Thursday 11 July 2013

What is it you don't want us to forget?

This is our fourth full day in Greece and I have already started having this feeling of living in a parallel universe, a feeling that fills me with dread, and a heaviness that permeates my very being. I fear for what is in store, I fear for the country and its people, and I fear for the future of Europe and the world. And I ask myself the same old question: 'where is this going? What will it lead to?' And the possible scenario(s)  frighten me.

I am furthermore gobsmacked by the empty rhetoric and the hypocrisy of politicians. One of the headlines in yesterday's Kathimerini: 'Greek President Karolos Papoulias stressed the importance of remembering Nazi war crimes during a visit to the site of Auschwitz'. Mr Papoulias made the following statement: 'I am here to pay my respects to the thousands of victims of Nazi atrocities, including thousands of my fellow citizens.... It is the duty of us all to ensure our memories of the tragic historic fact of Nazi barbarism do not become rusty'.

What is wrong with that? you may ask. What is wrong is that the policies of this present Greek government are reminiscent of what was happening in Weimar Germany in the 1930s, policies that contributed to the rise of fascism and the consequences that we all know of. I have written at length about this in earlier posts, and you will find the links at the end of this post, but an update is necessary.

The present government's Minister for Law and Order, Mr Dendias, established the Xenios Zeus operation where under the name of 'hospitality' (the irony of this is staggering), thousands of people of colour are arrested, beaten and terrorised and taken to detention centres that have been condemned by human rights organisations throughout the world, but are called 'hospitality centres' in the warped rhetoric of this repressive government. In the name of this 'hospitality law' aimed at 'clearing' the country of illegal immigrants, even tourists are arrested and in some cases, beaten, because the colour of their skin is not white.

'Greece's failure to respect the rights of migrants and asylum-seekers is taking on the proportions of a humanitarian crisis... Greece is proving itself incapable of providing even the most basic requirements of safety and shelter to the thousands of asylum seekers and migrants arriving each year', said John Dalhuisen from Amnesty International in 2012.

There are now at least 5,000 people languishing in these internment camps which are being used for anyone who is 'different' as this policy has now been extended: the Greek government has just announced that the camp capacity is about to double.  The next victims were the drug users and now, it is the turn of transgender men and women who have been warned  to 'return to normal' , or else.....

Pastor Niemoller's 'First they Came' poem could not be more appropriate.  I just read in the paper that new Minister of Public Health's first 'achievement' is the re-establishing of a law that was scrapped earlier this year, law 39a/2012, which under the aegis of defending public health, states that anyone who is suspected of having the HIV virus can be arrested, tested without their permission and put under forced quarantine. The targets of this barbaric law are obvious: immigrants, gays, sex workers and anyone who is deemed to be 'different'. It is not unreasonable or far-fetched to compare what is happening in Greece at the moment with dictatorships where people are thrown in prisons or put in psychiatric hospitals for any kind of reason that the authorities deemed reasonable - sexual preference for instance.

Hundreds of sex workers were arrested last May in the name of this law that was condemned by the EU, repealed and has just been re-introduced. When dozens tested positive, the attack was swift and vindictive: photographs and the names of those who tested positive were posted online by the police. They were then charged with causing bodily harm and locked in jail. Some websites posted the photographs of the women and within days vigilante mobs assembled outside the homes of the women's families shouting abuse. 26 of the women who were arrested remain in jail. They insist that they did not know they were HIV positive but no one is listening and no one cares.

Meanwhile, Mr Papoulias, the President,  tells us that we must not forget what happened during the Holocaust.

The list of people who are being targeted keeps growing:

The beating in police cells of four young anarchists who were suspected of robbing a bank in the North of Greece hit the headlines in February. Despite the fact that the photographs were digitally altered by the police, the suspects' injuries were clearly visible. When The Guardian published the photographs, Public Order Minister Mr Dendias threatened to sue the newspaper.

Voir l'image sur Twitter

In December 2010, 29-year-old anarchist Kostas Sakkas was arrested in Athens and has been held in prison without a trial since. On 4 June 2013 he went on  hunger strike, demanding an end to his detention. According to Greek law, pre-trial detentions can extend to 18 months, or 30 in exceptional circumstances. On 4 June, having already reached his legal maximum time in pre-trial detention, it was extended by another six months by an Athens court of appeal. While clearly stating his own anarchist convictions, both Sakkas and the Conspiracy of Cells of Fire group have denied his active participation. But whether Sakkas was indeed a member or not, is no longer the issue. As is becoming altogether too common in these cases of a breach of legality, the government has not attempted to defend its actions, but has instead lashed out against Syriza, the Left opposition party,  for defending 'any sort of accused who are charged with anarchy and terrorism'.

The irony of the whole situation should not escape us: here is a young anarchist who is making the simple demand that a law-breaking State should obey and uphold the law: he is making this demand by putting his life in danger.

Sakkas is on the 38th day of his hunger strike and the doctor who is looking after him has stated that 'his condition is critical'.

Such stories of police violence, governmental injustice, intrusion into citizens' lives and a total rupture between state and society is not occurring in Greece alone: neo-liberalism has resulted in the rise of a corrupt, self-aggrandizing political class that does not care about anything but its own interests, resulting in austerity policies, impoverishment of large sections of society and the rise of a repressive state that will not tolerate any form of opposition or dialogue.  Unlike any other country in Europe however, the government in Greece is turning the clock back at such rapid pace that we are indeed nearing the state of the Weimar Republic in the 1930s.

What exactly is it that you do not want us to forget, Mr Papoulias? The abuse of human rights? The use of the courts to further the interests of the few? The suppression of any dissent? The incarceration of people who are 'different'? The setting up of camps to detain people that your government does not deem to be desirable?

P.S. A few hours after I posted this, Kostas Sakkas was released: a bail of 30,000 euros, a ban on meeting or communicating with his fellow defendants, confiscation of his passport and I.D., compulsory residence at his parent's house.

For more on Xenios Zeus go to:


For more information on Greece and lots more on current affairs, go to:


  1. Thank your for this eloquent, interesting, and horrifying post. I sigh and quietly despair.
    I partly grew up in Thessaloniki, and spent a quarter of each year there in the years of the junta. All through my life I have been furious with those folks who idealise life in Greece,... the history, the ruins, the art, the sun, the landscape, the sea, .... What they never looked for, or saw was the inequality, the selfishness, the ignorance, the blindness of so many of those with money, and therefore with power.
    As I have grown older I see that this is a universal condition, simply developed at different rates. I have always seen education as the answer - real education, not hoop jumping, and an ability to cope with uncertainty.
    I've grown increasingly cynical about political systems - even opposition elements in Syria are said to be riddled with corruption. I sigh deeply, and in approaching elderhood, I confess that I, also selfishly, turn to the positive joys of continuing my own education while I can.


    1. Thanks for your sensitive comment Olga. You obviously know Greece well and there is so much in what you said that I agree with.

      I too despair about the state of the world, and have lost faith in our ability to bring about change even though I still have the need to speak out and work towards a better future. I agree with your comments about education and like you, I try to continue my own education. I also try to live life to the full and enjoy it as much as possible. We have to make the best of what we have and develop our potential - it's a duty we have to ourselves.

    2. I also wanted to add Olga, that I too was in Greece during the dark times of the junta - well, most of the time. I was sixteen when the coup happened and I remember so vividly waking up in the morning to go to school and there was no one in the street and everything was eerily quiet. A man was walking by our house and he said to me: 'go inside, you should not be out in the garden today'. Those were dark times indeed.

      I also happened to be there when the junta fell. I was in Athens and it was such a celebration - I will never forget that day. We were all so jubilant, so happy, so hopeful.

      Ah, well!

  2. Great piece; and hugely depressing subject. I've tweeted a link to it - hope that's OK.

    1. Thanks for your comment Callum, and for the link - I don't do enough to promote my blog, and this is a subject that needs to be publicised as much as possible.