killing Greeks now! Are we finally going to do something?”

A Greek, a nice, good respectable Greek, not a disabled Greek or an LGBT Greek, and as the uproar continued, at long last the authorities moved and arrests were made.

On one hand it’s a blessing that at long last this group’s actions are being held to account. On the other, so much violence took place before that and nothing was done. Here’s a tiny sample:

Abu Zeid Mubarak Abu Zeid said he woke to see several men setting upon him. “They were trying to kill me, I swear that they wanted to kill me. I passed out and woke up in hospital.”

He was left with a double fracture of the jaw, a broken nose, and needed substantial stitching on his head.

Source: The Telegraph

We met a Pakistani immigrant stabbed three times by suspected Golden Dawn supporters. A year on, the scars are still there – one just millimetres from his heart. On his stomach is a lump of scar tissue from the second wound, which has never healed.

But, he says, the police did nothing, launching no investigation and never contacting him beyond a first conversation.

Source: BBC

“They said: ‘You’re the cause of Greece’s problems. You have seven days to close or we’ll burn your shop — and we’ll burn you,’ ” said Mohammed Irfan, a legal Pakistani immigrant who owns a hair salon and two other stores. When he called the police for help, he said, the officer who answered said they did not have time to come to the aid of immigrants like him.

Source: New York Times

“It was ten minutes to midnight on a Sunday night in Keramikos. I was out with friends and I was walking back home, a bit drunk. Four masked guys stopped their motorbikes next to me. One asked for a cigarette and another asked me if I was Bangladeshi,” Ahmed told me in broken Greek. “I said I was Iraqi and then I felt pressure on my right arm and my back, and I fell to the ground. I felt heat on my arm and then on my back and my neck.” Ahmed didn’t realize he had been stabbed eight times until he saw blood spilling on to the street.

Source: Vice.com

During the early morning of January 17th, Shehzat was cycling to his employer’s house in Petralona to load their truck before heading to the open-air market. The two offenders, who claim they had a fight with Shehzat because he’d been blocking their way, stopped their motorbike and stabbed him in the chest, causing his death a short time later.

Source: Vice.com

The lives of the disenfranchised, immigrants and prostitutes have always been valued less than more legitimate members of society. In death, Fyssas unwittingly turned into the Sutcliffe equivalent of the ‘innocent’ murder victim.

As I watch the Golden Dawn trial judder along after so many months of waiting with who knows how many more months ahead of us, I can’t help but think of the trail of pain, misery and death Golden Dawn have left behind them and think: What if they had all been Greek?

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The Golden Dawn Trial

On Monday 20th April 2015, the long-awaited trial of Golden Dawn finally gets underway.

In a country where so many other things have gone wrong, this one has spent the last year and a half simmering away in the background as we waited for a trial date to be announced.

But it goes back much further than that. Tackling how Golden Dawn went from a political joke to Greece’s third most popular political party is a sad tale of racism, poverty and Europe’s crisis-induced swing to the far right.

Here’s everything you need to know about the trial, but were afraid to ask:

Who are Golden Dawn?

Source: Jacobinmag

Golden Dawn in Greek are called Chrisi Avgi. The party was founded in 1980 by Nikolaos Michaliolakos. Throughout their history they have come to the forefront for scapegoating one group or the other. In the 1990s it was known for opposing the minority Turkish-speaking community of Eastern Macedonia and Thrace as well as Bulgarian speaking minorities.

In 00’s they were still a fractured and splintered, more of a protest group than a political party. They ceased operation in 2005.  In March 2007, they announced they were resuming political activities and made opposing immigrants, more specifically ethnic minority and Muslim immigrants, their cause, citing their presence in Greece as the root of pretty much any problem you can think of.

This is where the story might have ended, a small-time political party that gained 0.3% of the public vote in 2009 had it not been for the economic crisis that hammered Greece in the following years.

The economic crisis and Golden Dawn:

In 2009, Golden Dawn gained 0.3% of the popular vote and no seats in parliament. In 2012, they gained 7%, and since then they have remained the third most popular political party in Greece. Initially, this success was treated as a fluke – much like voting for a party you didn’t actually think would come into power instead of spoiling your ballot.

When the success was repeated in June 2012 and the 2015 elections, it became clear that rather than an anomaly, Golden Dawn had captured the voting public’s imagination.

Golden Dawn is reflective of the wave of right wing sentiment that has swept across Europe since the start of the economic crisis. More about that topic than I could possibly write about has been written by many other sources. Suffice to say that when the crunch really hit Greece, an angry public looking for someone to blame turned to Golden Dawn in droves.

Dressed in black T shirts with the white meander symbol and grey army camouflage combats, they made sure they stood out and appealed to the common man (though some of those T shirts were made in Turkey, whoops). With crowd-pleasing gimmicks such as Greek-only blood banks and Greek-only food drives, Golden Dawn put on a front of serving the people, something which many Greeks felt mainstream politicians were not doing.

With their new status as a political party, Golden Dawn took their bullying, thuggish actions to new heights, attacking immigrants at will. In high crime areas, residents were handed out the number of their local Golden Dawn party and told to call it rather than the police when there was trouble. This is something the public in those areas did. They’d call a number, Golden Dawn beefcakes would turn up and beat up whoever they thought was causing trouble.

They escorted grannies to ATMs and generally made their presence felt in areas that were otherwise lawless. The lack of legitimate crime fighting was a substantial failure on the government’s part and allowed Golden Dawn to gain a firm foothold. Although, over 50% of the police were reported to have voted Golden Dawn, and combined with secretly filmed footage of the police regularly beating up immigrants and protestors, the two factions can almost be interchangeable.

 

The charges:
The crimes of Golden Dawn are extensive, but the one that finally led to a crackdown by the authorities and the arrests of Golden Dawn members was the murder of left-wing rapper Pavlos Fyssas.

Pavlos Fyssas

On 17th September 2013, a large group gathered outside a bar in Piraeus where Fyssas had gone to watch a football match. The police were called at 23:57 and responders to the scene found Fyssas with several stab wounds. Before losing consciousness he named Golden Dawn party member George Roupaki as the perpetrator. Shortly after, in the early hours of 18th September, he was pronounced dead.

The reaction in Greece and across Europe was swift, with raids on Golden Dawn offices across Greece. In an apparently retaliatory attack, two Golden Dawn members, Manolis Kapelonis and Giorgos Fountoulis were murdered outside the party’s Neo Iraklio offices in Athens. Investigations into these two murders are still ongoing.

 

Arrests:

On 28 September 2013, Michaliolakos and several other Golden Dawn members were arrested and placed in police custody. No bail was posted for Michaliolakos. A total of 69 members are going to be on trial.

Golden Dawn deny all charges and claim this is all a conspiracy against them by the media and mainstream politicians.

At the time, much celebration went on with many in the media, politics and the public considering this to be the beginning of the end of Golden Dawn. But fast forward to 2015, and they’re still here and still solidly the third most popular party in Greece. Michaliolakos conducted his election campaign from a prison payphone.

 

Charges:

The charges against him and 69 Golden Dawn party members, including all 18 Golden Dawn members of parliament from the 2012 elections (including the two who since defected), include running a criminal organisation, murder, extortion, possession of unlicensed weapons and being involved in the disappearance (possibly murder) of up to 100 immigrants.

The charge sheet against Ilias Kasidiaris alone contains extremely serious counts including forgery, counterfeiting, homicide, GBH, rape, abduction of minors, trafficking, child pornography, aggravated theft, embezzlement and fraud.  Note that at this stage, these are still only charges. The trial will prove whether there is any truth to them.


The trial:

Korydallos Prison. Source: ekathimerini.com

It took 18 months to get to the trial date, and the trial is expected to last another 18 months (which considering the charges and the number of people being tried is quite fast for Greece).

The case file against Golden Dawn is reported to run to 30,000 pages. Some 150 lawyers are involved and Greek and international media will be covering it closely. No internet or telephone use is allowed in the courtroom.

The court where the trial will take place is a special venue at Korydallos prison in Piraeus, which has upset many residents.

Not all members will be present on 20th April. Those who will be are:

Nikos Michaloliakos, Christos Pappas, Ilias Kasidiaris, Yiannis Lagos, Elias Panayiotaros Konstantinos Baramparousis, Eleni Zaroulia, Georgos Germenis, Panagiotis Iliopoulos, Nikos Michos, George Germenis, Anthonis Gregos, Chrysovalantis Alexopoulos, Michael Arvantitis- Avrami, Eustathioss Boukouras, Polyvius Zisimopoulos, Nikos Kouzilos, Artemis Mathaiopoulos and Dimitris Koukoutsis.


How to follow:

On Twitter, follow the hashtag #GDtrial and @GoldenDawnWatch.

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