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Strengthening the anti-fascist movement in Greece

An anti-fascist festival in Athens earlier this month brought activists from across Greece and Europe together to build solidarity and co-ordinate resistance against Golden Dawn. Niki Seth-Smith reports on the debates on sexism, homophobia, fascist attacks, gender roles, and much more.

Niki Seth-Smith
23 April 2014
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“For a Europe free of fascism, racism and sexism in a world of freedom and social solidarity”. This was the stated aim of a three-day anti-fascist festival in Athens. From 11 to 13 April, the Fine Arts School on Piraeus street became a venue for bringing together activists from across the city and Greece, as well as participants and speakers from twenty European countries, including Russia and Ukraine. For weeks before, a poster advertising the festival could be seen cello-taped to walls and street lights across Athens: it shows a ‘sweet’ little girl with a flower in her hair, wielding an axe to smash a giant swastika. In Greece today, this is no abstract representation. The black-on-red badge of the political party Golden Dawn strongly resembles the swastika, an unabashed signal of their fascist ideology. The enraged little girl is no cute aesthetic either: the party displayed its sexism for the world to see before the 2012 general elections, when a party  spokesperson physically assaulted two female left-wing politicians on live TV. This is nothing to what has occurred behind closed doors and on the streets since they secured their seats in parliament and gained the veneer of political ‘legitimacy’.

The festival organisers recognised that the oppression of women and the queer community is integral to Golden Dawn’s agenda.  Assemblies were held on international co-ordination and workshops on fascism and football, the media, racism and the arts; as well as theatre, exhibitions, late night gigs and self-defence classes out in the yard - also used as an informal creche. One of five workshops dealt explicitly with gender and sexuality. Organised by the Athens-based groups QueerTrans and Lesbians of Athens, the workshop invited participants to share experiences and build resistance to sexism, homophobia and transphobia in the fascist context. Around seventy people took part, the vast majority women and members of the LGBT community. As an outsider and non-Greek speaker, I was given a personal translator, who stayed with me as participants rotated through four sets of workshops dealing with fascist attacks; intersectionality; gender roles in Greece, and sexism, homophobia and transphobia in left and anti-fascist groups.

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In the workshop on fascist attacks, a young gay man called Costas ( not his real name), told the group that he had suffered several random street attacks at the hands of Golden Dawn and the police. He explained to international participants that a high proportion of Greek police are Golden Dawn supporters. The appeal of the violent nationalism offered by Golden Dawn serves to aggravate and ‘justify’ not only attacks on protesters, anarchists and left-wingers, but also on Greeks who implicitly or explicitly challenge this Greek macho ‘ideal’. After one particularly vicious attack four years ago, Costas decided to file a complaint. After waiting for five hours in hospital, a policeman arrived to take a statement. Days later, after hearing nothing, he contacted the policeman, to be told that no investigation was underway. “He told me that for us to investigate this, you would have had to have been still”. Costas asked if that meant he would have had to be killed, and the policeman nodded, laughing. He then contacted a lawyer, who said it was possible to prosecute, but only if Costas was prepared to “spend a year surrounded by bodyguards”. He decided not to pursue the case.

There was general agreement in the workshop that legislation against hate crime in Greece is ineffective, as the financial and social costs of pursuing cases are so high. A draft anti-racism bill is currently being debated in the Greek parliament, which would toughen criminal sanctions for incitement to violence, hatred and discrimination. However the bill fails to include any measures to make it easier to report violent hate crimes or ensure appropriate action by the police and courts to counter such violence. The Racist Violence Recording Network believes that more than 300 serious assaults have been carried out by far-right gangs in Greece over the last two years, mostly in Athens. While the number of incidents hasn't increased dramatically since 2011, attacks have become more violent in nature and include not only immigrants and left-wing activists, but also the LGBT community.

The workshop on intersectionality explored the ideas of victim and oppressor. Participants discussed how, in the left wing and anti-fascist movements with which many identified, Angela Merkel was at times the subject of sexist hate speech. Merkel had visited Athens the previous week, provoking a nationwide strike. The German chancellor is more often depicted as a female fuhrer or ‘the godmother’, suggesting secret networks of influence and bullying tactics, than as the ‘Mutti’ or ‘mother’ often used by German commentators. As one participant expressed it, “Even if we don’t like the politics and we are against Merkel, we have to look at her politics and not her gender. And we have to encourage others to do the same.” As Yiannis Baboulias has described for openDemocracy, misogyny is used as a weapon in Greek politics by all parties, including Syriza, a party that emphasises its progressive and inclusive credentials.

There was disagreement over the actions of the Athens Mayoral candidate Gregoris Vallianatos, who is openly gay and HIV positive, who in February attempted to ‘out’ another candidate as being gay. Kaklamanis has not appeared to suffer in the polls since, perhaps because many already believed this to be the case. Some argued that politicians should be made to state their orientation, particularly in a country where accepted forms of homophobia and silencing facilitate more violent forms of oppression. A participant from Portugal compared this to a recent case in his country, where attempts were made to ‘out’ politicians voting against the Same Sex Co-adoption Bill by campaigners for the legislation. As a Portuguese gay man and a supporter of gay adoption, he was against both this ‘outing’ and the ‘outing’ in Athens. “This only invites others to suffer discrimination. How can we do that when we are anti discrimination?”

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At the final assembly, there was a discussion of the disconnect felt by some participants between those suffering oppression at the level of gender and sexual orientation and the wider Greek anti-fascist movement. Some of the organisers believed that this disconnect was reflected in the session. Although it drew a good proportion of the 300 or so festival attendees that day, there was a definite lack of straight, cis-gendered activists. One of the session organisers from QueerTrans Athens said, “If some-one says they are left-wing, or anarchist they have to come by our side, and see if they are true anarchists and left-wing.” When challenged by a straight male participant that the community must “go out and educate” she responded, “It is not the responsibility of LGBT people to educate you, because we already try. You also have to come to us.”  Another session organiser from QueerTrans argued that the programming should have included female and queer perspectives throughout, rather than in a single dedicated session. She argued that “gender must not come second”.

During the 2012 general elections, leaflets were distributed in Gazi, an area of Athens known for its gay night life, stating that “After the immigrants, you’re next”. Of the attacks and targeting at the time and since, only large-scale prosecution tends to make it into the Greek headlines, as in last year’s Thessaloniki Pride March when trans people were systematically stopped and detained on the flimsy pretext that they were suspected of prostitution. It should be remembered that it was only after Golden Dawn members stabbed to death a renowned anti-fascist rapper in an unprovoked street attack that an ongoing criminal investigation was launched into illegal activities linked with the party, as well as the party’s influence on the police. Since then, more than 50 people have been arrested, including the party leader and deputy, two police officers and five MPs, charged not only with blackmail and causing explosions, but also with the murder of immigrants (although the suspects deny all links to the party). Meanwhile, Amnesty International’s report found that “Greek police pander to xenophobic far-right groups who are intent on attacking anyone who does not conform to their idea of mainstream society”.

The anti-fascist festival sought to bring all those together who are fighting against a vision of Greek society, propagated by the Golden Dawn, in which the queer community plays no part. Bringing hundreds of participants to Athens from around Greece and Europe to share, co-ordinate and celebrate the movement was an impressive feat. But those victimised at the level of gender and sexuality did not feel heard by the majority of participants in their co-ordination of action and resistance. It revealed a fracture in the Greek anti-fascist movement that is likely to have an effect on the future capacity to organise against a party and movement that is openly and violently sexist and homophobic. To return to the little girl wielding the hammer, there could not be a better symbol for resistance against Golden Dawn.

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