Antonis Samaras, the Greek prime minister, vied for votes in last year’s elections by embracing the criminalization of undocumented immigrants and adopting the racist rhetoric of the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn party. In the run-up to that election, he approved “Operation Clean Center” (Katharo Kentro), which led to the mass arrests of immigrants in Athens. (Is it really necessary to explain why the use of the word, “clean,” is racist?) During his most recent term in office, Samaras has pursued more mass arrests and the expansion of immigrant detention camps. At the same time, Golden Dawn’s violence — the murder and systematic assault of immigrants and Greek anti-racism activists — has reached record levels. The violence was commonly known to all it seems, except the government and its police force. Until now.
On Saturday, September 28, 2013, Samaras turned the Greek justice system against Golden Dawn, arresting its leader, some twent other fascist goons, as well as a police officer who is suspected of collaborating with Golden Dawn. But the complicity of Samaras and his government in fueling racism and tolerating violence seems to have had no consequences.
Samaras is not alone among Greek heads of state to criminalize and persecute non-Greeks. The criminalization of immigration and the racist treatment of poor non-Greeks in the society at large dates back to at least 1989. (See FACING ATHENS, which was published in 2004.) Ordinary Greeks, too, bear much responsibility for demonizing immigrants, while tolerating the kleptocracy that has governed Greece over the last thirty years. Before yesterday’s arrests, Golden Dawn would boast of having a million supporters in a country of 12 million people.
It’s too early to tell, but perhaps the arrests yesterday will mark an opening in Greek society, to make racism (and other forms of discrimination and violence) a central social issue and to strengthen the rule of law. Greece will not prosper otherwise.