Saturday 21 October 2017

The Nazis are back in Athens, but this time they're local

Chris Humphrys in Athens

MY father-in-law remembers the Nazis. He lives across the road from us in downtown Athens now, but was brought up in the town of Megara 40 miles away.

One of his clearest childhood memories is of the beatings he suffered at the hands of German soldiers, when he was just eight. "They would hit us for fun. It was a sport for them," he told me. To this day he can't watch war films.

He wasn't the only one that suffered in Megara and beatings were the least of their worries. Many died from starvation. "I spent 10 years going hungry," he says. Everyone who lived through those terrible times had memories like his and many are alive to tell their stories. It makes what is happening now even more shocking.

Today, I find myself living in Athens's Nazi neighbourhood. The headquarters of the extreme Right-wing party, Golden Dawn, which last week won 7pc of votes in the election and 21 seats, are around the corner from my house. One afternoon this week, while driving my son to football practice, I witnessed my first Seig Heil. My father-in-law remembers the German Nazis -- but this new breed of fascist is Greek-born and bred. How can this have happened?

In retrospect, the warning signs came two years ago, when Golden Dawn won a seat on our local council. Soon, things began to change. Our neighbourhood has a large square with cafes and a children's playground. It used to be a very pleasant place to spend the evening.

Until Golden Dawn took control. Its first act was to put a padlock on the playground gate. People muttered about preventing drug dealing -- but the real reason was that the playground was being used by the children of immigrants. My own included, I suppose.

The next step wasn't as subtle. One morning a giant message appeared in front of the church, painted on the paving stones in patriotic blue and white letters a metre high. It simply said: "All foreigners out of Greece!" It is still there. Not long after it appeared, my wife and I took the children for an early evening meal on the square. Two Pakistanis went to stroll across it and were attacked by half a dozen Golden Dawn thugs.

With the church square cleansed of foreigners, Golden Dawn started broadening their scope. The police seemed perfectly happy to let them get on with it. It meant they could sit and drink coffee, rather than have to tackle problems themselves.

So why has Greece, birthplace of democracy, succumbed to such a vile message? About 80pc of illegal immigrants entering Europe arrive via Greece, and Golden Dawn have been astute at exploiting the tensions that accompany this.

No one realised how much support Golden Dawn were getting until it was too late. Polls showing them with 4 or 5pc of the vote were shrugged off as inaccurate. The media largely ignored them, saying they didn't want to give a platform to neo-Nazis -- a foolish mistake, as they were never exposed as the fascists they are. On election night, supporters of Golden Dawn gathered to celebrate at their headquarters with flaming torches held high. A week later they are still jubilant.

With all the debate and soul-searching now taking place in Greece, it's not surprising that even the children have heard of Golden Dawn. When I collected mine from the school bus yesterday, there was a lot of shouting among them. I asked my son what the fuss had been about. He told me that two boys were teasing another one, singing: "We are Golden Dawn and we'll send you back to Bangladesh!"

These boys are eight; the same age as my father-in-law when he was beaten by German soldiers. This is a Greece he never imagined would exist.(© Daily Telegraph, London)

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