Challenging the right in Greece

August 3, 2009

Thanasis Kourkoulas of the International Workers' Left in Greece reports on the increased prominence of the far right in national politics--and the anti-racist movement that has arisen in opposition.

THE JUNE 7 European election in Greece had a historically low voter turnout (55 percent), a new record by Greek standards.

The results were also marked by: a) the crushing rejection of the right-wing New Democracy (ND) government of Prime Minister Kostas Karamanlis; b) the failure of the social- neoliberal PASOK (Panhellenic Socialist Movement) to take clear advantage of the fall of ND; and c) the failure of the left to constitute an alternative pole of resistance against the unrelenting neoliberal attacks at the time of a capitalist crisis.

The increase in the vote for the far-right, racist Popular Orthodox Rally (LAOS) from 3.8 percent two years ago to 7.2 percent gave Karamanlis an excuse to shift the whole public discussion to the right. The convergence of the agendas of ND and LAOS around an anti-immigrant hysteria and law and order--and the outrageous promotion of these ideas in the major mass media--dominated the scene after the elections.

This isn't just an attempt by ND to reclaim the votes it lost to the extreme right in LAOS. It is an attempt by the ruling establishment, via the Karamanlis government, to go on the offensive against the youth rebellion of December 2008 that was sparked by the police murder of a teenager in Athens.

Marching during the wave of protests last December following the police killing of a 15-year-old student
Marching during the wave of protests last December following the police killing of a 15-year-old student

Karamanlis and ND are trying to use racism to divide workers, and to promote fear and insecurity among the middle class in order to advance repression and "zero tolerance" policies as the "solution" to the economic marginalization and crime born out of their own neoliberal policies.

This is the recipe that Nicolas Sarkozy has used in France: the major party of the right adopts the agenda of the extreme right, with the aim of regaining its lost influence. If not confronted by the left and the popular movements, it threatens the prospect of what has happened in Italy--the adoption of not only the far right's agenda, but of the far right itself, with racist and even neo-Nazi political leaders and organizations being accepted as part of the government.

AFTER THE election, the right rushed racist initiatives against refugees and immigrants through Greece's parliament. The law increases jail time for immigrants without documentation from three to six, and sometimes 12, months, establishes new detention centers all over the country and abolishes the appeals process for denied asylum petitions.

Even immigrants with documents are being criminalized--they are subject to deportation if they are convicted for a violation with a jail sentence of three months or more (even a traffic violation!)

Already, the police have started mass "sweeps," arresting hundreds of undocumented immigrants. The ND government has begun deportations to countries like Pakistan and Afghanistan, where the U.S.-NATO war machine--with the support of the Greek government--is creating more war refugees.

Under this official cover, and with the open cooperation of police, right-wing elements have appeared as "concerned citizens" demanding "public safety" in their neighborhoods--and taking the law into their own hands to create "clean zones." For the first time in decades in Greece--a country with a recent history of a far-right dictatorship--there is a coordinated attempt to legitimize the activities of racist groups, including a hard core of neo-Nazi groups like "Golden Dawn" and local activists of the crypto-fascist LAOS.

But ND and LAOS have found an ally for their right-wing agenda--in the PASOK opposition. The leader of PASOK, George Papandreou Jr., announced his party's own proposals for immigration under the title "Zero tolerance for illegal immigration."

Papandreou even accused ND of not decisively promoting the Greek government's demand from the European Union for "reinforcing" the "Eastern borders of Europe"--and for pressure on Turkey to accept back more desperate immigrants caught in Greece. This is racist retreat for PASOK from its immigrant-friendly line announced a few months before the election.

Despite the intensity of the racist attacks, public opinion remains against the despised ND government. Opinion polls on what issues are most important to people showed only 18 percent of people answered immigration during the peak of the anti-immigrant hysteria after the elections--and that number dropped to 10 percent two weeks later. Unemployment, the economy, education and health care ranked far higher as issues most important to people.

Both left-wing parties represented in parliament--the Coalition of Radical Left, or SYRIZA, and the Greek Communist Party--demand immediate legalization of all immigrants. In neighborhoods where fascist groups are active, the left has organized many anti-fascist rallies and launched local immigrant support committees.

On July 9, led by SYRIZA and other left and immigrant groups, more than 4,000 people demonstrated at a rally against racism in Athens, 1,000 marched in Thessaloniki, and hundreds more rallied in other cities. The annual summer Festival Against Racism in Athens and Thessaloniki drew tens of thousands of people, with a substantial increase in participation by organizations of immigrants themselves.

After national elections in 2007, when LAOS entered parliament for the first time, a "Deport Racism" campaign was launched under the initiative of the International Workers Left (DEA), bringing together hundreds of immigrants and left activists. This antiracist organization's main purpose is to promote the common struggle of workers, native-born Greeks and immigrants, against all racist attacks as an essential part of a unified response to the capitalist crisis.

Since 2007, the campaign has made a valuable contribution toward organizing fightbacks against racist repression by police, protests against fascist provocations in a number of neighborhoods, and festivals of solidarity bringing together thousands of immigrants and their Greek supporters. It also played a central role in putting together mass immigrant rallies on March 21--International Day Against Racism--and the largest immigrant workers' contingent in recent years for this year's May Day labor rally.

Currently, with other anti-racist, left and immigrant organizations, including SYRIZA, DEA is part of the formation of a broad anti-racist/anti-fascist front, with the aim of making a clear answer to the racist propaganda of the right, and confronting and marginalizing the fascist gangs. Our next goal is the broadest possible mobilization of immigrant workers and their communities, together with the antiracist organizations, in the demonstrations against the government at the Thessaloniki International Fair on September 5.

The success of our fightbacks against anti-labor initiatives of the Karamanlis government beginning this fall will be the determining factor in overturning the whole of the far right's agenda--and will shape the political developments of the next period with national elections coming soon.

Translation by George Yorgos.

Further Reading

From the archives