Uncontrolled immigration is fuelling Greece’s violent street politics. The EU needs to sit up and take notice

Golden Dawn stunned Greek political observers by winning 21 seats in the 2012 election

As musical genres go, Greek anti-fascist rap is one of the more niche ones, and it’s probably fair to say that until recently, not many folks outside of his home country had heard of Pavlos Fyssas.

A 34-year-old who sang under the name Killah P, his lyrics railed against the Greek Far Right  – not the military junta who ruled from 1967 to 74, but the Neo-Nazi Golden Dawn party, whose MPs goosestepped their way into parliament last year on an anti-immigrant ticket.

Since earlier this month, however, Mr Fyssas’s face has been all over Europe’s TV screens, having become a martyr to his cause. On September 18, he was stabbed to death, allegedly by a member of Golden Dawn who set upon him in a pre-meditated assault.

The killing has provoked riots across Greece, and in the last few days, the Greek government has arrested the leader of Golden Dawn and five of the party’s other MPs, charging them with running “a criminal organisation“.

Golden Dawn has described the arrests as an attack on democracy, and already its party members have been in sporadic clashes with members of Greece’s Far Left, who can be tough bunch themselves. It’s fair to say that feelings are running high all round.

I’ve been to Greece twice in the last couple of years, reporting on both the roots and the impact of its financial crisis. It’s rather like touring Britain during the 1970s, with the economy nosediving, the unions still undefeated and the Far Right resurgent.

The reason that Golden Dawn has flourished, though, isn’t just because lots of people are losing their jobs under German-dictated austerity measures. In recent years, Greece has also become one of the main entry points for illegal immigration from Africa and  Asia, most of it across the porous frontier that it shares with Turkey.

Back in 2010, up to 350 immigrants were crossing the border every day, accounting for about 90 per cent of all illegal immigrants coming into Europe.

Many were taking advantage of “visa diplomacy” in Turkey, which, as part of its bid to become an Ottoman-style regional power again, has relaxed visa restrictions for a number of north African and Middle Eastern countries. With budget airlines plying routes between Istanbul and Algeria and Libya for as little as 60 euros, it’s a much safer way of reaching Europe’s doorstep than paying for passage in a people smuggler’s boat. And since most immigrants then head on to Europe, the Turks aren’t particularly bothered – especially when the first place they cross into is their old enemy, Greece.

You can, of course, argue that every country in Europe now has its fair share of immigrants, in many cases more than Greece. And that by setting up their own thriving Neo-Nazi movement – Golden Dawn is the third biggest party in the Athens parliament – some Greeks are frankly over-reacting.

But this debate isn’t just about the numbers. There is a world of difference between the educated Eastern Europeans that have come to Britain in recent years, for example, and the kind that traipse across the border to Greece, many of whom are from Afghanistan, Iraq and war-torn parts of Africa like Eritrea and Mali. The poorer ones arrive half-destitute, speaking no Greek, and with little in the way of qualifications to find themselves work.

In Greece, and indeed in other points of entry in Mediterrean Europe, such as Malta and Italy, they now form a very visible immigrant underclass, whose prospects – if they have any – are often confined to street hawking and waiting at roundabouts hoping for offers of casual labouring work.

It’s not a scenario that presents immigrants in a particularly positive way, and you don’t have to agree with Golden Dawn’s agenda to appreciate that this kind of thing is a gift to Far Right parties, especially in areas where immigration has not been common in the past.

True, anti-racist voices are also well represented in Greece, where Left, Far Left and anarchist movements have always been strong as a legacy of the junta days.

But just like the more militant anti-Fascist movements in Britain – the sort who actively seek out scraps with the BNP – they are often confrontational in their politics, as evidenced by the endless anti-austerity riots that Greece has seen in recent years.

As such, the scene is set for some potentially very ugly politics in Greece in coming months, with both the street-fighting Right and the street-fighting Left convinced of the righteousness of their own cause. The former are convinced they’re being rounded up and imprisoned for speaking out about immigration. The latter now have a real-life martyr to the evils of Fascism.

It’s not the kind of the thing the European Union wants to see, given that it is already pouring billions into Greece to help it stave off economic collapse. Yet this kind of volatile, explosive politics is a sign of what can happen when illegal immigration isn’t checked, and that is something the EU should perhaps face up to a little more.

In the last couple of years, Brussels has sent in officers from Frontex, the pan-EU border agency, to help Greece beef up its border controls. But as the rise of Golden Dawn has shown, it’s arguably a case of too little, too late. Because in the long term, having a stream of unwanted arrivals in a country that is already struggling does not help anyone – including immigrants themselves.


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