Socialist Worker reports from the streets of Athens, where tens of thousands marched last Saturday to turn the tide against the fascist Golden Dawn party
'Athens will be Nazi free.” Those were the words of school student Christine Palioudakis, one of 25,000 people who marched in Athens against the fascist Golden Dawn party last Saturday.
This was the biggest mobilisation against fascism in living memory.
There were delegations from many Athens neighbourhoods and from cities as far away as Saloniki in the north and Tripoli in the south.
Teachers, health workers, local government workers, lecturers and students marched.
Most were veterans of the battles against austerity.
Migrant workers and their families from countries such as Afghanistan, Egypt, Pakistan and the Sudan joined them.
They fled the poverty and destruction caused by Western imperialism to try and make new lives in Greece.
These are Greece’s hidden people who are cheap labour and victims of police harassment and racist violence.
So often silenced and isolated, they marched proudly and carried banners made of rice sacks.
With the exception of the influential Communist Party, all the left
parties supported the demonstration.
It assembled in Omonia Square, where boarded up shops, street hawkers and people begging gave a constant reminder of Greece’s
The small delegation from Britain’s Unite Against Fascism (UAF) then led off the march to Syntagma Square, in front of the Greek parliament.
A rally and music festival there lasted well into the evening.
It was a joyous display of anti-racism.
Armed police skulked in the side streets with their tear gas, plastic
bullets and riot shields.
As Lauretta Macauley from the United African Women’s organisation made clear, “Today the streets are ours”.
The most moving sight of the day was when the march passed the family and coffin of Shehzad Luqman.
Shehzad was a 27 year old Pakistani migrant worker.
He was attacked and stabbed to death as he rode his bicycle to work in the early hours last Thursday morning.
Two of his alleged murderers have since been arrested—they are supporters of Golden Dawn.
Police found weapons, a pile of Golden Dawn leaflets and on the wall a picture of Golden Dawn’s leader in one of the assailant’s homes.
Rafaqat Ali was Shehzad’s friend. “Shehzad was a hard working and peaceful man,” he told Socialist Worker.
“I want these attacks to stop and I want justice—not only for my friend but for every migrant.”
With tears in his eyes, Javied Aslam of the Pakistani Community of Greece said, “Golden Dawn has blood on its hands. It has to be stopped.”
Golden Dawn swept into the Greek parliament with 7 percent of the vote and 18 MPs in June.
It has been involved in a number of violent attacks ever since.
One of its candidates infamously assaulted left wing MPs Rena Dourou and Liana Kanelli live on TV.
And last month Golden Dawn
supporters beat up Dimitris Stratoulis, an MP for the radical left coalition Syriza.
But the vast majority of their attacks are on immigrants and go unreported and unrecorded.
The Athens police force does not even keep a record of attacks on migrant workers.
But one refugee group reports a 700 percent increase in racial attacks since Golden Dawn’s electoral breakthrough last year.
Nikolaos Michaloliakos foundedGolden Dawn in the early 1980s. He modelled his party along the lines of Hitler’s stormtroopers.
It is a fascist party in the classic sense, prepared to use both elections and street actions to build support and break opposition.
Much of Golden Dawn’s electoral support comes from people enraged by the economic crisis.
Mass unemployment, unimaginable cuts in social and welfare
services and low pay are creating deep wells of bitterness. A recent survey revealed that 15 percent of the population cannot even afford “basic commodities”.
Haris and Nikos Markopoulos, who marched on the demonstration with their three year old son, gave an example of what this has meant.
“This crisis is crushing our family,” said Haris. “We have both been unemployed for over a year now. We are desperately short of money.
“We have been forced to move into Nikos’ parents’ tiny flat. Two of his sisters sleep in the dining room so that we can have our own room.
“What kind of life is that?
“We don’t blame migrant workers, but sadly many people do.”
Golden Dawn is trying to exploit this situation, to pit Greek worker against migrant worker.
Its members have opened up soup kitchens and blood banks for the poor. But there is one condition—you have to be Greek to use them.
They have tried to force businesses to sack migrant workers and replace them with “Greek” workers.
There have even been a few examples of Golden Dawn members
leading campaigns to drive migrants out of some neighbourhoods.
If left unchallenged, this kind of community work enables the fascists to grow.
The Greek state carries much of the blame for fuelling racism.
In the last year over 60,000 migrants have been arrested and 4,000 locked up without trial in detention centres.
Conditions were so bad at one detention centre that migrants attempted a mass breakout. They were all arrested, but later found not guilty. The judge said “It was their human right to try and escape from a place that threatened their lives.”
The Athens protest marks a major step forward for the struggle against fascism.
At the same time Greek workers have shown they are prepared to challenge austerity. Only this can offer an alternative to the fascists’ politics of despair.
“One year ago 15 members of Golden Dawn attacked my school, leaving two students injured. That’s why I’m marching today.
“The government and police are using the fascists to smash our democratic rights.
“We are building a broad coalition to stop them.”
Pakistani Community of Greece
“No one would leave their country in search of a new life and hope if there were no Nato wars and no capitalist greed.
“We are marching to stop Golden Dawn’s racist attacks and murders, and to demand justice.
“Our only hope is the anti-fascist and anti-racist movement.”
United African Women’s Organisation
“I have family and friends who have been physically attacked by these thugs.
“The government and the fascists are trying to blame immigrant workers and their families for the crisis.
“We are not the problem, we work hard and we pay our taxes.
“But every day is a struggle. The government abuses us, the police harass us and Golden Dawn members attack us,”
“This economic catastrophe is creating a desperate situation.
“Golden Dawn is trying to exploit the situation.
“But behind them are the ugly capitalists who are using them to weaken us and make even more profit.
“Golden Dawn’s vote makes me very sad—Greece is a country that in the past has suffered greatly under fascism.”
“We have a boy at my school who is a supporter of Golden Dawn. He bullies me because I am bisexual and I believe in myself.
“I’ve come here today to show Golden Dawn I will not be bullied.
“All fascists can fuck off.”
“It’s shocking and sad that the government can refuse to give Greek citizenship to the children of migrants. And this gives confidence to Golden Dawn.
“I hope today’s demonstration marks the turning point in the fight against fascism in Greece.”
The main organisation behind the Athens protest was the Movement Against Racism and Fascist Threat (KEERFA).
Similar to Britain’s Unite Against Fascism (UAF), it involves most of the major trade unions, academics, left wing organisations and representatives from many migrant groups.
They may disagree on some issues but they stand united when it comes to opposing racism and fascism.
KEERFA’s national organiser is Petros Constantinou, a member of the Socialist Workers Party’s sister organisation SEK.
He argued that the movement will only be successful if it gives Greek migrants a voice and unites them with the wider Greek society.
And what’s next for the anti-fascist movement?
“First and foremost we have to break Golden Dawn’s electoral base,” explained Petros.
“That will require painstaking and methodical work in the neighbourhoods.
That’s why we are building local groups—so far there are over 50.
“We also have to continue to build a movement on the streets that can stop Golden Dawn.”
Petros said there is potential to build an international movement against fascism.
There were over 25 solidarity
protests across the globe on Saturday, from Moscow to Chicago.
Over 500 anti-fascists rallied outside London’s Greek embassy (above).
Unite Against Fascism (UAF) called the rally.
Speakers included Labour MPs Jeremy Corbyn and David Lammy, London Assembly member Andrew Dismore, and veteran campaigner Tony Benn. There were speakers from a number of unions
Weyman Bennett, joint chair of UAF, ended the rally. “Never again will we allow the gas chambers of Treblinka, the pink triangle or racist murders on our streets,” he said.
“We struggle together and we will win together”.