Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Greece : The Leisurely Rise of the Neonazis

[French versions of this post can be found on Paul Jorion's blog and on Rue89]

Kalamata, September 16th, 2012.

Some mysteries are better left alone. However, it happens that, in the quiet timelessness of Sunday mornings, puzzles are resolved even though you wish they wouldn’t be. A small provincial city, Kalamata is the biggest settlement of the Messinia Province, in the South-West of the Peloponnese. It’s a quiet town, which slumbers under the crushing rays of the summer sun despite the towering shadow of the Taygetos mountain range, its majestic neighbour. Kalamata is a place where nothing much ever happens, where Time seems to flow more slowly, the opposite of megalopolises like Athens or Thessaloniki, whence a few worrying images of surging poverty an violence reach us once in a while – you know, these brief reports deprived of the smallest ounce of contextualization, which the TV channels use to shower their news whenever the whim comes upon them, and the news is lacking in what they deem worthy of interest.

And yet, Kalamata isn’t without its own problems, all thanks to the crisis which has been hitting Greece for more than two years now: groups of beggars haunt each crossroads, more often than not they’re illegal immigrants from Asia or Africa, left adrift once they’ve managed to cross Europe’s entry gate. Or rather, I should say that Kalamata used to also have this kind of problem. During the course of the last winter, a strange miracle took place: nowadays, you can no longer find any beggar haunting the town’s crossroads, you can no longer find illegal immigrants selling bootleg CDs or junk stuff only found in the worst suburb’s bazaars. At first, you naively believe that the Greek state has at last decided to take care of the illegal immigration issue, and to care for all those poor people left at the tender mercies of the various mafias which are more than willing to give them a helping hand – for a modest fee, of course. And then, while browsing through one of the local newspapers, the truth comes out. It’s dark, this truth, as black as a night of the end of the 1930 years. No, the police didn’t intervene to gather the immigrants and allow the competent services to start deportation procedures. No, the Greek state hasn’t at last decided to shoulder its responsibilities.

It’s the result of Golden Dawn’s handiwork. Chrissi Avgi in the Greek language, is more militia than political party. Its ideology is clearly advertised, without the smallest qualm or attempt at hiding its nature: overtly racist, xenophobic, Golden Dawn proudly claims its ties with the Nazi ideology, flaunting around pictures of Adolf Hitler, whose death it qualifies as a terribly sad event, as well as a swastika-like emblem.

Yes, It’s Golden Dawn which cleaned up Kalamata’s crossroads, which organised the beatings and all the violence necessary to chase defenceless people away from the town – to erase them from the streets the way one would erase vermin from a garden. Golden Dawn’s militias took up what should be the duties of the police and the Greek state with impunity, and now they boast about their exploits in the local newspapers.

This isn’t the end of the story, unfortunately. During the course of the summer, watchful readers have read the reports of pogroms set up by Golden Dawn in the poorer suburbs of Athens. Reading a report is one thing. Hearing directly the tale of crimes encouraged – spawned by the Greek police – close to you is quite another.

“Once upon an evening in Kalamata”, in this small backwater town of the Peloponnese, a Greek woman spots a dark man entering her home’s garden. Frightened, she calls the police. The police’s response is swift, and crystal clear: no, no police officer will be sent to the woman’s home. However, she can call Golden Dawn, and its militia will come and take care of the matter. Ever so helpful, the policeman at the other end of the phone line gives the woman the phone number she can use to request the help of Golden Dawn’s local militia. Shocked, she hangs up, but refuses to follow that particular piece of advice. She waits for a while. Still worried, she ends up calling the police once more. Its reaction remains the same: she merely has to call Golden Dawn and her problem will be solved. No, the police won’t intervene: it claims it doesn’t have the means to do so. Again, the woman hangs up. Asking the neo-Nazis to come is out of the question for her.

Yet, just a few minutes later, Golden Dawn’ militia irrupt in the street. There isn’t anyone in the woman’s garden anymore. However, a few dozen steps away from her home stands a house inhabited by a Pakistani man. It takes a few more minutes for the uniform-wearing thugs to surround it.

And once they have, they set the house ablaze.

End of the story.

The year isn’t 1938. This isn’t Germany. The year is 2012, in Greece, a country renowned for its douceur de vivre and its inhabitants’ hospitality. Greece, a country ruined by corrupt management, and most of all because of the absurd demands of foreign governments and central bankers who have absolutely no idea, who do not realize what kind of monster they’re busy awakening and feeding ever more with each and every unjust and inefficient austerity measure they force upon a country they already have almost starved to death.

On the eve of the May 2012 elections, Golden Dawn’s neo-Nazis claimed 8% of the votes. In June, their electoral score had gone down a tiny notch to 7%, which still enabled them to send 21 representatives to the Greek parliament, the core of democratic institutions, which they target in speeches everyday, proud to announce without the slightest ambiguity in their words that they’ll take the struggle to the streets with their stormtroopers as soon as they’re ready to do so.

The last surveys give Golden Dawn more than 10% of the vote, ahead of PASOK itself. Each and every strike dealt at Greece, each and every unjust measure forced upon Greece from the outside in our name, we who are Europeans and had based our Europe on the oath of “Never Again”, each and every demand for more austerity which unwaveringly targets the same categories among the Greek population and tears from formerly middle-class citizens what little they have left sends them further into the black embrace of Golden Dawn. The mechanism is terribly simple, and already more than well known of anybody with just a bit of historical knowledge: destroy a country from the outside using means belonging to barely veiled economical colonialism, destroy its public services, health care, education and the rest, while leaving in place the corrupt administration and governments which are the root of the problem, and you lead it to a point where the democratic state starts unravelling. Everything starts crumbling down, democracy itself cracks, like rotten plaster. The police and army, ripe with people nostalgic of the sinister far-right dictatorship of the Colonels, where the neo-Nazis reach their highest electoral results, take advantage of the circumstances to simply let go a bit further, and to push a beleaguered population without the smallest prospect of a better future, in desperate search of security, in the arms of Golden Dawn.

Today, the Neo-nazis are the third political party in Greece, before the historical social-democrat party.

No, the year isn’t 1938. But we’re going back there. We’re rushing back there.


Friday, April 06, 2012

Resistance !

It's an old word, Resistance, one that had fallen out of fashion, replaced by compliance and resignation. It's a word whose nobility has been branded into generations of human beings who refused oppression, authoritarianism and dictatorship. From the battles on the plains of Gaul to the guerilla warfare led against the Nazi in France during World War II, its echoes had almost faded from our hearing range.


Resistance has been coming back into the groove these last few days. It's shouted and echoed by thousands of passionate voices. In Paris, at the Bastille, one hundred and twenty thousands voices lifted it up and sent it soaring up to the sky, challenging clouds and defeating a forecasted rain which never fell. The endless tides of people thronged the streets of Paris, answering the call of one man who managed the tour de force of uniting the true left of the political spectrum. Jean-Luc Mélenchon, for the Left Party, is one among the ten candidates for France's presidential elections, and he's also the one man who has breathed in a sense of hope into a gloomy and beleaguered society.

At the turn of the year, Mélenchon was the butt of the pundits's jokes. He was a clown, a bully – pundits hate those who refuse to pay them homage and submit to their little branding games as a rule – and a scarecrow who might not even reach the 5% of votes necessary to receive funds for his campaign. Mélenchon was just an oddity, way out there, and often equated with the far right's Le Pen, in what was, as the pundits well knew, the worst insult they could throw at him, not to mention a blatant lie.

But time passed. Mélenchon set out to meet the people in all the corners of France. He set out to reconquer all those women and all those men who had given up on politics, given up on voting. He set out to confront the far right head-on, refusing to abandon to Le Pen the workers and the poor, all categories of people which the traditional left had simply written off their agenda. And something happened. People started to come to his meetings, to hear him talk. To hear Mélenchon explain, explain and explain again what politics is, the tremendous power people have and should never relinquish. To hear Mélenchon teach again the use of the word: Resistance. He's an exceptional orator, is Jean-Luc Mélenchon, someone versed in literature, who can quote Victor Hugo and hundreds of other authors on the fly, in complete improvisation. He's also someone who never let anyone write his speeches – not even himself : he jots down the main ideas, and then he dives into the battle of eloquence. He fences with words, spurred by inspiration and conviction. And you know what ? The sincerity in the man reaches out to the people who come to see him. It embraces them and sparks hope in their hearts anew.

Days went by, then weeks. And more and more people came to listen to Jean-Luch Mélenchon. Among them, young people, old people, some who had turned their back on politics, others who never thought they'd be interested in it. The audiences grew and, at last, the pundits were forced to acknowledge that Mélenchon was a true contender for the presidency. And Mélenchon overtook Le Pen in the surveys, becoming the third man, and taking back from the far right people it had deceived and lured toward it. Of course, the pundits did what they do best : they acknowledged his score in the surveys while nurturing their contempt for the man and using all the weapons at their disposal to belittle the ideas he defends – and to belittle the people who come in great waves to listen to him, to rediscover that politics is noble, perhaps the noblest of domains, and rediscover that, yes, they have power.

Then came March, 18th, 2012. The anniversary of 1871's Commune de Paris, the one great hope of the poor one hundred and forty years ago, crushed with sabers and guns and cannons, and rivers of blood. On that Sunday, one hundred twenty thousand people came to the Bastille from all over France, so many that Jean-Luc Mélenchon had to shorten his speech on the fly by half, in order to allow the people massing in the square and all the adjacent streets to move on before they ended up crushed against barriers.

The pundits watched, speechless.

And then again, yesterday, seventy thousand people filledToulouse's gigantic main square and the streets all around it. And Resistance once again soared up to the sky, echoed by all those voices.

I do not know what will happened on the evening of April 22nd. I do not know if Jean-Luc Mélenchon will end up third in the race. I do not know if the unthinkable will happen, and send him to the second round run-off. But I do know one thing : Jean-Luc Mélenchon's passionate words and oratory talents have rekindled hope in a great many people's hearts, re-empowering them, giving them back a power they had thought stolen from them forever. His project of social justice, his refusal to bow down before the threats and scorn of the pundits and the power-that-be, his willingness to relinquish power to the people and to lift them up from the black pit of resignation and indifference, of the life of blind slavery to a system gone mad find an echo. An echo that grows. It places politics back at the center of the game, it gives politics back the nobility the right and the social-democrats have sold piece by piece for their own comfort over the years, until politics was no more than filthy rags people didn't want anything to do with.

Politics is the heart and soul of a democracy. Jean-Luc Mélenchon is reminding all of us of this fundamental truth. Power is in our hands. Nobody can take it form us, unless we allow them to. We can do something. We can change the world. We can turn the system upside down, if we gather. If we unite our forces. A revolution of citizens, peaceful, through the polls, this is the possibility he offers the French people.


And for that, for sparking hope and giving back politics its nobility, I for one am thankful.

I do not know what will happen on April 22nd. I can only hope, but even that is a gift.

Good journey, Jean-Luc Mélenchon, may it take you far, may it give you the leverage to force the socialists to lead a true leftwing policy if they end up in the Elysee.

Imagine, if the socialists win the preisdential, with Mélenchon's support, and if, one year from now, the socialists win the general elections in Germany with the support of Die Linke. Imagine, The Left Party and Die Linke having leverage on the socialists, enough to shape policies toward the left, more social justice. Imagine...

Resistance is trendy once again.

Good journey, and good luck.

And if you want to know more, as luck would have it the Guardian has a long paper about Mélenchon here : Jean-Luc Mélenchon: the poetry-loving pitbull galvanising the French elections.