Nick Dearden, Jubilee Debt Campaign UK
High school teacher Costas was late for a meeting we’d planned because a student of immigrant parents had been abused by two Greek students with a history of racist activities. “This sort of thing is new” he explained to us. “Of course we had some incidents before, but now they are marked by a wider ideology. It’s a minority, but we now have students that have joined Golden Dawn.”
The rise of Golden Dawn is one of the most terrifying aspects of the Greek crisis. Opinion polls have suggested this neo-Nazi party could come third if an election were held tomorrow. Its MPs have been involved in violent incidents – including assaulting a left-wing MP on TV – and its supporters terrorise immigrants through motorbike raids on neighbourhoods. “They’re more like a mafia or criminal gang than a political party” one anti-fascist activist tells me.
Last month Amnesty raised serious concerns about “the Greek authorities’ continuing failure to take decisive action against racially-motivated violence” after a young Pakistani man was stabbed to death by neo-Nazis. Attacks against immigrants are believed to take place on a daily basis – most of which go unreported.
Costas’ school is in an area badly hit by the crisis. The port of Pireaus suffers 44% unemployment. “In the area around my school 300 families have no electricity” he tells us. Food is in short supply. Garbage is piled up in the streets. Homelessness is visible on every corner.
It is prime territory for fascist propaganda against immigrants. Some school kids have started making Nazi salutes, drawing Golden Dawn graffiti on walls, and attacking students and teachers who disagree with them. We were told that the kids involved are likely to be children of better paid workers – like the police. Perhaps this unsurprising given a recent survey suggesting 50% of the police vote for far-right parties – a key reason why neo-Nazis enjoy impunity for their crimes.
In response, the teachers launched an initiative to undermine the causes of fascism and inculcate a sense of solidarity among their students. Under the slogan ‘one for all and all for one’, they help students collect and redistribute food between themselves and different schools. They work with doctors who help families in need – including psychologists for the many families suffering depression.
“It is important that neither kids nor their parents feel like this is charity” fellow teacher, Adrianne explains “therefore we always ask for something in return – it might be their time or help with the wider project.”
They are also teaching students skills that have been lost over the last generation. Another teacher, Stelios, teaches pupils to make honey. Last term he had 20 students, this term 30, and demand is higher still for next term.
Others are taking more radical action – to fight fuel poverty, teams of those with know-how are reconnecting families to their electricity supply when it gets turned off by the electricity company for non-payment, and advising families how to deal with company representatives when they return.
Costas says he does have optimism for the future because initiatives like this “exist in nearly every school in the country.” For the teachers, it’s not simply about ‘filling in’ for a state which refuses to serve society’s needs any more – it’s about giving a different vision of how society could be organised. As Stelios tells us “It creates new possibilities for building a better future.”