IMF imposed austerity measures have reduced Greek society to a shadow of its former self. The resulting unemployment, poverty and homelessness has been hijacked by fascist elements to pit the poor against the poorer. In the last year Greece has built a series of internment camps and launched raids on immigrant, addict and sex worker communities. Now they are coming for poor and the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Trans (LGBT) people too. Is this a preview of dark coming attractions for the UK?
The State of Greece
It is worth briefly outlining the socio-economic catastrophe of Greek Austerity.
Greece accepted an £88bn loan from the IMF and the European Central Bank (and the Austerity measures attached) in order to bail out its banks and stay in the Euro.
The economy of Greece has shrunk every year for five years and the Austerity Programme has turned a financial crisis into a humanitarian crisis.
11% of the population now live in ‘Extreme Material Deprivation’ without enough food, heating, electricity or a telephone
Unsurprisingly, crime has soared – with burglaries rising by 125% in 2011.
Yet, instead of the austerity induced poverty – it is the immigrants getting the blame.
As the gateway to Southern Europe, Greece is a popular destination for immigration. However, with an immigrant population of 10%, Greece is equal to France and lower than Germany (13%), Luxembourg, Cyprus or Malta.
Nevertheless, with rising poverty level, a resurgent fascist movement spearheaded by the Golden Dawn party has diverted popular rage from the political and economic institutions that eviscerated their economy, onto immigrants – many of whom were simply escaping the previous evisceration of their own economies by those very same institutions.
Golden Dawn now have 18 of the 300 seats in Greek parliament, and have successfully mobilised a large portion of the Greek population. Their flag contains a swastika like emblem and they recently marched tens of thousands through the streets of Athens, surrounded by the Swastika flags, chanting ‘Greece if for Greeks’. They are neo-Nazis, and they are winning.
First They Came for the Immigrants
Not for the first time in even recent history, it was Greece’s immigrant population that became the whipping boy for public fury at the betrayal of their country’s interests by the mainstream institutions purported to defend them.
The Greek Police launched Operation Xenios Zeus last year as part of a crackdown on immigration. This operation, named after the Greek God of Hospitality delivers anything but that to anyone on Greece’s streets who ‘doesn’t look Greek’. In the first 7 months of the Operation, Greek police arrested more than 85,000 foreigners – yet only 6% were arrested for unlawful entry. This means 94% of these people were lawful residents of Greece. In many cases those being arrested suffer violent assault by the police in the process. The operation has become nothing more than a means to vilify and bully foreign looking people.
Tourists to Greece have also been caught up in these arbitrary arrests. In January this year, a Korean backpacker was seized by Greek police as an illegal immigrant, despite showing them his passport and itinerary. When he asked for proof of identity of the police officer arresting him, he was punched in the face.
In the same month, Christian Ukwuorji, an African American travelling on a US passport was walking through Athens on his holiday when he was seized by police. When he showed police his US passport, they confiscated it and beat him on three separate occasions on the way to the station. His final beating was so severe it left him unconscious – he woke in hospital with a concussion.
Immigrants are being routinely assaulted and killed in racially motivated attacks. In April this year, a group of 200 immigrant workers protesting six months of unpaid wages were fired upon by their bosses. The assault left twenty eight with gunshot wounds and it was a miracle that no one lost their life.
Further to the sweeping arrests, violence and murder – immigrants are now being rounded up and transferred to internment camps. The first series of camps are already open and operating inside Greece’s borders, and more than 5,000 people languish behind their barbed wire perimeter. The government has announced plans to build 30 more such facilities in the next few years.
This scale of human suffering is bad enough…but whilst the immigrants are the first group to join the ranks of Greece’s ‘undesirables’, they were not the last.
Then they came for the Sex Workers and the Addicts
The next group to face the wrath of a neo-Nazi resurgence were the sex workers and drug addicts. Greece has previously enjoyed a low prevalence of HIV, but since the economic crisis new infections have sky rocketed; in 2010, the new infection rates shot up by 57%.
These rises were entirely attributable to the austerity crisis. On drugs, austerity is driving ever more Greeks to addiction whilst cutting away the social safety nets that would manage their addiction. In 2010, heroin use grew by 20%. In areas of town where the state funded needle swap programmes were closed, HIV infections among drug users shot up 1,450%. As the social security and healthcare systems fail after 40% budget cuts, some desperate Greek addicts are deliberately infecting themselves with HIV in order to access just $890 of financial support each month and admittance to a drug rehabilitation centre.
Sex work is legal in Greece and largely managed through a ministry of state. However, since the economic crisis began the sex industry in Greece has risen by 150% the least enfranchised Greek women resort to prostitution to make ends meet. There are now a reported 20,000 unregistered, illegal prostitutes on Greece’s streets. There has been a rise in sexually transmitted diseases during this time.
Rather that addressing the root causes of these issues, the government has instead demonised the sex workers and drug addicts themselves.
Greek police began raiding brothels and forcing sex workers to undergo HIV tests. Last February, the police published the names and photographs of 17 sex workers arrested and testing positive for HIV, branding them a danger to public health. One of the sex workers committed suicide as a result of the public shaming, unable to face her family.
The government have since passed legislation making it legal for police to arrest and detain all suspected illegal sex workers and test them for HIV without their consent. Any woman walking the streets can be arrested on suspicion of illegal prostitution, forced to undergo a HIV test and publicly named and shamed if found to suffer any sexually transmitted diseases.
Since then police have extended the same tactics used in Operation Zeus to sex workers, drug addicts and the homeless – who have been rounded up and sent off the internment camps with the immigrants.
Then They Came for the LGBTs
The LGBT community was next to be singled out as ‘undesirable’ in the new, fascist Greece. The Bishop of Thessaloniki (Greece’s second city) came out in strong and public opposition to the city’s second Gay Pride festival in June this year. He denounced Pride as ‘an unholy and unnatural event’ and garnered nineteen and a half thousand signatures for a petition calling for the event to be cancelled. The adverts for Pride across Greece were censored after the inclusion of a lesbian kissed was deemed ‘undesirable’. This comes after the October 2012 decision by Greek State TV to censor a kiss between two male characters on Downton Abbey.
Things are getting worse rather than better for the gay men, lesbians and bisexual population of Greece. They have become even worse for the Trans community.
Greek Police are using the sex worker legislation to target Trans people. The Greek Transgender Support Association states:
“According to written complaints filed by our members who live in Thessaloniki, it is clear that from 30 May 2013 onwards, the police have been carrying out purges and arrests of transgender citizens on a daily basis. The same complaints state that those arrested are being taken to the police headquarters in Thessaloniki in Dimokratia Square, where the victims are waiting for at least three or four hours to be identified under the pretext that the authorities should establish whether the particular person was not a prostitute,”
Greek News Outlet GR Reporter records the following:
“The Association stresses that the police behaviour during the arrests was offensive, humiliating and that it was intended to undermine the dignity of transgender persons. In three of the complaints, the victims note that traffic policemen had stopped transgender women while they were driving their cars without any proof or suspicion of any fault or violation of the law. Later, they were taken to the police station in order for their identity to be verified.
The testimonies of a large number of victims suggest that before being released from custody, the policemen threatened transgender women, warning them that if they did not “return to normal”, legal proceedings against them would be initiated for indecent behaviour in public places.”
Then They Came for the Poor
Now the full machinery of the Greek State is being turned on the poor, as they become the newest addition to the ‘undesirables’. The Greek parliament is passing legislation to turn a military camp into a prison for poor Greeks.
Since last February, any Greek falling more than €5000 in debt to the state can be imprisoned to work off their debt. The government is now planning to roll this out more systematically, with a specific prison camp dedicated to holding poor Greeks while they work for free for the state. This would conventionally be referred to as a Labour Camp – the tool of many a totalitarian state, including Stalinist Russia and Nazi Germany.
Coming Here Soon
We should not only stand against this disintegration of Greek Democracy as a matter of principle, but out of sheer self-interest. Greece is just a few years and policies ahead of the UK in the ideological austerity agenda – and these are the results.
Anyone nursing the mistaken hope that British society is somehow immune to this sort of thing needs to think again. The waves of attacks on mosques and Muslims after Woolwich, a flurry of anti-immigrant legislation, the rise of the UKIP vote and the fact that hate crime against disabled people shot up 25% last year, as the government launched the new ATOS ‘fit to work’ assessments suggesting people claiming disability were ‘faking it’ – all these point to a society beginning to buckle under the pressure of relentless propaganda blaming undesirable elements of the society for all our ills.
If the UK is resorting to this behaviour, all be it milder than Greece, while unemployment is at 8%, we can still use our health service free at the point of use, schools and community services are still open – how is it going to be once austerity enters its next phase and the these all go south?
Well – that is down to you, me and all of us. We must keep our heads, and keep our eyes on the true causes of our troubles, and not be side-tracked into scapegoating whoever the state decides to brand as our ‘undesirables’.
Sign the Petition against Greece’s Internment Camps.
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