Racism and censorship: first impressions of Athens

Having completed our work in Tunisia, I’m now in Athens for the next part of the ‘Mapping Movements’ project that Tim Highfield and I are working on. This work looks at the relationships between online and offline spaces, connecting quantitative and qualitative methods to get a better understanding of how activists are using digital technologies. Obviously (for those who know me and perhaps also those who have read my ‘about’ page), this is not just a matter of an abstract academic question: I’m interested in these issues as an activist as well as an academic, because we need to know what works and what doesn’t (and when), and how to be as effective as possible. It’s also important for people outside movements to understand them, to know what they’re facing.

'Crush the fascists in every neighbourhood' (if my dodgy greek is right)
‘Crush the fascists in every neighbourhood’ (if my dodgy greek is right)

While in Greece, I want to learn more about the antifascist organising here. Before I came, I had some sense of what was going on. Golden Dawn, a neonazi party that holds seats in the Greek parliament, are not only engaging in racist rhetoric – they are also involved in violent acts against immigrants and anarchists, as well as (at the very least) threatening queer people. Meanwhile, there is evidence of a close connection between the Greek police and Golden Dawn, and a recent Amnesty Report shows evidence of widespread and systematic police violence.

Reading about this is bad enough, but it is a different experience walking the streets of Athens. There’s a lot of racist graffiti. Sometimes just the Golden Dawn initials or name, but there’s also more explicit messages. One neighbourhood I walked through was full of “kill blacks”. A lot of this has been crossed out or covered with antifascist messages, thankfully, but I can’t imagine how scary it must be to be visibly non-white or, worse, non-white and in a precarious situation, in Greece right now. (Yesterday’s attacks on migrant workers in Nea Manolada who asked for their unpaid back wages are just one manifestation of this.)

Greek riot (and everywhere-else) police

The police are also very present. In Perth I’m not used to seeing large blocks of police – despite the massive over-policing of CHOGM in 2011 and the huge police presence at Lizard’s Revenge in South Australia last year, I’ve been lucky enough to mostly avoid spending too much time in the presence of heavily-armed riot police. My time with Occupy Oakland has done little to lower the anxiety about police that I inherited from my parents (who grew up in apartheid South Africa). So when I see a whole heap of police, all with riot shields and clubs and body armour, and a caged police bus, I tend to think something big must be just around the corner. In fact, it looks like the police bring out this kind of presence for demonstrations of any size. Yesterday I came across a demonstration by hospital workers against unpaid wages and cuts to services: everyone seemed very polite, and I didn’t see any trouble. Nevertheless, there were at least two busloads of police. Someone I spoke to at the protest said, “maybe they want people to think we are dangerous?”

(based on an illustration by Clay Rodery)

It was a similar case today at the action against the recent shut-down of Athens Indymedia and two radio stations: maybe thirty people at the demonstration, at least one busload of police and a few squads on motorbikes. This is the other part of the story. While the Greek government rejects calls to ban Golden Dawn for its racist rhetoric and action, Athens Indymedia and two radio stations have been shut down, apparently after pressure from the Greek Ministry of Public Order. It is important, for understanding this, to bear in mind claims that there are links between Golden Dawn and more centrist political parties.

Indymedia Athens have called for a week of international solidarity actions to highlight the shutdown, pointing out that while they may have technical solutions (such as hosting Indymedia on TOR) we cannot ignore or just ‘route around’ government attempts to silent dissent.

More broadly, there is the question of what those overseas might do to help deal with the spread of fascism in Greece. One person at the protest suggested that foreigners should boycott Greece, since tourist dollars don’t help those who are having the hardest time anyway. I’ve been thinking about this more. Individual action wouldn’t work – simply deciding not to go to Greece sends no message. A boycott would need to have specific demands (such as independent investigations and action taken on police brutality and racism). In the meantime, at the very least it is important to watch what’s happening here, because this is not just Greece’s problem: racism spreads when unchecked, and Golden Dawn is now looking to connect with racists and neonazis in other countries (including Australia). We can’t afford to step back and treat this as something happening only ‘over there’.

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