On the evening of Thursday 28 February 2013, the peaceful winter atmosphere of Paros was disturbed by the arrival of MPs and other members of Greece’s neo-Nazi party Golden Dawn (GD) who came to Paros to hold their first ‘official’ meeting on the island. In response a large group of citizens, many of them young Greek people, but also whole families of Greek and international residents of Paros, mobilized to protest against fascism, racism and xenophobia. Three van loads of riot police (MAT) were dispatched from Athens, tear gas was fired at the protestors and two young Greek people were taken to the local health centre with head injuries. A local photographer had his camera forcibly taken from him (it was returned to him later by the police, broken and the memory card tampered with). The following morning a German resident of Paros was assaulted in the port by departing GD members and the police had to step in to stop the attack. No charges were laid in any of these incidents – all of them criminal acts.
Reports in the local Greek press as to what exactly occurred that evening differ in some of the details as well as in their particular ‘spin’ on events, and the stories circulating afterwards ranged from the improbable to the impossible. But what was abundantly clear to everyone once the dust had settled and calm again prevailed, was a rising sense of solidarity, of the fact that the majority of Parians had given an unequivocal response to the fascist threat and that only a tiny minority are falling for the GD party line of patriotism and ‘national socialism’ (the word nazi is short for national socialism in German, by the way, so be sure to point that out to any GD supporters who tell you they are not Nazis). What was particularly telling was the way in which those who had previously lowered their voices when speaking the name of the neo-Nazi party, now spoke the words aloud, no longer intimidated by the threat of Golden Dawners in the shadows.
For some weeks afterwards, though, there was a residual sense that our island had been ‘contaminated’ in some way, that our home had been violated; the vitriol spewed by GD is insidious, corrosive and – most alarmingly – contagious. Ideologies of hate polarize and divide communities and we must all be vigilant in ensuring that we do not stoop to their level or espouse their vulgar tactics in response. Psychological research shows us that the seed of fascism dwells within the heart of each one of us (google ‘Blue Eyes/Brown Eyes exercise’ and ‘Third Wave experiment’). Given the right conditions and a cause about which we are passionate, we can quickly suspend our capacity for critical thinking and fall victim to our prejudices; we can inadvertently become the very thing we loathe. Let us never ever be guilty of calling GDers ‘sub-human’, the term they have used (in Parliament, no less) to describe immigrants to this country.
After the events on 28/2, we learned that GD had faced incredible difficulty in locating a space to hold their meeting on Paros – everywhere they asked they were refused. (Some subsequently also refused other political groups in an effort to show ‘democratic fairness’, perhaps not really understanding that they are wholly entitled to refuse to allow a group to meet on their premises if they find the ideology of that group repugnant and completely at odds with their own philosophy and charter.) We learned too that it was the Cycladic police authority in Syros that ordered the riot police to Paros when they heard there would be a protest organised and that GD would be bringing supporters from elsewhere. Regardless of the propensity of MAT forces to vote for GD, and both covertly and overtly support them, it was their job to keep the two groups apart that night; once the protesters began to move towards the taverna where GD were meeting, some kind of confrontation became inevitable. But it must be made clear – the core of the anti-fascist movement is comprised not of a trouble-making group of radical fanatics, but of young people of integrity with decent principles and a desire to see their country and its people thrive again without resorting to brutal and xenophobic pogroms that scapegoat groups of marginalized people and provide no actual solutions. The movement has no leader and no affiliation with any political party or faction. As well as boldly tackling fascism head-on, they have shown that they recognize that the conditions in which fascism flourishes also need to be addressed and have subsequently organized a number of events promoting solidarity, unity and friendship.
At the annual memorial to WWII hero Nikolas Stellas held in Marpissa in May, a representative of the movement spoke about how they are inspired by Stellas’ bravery. The Mayor emphasized how important it is for all of us to follow Stellas' example and how glad he is that young Parians are engaged against fascism and Nazism. Nikos Syrmalenios, SYRIZA MP for the Cyclades, directly addressed the threat posed by GD, telling us that the best way to honour the sacrifice made by Stellas is to rise above party politics and ideological differences and unite in opposition to fascism, guarding in our everyday lives against "the egg of the snake born in recent years called Chrysi Avgi, this egg that is bringing fascism and Nazism again to our country."
It is possible to be proud of one's country and its history and tradition without claiming to be a member of a superior master race, to experience nostalgia for a Greek Constantinople without subscribing to a theory of Lebensraum (they call it ‘ζωτικός χώρος’ on the GD website), to be in awe of the wisdom and metaphorical truth in Greek mythology without worshipping the Olympian gods. In the same way, we may stand against the violent methods of Golden Dawn without being communists or anarchists, disapprove of Greek immigration policies without blaming the migrants for the current crisis, and despise a corrupt banking system without believing in an international Jewish conspiracy.
History has shown us, repeatedly, that the way to repel fascism is by uniting and raising our voices with one clear message: “You shall not pass. Neither here, nor anywhere.”