Interview with Dimitris Psarras
Eleni Varikas and Michael Löwy (EV and ML): In a few words could you describe the origins of Greece's neo-Nazi organization Chrysi Avgi (CA), Golden Dawn?
Dimitris Psarras (DP): Ever since the founding of CA at the beginning of the 1980s, the same group of people have continued to make up its leadership, with Nikolaos Michaloliakos as undisputed leader. At the time of the dictatorship of the colonels, Michaloliakos was a member of the neo-Nazi organization called Party of the Fourth of August, the party of Nationalist Socialist Constantin Plevris. After the fall of the dictatorship, there were numerous attempts by people nostalgic for the junta in collaboration with the Italian neo-fascists of Ordine Nuovo. Accused of distributing explosives, Michaloliakos was condemned and served a year in prison.
Golden Dawn was founded in December 1980 as a closed national-socialist discussion group. In 1984 Georgios Papadopoulos, the jailed dictator, named Michaloliakos the first director of the youth organization of the party he had founded, EPEN (National Political Union). However, Michaloliakos did not remain long in this position because this organization of junta partisans was not hard enough for him, not anti-Semitic enough for his taste. In what followed, he reactivated Chrysi Avgi and has continued with Nazi propaganda. Since the beginning of the 1990s, the organization has profited from the nationalist wave which followed the clash between Greece and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia over the name ‘Macedonia.’ Its first public appearances (for example in popular nationalist mass demonstrations) date from that time, and its aggressive behaviour became increasingly evident.
EV and ML: What are the differences between CA and the other extreme right groups in Greece?
DP: Most extreme right groupings active since the fall of the dictatorship (1974) are marked by a strong nationalist and traditionalist tendency, favourable to army intervention, aspiring to the restoration of the monarchy and identifying the church with the state. CA is able to call on all previous tendencies – especially the relations with vestiges of the dictatorship, the monarchists and the church – as complementary elements for purely tactical reasons.
EV and ML: What are the specifically neo-Nazi characteristics of the CA? What is its relation to the Third Reich and its leader, and through what forms does it represent or reactivate a Nazi tradition in Greece?
DP: From its first appearance, Chrysi Avgi has identified with National-Socialist Germany. It is not an instance of an extreme right party integrated into the so-called ‘third wave’ of the European extreme right, nor a political formation that is simply ‘neo-fascist.’ Racism and violence are its essential components. In its publications from 1980 on, it translates the classics of Nazism, such as Hitler and Rosenberg, but also Freisler and Darré; furthermore, it periodically cooperates with other European neo-Nazi movements. The Spanish party CEDADE and the Belgian officer of the Waffen-SS Léon Degrelle have initially played an important role in this European dimension of CA. But what is most important is not the ideological convergences. CA closely follows the political action of the historic German Nazi party (NSDAP), with the creation of its own Storm Troopers which ‘conquer’ neighbourhoods of the big cities, smash the stores of immigrant merchants and attack them massively. The use of violence is a constitutive element of its action, and not an occasional manifestation of the action of its most extremist members.
EV and ML: Who are the ‘enemies’ according to CA ideology? Jews, homosexuals, immigrants, Muslims, left-wing activists, feminists?
DP: Naturally, according to CA ideology, all of these are categorized as Untermenschen, and are thus enemies and designated targets. But CA is careful to define targets according to the political fashion of each epoch. At the beginning of the 1990s, what was ‘in fashion’ in Greece was the nationalist hysteria around the name of Macedonia. At that point, CA's main target was the activists of the internationalist and libertarian left, whom CA denounced as ‘traitors’ and whom they attacked in the name of the nation. In recent years its principal target has been immigrants, after the reestablishment of a xenophobic political climate in the country, a climate on which CA relies for its fierce propaganda.
EV and ML: Can you describe CA's electoral evolution in recent years?
DP: The organization's first electoral appearance was at the time of the 1994 European elections, when it got 7,242 votes (0.11%). Since that time, CA has participated selectively in certain elections, with quite low results. It had more significant results in the 1999 European elections, when it collaborated with Kostas Plevris and got 48,632 votes (0.75%). In the 2002 local elections it collaborated with George Karatzaferis who had founded an extreme right party inspired by Le Pen. In the 2009 European elections, CA once again ran under its own name and got 23,609 votes (0.46%), while in the national elections of the same year it only got 19,624 votes (0.29%).
The organization's electoral leap occurred in the 2010 municipal elections, when the crisis had already begun. CA was able to get 5.29% of votes in the municipality of Athens, electing Michaloliakos for the first time as City Councillor. In certain districts of central Athens, CA had significantly higher results. Finally, in the May 2012 elections, the party had 441,018 votes (6.97%) and a month later 425,990 (6.92%), electing 18 deputies.
EV and ML: What explains CA's spectacular electoral success in 2012?
DP: Without the economic crisis things would doubtless have been different. But the crisis alone does not explain the attraction of such an extreme group for so many citizens. If the crisis had not been coupled with the crumbling of the political system, we would not have seen a phenomenon like this. The majority of CA voters think that by this extreme choice they are taking revenge on politicians, parties and governments. Total despair leads to the conviction that the only way left for citizens is to get revenge through this extremist organization. What is involved then is a characteristic case of collective resentment. But we should not underestimate the fact that several of CA's messages – especially regarding immigrants – are rooted in terrain mined by xenophobia. The media and in particular private television channels have long employed several national and racial stereotypes; private television misses no occasion to invite Nazi ‘TV stars’ on their shows as long as they can guarantee a high score on the ratings metre. In addition, as soon as the two hitherto leading parties, New Democracy and PASOK, realised how successful CA was they made the mistake of taking over a great part of its anti-immigrant rhetoric, naively thinking that they would win over voters in this way. In 2011, the two parties formed a government together with the LAOS (‘people’) party - founded by Kostas Plevris, the former associate of CA – thus legitimating the participation in power of an extreme right party for the first time since the fall of the dictatorship in 1974.
Let me point out that certain media – the television channels but also the weekly Proto Thema, with the largest Sunday circulation in the country – have helped spread CA's propagandistic myths by reproducing the lie that the Nazis are doing ‘social work’ in helping elderly and handicapped people. As I show in my book this journalistic reportage was largely ‘pre-fabricated.’
EV and ML: How could it be that the terrible suffering Greece underwent under Nazi occupation did not impede neo-Nazism's recent success? Is there a lack of historical memory?
DP: It seems that historical memory is not enough when feelings of despair and blind vengeance take on mass proportions. However, there is also another thing to realise. There were a certain number of Greek Nazi collaborators all through the German occupation. With the Civil War (1946-1949) following the occupation, several of these collaborators turned into supporters of the ‘National State,’ at whose service they put their experience of anti-communist activism. Those who yesterday had collaborated with the German occupiers metamorphosed after the war into hangmen against the resistance. We are not speaking here merely of a lack of ‘de-Nazification,’ which is true of several countries in Europe. In Greece, collaborators became visible state cadre, while the true resistance (that is, the left) was denounced by the post-war governments as traitors and sent into exile or prison. This means that there is a black (and hidden) past in the relations between the ‘deep’ Greek state and its apparatus and the occupation collaborators in the country.
EV and ML: What social groups are most attracted to CA – according to gender, age, social class, education, urban or rural milieu, etc.?
DP: In terms of Chrysi Avghi's voter profile, men lead over women (8.5% of voters / 5.1%), and the party's influence among the young is relatively greater (8.1% voters of ages 18-24, 9.9% ages 25-34, 11.9% ages 35-44, 6.7% ages 45-54, 3.8% ages 55-64 and 2.5% 65 and above). The CA vote is shared by urban, semi-urban and rural milieus, with respective percentages of 6.8, 7.4 and 6.9. In terms of professions, unskilled part-time workers predominate (24.5) and unemployed (23.5), followed by employers-business men (20.3), middle-level officials in the private sector (12.6), skilled workers (11.1), private sector employees (10.2), artisans (9.1), liberal professions (8.7), self-employed farmers, livestock farmers and fishermen (7.5), public sector wage earners (4.7), housewives (3.6), secondary-school students and soldiers (3.6), private-sector pensioners (2.88), middle-level officials in the public sector (2.3) and public sector pensioners (1.7).
The voting map for CA in the June 2012 elections shows a lower percentage in the high-income bourgeois neighbourhoods – from 3.67 to 2.94 in Athens, and from 2.28 to 4.00 in Thessaloniki. In middle-income neighbourhoods the percentages go up, ranging from 4.94 to 5.18. In neighbourhoods inhabited by employees and workers, the percentages are significantly higher: from 7.78 to 12.54. Consequently, we can say that this vote is an expression of ‘the popular classes,’ which distinguishes CA from previous extreme-right forces in Greece, such as LAOS which had more influence in middle- and high-income neighbourhoods.
EV and ML: You describe CA's actions as ‘pogroms and lynchings.’ Can you illustrate this?
DP: The organization's mode of operation can in fact accurately be characterized by these historically loaded terms. A typical example of a pogrom was the two-week-long attack against immigrants in the centre of Athens in May 2011, using as a pretext the assassination of a Greek, Manolis Kandaris. Dozens of immigrants were wounded, some of them seriously, and one died. Similar pogroms initiated by Nazis against immigrants occurred throughout Greece in preceding years – in 2004 for example after a soccer competition between Albania and Greece. Dozens of Albanian immigrants living here paid for Greece's defeat in that case. As for lynching, it generally happens in the evening, with groups made up of many CA members (the ‘Phalanges’ or ‘Storm Divisions’), by isolating one or two immigrants and beating them until they lose consciousness. A very characteristic example took place in June 1998. In broad daylight, a group of 10 CA members armed with clubs and headed by Antonios Androutsopoulos, the organization's number two man at the time attacked three left-wing student-trade unionists who were sitting in a café. They did not stop until they left one of them for dead. In the end the student survived after fighting for his life for several days. Similar attacks have occurred almost every evening, targeting immigrant workers, but we only hear of them when the victims dare to go to hospital.
EV and ML: How is it that these actions, even attacks against left-wing deputies, go unpunished?
DP: The truth is that very few of these attackers end up in court. As an exception, the vice-head of CA was sentenced to a heavy prison term for the 1998 attack. However, he had been able to hide out for 7 years before turning himself in to the authorities. The reason for all the impunity is that for years Chrysi Avghi had a special relationship with the police and in particular with MAT, the riot control police. The police used the organization to do its dirty work in repressing mass demonstrations. At the time of the last elections, it was demonstrated that a good part of the police voted for CA. This is also the reason for the authorities’ reticence in investigating Nazi aggression. I should add that there is no social support network for immigrant victims of aggression, and so they are afraid to go to the police to denounce these attacks, fearing they themselves will be sanctioned, especially when they do not have papers. The authorities have only recently begun to act, especially after certain particularly provocative actions conducted by the organization – attacks against small immigrant vendors – and led by CA deputies. The Parliament immediately removed their immunity, and the Minister of Public Order withdrew the policemen serving as security guards for Chrysi Avghi's parliamentary group.
EV and ML: What is the Greek left's evaluation of the neo-Nazi threat today? What are the reactions of Syriza (Coalition of the Radical Left), of KKE (Greek Communist Party), of Dimar (Democratic Left), of the extra-parliamentary left – Andarsia (Rebellion), the anarchists, the anti-authoritarian left – and the feminist movements? Is a common strategy possible?
DP: Unfortunately, up to now, there has been no sign of a possible unified anti-fascist strategy for the left. All parties and organizations see the divergences between them, at the level of their general political programme, as being more important. For example, the KKE refuses to accept cooperation with Syriza, which it accuses of having a ‘pro-European’ position, while Syriza does not want to have anything to do with Dimar which is participating in the anti-popular Samaras government. Certainly, each one of these political parties and social movements act to confront the fascist menace, but clearly this is not enough. I fear that they have greatly underestimated the danger and have probably been surprised by the fact that it is not enough to ‘expose’ CA's character in order to reduce its popular support. The opinion of certain left leaders, for example the KKE general secretary, that it will be enough for CA to enter Parliament to be integrated into the political system, has proven erroneous. As we have seen, the opposite is true. After its electoral success the organization has become more provocative and aggressive.
EV and ML: What measures need to be taken to deal with Chrysi Avghi's propaganda and its unpunished criminal activity?
DP: The first germs of anti-fascist activity are already developing at the grassroots level. But the organized social forces – political parties, unions, etc. – also need to be activated. I can cite some initiatives that I have discussed with other journalists:
- Information on the organization's true character, using documents published by it and the material it posts on the web;
- Documenting the criminal nature of its activity through the publication of court verdicts;
- Criticising the media which, with the pretext of broadcasting ‘revelations’ about the Nazis, banalize them;
- Unveiling the myth of the organization's social action, with concrete examples of its activity in the sensitive neighbourhoods;
- The exclusion of any type of violent confrontation and, at the same time, the defence of anti-fascist initiatives and manifestations;
- The attempt to vanquish the fear that has already gripped some public personalities – television hosts and politicians – who are ready to buy their peace of mind by making gestures of allegiance. •
It's absurd that Golden Dawn is being allowed
to hound my friend into court
“I'm the embodiment of every fascist's fantasy. I'm a Jew, a communist – and a heretical communist, a Trotskyist, at that. I don't fit anywhere. The only thing I happen not to be is homosexual.”
My old friend Savvas Michael-Matsas – activist, internationally respected writer on philosophy and literature, general secretary of the Greek Revolutionary Workers' party (EEK), utopian thinker, fiery speaker and wild white-haired survivor of 17 courses of chemotherapy (“No compromise with death”) – is on trial in Athens on Tuesday, 3 September, for “libelous defamation,” “incitement to violence and civil discord,” and “disturbing the public peace.”
Read complete article at www.theguardian.com.
Resolution of Solidarity
Reject the Nazi lawsuit – Drop all charges against the Secretary of EEK Savvas Michael-Matsas and the former Rector of the National Technical University of Athens Konstantinos Moutzouris.
Sign petition at www.change.org/petitions/eek.