On the 4th August, 1936, the Metaxis regime seized control of Greece. With the backing of the King, General Metaxis declared a state of emergency and instigated martial law. During the regime 15,000 people were gaoled, and torture was feature of imprisonment.
On the 4th August, 2012 the Greek authorities rounded up 7,500 foreign nationals. The operation, named after Zeus (the Greek God of hospitality and welcome to strangers) was defended by the Minister for Public Order and Citizens’ Protection, as necessary to defend Greece against an “invasion of immigrants”, and 1,500 interned in “detention camps”.
One must always be mindful that fascism does not start with concentration camps it ends in them. For all the hand wringing of the holocaust, cries of how could people not know and demands of “Never again”, fascism has returned to Europe.
When our backs are turned,
when someone stares at us,
we feel them.
You who watched the killing, and did nothing,
still feel the eyes of those dead
on your bodies.
You did not murder,
but looked on, you,
who could have been changed
William Heyen, To the Onlookers
The picture coming from Greece is of an authoritarian state scapegoating the victims it has created. Those seeking refuge in the EU find Greece one of the easiest countries to enter, but the terms of the Dublin Convention necessitates Greece meeting the cost of processing their claim, a cost the crumbling apparatus cannot meet. Stuck in a no-man’s land of the sans papiers, unable to receive any form of assistance, they live in overcrowed conditions, the liminal zone between criminality and exploitation becoming the locus of their survival activity.
The police are riddled with fascist supporters, while the tasks they are required to perform become ever more repressive. There is no pretence in Athens that the police protect the public; that veil has gone. Even a member of parliament punched on live television cannot rely on the protection of the police to find the known assailant. The fog of tear gas which regularly confronts those challenging this state of affairs cannot conceal the brazen nature of the application of “justice”.
At the same time as an uncompromising central bank demands its pound of flesh with increasing regularity, promoting public spending cuts, welfare benefit cuts and the introduction of new taxes to meet bailout terms, Greece spends twice as much on arms as any other EU state. The former defense minister was arrested in April for a suspected $8m bribe funneled into offshore bank accounts from the German company which oversaw the sale of four unusable submarines, while another German company, Seimans settled out of court after the former Transport Minister admitted receiving a $100K bribe. Despite the ongoing crisis, Greek military spending has increased from €6.24bn in 2007 to 7.1bn in 2010, of which 58% went to Germany, the gatekeeper of the bailouts funds which keep the Greek state jangling along in a permanent state of anxiety.
A population struggling with the crumbling apparatus of social support, health and education is being distracted from this outrageous and corrupt military spend by the demonisation of the other. With a quarter of the population unemployed, rising to over half among the young, the indigenous Greeks are being encouraged to see immigrants as the source of their problems – the marginal position that they occupy one which cannot be tolerated. For, as wages are not paid, rents and mortgages get behind, bills mount up and putting food on the table becomes increasingly onerous, they see their future in those same margins. Far better to have them out of sight; to pretend such cruelty does not exist and they could not be subject to it. For as Adolph Hitler rightly observed “The great strength of the totalitarian state is that it forces those who fear it to imitate it.”
As we see images of riot police waiting for migrants to disembark from trains in order that they can be taken to detention camps, need we really be reminded of the train lines that ran straight into Auschwitz.
Or when we see the burnt out remnants of a disused factory that undocumented migrants huddled in for shelter until the arson attack by the Golden Dawn in May, need we really be reminded of those systematically burnt out of their homes in the Europe of less than a century ago.
Dachau was opened in Spring 1933, by the end of the year, local newspapers were already reporting the murder of 12 prisoners there by camp guards. On the 29th April 2012, Greece opened its first migrant detention centre, In July a man died having been denied medical aid and eight others charged with a myriad of offenses for protesting at his treatment. In the 1930s access to media was controlled and limited; in the 21st century this information is freely available courtesy of Google.