NYC activists confront Golden Dawn

October 17, 2012

Aaron Amaral reports on a mobilization that has united Greek immigrants with unionists and anti-racist activists against the appearance of fascists in Queens.

ACTIVISTS IN New York City, like so many others around the world, have followed and supported the massive struggles in Greece against drastic austerity measures imposed by Greek and European political and business leaders.

But the sudden appearance of the Greek neo-Nazi party Golden Dawn in Astoria, Queens, has given those activists an opportunity to contribute concretely to the struggle of the Greek people, by helping to deliver a defeat to these fascists. Golden Dawn opponents are now aiming to confront the Nazis wherever they raise their heads--they've already been successful in getting the fascists banned from the building that once housed their offices.

More than any country in Europe, Greece has been devastated by this forced march austerity strategy. The economy has shrunk by almost one-quarter since 2009; unemployment rates, especially for youth and women, are at levels last seen in the 1930s; and access to basic health care and education is becoming increasingly difficult to obtain.

New York supporters of the Greek neo-Nazi party Golden Dawn
New York supporters of the Greek neo-Nazi party Golden Dawn

The Greek working class has responded with a bravery and strength. Last month, the country's two major union federations, representing both public- and private-sector workers, carried out their 18th general strike since the onset of the crisis, in an attempt to stop the so-called "unity" government in Greece from implementing massive budget cuts and economic restructuring at the behest of "the troika"--the International Monetary Fund, European Central Bank and European Union.

One of the most disturbing aspects of the Greek crisis has been the rise of a previously marginal far-right party that is explicitly neo-Nazi: Chrysi Avgi or "Golden Dawn." If there were any doubts about the fascist character of the Golden Dawn, its leader and founder Nikolaos Michaloliakos has written of Golden Dawn: "We are the faithful soldiers of the National Socialist idea and nothing else," "[We] continue the battle, the battle for the final victory of our race," and "With the courage, that is compelled by our military honor and our National Socialist duty, we shout full of passion, faith to the future and our visions: HEIL HITLER!"

Many other examples of the Golden Dawn's fascism--from its connections to the former military dictatorship that ruled Greece for nearly a decade following a CIA-backed coup in 1967, to its connections to death squads tied to the Srebrenica massacre in the former Yugoslavia--are widely documented.

Since the crisis, Golden Dawn has built its support by combining a populist critique of the troika and austerity measures with virulent ultra-nationalism, and racist and Islamophobic attacks on immigrants and activists. Golden Dawn is trying to engage in paramilitary style "policing" of communities, with both tacit and active support from sections of the existing Greek police apparatus. It has also attempted to be an agent for employment and a provider of food and medicine for those who need help--but only if they can prove they are "real Greeks."

And in recent months, the Golden Dawn attempted to take its party and its effort international, including launching operations in New York City and Montreal, with unconfirmed reports also stating that Melbourne, Australia, is another base of operations.

HERE IN New York City, over this past summer, members of a "Golden Dawn support chapter" announced a charity drive for Greece on their newly launched and slickly designed web site.

The Golden Dawn operatives deceptively approached businesses and individuals in the Greek community of Astoria in Queens to collect for the charity drive. At the time, they did not present themselves as Golden Dawn. They first solicited funds to send to Greece and then subsequently went back to the donors and gave them Golden Dawn T-shirts as a gift. This was how many donors first learned that they had given to Golden Dawn.

The response to the presence of the neo-Nazis in the historically Greek, but heavily immigrant, neighborhood of Astoria was immediate, strong and encouraging. A series of meetings have taken place to bring together a variety of Occupy activists--including Strike Debt, the Labor Outreach Committee and Occupy Astoria, among others--with the newly formed Aristeri Kinisi (Left Movement), a largely New York City-based formation that supports unity on the Greek left. As well, numerous mainstream Greek and Queens-based political and community leaders have come out against the presence of the Golden Dawn.

On October 9, activists organized a meeting that brought as many as 150 people to an Astoria church. The meeting, titled "Say 'NO' to the Neo-Nazi Golden Dawn in New York City," also brought out union leaders and other activists, including Mike Philippo, the former shop steward at the Stella D'Oro factory in the Bronx where workers struck for nearly a year, starting in the summer of 2008.

The Latino pastor of the church opened the meeting by welcoming us, but also said there had been some hysteria and hostility from the public and calls to not host the meeting. The pastor bravely stated that his church supported the anti-racist organizing.

Yet this warning points out a challenge for activists. It is unlikely that Golden Dawn supporters in New York City--or Montreal, for that matter--will want to align themselves to native U.S. fascist and racist forces. Rather, they will attempt to couch their work as mainstream Greek nationalists, doing humanitarian work for the Greek people. Since the Golden Dawn "support chapter" in New York probably amounts to no more than a handful of people, the challenge for anti-Nazi activists is to educate and mobilize people, while not allowing unnecessary polarization of the community.

INITIALLY, THE New York chapter of Golden Dawn secretly used the Astoria-based Stathakion Cultural Center as their offices. However, after it was discovered that Golden Dawn was behind the "charity drive," Stathakion officials and the Federation of Greek Societies, which is housed at Stathakion, have spoken out.

At a press conference built as part of the anti-Golden Dawn organizing, the Stathakion vice president appeared and denounced Golden Dawn, alongside New York City Public Advocate Bill De Blasio, several local politicians and other Greek as well as Jewish groups. Cultural center officials say they didn't know the aid collected by the Golden Dawn backers was labeled "For Greeks Only." Stathakion has since barred Golden Dawn members from the premises.

Similarly, the broad umbrella organization, the Federation of Hellenic Societies of Greater New York, has also issued a statement declaring that it "does not provide space at the Stathakion Cultural Center, nor has any affiliation, to the Golden Dawn, aka Chrysi Avgi." Furthermore, hackers with the Anonymous collective were responsible for taking down the NY Golden Dawn website.

Numerous other organizations have issued statements against the presence of Golden Dawn, including Occupy Astoria. But the statement of the newly formed Aristeri Kinisi perhaps best captures the feelings of the broad milieu of immigrants, trade unionists, activists, anarchists, revolutionary socialists and community members mobilizing against Golden Dawn:

A poisonous, intolerant organization that preaches violence and racism should be opposed by the Greek diaspora, who have a history of fighting fascism. [Golden Dawn] have nothing to offer the millions of Greek immigrants (and sons and daughters of immigrants), who have for generations toiled side by side with other immigrant and native workers in the U.S., Canada, Australia, Germany and elsewhere.

"Aristeri Kinisi of New York" calls on the Greek American community, along with other immigrant organizations, unions, teachers' associations and cultural institutions, as well as every New Yorker, to isolate and reject the racist, Hitler-loving ideas of [Golden Dawn] which are an insult to civilization and basic democratic ideas.

Aristeri Kinisi will take part in efforts to build an anti-fascist movement that can challenge the lies and dangerous ideas of the [Golden Dawn] neo-Nazis. We support the genuine and real efforts that are taking place for humanitarian aid to Greece in New York and around the world.

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