Yesterday, this blog went mental. With traffic approaching several thousand an hour, apologies to anyone who couldn’t get through. The prompt for this was a post I wrote about the arbitrary arrest and detention of transgender people in Thessoliniki. It was one of a few that I have written about the detention camps in Greece, and sometimes I feel like I simply shout into a vacuum, while people nod and move on.
At the time of writing, there are still floods of people coming to the blog – so while I have your attention….let me just do a little round up of the current situation in Greece at the moment.. The people who live in Greece are in a very difficult situation at the moment, and the more that people can do to raise international awareness put external pressurise both the Greek Government and the European Union to reverse some of the devastating policies of austerity and repression which are crippling the country the better.
The Paper Checks and Round Ups
Every day in Greece, particularly in the centres of large cities of Athens and Thessoliniki, police check the papers of dozens and sometimes hundreds people on the street, round the up and take them to police stations for processing. They are marched chain gang style in a line, with the arms of the person behind on the shoulders of the person in front, flanked by police at the front back and sides. The main victims of these roundups are migrants, however homeless people, drug users, women in the sex industry and now transgender people have also been targeted. Sometimes, if their papers are in order, they will be released after a few hours, if there is a problem with their papers, or indeed even there isn’t, in the case of Greek citizens, they will be taken either to one of the main internment camps or held in one of the other holding facilities, without any form of trial or due process.
This short video from Human Rights Watch includes footage from the Hellenic Police which shows them overseeing detained people disembarking from a train destined to take them to a detention camp.
There are six official main camps which officially house 5,000 people. The government has announced that it is planning to double the capacity of these camps to 10,000 in the near future. There are also an unknown number of unofficial camps holding an unknown number of people. These camps are horrific. Men, women and unrelated children are all held together sometimes crammed with three people per square metre with no mattresses or bedding,no washing facilities and sharing a toilet between 40. None of these people have been charged with any offense, the vast majority have simply been unable to obtain the legal papers to be in the country, an arduous task in a country where the civil service is at the point of meltdown.
This short video is taken from the Pagani detention centre on the island of Lesbos, which shows the conditions in which people are being held.
There is slavery in Greece, actual real slavery, with actual real slave hands. Where thousands of people are forced to work to harvest agricultural produce living in sheds made out of plastic sheeting with no running water or sanitation facilities. Although wages are initially promised, they are frequently not paid, and the workers are trapped in fear of both the gangmasters and the immigration authorities, unable to leave. Women are also held in rape houses, with the money paid to rape them going straight to their owners (yes, you heard me right, their owners). All this is done with the tacit approval of the Greek authorities who turn a blind eye. Should the workers get too uppity and start demanding what they are owed, they get shot.
This short video shows the aftermath when a farmhand opened fire on a crowd of 200 workers demanding their wages, 30 were injured, several seriously. (trigger warning)
The Parliamentary Fascists
The Golden Dawn are an openly neo-nazi party. They are currently running third in the polls, higher PASOK, the party which formed the previous government. Their MPs carry guns, including in the parliament where they openly proclaim “Heil Hitler” and deny that the holocaust ever happened, last month one of their guns went off in Athens’ airport “accidentally”, fortunately no-one was injured. One of their MPs punched a left-wing MP live on television last year, with no consequences. Last month, another of their MPs burst into the offices of the Athens Mayor, attempted to assult him and pull his gun on him, before being subdued by security, a twelve year old girl was injured in the fracas.
The short video below shows security guards protecting the Mayor as the fascist MP attempt to assault him, you can clearly hear the security guards in the video telling the MP (in Greek) to put the gun away.
The Extra-Parliamentary Fascists
In addition to the fascists inside the parliament, outside the parliament, the fascist threat is growing. Two squares in Central Athens have become no-go areas for anyone non-Greek who is instantly attacked if they set foot in it. One of the squares, Attiki, is patrolled by two dogs which are trained to attack anyone non-white in the vicinity. Daily racist and homophobic attacks take place, sometimes by people who clearly identify themselves as members of the Golden Dawn. While members of the Golden Dawn in uniform patrol market places, demanding papers from stall holders and smash up the stalls of any who are not Greek. In addition to the the Dawn, however there are also paramilitary fascists who are actively seeking to recruit.
This short video shows recruitment propaganda for the “Patriotic Militia” which urges Greeks to prepare for the “coming challenges”…
The Clampdown on the Press
If you are wondering how on earth all this could be going on in a European country without being on the front pages of major international newspapers, the lack of freedom of the press here, explains this in part. What is ultimately behind all of this is the systematic theft from ordinary Greek people by international cartels and multi-national companies, but reporting on such gets you into serious trouble. When Kostas Vaxevanis published the names of 2,000 major tax evaders, the so-called “Leguarde List”, including a number of prominent names, his arrest was swift, while those who report on the rise of fascism in the country risk serious beatings and the threat of losing their jobs. Earlier this year, the government moved to shut down Indymedia Athens and Radio Bubble, two prominent independent news outlets which had been reporting on the situation. On Wednesday this week they shut down ERT, the public broadcaster; passing a law in the morning to facilitate it; announcing that they were planning to close it at 6pm, announcing at 9pm that the signal would be cut off at midnight, and finally closing the channel at 11.30pm.
The staff have refused to accept this, and are currently occupying the building and continuing to broadcast via other means. The quality has improved considerably, and people have gathered outside to demonstrate that they will not allow it to be taken over by the propaganda machine that the government has proposed as an alternative. This short video gives an overview of the situation at ERT and an insight into the determination of both the workers and the viewers not to allow its closure but instead to fulfill its mission to report what is going on accurately instead of under the government whip.
Bad things are happening in Greece. Very bad things. What I’ve posted above is just the tip of a very large and very horrible iceberg, which extends its tentacles deep into the police force and even civil society itself. With the measures which were agreed as part of the third bailout about to be imposed on a population, hungry and exhausted from five years of austerity, the temptation for looking for scapegoats close at hand when the troika, the bankers and the government seem so all-powerful, may well grow.
There is no way that I can possibly do justice to the situation in Greece at the moment in one short blogpost, but given the level of interest the previous one generated, I would hope that there were more people aware of the desperate situation that the people of Greece live in at the moment. And as ever it is the marginalised who suffer most. Not only trans folk, but migrants, drug users, women, children, unemployed people, gay men, lesbians, people in ill health and people with disabilities all face a very uncertain future.
The situation at ERT is current and ongoing: follow hashtags #ERT and #OccupyERT on twitter for live updates. The only way that the nightmare that is currently engulfing Greece can be stopped is if people are both aware of the situation and determined to change it. Getting information out is critical to that, and an independent public broadcaster is one of the ways in which that can be done.
When the people of Greece feel solidarity coming from people in other countries who will help them challenge the despotic governments who squandered their money and gave it away to bankers, multi-nationals and multi-millionaires, they will no longer be compelled to turn on one another to survive. And that is in all our interests, for what happens in Greece in the coming years will shape all Europe for a long time to come.