The resistable rise of Golden Dawn

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Socialist Review spoke to Petros Constantinou, an Athens councillor for the left wing Antarsya coalition and the national coordinator of the Movement Against Racism and the Fascist Threat (Keerfa) in Greece.

Where is Greece at the moment in terms of the rise of Golden Dawn and the anti-fascist movement?

After the murder of rapper Pavlos Fyssas on 18 September there was an explosion of anger against the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn party, and against the government that was giving it cover.

What happened was that in September the neo-Nazis launched a series of attacks on working class areas that targeted trade unionists. It was during these attacks that they murdered Pavlos. Golden Dawn was hoping that it would be able to spread terror across all working class neighbourhoods, but this tactic backfired 100 percent.

On the day of the murder Keerfa organised huge demonstrations, and within one week we mobilised some 50,000 to march on the central headquarters of Golden Dawn in Athens. This was a workers' demonstration that was supported by the biggest public sector union. It was the biggest anti-fascist demo that we have ever organised in Greece. This forced the governing New Democracy party to clamp down on the neo-Nazis and to stop them covering up their attacks.

Unfortunately the radical left Syriza party opposed the demonstration, and instead organised a concert (which only one hundred attended).

The government crackdown took many people by surprise. Was this simply a response to the demonstrations, or do you think there was growing fear among bourgeois circles of what Golden Dawn represents?

New Democracy was split over its approach to Golden Dawn. One faction has been pushing for a more open cooperation with Nazis, wanting to draw them into the government. The other wing disagreed with this approach. But the outbreak of the mass anti-fascist movement put an end to the idea that Golden Dawn could join the government. They were not planning a crackdown, but after the demonstrations the government had no choice.

Golden Dawn seemed unstoppable. These were not Euro-fascists, attempting to put a softer face, but out and out Nazis. How much support do they have in Greece?

Golden Dawn won electoral support as a result of the huge political crisis that was developing in Greece after the government imposed austerity measures. The traditional ruling parties, the right wing New Democracy Party and the social democrats of Pasok, both collapsed. They lost more than 50 percent of their vote. This opened up a space for racist demagogues like Golden Dawn who presented themselves as people who would punish a corrupt political system.

What we saw over the last year was Golden Dawn trying to transform their electoral support into "storm troops" in local neighbourhoods and to spread terror. Golden Dawn has a Nazi nucleus that has been building for years. This Nazi core, its leadership, was pushing for a hard line, and they were expecting to make advances across the country because the government and the police were providing them with political cover.

They built a base of support in centre of Athens in order to attack immigrants, trade unions and the left. So they expected to do the same on a national scale. Instead they triggered massive popular resistance.

After last year's general elections there was a mushrooming of militant local anti-fascist demonstrations - mobilising altogether some 100,000 people. This was followed by a massive wave of protest for "Athens anti-fascist city" on 19 January. So our movement was growing in strength for a while, and was beginning to isolate them. That is why Golden Dawn's September offensive ended in disaster.

What is Keerfa's political and organisational model?
Keerfa is based on the tactics of the united front. The heart of this strategy is to unite all democratic and radical forces against the neo-Nazis, in order to stop them marching and spreading their racist poison, and oppose their attempts to launch pogroms in the neighbourhoods.

We launched Keerfa in 2009 following the first wave of anti-austerity protests in Greece. It was obvious that we were entering a period of deep economic crisis. The government at the time responded to the onset of the crisis, and the mass protest movement against austerity, by stoking up racism.

The government launched a racist campaign against immigrants, which included the opening of new detention centres and a mass campaign of stop and search on the streets. This created a space for the fascists to grow.

When we launched Keerfa it attracted many trade unionists and leftists, but crucially it gained the backing of the strong Greek-Pakistani community that helped to launch the anti-war movement a decade ago. It was at the forefront of resisting Islamophobia and racist attacks. Once this community became involved in Keerfa others joined - such as the Asian and African communities.

We are not expecting the government to push on with its clampdown on Golden Dawn. The government is continuing with its programme of austerity, unemployment is continuing to rise, and desperation is continuing to spread among ordinary people. So the government is opening the door for Golden Dawn to rise again.

While the government was cracking down on Golden Dawn, Greek police raided a Roma camp and discovered the so-called "blond angel". What was behind this raid?

The case of the "blond angel" is a reminder that problem is that racism is getting worse in Greece, and has to be seen as part of a wider trend. The first is what happened with Lampedusa, where an estimated 400 immigrants drowned recently.

Lampedusa is the Italian Island that has become a staging post for migrants attempting to enter Europe. The European Union has already approved a programme called "Eurosur", a maritime surveillance system designed to intercept these migrant ships.

On a visit there the Greek prime minister Antonis Samaras proposed a new European coalition to strengthen control over the borders. One reason why so many people are dying attempting to reach Lampedusa is because the Greek government erected a 50 kilometre fence in Evros to halt the flow of people crossing over from Turkey. Instead refugees are making the perilous journey across the sea.

The second issue why racism looks worse in Greece is what happened with the "blond angel". This raid is a stark illustration of the overt racism against Roma people in Greece. The police say Roma are full of "criminal gangs", involved in drug dealing and so on. When the police raided a Roma camp they found nothing incriminating. Then one officer discovered a blond child and assumed she had been kidnapped, because according to the police the Roma are never "blond" - they are "dark". It turned out that she was not kidnapped or "sold" by her mother. The case illustrates the depth of racism, and how it is constantly being used.

What do you believe are the priorities of the anti-fascist movement?

The anti-fascist movement remains crucial, and we are going to organise to a huge demonstration on 22 March next year. It will be part of a European-wide day of action. We need to build the unity of workers, of students, of all the left wing militants to obstruct the fascists, and to stop them on the streets.

Recently Golden Dawn attempted to organise a national demonstration in Athens demanding the "liberation" of their imprisoned leaders. Only 400 of their supporters turned out, which is a fiasco for them. One the same day we organised a counter-demonstration of some 2,000, and despite the massive police presence, we were able to isolate them. Unfortunately again Syriza failed to support the demonstration.

Keerfa is based on the united front and clear anti-fascist tactics. In contrast New Democracy has invited the parliamentary parties into the so-called "constitutional arc" against the neo-Nazis. So they proposed some measures against the Golden Dawn party under the pressure of the mass movement. We have not demanded that Golden Dawn be outlawed, but we did demand a cut of the state money going to them. We have demanded that their offices be closed down, because these are bases for their storm troops.

The government charge that Golden Dawn is a party involved in criminal acts falls under the anti-terrorism law. This law was passed to stop the left, undermine workers' occupations, picket lines and so on. Unfortunately Syriza - which has many MPs in the Greek parliament - voted for it, apart from two of its MPs, one of whom is a hero after he pulled down the Nazi flag from the Acropolis during the wartime German occupation. Syriza is not supporting counter-demonstrations; in contrast Keerfa has been at the forefront of organising opposition to the fascists.

Why has the state brought charges against you and other Keerfa leaders?

There are three cases against us because of a press statement. The charges in the first case are "provoking fear in the population", "damaging Greek international relations", "undermining confidence in the currency, the state and the army" and "disseminating lies". Two of these emanate from state security, because we accused the police of executing two Albanians.

The second case arose after we supported a revolt in a migrant detention centre. The third arose out of another case being presented by a Golden Dawn lawyer aimed at a journalist from the Workers Solidarity newspaper - due in court on 12 December. The lawyer is angry because Keerfa called him a "fascist collaborator".

These cases have not reached the court, and there is mounting pressure from the trade unions and others to stop them. If found guilty we will get huge fines and probably spend some months in prison, and they will also order us to retract the press release, which we will refuse to do, and so set off other more serious charges.

We are going to fight these charges because it is attempt at censorship, to stop our criticism of the state and our campaign against the Nazis. They want to silence our voice.

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