Javied at an anti-fascist march. (Image via)
Greece isn't the happiest of countries at the moment. I'm sure you're already well aware of why that is; losing all your money and being forced to implement severe financial cuts isn't the best way for a government to please its public. But there's been nothing more damaging to the psyche of fair-minded Greeks than the swift rise of neo-Nazi organisation Golden Dawn, which has exploited the mess Greece is in to win representation for its street-level thuggery in parliament.
The group's criminal activities – which allegedly include both attacking and murdering immigrants – have been a sore point for the millions of Greeks who, weirdly, don't endorse the idea of violently targeting people because of their nationality. Many groups, including the Council of Europe and Amnesty International, have been protesting against the Golden Dawn's presence in parliament for some time, but the Greek government has been incredibly reluctant to step in.
Until last week that is, when 20 members of the group's top brass were finally arrested – including General Secretary Nikos Mihaloliakos and far-right heartthrob Ilias Kasidiaris. The raids followed the murder of anti-fascist rapper Pavlos Fyssas by a man who, according to Greek police, has links with the Golden Dawn.
It's been a source of aggravation to some that it took the death of a Greek man to finally energise a government that has repeatedly ignored violence against immigrants. Generally speaking though, you'd imagine the arrests would be seen as a good thing – after all, if you're a member of an ethnic minority group in Greece, life's going to be a lot easier without the Golden Dawn hanging around, waiting to smash you with a club.
I got in touch with Javied Aslam – Chairman of the Pakistani Community and President of the Immigrants Workers Association in Greece – to get the feeling on the ground.
Javied at another anti-fascist march. (Image via)
VICE: Hey Javied. How do you feel about the Golden Dawn's leadership being arrested?
Javied Aslam: Since Pavlos Fyssas' murder last month, the government has proven to be extremely capable in dealing with the Golden Dawn. They have shown that, if they want to, they can be extremely efficient. Yet this should have been done two years ago. We've had about 900 reports of attacks against immigrants, and these were allowed to take place in the time between 2010 and Fyssas' death.
How are you expecting things to work out from now on?
If this isn't just for show, and the government is truly looking to apply justice, they will give work permits to every victim of racist violence and money to the families of those who have been murdered. We also expect them to close the detention centres, which are largely operated by racist gangs who beat up and torture migrants – the living conditions are horrid. How many murders of immigrants have been recorded in the past few years?
We believe that the first one took place in September of 2009. Policemen entered the house of Mohammed Kamran in Nikaia [incidentally, the same area where Fyssas was murdered and where, it transpired, the Golden Dawn has a large amount of support], shouting and hitting him and his family. Kamran was then taken to the Nikaia Police Station, where he remained for two days and was subject to torture; he was hung from the ceiling, beaten up and electroshocked. A few days after he was released, he died of his wounds – he was only 25. The second attack took place in January of 2013 and concerned a 27-year-old named Sheszad Luqman. He was stabbed on his way to work at the farmers' market in Petralona. Someone living in a flat above the street where he was killed heard his cries, so they were able to testify. When the perpetrators were arrested, it transpired from paraphernalia found in their homes that they were members of the Golden Dawn. Same deal with Serdar Yacoub, who was murdered around the same time. Who knows how many more people have suffered and died without anyone speaking a word.
Why do you think the government only decided to act against the Golden Dawn now?
There are two main reasons: The first is the murder of Pavlos Fyssas. It was an excuse, but also something that could prove to carry major political cost. The second one is the upcoming Greek Presidency of the Council of the European Union [from the 1st of January, 2014, Greece will chair meetings of the Council of the European Union for six months]. They have been facing a lot of pressure from the Europeans urging them to deal with the phenomenon of the Golden Dawn. Yeah, I guess being chaired by a country with a neo-Nazi party in parliament could be slightly awkward. Why do you think they were so slow to act before?
The reason why they haven't been doing anything until now – and they just proved that they could have – is that the Golden Dawn's tactics and anti-immigrant agenda still served certain interests. The state needed us placated; they needed us feeling weak and unable to demand our workers' rights. There have been so many instances of factory bosses sarcastically telling workers protesting for the lack of wages not to worry because "the Golden Dawn will give you your rights".
The public prosecutor called me in last week and said this time that they were prepared to look at the matter seriously. I went with a folder of more than 900 cases and they said, "Well, that's a few too many, but we will try to take care of some." We'll see.
What's the vibe like on the streets? Have there been any attacks since the murder?
An Indian man was found dead in a well on Monday night, but we can't be sure who did it yet. Nothing else has been reported. I think they went into panic mode – they mustn't have been expecting what happened.
What about the feeling in the immigrant community? Are people feeling positive or on edge?
People are feeling very optimistic and hopeful that this will mark the end of attacks on immigrants. The past few days have felt like a breath of fresh air for Greeks and immigrants alike. When it comes to the immigrants, they definitely feel emboldened. I hear people openly say, "We are not filth. They are filth because they miscalculated the value of a human life." That's not necessarily something people felt they could say before. However, we can't rush into making grand statements – we have to wait to see what will actually happen. It might have all been for show, we'll see. We hope for the best, but we are prepared for the worst.
Follow Elektra on Twitter: @elektrakotsoni
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