Operation Xenios Zeus is underway in Greece, and the Greek government has taken a nasty turn for the worst. In the midst of an economic crisis that has reduced Greeks to bartering for the necessities of life, Greek society is looking for a scapegoat. At first, Operation Zeus focused on rounding up illegal immigrants, and imprisoning them in internment camps.
The problem was that illegal immigrants aren’t readily obvious; the Greek police were fanning out to target individuals who appeared to be foreigners. One of those individuals was South Korean tourist Hyun Young Jung, who found himself stopped by a man speaking Greek on the street. Jung thought the man was a swindler, so he waved the man off and continued walking.
Seconds later, he was approached by a man in a uniform requesting his documents. When Jung requested to see his police I.D., the man punched him the face. The original man who had accosted him joined in, and the two men began kicking Jung while he was on the ground. They then dragged him to the nearest police station, and continued beating him a second time. When that beating stopped, they dragged him to a stairwell and began hitting him a third time while he was handcuffed.
The efforts were part of Operation Xenios Zeus, a program the Greek police have instituted to combat Greece’s illegal immigration problem. More than 60,000 people have been detained so far; just 4,200 have actually been arrested. The situation has become so severe that the U.S. State Department has issued a warning to U.S. African-American citizens traveling to Greece about “unprovoked harassment and violent attacks against persons who, because of their complexion, are perceived to be foreign migrants.”
One of those U.S. citizens was Christian Ukwuorji, who was visiting Greece on vacation with his wife and three children when he was stopped in central Athens. Though Ukwuorji showed his U.S. passport to the police, they handcuffed him and took him to the police station, where he was beaten so severely he passed out. Ukwuorji awoke in a Greek hospital.
Beyond the brutality of the Greek police, the more troubling allegations center on the Greek police’s complicity with neo-Nazi group Golden Dawn, whose members managed to gain 7% of the vote in the most recent round of parliamentary elections. Golden Dawn received 18 seats in the Greek parliament as a result, and one of those seats went to Ilias Panagiotaros. Panagiataros is openly agitating for civil war in Greece:
“Greek society is ready – even though no-one likes this – to have a fight: a new type of civil war. On the one side there will be nationalists like us, and Greeks who want our country to be as it used to be, and on the other side illegal immigrants, anarchists and all those who have destroyed Athens several times.”
At a recent demonstration Golden Dawn held outside a theater holding a performance of the Terence McNally play Corpus Christi, Panagiotaros was filmed shouting racial and homophobic slurs, while his fellow Golden Dawn protesters showered the open air auditorium with rocks. The manager called the police, who did nothing as Golden Dawn MP Christos Pappas removed a fellow demonstrator from a police detention coach after he had been arrested. The play’s director, Laertis Vassiliou, alleges that Golden Dawn phoned his mother and threatened to deliver his body to her in a box in small pieces.
Golden Dawn has begun expanding its street presence, openly attacking vendors at a street market in Rafina, after migrant stallholders there did not present permits when Golden Dawn members demanded to see documentation. Golden Dawn has effectively evolved a paramilitary apparatus, and as Panagiotaros sees it, Golden Dawn has become a problem solver:
“With one incident, which was on camera, the problem was solved – in every open market all over Greece illegal immigrants disappeared. There was some pushing and some fighting – nothing extraordinary, nothing special. Policing the Greek crisis would pose a huge challenge, even without the issue of political support for the far right inside the police force. Now, only with one phone call saying Golden Dawn is going to pass by, the police is going there. That means the brand name of Golden Dawn is very effective.”
By engaging in vigilantism, Panagiotaros is betting that the police response will be directed at victims rather than the members of Golden Dawn. He is unconcerned with the effects of Golden Dawn’s actions on legal immigrants, because he does not believe that Greece has legal migrants. Golden Dawn’s eight local offices have grown to sixty. When Golden Dawn demanded a list of kindergartens with high migrant numbers, after its parliamentarians threatened to “drag migrant children from the kindergartens,” the Greek education ministry gave Golden Dawn the list it demanded.
Panagiotaros puts police support for Golden Dawn at 50-60%, and in Athens the police are allegedly referring people to Golden Dawn for help. When one civil servant had an issue with Albanian immigrants in her apartment block, the police referred her mother to Golden Dawn. She in turn recognized that Golden Dawn reflected a growing state failure to deliver traditional recourses to justice or law enforcement:
“We don’t condone Golden Dawn but there is an acute social problem that has come with the breakdown of feeling of security among lower and middle class people in the urban centre. If the police and official mechanism can’t deliver and there is no recourse to justice, then you have to turn to other maverick solutions.”
With Golden Dawn organized food distribution in hard-hit areas of major urban centers, many Greeks see the party’s efforts as filling the vacuum of a failed Greek state that has not delivered economic recovery, jobs, or solutions to the problems that affect them. As a result, Golden Dawn’s performance in surveys has dramatically improved: one survey showed 22% of Greeks expressing positive opinions about Golden Dawn, up from 12% in May.
In the meantime, anarchists and other leftists are mobilizing in motorcycle protests against the heavy-handed vigilantism of Golden Dawn’s paramilitary operatives. In Arta, Golden Dawn’s threats to raid venders at an annual fair brought a backlash. Leftists threatened to show up with clubs in order to meet Golden Dawn head-on, and extra police were shipped in from Athens to maintain the peace.
The Greek state has responded by opening up detention centers at 30 disused military sites, as part of a 250 million euro scheme. The European Union is not criticizing Greece’s plans; it is funding the detention centers. Detainees will soon outnumber Greece’s actual prison population, and many who want to leave lack the means to do so. As Azad Kerim, a Kurdish migrant who waited 15 years to gain legal status in Greece, expresses it, “It’s much better in Iraq than it is here. More and more are discovering they’ve made the journey for nothing.”
The Greek government is not merely detaining the migrants for the short term and deporting them, the plan is to detain them indefinitely. In the meantime, the actual culprits behind the implosion of Greek society go unpunished. Goldman Sachs used swaps to assist Greece in evading the Maastricht rules, which stipulated that EU member states could only run deficits of 3% of GDP, with total debt capped at 60% of GDP.
Greece, Italy, Portugal, Spain, and Ireland all used exotic financial instruments to hide debt, and often with the encouragement of banks and even states such as Germany and France. While Germany holds itself out as a model of fiscal responsibility, the fact remains that German banks are owed almost 230 billion euros from Portugal, Ireland, and Greece. If Spain were added in with those countries, German exposure would increase by almost three-quarters.
The bailout of Greece isn’t a bailout of Greece at all; it’s instead a bailout of Germany, which exported cheap money to Greece and other euro states. Today, one of the most insidious German exports in history has also taken root in Greece. Fascism with a Nazi twist is on the rise in Greece, and internment camps are increasingly laden with not just illegal immigrants, but prostitutes, gays, and transgendered people while Africans are targeted as well.
Debt and bigotry are the chief German exports to the European Union states, and the former leads to the latter. Just as the Weimer Republic’s struggles with monetary policy led to the rise of the National Socialists in Germany, and the event ascension of Adolf Hitler to lead Germany, today’s Greece sees ne0-Nazis rising with state complicity.
Jay Batman is a graduate of the Texas Tech University School of Law, where he attained his J.D. in May 2013. He completed a B.A. in English with a minor in Political Science at the University of Montevallo in 2002. He is employed with Dustin Stockton Political Strategies, LLC, and presently resides in West Texas with his dog and co-author, Buddy Love