This article originally appeared on VICE Greece
In September 2013, Greek authorities arrested a number of prominent members of the far-right political organisation Golden Dawn. In the wake of the economic crisis, Golden Dawn rose to become Greece's third major political party, despite regular reports linking the organisation to hate crimes.
The trigger for these arrests was the murder of Pavlos Fyssas, a rapper whose songs often carried anti-fascist sentiments. His death sparked an investigation into Golden Dawn, leading to members being charged with crimes including murder, running a criminal organisation, weapons offences, and reported assaults on immigrants. Still, the Golden Dawn ended up as the third largest party in Greece's 2015 elections – and the party has been comfortably sitting in parliament since 2012.
Of course, the rise of the Golden Dawn hasn't gone over well with Greece's anti-fascists. For years now, they have been storming the streets of Athens when the occasion calls for it, and taken a few bricks in the face for the sake of equality. Or thrown a few against fascism, racism and the capitalist system.
But, is violence a viable answer to violence? I contacted one anti-fascist, Vicky, to understand what being a Greek anti-fascist is all about.
VICE: What exactly are you fighting for?
Vicky: Anti-fascism is the fight against any kind of oppression. That can mean racial oppression, the oppression of women or homophobia. And capitalism is a kind of fascism too – it's the rich oppressing the poor. The fact that certain parts of society are more privileged than others is fascist in itself. So we fight against the global capitalist system and for the equality of all people.
What's the point of being an anti-fascist if you don't live in a particularly facist regime, like Mussolini's Italy or Nazi Germany?
You don't need to live under a regime capable of creating Auschwitz to be an anti-fascist. Although, come to think of it – today's refugee camps are like a modern Auschwitz. But that's beside the point – there's a rise in fascism and far right extremism in countries around the world.
In Greece, there's the Golden Dawn – a Nazi party who were voted into power by about 500,000 Greek people. In Austria, there's the far-right populist Austrian Freedom Party (Freiheitliche Partei Österreichs), and the fascist Vlaams Belang in Belgium. Of course, Marine Le Pen of the National Front was almost elected President of France; in Bulgaria there's Ataka and the RPF – and there have even been pogrom-like actions against Roma in that country. And we can't forget the AfD and the NPD in Germany. Fascism didn't die with Mussolini or at the end of WWII. Europe hasn't learnt from its mistakes – there are people everywhere who want to revive those systems, who live to spread hate speech every day.
Have you ever physically fought with fascists?
Of course. I've been in simple verbal altercations but also hardcore physical fights. In Greece, the fascists like stirring trouble in the streets so it's not hard to run into them and get into a fight.
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So you're anti-fascist, but you're not anti-violence?
It depends. In general, I am not in favour of violence. I've never hit someone just because I disagreed with them or had some kind of quarrel. I prefer talking things out with people. To me, violence against fascists is usually self-defence. And I've seen fascists welcome violence – they're against the freedom and rights of people who aren't like them.
So would you punch a Nazi without any provocation or other reason?
I've asked myself this question before, and concluded that yes, I would, and with pleasure. There's a line though – I wouldn't beat up a Golden Dawn supporter for no reason, but I would have no problem with punching a member of the organisation. To some extent, of course – I couldn't live with killing anyone, even a fascist. And I'm definitely against a group beating up one person – it's dishonest. It's what they do. But in the end, you don't want the world to deal with fascism through violence. If you can, you try to change the future and overthrow fascist ideology using peaceful methods.
Do you need to ascribe to a particular political ideology to be an anti-fascist?
No. Traditionally, perhaps, the biggest anti-fascist forces are anarchists and communists, because those ideologies are based on equality and solidarity. But we need to solve issues like racism, homophobia and misogyny, and those aren't directly connected to the economic policy of any political ideology. Right-wing or liberal parties rarely make political decisions that lead to equality, but that doesn't mean that someone on the right of the spectrum can't fight fascism.
You can lock up a Nazi, but they'll still be a Nazi – and they will carry on being a Nazi after they're released.
How do you feel about the police?
Well, when a couple of years ago, students in the Greek police academy proudly declared they were fascists, that didn't come as a surprise to many of us. If you see the way some officers behave towards vulnerable groups in society, it's very clear. And around 40 to 50 percent of police officers voted for the Golden Dawn in the last election, while knowing very well what the party stands for, knowing that many of its members have committed crimes. Of course there are police officers living their childhood dream of joining the police "to fight for the weak", but I think many police officers around the world abuse their power. In my mind, the core of the profession is fascist.
What can we do to stop fascism without actually having to get into physical fights with fascists?
Firstly, everyone needs to be aware that fascism isn't a thing of the past. We should all learn to see that what's happening today has happened in the past. It's exactly what led to fascist regimes. There's political instability, social unrest, an economic crisis and a lot of these issues are being blamed on immigrants. Aside from immigration on the scale we see today, all of those phenomena existed in Berlin in the 1930s – it's what helped Hitler rise to power. In those days though, through Nazi propaganda, Jews were blamed for all the misery, they were seen as the source of evil.
We all need to realise this and it should be taught in schools. School is so important because it's where you learn to coexist with other people and socialise. It's where, from a young age, you learn that it's normal to sit next to someone with a different skin colour, a refugee, or someone who is gay or trans. Equality and acceptance, creating a more open, democratic, inclusive and diverse society – it all starts at school.
What does it mean to you that members of the Golden Dawn are currently on trial?
The trial is very important. It took a terrifyingly long time to get members of the Golden Dawn to court for the crimes they've committed over the years. What did them in were the murders on Pakistani immigrant Shehzad Luqman and anti-fascist rapper Pavlos Fyssas, the near-fatal beating of two Egyptian immigrants and dozens of injured trade unionists. But before those crimes were brought to court, there were hundreds of reported attacks that weren't prosecuted. If this trial convicts them, it paves the way for such convictions in the future. It shows that they're not immune, that their actions don't go unpunished. But most of all, it's vindication for the victims.
Do you think Fascism should be criminalised?
No. You can lock up a Nazi, but they'll still be a Nazi – and they will carry on being a Nazi after they're released. And for some people it'll be all the more interesting if it's illegal and "underground".
More importantly though, criminalising Nazism could pave the way for the persecution of other political ideologies, like anarchy. You shouldn't criminalise any ideology, but the actions. In the end, people shouldn't want to stay away from Nazism because they're afraid of being locked up, but because they realise how sick it is to want to eliminate a group of people just because they might be a little different from you.
* The name of the interviewee has been changed to protect her privacy.