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by Euro Reporter
2013-04-21 12:28:34
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For Some, Greece’s Junta Lives On

On the morning of April 21, 1967, Greeks suddenly found tanks in the streets of Athens as a coup of military leaders staged a junta that became known as The Regime of The Colonels and brought seven years of dictatorship, repression, torture and grief for much of the populace, while opponents and critics were imprisoned, tortured and exiled. To everyone’s bewilderment, the coup leaders, led by George Papadopoulos, dispatched soldiers to arrest politicians, rivals, and ordinary citizens suspected of left-wing sympathies, according to lists prepared in advance. One of the first to be arrested was Lieutenant General Grigorios Spandidakis, Commander-in-Chief of the Greek Army. He was persuaded to join the overthrow and activated a plan to move the coup forward, supported by the United States, which wanted a bulwark against Communism.

For most Greeks it was a terrible time. But some miss those days, including many who weren’t even born when it happened, such as members of the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn party who adore the period and its leaders and try to emulate them. The lingering few supporters will gather on the anniversary this year at an Athens hotel to reminisce about authoritarianism at an event that will feature junta apologist Paraskevas Bolaris, from the so-called Pajamas Movement. They’ll hear speeches from Aristides Dimopoulos, a close colleague of Papadopoulos, and a greeting from Papadopoulos’s cousin Angelos Papathanou, who was director of the political office. There will also be a presentation of the book Comparative History August 4 – April 21, where the author Manos Hatzidakis will talk about the regimes of Greece then.

As part of the political commemoration of junta an audiovisual material will be screened. Papadopoulos’ widow, Despina, has also been invited. He died in prison in 1999 at age 80, unrepentant and glad of the control he exerted on the country until a student-led rebellion in 1973 brought down the dictatorship the next year. The 1967 coup and the following seven years of military rule were the culmination of 30 years of national division between the forces of the Left and the Right that can be traced to the time of the resistance against Axis occupation of Greece during World War II. After the liberation in 1944, Greece descended into a civil war, fought between the communist forces and the now returned government-in-exile. While the remaining junta supporters glorify the era for its rigidity and lack of democracy that some craved, critics still rejoice at the downfall of the time called The Seven Years as well. The end of the junta, however, didn’t end the division in Greece that remains deep and bitter to this day, with Leftists and Rightists, Communists and Fascists at each other’s throats ideologically, especially over austerity measures being imposed by the New Democracy Conservative-led government of Prime Minister Antonis Samaras that is opposed by the Left, which wants to keep a system of cradle-to-grave job protection for workers, hundreds of thousands of whom were hired needlessly over the years by both New Democracy and the PASOK Socialists in return for votes.

While the lessons of history fade fast and the 1967-74 period is a blurring memory for some and almost completely unknown to many young during the 21st Century age of the Internet, what happened on April 21, 1967 changed Greek history.  Just weeks before scheduled elections, a group of Right-Wing army officers led by Brigadier General Stylianos Pattakos and Colonels Papadopoulos and Nikolaos Makarezos seized power in a coup d’etat through surprise and confusion and rapid deployment. Under the command of paratrooper Lt. Col. Kostas Aslanides, the plotters took over the Greek Defence Ministry while Pattakos gained control of communication centres, the Parliament, the Royal Palace, and — according to detailed lists — arrested more than 10,000 people. It took only a few hours for Greece to fall into the hands of the military leaders and Papadopoulos, moving to consolidate power, suspended 11 articles of the Greek Constitution allowing the new leaders to arrest anyone for anything at any time and removing all their rights. The Colonels special target was the Papandreou family, former Prime Minister Giorgios, and his son Andreas, later to become Premier, who fled to the roof of his house but surrendered after one the soldiers held a gun to the head of his then 14-year-old George – who became Prime Minister from 2009-11. It was reported that Gust Avrakotos, a high-ranking CIA officer in Greece who was close to the Colonels, advised them to kill Andreas Papandreou and “Shoot the motherf–ker because he’s going to come back to haunt you”. For the next seven years, the Colonels rigidly held power and swept away all would-be opposition with brutal tactics, including torture and exile. Now, with crushing austerity measures and social unrest giving rise to extremists again, there remains worry at the back of some Greeks’ heads who remember what junta that it could happen again and that the country, unless Samaras pushes a an economic recovery, and the rising popularity of Golden Dawn is stemmed, that the country is just a tank away from it happening all over again.

George Papandreou may have thought so, perhaps remembering the gun to his head, because when the country seemed on the verge of unravelling under withering protests, strikes and riots against his administration, he summarily replaced all the country’s military leaders, denying speculation that there would be another coup attempt. Underlining almost all of Greek history is the constant division between political rivals and ideologies, mutual distrust and the curious commodity of zeelevounai, and of believing in holding down others who could supplant you. It seems unlikely today with a different and smaller world, with alliances such as NATO, with Greece in the European Union, with trade and business replacing military power, but political divides are deep and constant in Greece and there’s also the worry that someone could come back to haunt you.


Greece's neo-Nazi Golden Dawn goes global with political ambitions

Emboldened by its meteoric rise in Greece, the far-right Golden Dawn party is spreading its tentacles abroad, amid fears it is acting on its pledge to "create cells in every corner of the world". The extremist group, which forged links with British neo-Nazis when it was founded in the 1980s, has begun opening offices in Germany, Australia, Canada and the US. The international push follows successive polls that show Golden Dawn entrenching its position as Greece's third, and fastest growing, political force. First catapulted into parliament with 18 MPs last year, the ultra-nationalists captured 11.5% support in a recent survey conducted by polling company Public Issue. The group – whose logo resembles the swastika and whose members are prone to give Nazi salutes – has gone from strength to strength, promoting itself as the only force willing to take on the "rotten establishment". Amid rumours of backing from wealthy ship-owners, it has succeeded in opening party offices across Greece. It is also concentrating on spreading internationally, with news last month that it had opened an office in Germany and planned to set up branches in Australia. The party's spokesman, Ilias Kasidiaris, said it had decided to establish cells "wherever there are Greeks".

"People have understood that Chrysi Avgi [Golden Dawn] tells the truth," he told a Greek-language paper in Melbourne. "In our immediate sights and aims is the creation of an office and local organisation in Melbourne. In fact, very soon a visit of MPs to Australia is planned." But the campaign has met with disgust and derision by many prominent members of the Greek diaspora who represent communities in both the northern and southern hemispheres. "We don't see any gold in Golden Dawn," said Father Alex Karloutsos, one of America's leading Greek community figures, in Southampton, New York. "Nationalism, fascism, xenophobia are not part of our spiritual or cultural heritage." But Golden Dawn is hoping to tap into the deep well of disappointment and fury felt by Greeks living abroad, in the three years since the debt-stricken nation was plunged into crisis. "Golden Dawn is not like other parties in Greece. From its beginnings, in the early 80s, it always had one eye abroad," said Dimitris Psarras, whose book, Golden Dawn's Black Bible, chronicles the organisation since its creation by Nikos Michaloliakos, an overt supporter of the colonels who oversaw seven years of brutal anti-leftist dictatorship until the collapse of military rule in 1974.

"Like-minded groups in Europe and Russia have given the party ideological, and sometimes financial, support to print books and magazines. After years of importing Nazism, it now wants to export Nazism," added Psarras. By infiltrating communities abroad, the far-rightists were attempting not only to shore up their credibility but also to find extra funding and perhaps even potential votes if Greeks abroad ever won the right to cast ballots in elections. "[Golden Dawn] not only wants to become the central pole of a pan-European alliance of neo-Nazis, even if in public it will hotly deny that," claimed Psarras, who said party members regularly met with neo-Nazis from Germany, Italy and Romania. "It wants to spread its influence worldwide." With its 300,000-strong community, Melbourne has pride of place in the constellation of Greek-populated metropolises that dot a diaspora officially estimated at around 7 million. As part of its international push, Golden Dawn has also focused on the US, a magnet for migrants for generations, and Canada, which attracted tens of thousands of Greeks after Greece's devastating 1946-49 civil war. "It's a well-studied campaign," said Anastasios Tamis, Australia's pre-eminent ethnic Greek historian. "There is a large stock of very conservative people here – former royalists, former loyalists to the junta, that sort of thing – who are very disappointed at what has been happening in Greece and are trying to find a means to express it. They are nationalists who feel betrayed by Greece over issues like Macedonia, Cyprus and [the Greek minority] in Voreio Epirus [southern Albania], who cannot see the fascistic part of this party. Golden Dawn is trying to exploit them."

The younger generation — children of agrarian and unskilled immigrants – were also being targeted, he said. "They're the generation who were born here and grew up here and know next to nothing about Greece, its history and social and economic background. They're easy prey and Golden Dawn will capitalise on their ignorance." Tamis, who admits that some of his students support the organisation, does not think the group will gain traction even if Australia's far-right party has been quick to embrace it. But the prospect of Golden Dawn descending on the country has clearly sent tremors through the Greek community. "This is a multicultural society. They are not wanted or welcome here," said one prominent member, requesting anonymity when talk turned to the group. Greek Australian leftists have begun collecting protest signatures to bring pressure on the Australia immigration minister, Brendan O'Connor, to prohibit Golden Dawn MPs from entering the country. In a statement urging the government not to give the deputies visas, they said the extremists had to be stopped "from spreading their influence within the Greek community and threatening the multicultural society that Greek Australians and other migrants have fought to defend". The neo-Nazis have been given a similar reception in Canada, where the party opened a chapter last October. Despite getting the father of champion sprinter Nicolas Macrozonaris to front it, the group was quickly denounced by Greek Canadians as "a black mark".

The culture of intolerance that has allowed racially motivated violence to flourish in Greece – with black-clad Golden Dawn members being blamed for a big rise in attacks on immigrants – had, they said, no place in a country that prides itself on liberal values. "Their philosophy and ideology does not appeal to Greeks living here," insisted Father Lambros Kamperidis, a Greek Orthodox priest in Montreal. "We all got scared when we saw they were giving a press conference. But it was a deplorable event and as soon as we heard their deplorable views they were condemned by community leaders and the church." "We are all immigrants in Canada," added Kamperidis, referring to Golden Dawn's tactic of tapping into anti-immigrant resentment. "The conditions that apply in Greece do not apply here, so there is no justification for the party to flourish. The really bad thing is that in opening here it gives the impression, to people who don't know the situation, that it is supported by a lot of Greeks, which is not the case. It has hurt Greece, the Greek cause, and Greeks' reputation more than anything else."

Despite the resistance, the far-rightists have made concerted efforts to move elsewhere, with Golden Dawn supporters saying Toronto is next. But the biggest push by far to date has been in the US. As home to close to 3 million citizens of Greek heritage, America has the diaspora's largest community. At first, cadres worked undercover, organising clothes sales and other charitable events without stating their true affiliation. Stickers and posters then began to appear around the New York suburb of Astoria before the organisation opened a branch there. But while Greek Americans have some of the strongest ties of any community to their homeland, senior figures have vehemently denounced the organisation for not only being incongruous with Greece's struggle against fascism, during one of Europe's most brutal Nazi occupations, but utterly alien to their own experience as immigrants. "These people and their principles will never be accepted in our community. Their beliefs are alien to our beliefs and way of life," said Nikos Mouyiaris, co-founder of the Chicago-based Hellenic American Leadership Council (HALC), whose mission is to promote human rights and democratic values. The victims of often violent persecution at the hands of the Ku Klux Klan as well as wider discrimination (in Florida in the 1920s restaurant notice boards declared "no dogs or Greeks allowed") Greek Americans proudly recount how, almost alone among ethnic minorities, they actively participated in the civil rights movement, their spiritual leader Archbishop Iakovos daring to march alongside Martin Luther King. "Our history as a diaspora in the US has been marked by our fight against racism," said Mouyiaris. Many in the diaspora believe, like Endy Zemenides who heads HALC, that Golden Dawn has deluded itself into believing it is a permanent force because of its soaring popularity on the back of the economic crisis. "The reality is that it is a fleeting by-product of failed austerity measures and the social disruption this austerity has caused," he said.

In Greece, where Golden Dawn has begun to recruit in schools, there are fears of complacency. Drawing parallels with the 1930s Weimar period and the rise of Hitler's National Socialist German Workers' party, the historian Mark Mazower recently warned against underestimating the threat posed by a party whose use of violence was so disturbing. "Unfortunately, the Greek state does not seem to realise the urgency of the situation," he told an audience in Athens. After spending almost 30 years following Golden Dawn, Psarras agrees. Only weeks ago, he claimed, Michaloliakos held talks in the Greek parliament with two German neo-Nazis posing as journalists. Golden Dawn rejected the claim as "old mud". "It is an extremely dangerous phenomenon and do I think it will get worse? Yes I do," Psarras said, lamenting that, with living standards plummeting, the organisation was opening offices in traditional middle-class neighbourhoods. There remained a simple fact too big to ignore: in 2009 the party was a political pariah, gaining a mere 0.29 % of the vote; today it had global ambitions. "Ten years ago, if you had said Golden Dawn would become the third biggest force in Greece, you'd be called crazy," said Psarras. "Now look where it is."


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Eleana2013-04-21 13:13:11
Goodness, this is worse than I thought. What about studemnts? Are they planning an up-rising like before?

What can be done and quickly. I have Greek friends in Melbourne, they certainly wouldn't support the Golden Dawn.

Where do they get their funds from to open all these offices?

Eleana2013-04-21 13:25:00
I just put the link up on Twitter and I'm going to put it up on Facebook and I will continue to put it up. I headed it All Greeks should read this: URGENT http://www.ovimagazine.com/art/9905

thanos2013-04-21 13:30:37
Thanks Eleana, yes please, everybody must know.

Accidentally I answered to your comment in the wrong place: "Things are much much worst there and far more scary. They recruit school kids, especially high school kids. I'm planning to write soon about it because it has caused serious problems at schools. Students accusing teachers that they teach history wrong, for example holocaust never happened it is just propaganda and far more chilling things. And a lot of them have telephone numbers of MPs for fast call as a constant threat. The problem with them been MPs they have even the right to enter a school to "protect" their kids!!!"

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