In austerity-ravaged Greece, neo-Nazi party Golden Dawn is on the rise. Their MPs give fascist salutes, while on the streets black-shirted vigilantes beat up immigrants. And some of their most enthusiastic supporters are in the police.
You can hear it from blocks away: the deafening beat of Pogrom, Golden Dawn’s favourite band, blasting out of huge speakers by a makeshift stage. “Rock for the fatherland, this is our music, we don’t want parasites and foreigners on our land…”
It’s a warm October evening and children on bicycles are riding up and down among the young men with crew cuts, the sleeves of their black T-shirts tight over pumped-up biceps, strolling with the stiff swagger of the muscle-bound. They look relaxed, off-duty. Two of them slap a handshake: “Hey, fascist! How’s it going?”
Trestle tables are stacked with Golden Dawn merchandise: black T-shirts bearing the party’s name in Greek, Chrysi Avgi, the sigma shaped like the S on SS armbands; mugs with the party symbol, a Greek meander drawn to resemble a swastika; Greek flags and black lanyards, lighters and baseball caps. I lean over to talk to one woman stallholder, dressed in Golden Dawn black with thickly kohl-rimmed eyes, but as soon as she opens her mouth a man in a suit strides up: “What are you writing? Are you a journalist? Tear that page out of your notebook. No, no, you can’t talk to anyone.”
Tonight is the opening of the Golden Dawn office in Megara, a once prosperous farming town between Athens and Corinth. The Greek national socialist party polled more than 15% here – double the national average – in the June election, when it won 18 seats in parliament. (One was taken up by the former bassist with Pogrom, whose hits include Auschwitz and Speak Greek Or Die.)
Legitimised by democracy and by the media, Golden Dawn is opening branches in towns all over Greece and regularly coming third in national opinion polls. Its black-shirted vigilantes have been beating up immigrants for more than three years, unmolested by the police; lately they’ve taken to attacking Greeks they suspect of being gay or on the left. MPs participate proudly in the violence. In September, three of them led gangs of black-shirted heavies through street fairs in the towns of Rafina and Messolonghi, smashing up immigrant traders’ stalls with Greek flags on thick poles.
Such attacks are almost never prosecuted or punished. Ask Kayu Ligopora, of the Athens Tanzanian Community Association, whose premises were vandalised by around 80 “local residents” on 25 September after police walked away. He’s lived in Greece for 20 years; for the first time, he says, he’s thinking about leaving. Or Hussain Ahulam, 22, who told me how four men with dogs and a metal crowbar left him bleeding and unconscious by the side of the road as he walked home one day. Or 21-year-old HH, a Greek citizen of Egyptian origin, who was beaten on 12 October by three men with chains as he stepped off the trolley bus, and whose sight may be damaged for good.
Or ask @manolis, a blogger for Lifo magazine, who on 11 October went to photograph Golden Dawn’s attack on a theatre showing Terrence McNally’s Corpus Christi, which casts Christ and the apostles as gay men in Texas. He says four or five people surrounded him in front of the riot police, hit him and spat on him, and put a lit cigarette in his pocket. “A known Golden Dawn MP follows me, punches me twice in the face, knocks me down,” he tweeted. “I lose my glasses. The MP kicks me. The police are exactly two steps away.” Another MP, Ilias Panagiotaros, stood on the sidelines ranting in front of video cameras: “Wrap it up, you little faggots. Wrap it up, arse-fuckers. You little whores, your time has come. You fucked Albanian arseholes.” A third, Christos Pappas, was filmed releasing a man from police custody. He is the only one now under police investigation.