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Austerity Immigrants Feed Greek Rightists

Published: 01/10/2012 08:24:35 PM GMT
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CAIRO - A crippling economic crisis and highly unpopular austerity measures are helping far-right parties in Greece to solidify their electoral gains and step up campaigns against immigrants in the European country.“We hav (more)

CAIRO - A crippling economic crisis and highly unpopular austerity measures are helping far-right parties in Greece to solidify their electoral gains and step up campaigns against immigrants in the European country.

“We have a major socioeconomic crisis in which several hundred thousand Greeks are losing ground,” Nikos Demertzis, a professor of political sociology at the University of Athens, told The New York Times on Monday, October 1.

“And you have a rising number of immigrants in Greece, many illegal.

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“This is creating a volcanic situation where all the classic parameters for the flourishing of a far-right force like Golden Dawn are present,” he said.

A few months ago, the name of the right-wing Golden Dawn party was something to be whispered in Greece.

But that fact changed after the extremist right-wing group won an electoral foothold in Parliament, becoming the fifth largest party with 18 out of 300 seats.

This is mainly attributed to the deep economic crisis gripping the European country in recent years, which gave rise to far-right parties.

Greece was recently forced by international lenders to push for austerity measures, which are facing strong popular opposition.

These economic woes have given ammunition to far-right groups to step up their campaigns against immigrants in the country.

Last month, a video about illegal immigrants in Greece went viral

The video shows about 40 muscular men, led by Giorgos Germenis, a lawmaker with the right-wing Golden Dawn party, marching through a night market in the town of Rafina demanding that dark-skinned merchants show permits.

“We saw a few illegal immigrants selling their wares,” Germenis says in the video.

“We did what Golden Dawn has to do. And now we're going to church to pay our respects to the Madonna.”

In another raid in the town of Missolonghi, Greek shopkeepers shout at Golden Dawn members, led by another Golden Dawn lawmaker, Costas Barbarousis, as they walked through a fruit and vegetable market kicking over stands loaded with produce.

“These tactics were used in the dictatorship!” one woman cries in the video.

Greece is a major gateway for mostly Asian and African migrants trying to enter the European Union.

But immigrants have been facing growing hostility as the country is struggling against its worst economic crisis in decades.

Pro-immigrant groups have said that racist attacks against immigrants have sharply grown in Greece since the economic crisis flared in 2009, accusing the police of turning a blind eye.

Popular Far-right

The anti-immigrant rhetoric of the far-right Golden Dawn is now finding ears among crisis-hit Greek.

“People have no faith in the political system,” Dimitris Kaklamanos, 41, a worker at a Shell gas station in the town of Piraeus, on the outskirts of Athens, told The New York Times.

Though he voted for the Socialist party Pasok in last elections, Kaklamanos grew disillusioned with corruption and the ineptitude of politicians, feeling attracted to the far-right Golden Dawn.

He cited food and clothing drives conducted by the group across Athens, as well as protections it extends to vulnerable Greeks in neighborhoods where crime has surged in tandem with illegal immigration.

Other political parties “know that Golden Dawn is gaining power and they see that as a threat,” Kaklamanos said.

“But Golden Dawn are the only ones out there demonstrating they care about the Greek people.”

Kaiti Lazarou, 55, the owner of a newspaper and cigarette kiosk in Piraeus, agrees.

“I myself have gotten food and potatoes from them in Syntagma Square,” she said.

“I would not be surprised if they become the government one day, and why shouldn't they? They protect the Greeks, while Samaras and the government are out of touch with the people.”

Demertzis, the University of Athens professor, said Golden Dawn was effective because it did more than just utter political platitudes.

Its members “do their propaganda through deeds, exactly the same way that the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt does, or Hezbollah in Lebanon.”

The far-right party is expected to solidify its electoral gains, preying on anti-immigrant sentiments as well as worsening crime rates and economic hardships.

“It's the current government that brought more power to Golden Dawn because the people are angry at what the government is doing,” said Iakovos Zorzios, 73, a retiree whose pension has been cut as part of the austerity measures.

“How can we not be angry when the government cuts our earnings so much?” said Zorzios, who is bracing for yet another reduction in the latest austerity plan forged this week.“How can they expect us not to support Golden Dawn?”

Reproduced with permission from