Fascists vs Muslim Immigrants in Athens?

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The New York Times has report on a rising tide of violence against Muslim immigrants in Athens, Greece.

Immigrants have been beaten and stabbed near central squares, and several makeshift mosques have been burned and vandalized. In the most grievous attack, at the end of October, the assailants locked the door of a basement prayer site and hurled firebombs through the windows, seriously wounding four worshipers. “The attacks are constant — I’ve never seen anything like this,” said Naim Elghandour, who moved to Athens from Egypt in the 1970s and now heads the Muslim Association of Greece. “I used to be treated like an equal. Now I’m getting death threats.”

The Greek media are linking the rise in violence to Chrysi Avgi (“Golden Dawn”), a neo-fascist Greek organization that, like several European racist groups, embraces a National Socialism-tinged brand of Pagan occultism. While Chrysi Avgi’s ideology nows tolerates Greek Orthodox Christianity (most likely out of political necessity), their continued embrace of Paganism has alienated some Hellenic Nationalists. Nor is this simply a small band of  thugs with dreams of a Fourth Reich, this “Golden Dawn” have gained political clout and popular support on a wave of discontent over Greece’s fiscal meltdown, getting their founder, Nikolaos Michaloliakos, elected councilman in the Athens Municipal Council on November 7th.

The party appears to have fed off public anger against illegal immigrants in central Athens, a sentiment that has been rising partly because of the troubled economy. “Chrysi Avgi is still marginal, but it is not a welcome development,” says [University of Athens political science professor Kostas] Ifantis. “When things in a society are not going well, there is room for demagogues.”

Meanwhile, politicians who criticize this troubling trend, like current Republic of Cyprus president Dimitris Christofias, are defensively criticized and ridiculed when they dare to speak out.

Christofias became the first Cypriot president to address the Hellenic Parliament to mark 50 years of the Cyprus Republic. During his speech, he made reference to the coup by the Greek junta, and subsequent Turkish invasion, saying that some had not learned from the past. He referred specifically to the appearance in Cyprus of “destructive” mentalities of extreme organisations like Chrysi Avgi (Golden Dawn) and others.

“Every democrat feels indignation and outrage when they see on the internet the unrepentant grandfather teaching his three-year-old grandson the slogan ‘Long live the junta’ in front of the framed shield of the fascistic junta hanging on the wall…the child holding the pistol and being taught to kill Turks and communists,” Christofias said. He was referring to a video posted on Facebook by a civil servant in a senior position made public last week. An opinion piece in Phileleftheros yesterday accused the president of taking an isolated incident of “blatant perversion” and using it in the most historic speech ever given by a Cypriot president.

What’s clear is that violence and tensions continue to rise, and extreme right-wingers are growing ever-more bold.

“A large mosque with minarets in the city center will be a provocation,” said Dimitrios Pipikios, the head of a residents’ group in Aghios Panteleimonas, where Chrysi Avgi drew 20 percent of the vote in recent elections. Mr. Pipikios said the only way to ease tensions was to deport immigrants. “There is no room for us all,” he said, adding that extreme rightists were patrolling the area “because the police are not doing their job.”

The tactics, beliefs, and rhetoric of Chrysi Avgi are a stain on Athens, and on the reputation of Pagans living in Greece that are fighting for equal treatment in the Orthodox-controlled country. No matter what the true depth of their connection to modern Pagan worship is, neo-fascist appropriation of pre-Christian symbolism, thinkers, and beliefs harms us all. Giving ammunition to those who would brand fascism as an outgrowth of “pagan” belief systems. There can be no alliance or sympathy for those who twist and appropriate our faiths in this manner, who think that violent thuggery is the proper response to immigration or poverty. One can only hope that the election of Michaloliakos was an aberrant political blip that will soon correct itself.

If any of my Greek readers can give me further insights on Chrysi Avgi, the election of Michaloliakos, and the current anti-Muslim/anti-immigrant tensions, please leave your thoughts in the comments. Also, as a warning, comments that sympathize, endorse, or apologize for racist thug fascists risk immediate deletion. There are plenty of places to engage in thinly-veiled pro-fascist sophistry, but this isn’t one of them.