Summer has descended on Athens with a bang. After a transition period from spring into summer, where the weather flip-flopped so often the more organised among us gave up packing away our winter clothes, and the disorganised (me) felt smug that ours were still in a jumbled pile with all the rest of our ironing, the dragon of summer is here at last.
Temperatures have begun to soar in the city and with it, everyone is trying to find ways to stay cool. After my trip back home in March, I’m well armed with a colourful selection of crisp, cool cotton shalwar kameez in bright colours. With temperatures of over 40C predicted for this weekend, they’re my outfit of choice as I to and fro through the city.
But I wish I could tell you that I wear them with carefree abandon, because I don’t. And the reason for this can be traced back to 2012, when the no-one-takes-them-seriously-they’re-kind-of-a-joke neo nazi party Golden Dawn were voted into parliament.
I had never felt unwelcome in Greece, or under threat. After that happened, I did. I stopped feeling like I could wear whatever I wanted. I began avoiding eye contact. I didn’t want any trouble.
Eventually, I began to turn my point of view around, deciding that neo nazis were not going to stop me from being who I am. That’s not to say I’m fully confident in displaying that I’m different. On the metro this morning, sporting a deliciously cool blue and white bell-sleeved kameez, I didn’t look around. I read a book or stared at the floor.
Mostly, nothing happens. Sometimes I can’t tell if the looks are curious or hostile. Yesterday, a Greek lady at the seafront spent a good 15 minutes fussing over my son’s Eid shalwar kameez, saying how wonderful we both looked in our traditional clothes, and how pleased she was to see it.
Another time, wearing a bright yellow shalwar kameez with green patterns across it, I sat enjoying a coffee with my Greek husband, when the man at the next table began loudly talking about how the foreigners were to blame for everything. “We should find them where they sleep and burn them alive. We should destroy all their shops” he said to his friend. I wondered, had he noticed me sitting at the next table? I looked up. Oh yes, he had. He was looking directly at me as he made his little hate speech.
Obviously, this feeling of not feeling safe in the place you live is a completely new sensation for opposition leader, Kyriakos Mitsotakis, who, in comments made in this article, said he fears for his safety because of left-wing terrorists:
“Opposition leader Kyriakos Mitsotakis of New Democracy blames Tsipras’ left-wing party, Syriza, for fomenting the anti-establishment hatred that he says is behind the attacks. He accuses the prime minister of failing to take adequate action to protect potential targets, including himself, if — as he confidently expects — he becomes the next Greek prime minister. The next general elections are scheduled for 2019.”
He goes on to make this astonishing claim, which is what first brought the piece to my attention via an angry tweet by journalist Yiannis Baboulias:
However, Mitsotakis played down the impact of Golden Dawn on Greek society, saying it was “so extreme and so vulgar” that it was marginalized. “It’s as if they don’t exist,” he said. “The violence has been almost exclusively from the left in recent years.”
I am stunned beyond words. For sure, Greece has a problem with left-wing anarchists and their strategy of delivering parcel bombs to Greek politicians, or leaving bombs in public places (which are usually called in before hand). Their destructive activity should not be played down.
But to dare to claim that nearly all the violence of recent years has come from anarchists, rather than from a murderous group of neo nazis, who killed, looted, burned and attacked with impunity because no Greek government took them seriously, is so outrageous it’s insulting. It’s not left-wing terrorists and their MPs who are currently in their second year of a trial for a long list of criminal activities, murder and attempted murder. It’s Golden Dawn, whose case file runs to over 30,000 pages long.
And I’m angry, because time and time again, no one in power in Greece has taken them seriously. They were left to run riot, until the murder of Pavlos Fyssas. I’m no fan of having molotovs whistle past my ear every now and then, or to see brand new metro stations smashed to pieces. But I’m much less of a fan of being stuck in a taxi and not knowing how to answer the question, “Where are you from?” because I don’t know what the motives of the person asking me are. I’m much less of a fan of the constant, low-level sensation that all visible foreigners have lived with since Golden Dawn’s rise that they could be anywhere, and you could provoke them just by being you. I’m lucky, because like I’ve said in the past, I can vanish if needs be.
Mitsotakis said that Golden Dawn’s actions are so extreme and so vulgar it’s as if they don’t exist. This comment makes no sense. How can anyone say with a straight face that Golden Dawn’s actions had no impact on Greek society? How can anyone say that their black-shirted thugs and cult mentality didn’t at the very least embolden others who might have been leaning in their direction, but needed just another push?
How can anyone say that their actions and their existence did not impact Greek society, that they didn’t at least lead to some soul searching among ordinary Greeks about how things could have got so out of hand that a country once brutally oppressed by nazis now had neo nazis serving in parliament?
It would take exceptional short-sightedness to make this statement. It would take not seeing the depth of the problem that is Golden Dawn, or choosing not to see it, or choosing not to see the immigrants who – surprise, Mr Mitsotakis! – also live in Greece and love it and call it home.
So no, Mr Mitsotakis, it’s not as if Golden Dawn don’t exist. It’s as if WE don’t exist. By joining the ranks of Greek politicians who have constantly played down the threat of this group of neo-nazis, or in this case saying that the issue of left-wing anarchists is a more serious one, you might as well have walked up to me in the street and said that to my face. You might as well have told me it’s as if I don’t exist.