Thursday, November 21, 2013

Greece: Taxpayer-Funded Mosque Planned in Athens

by Soeren Kern November 20, 2013

Opponents of the mosque argue that Greek taxpayers should not be footing the bill for this project at a time when their massively indebted country is dependent upon foreign aid just to stay afloat. The Greek government appears to be worried about thinly veiled threats of violence by thousands of residents in Athens who have been pressuring government ministers to meet their demands to build a mosque or face an uprising.

"It is a very big tragedy for us Muslims that there is no mosque here. Greece produced democracy and civilization and the respect of religion, but they don't respect our Muslims to provide us with a regular, legal mosque." — Syed Mohammed Jamil of the Pakistan-Hellenic Society

The Greek government has awarded a tender to build the first taxpayer-funded mosque in Athens, one of the few remaining capitals in the European Union that lacks a state-funded mosque.

The Ministry of Infrastructure, Transport and Networks said on November 14 that it had finally chosen a consortium of four construction companies to build the mosque. Four previous tenders had failed due to a lack of interest amid mounting public opposition to the mosque.

Construction of the 600 square meter (6,500 square foot) mosque—which will cost Greek taxpayers at least €950,000 ($1.3 million)—is due to begin within the next two months. Once the contracts are signed, the tender calls for the project to be completed within six months.

The plan calls for renovating an existing government-owned building on a disused naval base in the industrial district of Votanikos near the center of Athens. The mosque—which will not have minarets—will have a capacity for around 500 worshippers.

The Fethiye Mosque in Athens, Greece. It was built in 1456/1458 on the ruins of a middle Byzantine basilica. (Image source: Lapost/WikiMedia Commons)

The mosque plan continues to generate considerable controversy. Opponents of the mosque argue that Greek taxpayers should not be footing the bill for this project at a time when their massively indebted country is dependent upon foreign aid just to stay afloat.

According to the latest available statistics, the Greek economy—which has been struggling through six years of recession—contracted by another 3% during the third quarter of 2013. The unemployment rate now exceeds 27% (the jobless rate for those under 25 exceeds 60%) and analysts say the Greek economic crisis shows no signs of ending.

But the Greek government appears to be worried about thinly veiled threats of violence by thousands of Muslim residents in Athens who have been pressuring government ministers to meet their demands for a mosque or face an uprising.

Officially, Greece has a Muslim population of around 500,000, mostly of Turkish origin. But in recent years, tens of thousands of Muslims have migrated to Greece from Africa, the Middle East and North Africa, as well as from Central and Southeast Asia.

Athens is now home to an estimated 200,000 Muslims, many of whom are illegal immigrants from Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Egypt, Nigeria and Pakistan. Greece—which is the number one gateway for illegal immigration to Europe—is believed to have an illegal immigrant population of around 2 million; this in a country where the total population is only 11 million.

Muslims in Greece often pray in makeshift mosques in basement apartments, coffee shops, garages and old warehouses; there are believed to be more than 130 unlicensed Muslim prayer sites scattered across Athens alone.

The Greek government's decision to proceed with construction of the mosque is the latest chapter in a long-running debate that centers on the question of whether Greece—which is predominantly Christian Orthodox—should officially cater to followers of Islam.

Athens has not had an official mosque since 1832, when Greece won independence from the Ottoman Empire after nearly 400 years of Turkish rule. As of today, the Turkish-dominated Muslim enclave of Thrace in northeastern Greece is the only place where the Greek government officially supports Islamic sites and shrines.

In the run-up to the 2004 Athens Olympic Games, the late King Fahd of Saudi Arabia offered to finance a mega-mosque in Paiania, a suburb about 20 kilometers (12 miles) east of downtown Athens, near the international airport. But that plan was abandoned in the face of opposition from the Greek Orthodox Church.

In 2006, the government promised to spend €15 million ($20 million) for an Athens mosque by 2009. But that plan was also abandoned, again due to public opposition.

In 2007, Muslims decided to take matters into their own hands. Using a donation of €2.5 million ($3.4 million) from a Saudi businessman, a small non-profit organization called the Greek-Arab Educational and Cultural Center transformed an old textile factory in Moschato, a southern suburb of Athens, into a 6,000 square meter (19,500 square foot) prayer site that can accommodate more than 2,000 worshippers at a time.

But plans for building a large state-sponsored mosque remained stalled until the Muslim Association of Greece—a group that claims to represent all Muslims in Greece, and is linked to the Muslim Brotherhood—staged a series of highly provocative mass public prayer sessions across Athens aimed at pressuring the government into building an official mosque.

In November 2010, for example, Muslims held open-air prayers in 15 locations across Athens. In one case, over 1,000 Muslims took over the square in front of the main building of the University of Athens and held public prayers inside the portico on the first day of the Muslim festival of Eid al-Adha. More than 7,000 police officers were deployed to keep the peace.

In August 2011, the Greek government gave Muslims permission to celebrate the Islamic holy month of Ramadan at the Olympic Stadium of Athens. The initiative was aimed at preventing large groups of Muslim immigrants from gathering in downtown city squares.

In September 2011, however, Muslims—angry at being pushed out into the suburbs—celebrated Eid al-Fitr (the end of Ramadan) by holding open-air prayers in public squares near the city center. The Muslims were met by angry local residents who threw eggs and yogurt at them. Members of Golden Dawn, a far-right nationalist group opposed to runaway Muslim immigration, also threatened to physically remove the Muslims from the square, although they were held back by riot police.

Athens—like many other European cities—has also experienced spontaneous violence involving Muslim immigrants. In May 2009, for example, more than 1,000 Muslims chanting "Allah is the Greatest" clashed with police in downtown Athens after a police officer was accused of stepping on a Koran during a police check at a Syrian-owned coffee shop.

Nearly 50 protesters were arrested during the uprising, while seven Muslim immigrants and seven policemen were hospitalized. More than 70 cars were torched and around a dozen businesses were destroyed in the clashes.

"This [Muslim resentment] is a time-bomb," Naim El-Ghandour, the chairman of the Muslim Association of Greece, said at the time in an interview with the French news agency AFP. "It might not explode now but in 10 years it will be a huge problem."

Since then, at least 15 makeshift mosques have been burned in attacks by unknown arsonists. In one case, at least three people in Athens were hospitalized after arsonists set fire to a coffee shop used as a Muslim prayer center for immigrants. In May 2011, arsonists set fire to a makeshift mosque in the Kallithea district of Athens causing damage but no injuries.

Fearing the Muslim-related tensions could spiral out of control, the Greek Parliament voted in September 2011 to move ahead with the plan to build a taxpayer-funded mosque; the measure was supported by 198 out of 300 deputies from the left, right and center.

Despite the vote in parliament, the mosque project has faced repeated delays, in part because the government could not find any construction companies willing to build the mosque due to public opposition.

"It is a very big tragedy for us Muslims that there is no mosque here," according to Syed Mohammad Jamil of the Pakistan-Hellenic Society. "Greece produced democracy and civilization and the respect of religion, but they don't respect our Muslims to provide us with a regular, legal mosque."

Frustrated by the lack of action, Muslims in Athens recently enlisted the support of Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan in an effort to increase the pressure on the Greek government.

In January 2013, Erdogan told his Greek counterpart Antonis Samaras that Turkey would be willing to pay for the construction of a mosque in Athens. Erdogan also wants Muslims in Greece to be able to elect their own Mufti (religious leader), who is currently chosen by the Greek government.

Erdogan sparked another feud in October by suggesting that Greece should re-open two Ottoman-era mosques in Athens in return for the re-opening of an Orthodox clergy school in Turkey.

Erdogan's moves have angered many Greeks, who feel a mosque would represent a continuing Turkish presence in the country. But Muslims in Greece have been elated by Erdogan's support.

"We are very grateful to Mr. Prime Minister," Mazen Rassas, of the Muslim Association of Greece, told the Anadolu Turkish news agency. "His offer [to pay for the mosque] has made us utterly pleased." Rassas now wants Erdogan to pressure Greece to build Muslim cemeteries.

"Apart from a mosque, there is a more important issue of a Muslim grave yard," Rassas, of Palestinian origin, said. "We could always find a place to pray but we can't find anywhere to bury our dead."

Although the Greek government has finally managed to award a tender, the mosque project may be subject to further delays.

Golden Dawn has said it will "fight until the bitter end" to block the mosque plan. "There is money to build a mosque but there is no money for Greeks to live with dignity," Golden Dawn, the third most popular party in Greece, said in a statement.

Protests have also been gathering steam outside the planned site in Votanikos, where residents— led by a local Greek Orthodox bishop named Seraphim—have filed a motion against plans to build the mosque with the Council of State, the highest administrative court in Greece.

In an interview with the Greek newspaper Ekathimerini, Seraphim said: "I want to emphasize that Athens is the only European capital that went through four centuries of slavery under Islam, and managed to free itself just 200 years ago by spilling rivers of blood."

"Building a mosque would offend the martyrs who freed us," Seraphim said in a separate interview with the BBC. "We are not a multicultural country."

Soeren Kern is a Senior Fellow at the New York-based Gatestone Institute. He is also Senior Fellow for European Politics at the Madrid-based Grupo de Estudios Estratégicos / Strategic Studies Group. Follow him on Facebook. Follow him on Twitter.

Greece: Taxpayer-Funded Mosque Planned in Athens :: Gatestone Institute

Turkey and Greece feud over Hagia Sophia

 Agence France Presse

November 20, 2013 06:12 PM (Last updated: November 20, 2013 06:28 PM)

This Sept. 30, 2011 file photo shows Sultan Ahmed Mosque, better known as the Blue Mosque, left, and Hagia Sophia in the historic Sultanahmet district in Istanbul, Turkey. (AP Photo/File)

This Sept. 30, 2011 file photo shows Sultan Ahmed Mosque, better known as the Blue Mosque, left, and Hagia Sophia in the historic Sultanahmet district in Istanbul, Turkey. (AP Photo/File)

ISTANBUL: Turkey and Greece were locked Wednesday in a war of words over the possible conversion of Hagia Sophia, one of Istanbul's most stunning landmarks, into a mosque.

The feud over the 1,476-year-old World Heritage site is the latest to erupt between the two neighbours over religion.

Greece reacted furiously to remarks by Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arinc that he hoped to change the status of Hagia Sophia, which is now a museum.

"We are looking at a sad Hagia Sophia, but hopefully we will see it smiling again soon," Arinc said Monday, describing the complex in Istanbul's historic quarter as the "Hagia Sophia Mosque".

Hagia Sophia, which dates back to 537, was a church for centuries -- and the seat of the Patriarchate of Constantinople -- before being converted to a mosque under the Ottoman empire in 1453.

It opened as a museum in 1935 after the founding of modern Turkey.

"Recurrent statements made by high ranking Turkish officials about converting Byzantine Christian churches into mosques are offending the religious feeling of millions of Christians," the Greek foreign ministry said in a statement.

But Turkey bluntly retorted Wednesday that it has "nothing to learn" from Greece about freedom of religion.

"Unfavourable treatment of Ottoman era cultural artifacts and places of worship by Greece is well-known by all," the foreign ministry said in a statement.

Greece whose territory was once part of the Ottoman empire and Turkey share a history marred by bitter territorial disputes and Christian-Muslim feuds.

Mosques have been a thorny issue in Greece, where the population is predominantly Greek Orthodox. Athens is one of the few European capitals without an official mosque.

Arinc, a member of the ruling Islamist-rooted Justice and Development Party (AKP) had said on Monday that two other religious sites in Turkey, also named Hagia Sophia, would be turned into mosques.

The government is often accused by its secular opponents of forcing Islamic values on the predominantly Muslim but strictly secular country.

Turkey and Greece feud over Hagia Sophia | News , Middle East | THE DAILY STAR

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Golden Dawn shootings: group claims responsibility

Reuters in Athens, Sunday 17 November 2013

Militant People's Revolutionary Forces says killing of far-right Greek party's supporters was retaliation for stabbing of rapper

Golden Dawn vigil

A vigil for the victims of the drive-by shooting held at Golden Dawn offices in Athens. Photograph: / Panayiotis Tzamaros/Demotix/Corbis

A Greek anti-establishment group has claimed responsibility for a drive-by shooting this month that killed two supporters of the far-right Golden Dawn party and raised fears of an escalation of political violence.

The previously unknown group, the Militant People's Revolutionary Forces, said the attack had been carried out in retaliation for the fatal stabbing of anti-fascism rapper Pavlos Fissas, to which a Golden Dawn sympathiser has confessed.

Police could not confirm the authenticity of the claim, which came on the eve of rallies to commemorate the 40th anniversary of a bloody student uprising against the military junta that ruled Greece at the time.

"The brazen murder of Pavlos Fissas was the drop of blood that made the glass overflow," the group wrote in an 18-page letter filled with anti-establishment invective published on a news website. It called the rapper's killing a turning point.

"The armed attack-response ... is the starting point of the people's campaign to send the neo-Nazi scum of Golden Dawn where they belong, to the dustbin of history," it said.

The shooting of the two young Golden Dawn supporters outside the party's offices in Athens on 1 November came at a time of growing public anger against a party widely regarded as neo-Nazi and accused of attacks against migrants and leftists.

Golden Dawn denies accusations of violence, rejects the neo-Nazi label and says it had no involvement in Fissas's killing.

An opinion poll released on Saturday indicated that support for Golden Dawn had grown since the two men were gunned down.

The party, Greece's third most popular in recent surveys, shed almost a third of its support after Fissas's death in September. A poll by Alcofor Sunday's Proto Thema newspaper, conducted on 12-15 November, put support for Golden Dawn at 8.8%, up 2.2 points in a month but still below the 10.8% it enjoyed in June.

A government crackdown on Golden Dawn after evidence linking it to Fissas's killing has led to party leader Nikolaos Mihaloliakos and five more of its politicians being charged with belonging to a criminal group. Mihaloliakos and two of the politicians have been remanded in custody until their trial.

Golden Dawn shootings: group claims responsibility | World news |

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Greece's ERT TV station symbolises what is happening to the country

 Richard Simcox

Richard Simcox, Tuesday 12 November 2013

The closure of the state broadcaster by the coalition government is symptomatic of the brutal austerity being inflicted

ERT tv station protest athens greece

A demonstrator shouts at riot police in protest at the closure of Greek former public broadcaster ERT. Photograph: Angelos Tzortzinis/AFP/Getty Images

Last Monday Panagiotis Kalfagiannis, the leader of Greek media workers' union Pospert, told me and a dozen colleagues that the government was "using all its state apparatus" against the journalists occupying the headquarters of public broadcaster ERT. Less than 72 hours later the building had been raided by riot police, Kalfagiannis was in custody and the screens went blank for the first time in the five months since the station was shut down by ministers.

We – a group of journalists who work for trade unions from as far afield as Ghana, the USA and Lithuania – were in Athens on a week-long project and were the last people to interview ERT staff from inside the vast broadcasting centre before their eviction.

One of the spokeswomen for the occupation, TV journalist Mahi Nikolara, told us that they felt the ruling coalition, which lost a partner when Democratic Left walked away in protest at the ERT closure, would be forced to come up with a political solution, because the decision to pull the plug had itself been political. Little did we know the government would act quite so soon.

It was not, of course, the desired outcome for the workers or the many hundreds of protesters outside of the building during the dawn raid and thousands more who gathered later that evening. I was among them and the mood was calm, but very angry. Cheers rang out when a speaker announced that Syriza had that evening tabled a motion of no confidence in the government that was, as expected, defeated in the parliament on Sunday night after tense exchanges.

With economic and social policy being dictated by the hated troika – Greece's three international creditors (European commission, the International Monetary Fund, and the European Central Bank) imposing brutal austerity in return for loans – the future of politics in the cradle of democracy is almost impossible to call. For many, ERT has become a symbol of what is happening across Greece. While the government has accused the broadcaster of being bloated and corrupt, the workers there say that the only high salaries were being paid to the 100 or so government-appointed staff.

You would be hard pushed to find anyone in Greece who thought that their economy and political system were in good health before the crisis. But no one I spoke to thought they were being anything other than destroyed by the troika and, crucially, they expect – many even accept – things are only going to get worse.

Many of national statistics are well known in the UK: unemployment soaring from 7.5% in 2008 to 27% in the first quarter of this year; youth unemployment at a devastatingly bleak 62%; cuts to the education budget of 45%; health spending slashed by 50%; local authorities losing 55% of their funding from government.

Many other effects are not well known. We spoke to workers from the public works ministry who told us the department responsible for post-natural disaster restoration was being abolished. This in a country ranked fifth in the world for earthquake activity.

We heard account after account of devastating cuts that, I believe, amount to nothing less than criminal acts against the people of Greece. Added to the immediate impact, professionals talk about looming environmental and health problems that will be felt for many years to come. Some doctors predict a mortality crisis will take hold after 2016.

When I arrived outside ERT for the protest on Thursday evening, Guardian contributor Aris Chatzistefanou – who was working with us for the week – told me the ERT workers were trying to set up a mobile studio. They succeeded, and that night their news bulletin was reportedly watched by more than 1.2 million people online – seven times more than their average ratings than before the police raid.

The national broadcaster may yet have been thrown itself a lifeline. It remains to be seen whether the Greek people can do the same.


Greece's ERT TV station symbolises what is happening to the country | Rich Simcox | Comment is free |

Friday, November 8, 2013

Greek riot police evict last ERT staff

Helena Smith in Athens, Thursday 7 November 2013

Employees had occupied premises of state broadcaster since it was shut down by government five months ago


Link to video: ERT occupiers evicted by Greek police

Greek riot police have stormed the premises of the country's erstwhile state broadcaster, ERT, evicting former employees who had occupied the building since June in protest at the government's abrupt decision to close down the channel.

In a carefully calibrated pre-dawn raid on Thursday, 13 vans of riot police surrounded the complex in northern Athens before blocking its entrance and removing the workers. Scuffles broke out and teargas was fired as the police moved in.

"The building has been liberated," the government spokesman Simos Kedigoglou told Mega TV. "There were several reasons why normality had to be imposed," he said, adding that Greece's assumption of the rotating EU presidency in January was among them.

The raid, described as an invasion by the political opposition, sparked shock and anger with hundreds of supporters gathering outside the complex in a show of solidarity.

The protesters were among 2,700 employees cut off from the public payroll when, in a surprise move, the prime minister, Antonis Samaras, ordered the station to be shut down overnight, blaming the debt-stricken country's economic crisis.

Greece, which has been kept afloat with rescue funds from the EU, European Central Bank and International Monetary Fund since May 2010, is under immense pressure to slash its bloated public sector. The former broadcaster, a breeding ground for party political patronage, was among the state's most profligate bodies with successive governments adding to its ever-expanding payroll by placing personnel in senior positions.

But the abrupt move, in a nation already labouring under record levels of unemployment, triggered widespread opposition and spawned a political crisis that ultimately led to the small leftwing Dimar party defecting from the government in disgust. Samaras's unilateral decision to pull the plug on the broadcaster, mid-air, was seen as arrogant and high-handed.

It was in this climate that hundreds of fired employees, defying management orders, held out, occupying the premises with the support of opposition parties and broadcasting a bootleg news channel over the internet. "We call on all citizens to come to the TV complex … We call on all to defend the voice of democracy!" they said in a message relayed in a blog. "A short while ago a strong turnout of police forces raided the building."

The radical left main opposition Syriza party denounced the raid as a "coup d'etat against information and democracy". "Once again, the dilemma of democracy or [imposing] the memorandum has made its mark," it said, referring to the onerous loan agreement Athens has signed with foreign lenders. "A black page in the history of public television and democracy has been written in our country."

Greece is the only EU country to have ever closed its own broadcaster. A streamlined version, called Public Television, or DT, with less than half the staff, has since taken its place.

The timing of the operation was not lost on Greeks. Inspectors representing the country's "troika" of creditors returned to Athens to resume negotiations this week amid criticism that the government has not done enough implementing reforms in return for rescue funds.

Relations between Greece and its lenders have been badly strained by differences over how to fill a looming budget black hole that, once again, threatens to throw the nation's economic recovery off-track. The troika says the gap can only be resolved if fresh austerity measures are applied – a prospect fiercely resisted by the ruling alliance.

Analysts said Thursday's raid was aimed clearly at sending a message that the government was determined to put the public sector in order

Greek riot police evict last ERT staff | Media |

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Golden Dawn killings 'could be act of revenge by far left group'

By Hannah Strange 02 Nov 2013

Greek authorities raise concerns over tit-for-tat violence following fatal shooting of two members of extreme right group

Counter-terrorism squad gather evidence at the shooting point outside of the local branch of ultra-right wing Golden Dawn party at the northern suburb of Neo Iraklio, after a drive-by shooting in Athens, Greece, Golden Dawn killings 'could be act of revenge by far left group'

Counter-terrorism squad gather evidence at the shooting point outside of the local branch of ultra-right wing Golden Dawn party at the northern suburb of Neo Iraklio, after a drive-by shooting in Athens, Greece. Photo: EPA

Police in Greece believe Far Left terrorists may have been behind the murder of two members of the far-right Golden Dawn party, raising fears of tit-for-tat warfare between the country’s radical factions.

The Greek counter-terrorism squad has taken over the investigation into Friday night’s attack, when two assassins on a motorbike opened fire on men outside Golden Dawn’s offices in Athens. Police said they were looking at whether the murders may have been carried out in retaliation for the fatal stabbing of an anti-fascist musician by a supporter of the neo-Nazi party in September, a killing which prompted angry protests across Greece.

Investigators were examining all avenues, but “particularly those that link these events to extremist groups” behind a string of far Left attacks in recent years on politicians, police, banks and the media.

A police official said the shooting, for which no one has claimed responsibility, appeared to be a “terrorist attack”.

Athens residents gathered at the site of the killings in the suburb of Neo Iraklio and laid flowers as politicians warned that the country, already mired in a deep financial crisis, was at risk of spiralling street violence.

People holding flowers and a Greek flag stand near the local offices of far-right Golden Dawn party, following last night's shooting, in a northern suburb of Athens.

“We cannot let this cycle of violence continue,” Makis Voridis, a senior lawmaker in Prime Minister Antonis Samaras’s New Democracy party, told Greek television. “This must end here.”

“Twelve bullets against democracy,” top-selling daily Ta Nea wrote on its front page yesterday. “The double cold-blooded murder was a coarse provocation against stability.”

As well as Golden Dawn, Greece is home to far-Left and anarchist extremist groups who have claimed responsibility for a series of shootings and bombings in recent years. In 2009, a police officer was killed by three gunmen in Athens, and in 2010, a prominent investigative journalist, Sokratis Giolas, was shot dead at his home. Both killings were claimed by the Sect of Revolutionaries, a radical leftist organisation.

Following the killing of Mr Giolas, the Sect of Revolutionaries issued a direct threat to the Greek state, vowing to transform the country into “a war zone of revolutionary processes, with arson, sabotage, fierce demonstrations, bomb attacks, armed killings”.

“We are at war with your democracy”, the group declared.

Another extremist group, the Conspiracy of Fire Nuclei, has claimed responsibility for a number of recent attacks, including a car bomb which exploded outside the home of the Athens prison director in June.

Greek media claimed that the weapon used in Friday’s attack was the same type of gun used in the 2009 police shooting. Police identified the gun as a Zastava Tokarev type semi-auto pistol from which 12 rounds were fired, but said it was not the same weapon used in previous terrorist incidents.

Golden Dawn has in recent years emerged from the fringe of Greek politics to establish itself as the country’s third most popular party, with 18 seats in parliament.

Its surge in popularity came as it capitalised on widespread anger over austerity measures and immigration in the debt-stricken nation, which has for the past six years been in severe recession. Some 60 per cent of Greek youth are now unemployed, further fuelling social unrest.

Friday’s attack “marked a continuation of political uncertainty and instability in the country,” said George Tzogopoulos, an analyst at an Athens-based think-tank.

Golden Dawn uses a Swastika-like emblem and has also been associated with attacks on immigrants. It insists it is not a neo-Nazi group.

But the Greek government announced a crackdown on the party following the murder in September of Pavlos Fyssas, a white anti-racist rapper, for which a Golden Dawn supporter has been arrested and charged. The party’s leader, Nikolaos Michaloliakos, and two of its MPs have been imprisoned pending trial on charges of establishing a criminal group.

The Golden Dawn leadership denies government claims that it was involved in the musician’s killing.

In the wake of Friday’s attack, the Greek government has been under pressure to show that it takes violence against Golden Dawn members seriously.

“We will not allow our country to become a place to settle scores,”said Greece’s public order minister Nikos Dendias, expressing his “sadness at the death of the young men”.

The left-wing main opposition Syriza party also condemned the shootings. “This murder creates a climate of instability and targets democracy,” the party said. “It feeds fascism, it does not beat it,” added Dimitris Papadimoulis, a Syriza MP.

Golden Dawn also attributed the shooting to “terrorists” and blamed the Greek government for failing to protect the party amid the crackdown. It said it had asked for police protection at its offices after receiving threats but that it had recently been withdrawn.

“The criminals wanted to execute anybody outside the party offices,” it said in a statement. “Before they drove off, the terrorists shot again at the boys lying on the ground. They literally emptied their weapons on them.”

Golden Dawn lawmaker Nikos Michos said: “The terrorism of the left has once again shown its face, to stop the rise of Golden Dawn.”

The victims were named as Emmanuel Kapelonis and Giorgos Fountoulis, both in their twenties. A 29-year-old man who was wounded remained in hospital in a serious condition yesterday.

The mother of the injured man, named as Alexandros Gerontas, made a televised appeal to the Greek people to “overcome their differences” and to “stop the bloodshed”.

Golden Dawn had planned a meeting for Friday night at the office where the shooting took place.

A police source told AP said that footage from a nearby security camera confirmed the party’s accounts that the gunman started firing from 15 metres away and finished off his victims from point-blank range. The gunman fired at a fourth Golden Dawn member, who managed to escape unharmed.

Golden Dawn killings 'could be act of revenge by far left group' - Telegraph

'Cycle of violence' feared in Greece after shooting kills 2 Golden Dawn supporters

Published time: November 02, 2013 18:23

A police forensic expert searches for evidence outside the local offices of far-right Golden Dawn party, following last night's shooting, in a northern suburb of Athens November 2, 2013 (Reuters / John Kolesidis)

A police forensic expert searches for evidence outside the local offices of far-right Golden Dawn party, following last night's shooting, in a northern suburb of Athens November 2, 2013 (Reuters / John Kolesidis)

A ruthless drive-by murder of two young members of the far-right Golden Dawn party may draw Greece into a “cycle of violence,” local politicians warned.

Two Golden Dawn supporters, aged 22 and 27 years old, were shot dead outside the party’s office in the capital of Athens during Friday rush hour.
Another man, wounded in his chest and stomach, currently remains in critical condition.
CCTV camera footage indicates the attacker got off a motorbike driven by his accomplice and fired at his victims from close range in front of many witnesses.
Twelve bullets from a 9 mm gun were found at the scene, with police saying that the weapon has been used in previous crimes.
No one has yet claimed responsibility for the attack and investigators are still determining if the shooting was in retaliation for the fatal stabbing of an anti-fascism rapper by a Golden Dawn sympathizer in September.
The murder of Pavlos Fissas, also known as Killah P, sparked a wave of protests across the country and prompted a government crackdown on Golden Dawn - which it labeled a “neo-Nazi gang.” The government also blamed the party for assaults on immigrants.  
The party’s leader, Nikos Mihaloliakos, and several other members were arrested and are currently awaiting trial on accusations of running a criminal organization.

Police forensic experts search for evidence outside the local offices of far-right Golden Dawn party, following a shooting, in a northern suburb of Athens November 1, 2013 (Reuters / John Kolesidis)

Police forensic experts search for evidence outside the local offices of far-right Golden Dawn party, following a shooting, in a northern suburb of Athens November 1, 2013 (Reuters / John Kolesidis)

Golden Dawn’s political opponents stand united in condemning the attack, demanding that those behind Friday’s killings be brought to justice.
Greek public order minister Nikos Dendias has expressed his sorrow for the deaths of the two young men, saying “the country won’t be allowed to become a battlefield for the settling of scores."

“We can’t let this cycle of violence continue. This must end here,”
Makis Voridis, senior MP for the New Democracy party, told local Mega TV.
A lawmaker from the leftist opposition Syriza party, Golden Dawn’s fierce opponent, said the attack was “a blow for democracy.”
"It feeds fascism, it doesn’t beat it," he wrote on Twitter.  
Panos Kammenos, a member of the right-wing Independent Greeks party, has warned of forces looking to drag the country into “a civil war.”
“Clearly there are those who want to destabilize this country politically,” he said.
Memorial services were held outside the Golden Dawn offices on Saturday to honor the party members killed in Friday’s shooting.  
The party claimed 18 seats in Greece’s 300-member parliament in the 2012 election, managing to capitalize on anti-immigrant sentiment throughout the country.
Golden Dawn has rejected accusations that it is a neo-Nazi party, despite its swastika-like emblem and the fact that its leader has publically denied the Holocaust.

'Cycle of violence' feared in Greece after shooting kills 2 Golden Dawn supporters — RT News

Two Golden Dawn members killed in drive-by shooting outside Athens office

Helena Smith in Athens, Saturday 2 November 2013

Third member of far-right Greek party severely injured in what police call 'terrorist attack'

Police outside Golden Dawn office in Athen

Police forensic experts search for evidence outside offices of the Golden Dawn party in Athens, following a shooting that killed two. Photograph: John Kolesidis/Reuters

Crisis-plagued Greece was thrown into further turmoil on Friday after two members of the far-right Golden Dawn party were shot dead in what police called a "terrorist attack" outside one of the organisation's offices in Athens.

Two men, described as a 20 and 23-year-old, died instantly in the drive-by shooting, according to a statement released by the extremist group.

"Two helmeted terrorists on a motorbike stopped in front of Golden Dawn's offices in [the northern Athens suburb of] Neo Iraklio while the office was open and a lot of people were [gathered around] its entrance," said the party.

"The co-rider got off [the bike] and in cold blood executed two young men at a distance of about half a metre. Before leaving the terrorists fired again … they literally emptied their weapons [of bullets] on top of them."

A third Golden Dawn member, identified as a 29-year-old father of one, was fighting for his life in an Athens hospital after being severely injured in the hail of gunfire.

"His situation is very critical," the country's health minister Adonis Georgiadis told Skai TV.

Police said the attack, conducted with an MB5 machine gun, bore all the hallmarks of a well-organised terrorist operation although government officials insisted they were not ruling out any scenario.

Greece's public order minister Nikos Dendias issued a carefully-worded statement shortly after 8.30pm local time, approximately one hour after the attack. "I express my sorrow at the death of two young men," he said. "The law will prevail. The country will not be allowed to become a battle field for the settling of scores."

The attack comes almost two months after a leftwing hip-hop artist, Pavlos Fyssas, was fatally stabbed by a self-confessed member of Golden Dawn in a working class area of Athens. The murder set in motion a crackdown on the neo-Nazi party that has since seen its leader, Nikos Michaloliakos, and several of his leading cadres imprisoned on charges of using the virulently anti-immigrant organisation to operate a

a criminal gang that sowed wanton terror on the streets of Greece.

In an explosive political atmosphere already poisoned by the despair wrought by cuts demanded in return for rescue funds to prop up the country's debt-stricken economy, the crackdown has heightened tensions.

"Some are preparing to lead this country to civil war," said Panos Kammenos, leader of the rightwing Independent Greeks party, reacting to the killings. "Clearly there are those who want to destabilise this country politically," he added suggesting that "foreign centres" were among the dark forces working against Greece.

The cold-blooded murders were quick to send a chill through Athens' entire political establishment. Insiders said it had sent tremors through the fragile coalition government with many describing the mood in Prime Minister Antonis Samaras' office as being "numb" with shock.

"The murderers, whoever they are, will be treated mercilessly," said Simos Kedigoglou, a government spokesman, emerging from a crisis meeting called by Samaras.

Across the board there were fears of the backlash the murders could unleash.

"It's a very dangerous development that could lead to a vicious cycle of blood being shed in a country that is already being torn apart," said Andreas Papadopoulos, spokesman of the small Democratic Left party, which withdrew from the tripartite government in disgust over its economic policies in the summer.

Analysts worried on Friday that Golden Dawn, which has accused the political establishment of waging a war to destroy it, will use the tragedy to once again boost its ratings in the polls. "My fear is that Golden Dawn will exploit this to make the point that it too is being persecuted, that it's own members are being cold-bloodedly murdered," said the political commentator Dimitris Tsiodras.

Catapulted into parliament for the first time in June 2012, the neo-fascist party remains the country's third biggest political force, although its support has plummeted since the 18 September murder of Fyssas. Last week, the Greek parliament voted to cut off funding for the party as the campaign intensified to marginalise it.

Two Golden Dawn members killed in drive-by shooting outside Athens office | World news |

Friday, November 1, 2013

Greek island on frontline of Europe's migration war

 Mark Lowen 

By Mark Lowen BBC News, Lesbos

The Greek coast guard boat races through the vast expanse of the Aegean, the water glinting in the morning sun.

Behind, in silhouette, are the lush mountains of Lesbos island - Greece's third largest, a place of extraordinary natural beauty - but now one of Europe's key immigration frontiers.

Since August 2012, when the Greek authorities increased controls on the land border with Turkey, the country's islands have borne the brunt of the inflow.

And Lesbos holds first spot. This year alone, 4,409 migrants attempted to enter the island from mainland Turkey - just six miles away.

Of those, 2,600 were arrested here, with the rest detained before making it out of Turkish waters. Smugglers squeeze desperate people into overcrowded dinghies for a small fortune.

Humanitarian disaster

Lt Antonios Sofiadelis from the Lesbos coastguard says they sometimes come across boats designed for 10 people, with 40 or 50 packed in.

Ferry leaving Lesbos for Athens

At noon, the daily ferry leaves for Piraeus, the port next to Athens, taking locals, tourists - and those migrants released with papers from Moria camp

"They destroy the raft when they see us and jump into the water, screaming. But we have to do our job."

Since the Lampedusa tragedy earlier this month, when 366 people lost their lives trying to reach the southern Italian island, illegal immigration has shot back on to the agenda of Europe's leaders.

An EU summit last week promised only a "task force" to report back - but southern European countries have long argued that substantial steps are needed to tackle a growing humanitarian disaster.

Until 2012, 90% of illegal immigrants entered Europe through Greece. The numbers have now dropped but the Greek government says it is still shouldering a huge burden in the midst of its worst financial crisis in living memory - and that the north must show solidarity.

Appalling conditions

"I ask for more support from EU member states," says Lt Sofiadelis, "because we defend Europe's borders too. We have to protect our country from criminal networks."

Until 2010, Lesbos had an immigrant detention centre in the town of Pagani.

It was criticised by human rights groups for its appalling conditions and subsequently closed.

Now another facility has been built in the town of Moria - officially called a "reception centre".

Those arrested are taken here to be registered and held.

Non-Syrians stay for around 25 days before being given papers ordering them to leave Greece within a month.

Syrians, due to their country's civil war, are released more quickly and allowed six months in Greece.

I tried to get into the camp to see the conditions and talk to inmates - but was refused access.

Inside are offices of NGOs and the UN Refugee Agency, the UNHCR.

Behind barbed wire are a dozen small containers housing about 70 refugees. They sit outside, their hands gripping the fence.

When some try to engage me in conversation, the police ask me to move away.

"This is a prison," one Afghan tells me.

'Escape from danger'

"I feel desperate and ashamed when the immigrants talk to us about the problems they face in my country - and I feel very angry," says Efi Latsoudi, the local co-ordinator of the group Doctors of the World.

The cemetery on the mountain overlooking Lesbos The cemetery on the mountain overlooking Lesbos contains the names of immigrants who have died seeking a better life

"Because I believe we can change something - and we don't."

What needs to change, I ask her?

"There must be a political decision that we have these arrivals here and we have to support them as humans, not as a problem or an illegal thing.

"Most of them are like us - they are simply escaping from danger and they must be helped."

Away from Moria, I am taken to another facility provided by locals and NGOs, housing an Afghan family, who arrived two months ago.

The mother - who does not wish to be identified - and her four young children live in a tiny room.

She breaks down as she tells me the story of her husband being arrested here and their treacherous journey from Jalalabad.

Numbers and codes

"We'd hoped we could find safety and that our children could go to school," she says.

"But instead we have nothing - the smugglers took all our money and we had a dangerous trip here - one of my children fell into the water on the way and I thought he'd die. I think it wasn't worth it to come here. Europe wasn't worth it."

Immigrants board the ferry leaving Lesvos for Athens

Perhaps the most perilous part of the journey made by these immigrants - arriving in Europe - is behind them

Perched on the mountain overlooking Lesbos, a corner of the cemetery is given to those who do not make it here.

A few have been identified - the name "Mohamed Amin" is written on one stone.

But most are simply given labels: "Afghan, 31/07/07", "Number 3, 5/1/13".

They were people, individuals before they tried to come to Europe. Now they are reduced to numbers and codes.

At noon, the daily ferry leaves for Piraeus, the port next to Athens, taking locals, tourists - and those migrants released with papers from Moria camp.

I meet a few young Syrians there. They are educated, speak good English and dress well - far from the stereotypical image of refugees.

"We paid 1,300 euros [£1,100; $1,800] each to the smugglers to take us here," says one.

"My family don't want to see me die in our war. So they told me to leave. I won't stay in Athens because of the economic situation - I want to go to another European city. I want only life."

As the ferry doors close, they climb aboard, carrying one bag each - and their dreams.

Perhaps the most perilous part of their journey - arriving in Europe - is behind them. But plenty more hardship awaits in Athens and beyond. And thousands more will follow in their wake.

Exterior of Moria camp An immigrant detention camp that has been built in Moria is officially called a "reception centre"

BBC News - Greek island on frontline of Europe's migration war

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Greece freezes state funding for far-right Golden Dawn party

AP 23 Oct 2013

Greek assembly votes 235-0 to suspend state funding for Nazi-inspired Golden Dawn party whose leadership stand accused of criminal activities

Anti-terror police officers escort Nikos Michaloliakos, leader of the Golden Dawn party at the courthouse in Athens, Greece, 02 October 2013.

Anti-terror police officers escort Nikos Michaloliakos, leader of the Golden Dawn party at the courthouse in Athens, Greece, 02 October 2013. Photo: ORESTIS PANAGIOTOU/EPA

Greek lawmakers voted late on Tuesday to suspend state funding for political parties accused of criminal activities, a measure targeting the Nazi-inspired Golden Dawn group.

The proposal was backed by the conservative-led governing coalition, the main opposition and a small left wing party – and was voted 235-0 in the 300 seat assembly.

It allows an indefinite funding freeze for parties whose leadership is charged with involvement in a criminal group, or terrorism.

Golden Dawn is under a criminal investigation sparked by last month's fatal stabbing of a Greek rap singer, an attack blamed on a party volunteer. Its leader and two lawmakers have been jailed in pretrial custody as alleged members of a criminal organisation, and another six lawmakers have been stripped of immunity from prosecution to face similar charges.

None of the party leadership has been charged with any direct connection to the killing.

Thorbjoern Jagland, the head of the Council of Europe, the continent's top human rights agency, praised the crackdown, but said care must be taken to ensure fair trials.

"I would like to commend the Greek government for having taken action immediately, and very strong action. I think it's very important to differentiate between political work and criminal acts," Jagland told The Associated Press in an interview at the start of a two-day visit to Athens to discuss combating extremism and hate speech.

Golden Dawn says the prosecution of its members is politically motivated.

The fatal stabbing last month led to increasing calls for the party to be banned outright. But Jagland cautioned that could backfire, with similar cases elsewhere in Europe leading to parties re-emerging under different names, or going underground where they are harder to monitor and regulate.

"What is very important is to go after people that are doing crimes, and not mixing up that with politics," said Jagland, who also heads the committee which awards the Nobel Peace Prize.

He didn't comment directly on the party funding bill, saying this was "up to the Greek government," but noted that such a move would not contravene European human rights laws.

"It is actually in most European countries unlawful to do hate speech, incitement to violence, open racism and also denial of the Holocaust," he said.

During a meeting with Public Order Minister Nikos Dendias, the Council of Europe head also offered the support of the organisation's legal experts in seeking ways to deal with the Golden Dawn issue.

Jagland was also to meet Wednesday with Greece's prime minister and the ministers for justice and foreign affairs.

Formerly a fringe party, Golden Dawn's popularity soared in recent years as the country sank into a financial depression and unemployment spiralled. Running on an anti-immigrant campaign, it won 18 seats in Parliament and nearly 7 per cent of the vote in 2012 elections.

Party members and supporters have long been blamed for violent attacks, mostly against dark-skinned immigrants but also against left-wing political opponents and gays. Golden Dawn denies any involvement.

"This legal amendment belongs in the trash – it's illegal and unconstitutional," Golden Dawn spokesman and parliament member Ilias Kasidiaris said before the vote.

"They have made this attack on us based on false testimony ... We are the only political party that doesn't play ball with the corrupt system. That is why they are after us."

Edited by Steve Wilson

Greece freezes state funding for far-right Golden Dawn party - Telegraph

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Charity donation for finance minister's family | Politics | Home

 Author: Damian Mac Con Uladh

Riot police stop trade unionists handing over food donation intended for struggling Stournaras family

In a symbolic protest, members of the municipal workers union POE-OTA sought to deliver tomatoes, lentils, vinegar, olives, figs, eggs, raki and a chicken to Finance Minister Yannis Stournaras, who claimed on television recently that he understood the difficulty people had with living on €500 a month

Municipal workers protest with baskets of food outside the finance ministry in Athens, 17 October 2013 (Reuters)

Municipal workers protest with baskets of food outside the finance ministry in Athens, 17 October 2013 (Reuters)

A senior minister who spoke last week about how members of his family, including his mother, are struggling to live on €500 a month has encouraged trade unionists to collect food for his needy relatives.

In a symbolic protest peppered with irony, members of the municipal workers union POE-OTA brought tomatoes, lentils, vinegar, olives, figs, eggs, raki and a whole chicken to the finance ministry, in the hope that they could hand it over to Finance Minister Yannis Stournaras, who claimed on television recently that he understood the difficulty people had in living on €500 a month.

“There are people in my family who live on very little money. My mother, my father-in-law, my mother-in-law … I know very well what it means to live on €500 a month,” he told Mega TV.

After riot police prevented the trade unionists - who were holding posters stating "For Yannis Stournaras' mummy and mummy-in-law, damn it!" - from approaching the ministry, the food was left on nearby Ermou St, the city's main shopping mile, in the hope that the minister could pick it up later.

In a statement released beforehand, the POE-OTA said that it "could not remain indifferent to the plight of Yannis Stournaras' family".

It hoped to "deliver the goods to the finance minister to wholeheartedly express our support to the drama that has befallen his family."

"We believe that Mr Stournaras will appreciate our action," it continued

Charity donation for finance minister's family | Politics | Home

As poverty increases, more citizens turn to municipal social services for survival


More than 20,000 Athenians now depend on city social services for daily needs

Through its social services agency Kyada, Athens municipality provides extensive support through a network of soup kitchens, a social grocery where citizens in need can obtain footstuffs and household goods, family support and programmes to support the homeless

Food kitchens are also run by voluntary groups (Photo: Reuters)

Food kitchens are also run by voluntary groups (Photo: Reuters)

More than 20,000 Athenians are dependent on municipal social services for their daily survival, amid an increase of poverty and homelessness in the capital.

The figure is contained in a report – the first of its kind – on the work of the city's social services network, presented by Mayor Yiorgos Kaminis on Wednesday, ahead of the international day for the eradication of poverty on Thursday.

The report revealed that among those using its services are a growing number of low-income pensioners, the unemployed, university graduates and minors, as well as entire families, for their basic nutritional needs.

Speaking at the launch of the report, Kaminis said: "Despite the unprecedented crisis affecting our country, we have managed to keep the city centre on its two feet, where serious problems have concentrated and even at a time when the social structures of the state have collapsed."

Through its social services agency Kyada, the municipality provides extensive support through a network of soup kitchens, a social grocery where citizens in need can obtain footstuffs and household goods, family support and programmes to support the homeless. 

Its mutual assistance programme provides food, clothing and hygiene support to 13,500 people (including 3,000 children) a year. The programme is supported by more than 100 companies and organisations in Greece and abroad, who have donated more than 200 tonnes of food, clothing, toys and household items. The goods are distributed by appointment only, to avoiding beneficiaries the indignity of having to queue. Kyada estimates that the value of goods distributed through this programme at €1m. Offers of donations to the programme can be made via the dedicated 15422 number.

On the 1,400 using the municipality's soup kitchen, 60% are Greek, 70% are male and 60% are between 36 and 60 years of age. Three in four have no income whatsoever while another 11% have income of less than €320 a month
The municipality's soup kitchen on Sofokleous street distributes 1,400 servings of food, at two times (noon and 4.30pm) a day. Kyada reports that 60% of recipients are Greek. Of the total, most of male (70%) and aged between 36 and 60 years of age (60%). Three in four have no income whatsoever, and are homeless, destitute and unemployed, while another 11% have income of less than €320 a month. 

The report notes that not only are those turning up at the soup kitchens for the first time younger -  7.6% of first-time users are under 18, 10.9% are aged between 18-25 and a quarter are aged 26-35 years – they are also better educated, with 22% having completed high school and 18% possessing a third-level qualification.

The municipality's social grocery, established in 2007, is a joint initiative between a homeless foundation and the Marinopoulos supermarket chain, which provides all the required supplies and manpower. After proving that they earn less than a certain minimum, applicants can take what they need from the grocery for free. 

In the first six months of this year, the social grocery provided for 774 households, or 2,026 people, three-thirds of whom are Greek, followed by Albanians (11.2%) and Romanians (5.8%) and others. In the second half of the year, a further 1,013 families joined the programme.

Three in four recipients are unemployed, others pensioners, while 7% are have jobs but are unable to make ends meet.

Another programme, "Solidarity in the Family", is supported by Cosmote and food, physical and psychosocial support to 200 families.

Interviews with 460 homeless people suggests that 60% of them are dependent on alcohol or drugs. Just over three in four of the homeless are men and 53% are Greek. A quarter of the homeless are aged under 35, another quarter are under 45
The municipality's work with the homeless includes a shelter and street support programmes. According to Kaminis, the city now has about 1,000 homeless – a figure that others estimate to be 20 times that.

Interviews with 460 homeless people suggests that 60% of them are dependent on alcohol or drugs, meaning that homelessness is primarily a problem of addiction.

Just over three in four of the homeless are men and 53% are Greek. Of the non-Greeks, 53% are European, mainly from eastern Europe, and 46% are Asian and African.

The report found that a quarter of the homeless are aged under 35, another quarter are under 45.

Most said that financial problems pushed them into homelessness, while others said they had no families to support them. When asked, over half of respondents said they didn't want accommodation.

The programme has succeeded in getting 20 homeless off the streets and into temporary hostel accommodation.

EnetEnglish, ANA-MPA

As poverty increases, more citizens turn to municipal social services for survival | Society | Home

Friday, October 18, 2013

Greek-Australian citizens look to Australia to escape economic crisis

By David Mark Posted Fri 11 Oct 2013

Greek couple Demetre Katsikopoulos and Loukia Kontou.

Photo: Greek couple Demetre Katsikopoulos and Loukia Kontou. (David Mark)

Related Story: Greek crisis sees new wave of migrants

Map: Australia

Greeks are again heading for Australia in order to escape the economic crisis that has devastated their economy.

Over previous decades, many hundreds of thousands of Greeks came to Australia and established families and communities.

Most stayed, but some returned to rediscover their homeland.

Now, Australian citizens – the children of those earlier Greek immigrants who returned - are heading to Australia's shores.

Greek welfare organisations in Sydney and Melbourne say they are getting many inquiries every week from these new Greek immigrants.

Unlike those who came with the earlier waves of immigrants in the 1950s, '60s and '70s, the family support and communities that once existed are no longer here.

In many cases their children, and sometimes their parents, do not speak English.

Greek immigrants escape financial ruin

Demetre Katsikopoulos came to Australia with his parents in 1970, when he was aged seven.

"They wanted to come because a lot of people coming to Australia they were making money so we came here, " he said.

"We are alright. I was going to school here, I love it here, and one day after seven-and-a-half years my parents decided that we should go back.

"We went to Greece and because I didn't know the Greek language, my father put me in American community schools, but that was expensive, so a year later they put me in a job."

Mr Katsikopoulos left school and was trained as an upholsterer. He worked in the trade for three decades, eventually opening his own shop.

But the Greek economic crisis changed everything.

Mr Katsikopoulos's wife, Loukia Kontou, says no one in Greece has money.

"People can't pay taxis, can't pay the rents, can't pay nothing," she said.

Mr Katsikopoulos added:

"That's the worst thing that can happen to people. You know because the smile is off the face. Everyone is thinking about what they have to pay.

"I had my mother in 2011 in the hospital. I was bringing the medication from home. They didn't have any medication in the hospital so I have to bring it from home, and it's all very bad."

Leaving life in Greece a difficult decision

The crisis prompted Mr Katsikopoulos and his wife to think about leaving Greece.

It was more than 30 years since he had left Australia, but as Loukia Katsikopoulos explains, the idea of returning continued to burn in her husband.

He was still an Australian citizen and his memories of the six years he spent in Australia were strong," she said.

"I feel that Demetre wants to come back. He has the dreams and he can't do anything in Greece with the crisis. We have problems with everything in Greece," she said.

Mr Katsikopoulos says: "It was my dream, back of my head. It was a solution. That's the only reason I came back. You can't came back if you're not an Australia citizen."

But leaving behind a life, family and friends wasn't easy.

"You know when you live somewhere over 30 and 35 years, it's too difficult to leave," he said.

"You have everything, you have your house, you have your car, you have your friends, you have your family."

When the couple left Athens airport, many of their friends and relatives came to say goodbye.

They had to come on motorbikes because they couldn't afford the petrol for cars.

Loukia Katsikopoulos says she cries a lot.

"It is difficult for me, because I have all my friends. I stay the place, which I born. But I have to try," she said.

New wave of immigrants without support network

Maria Petrehelos, a psychologist at the Greek Welfare Centre in Sydney, says this wave of Greek immigrants differ from their predecessors because they don't have the same support networks as their parents and grandparents had when they arrived half a century ago.

"It's not easy. It was difficult with the chain migration in the '50s and '60s because you had a relative, someone you were coming to," she said.

"It's a bit different now because people are coming just as their individual nuclear unit. 

I didn't come to Australia to be rich, I just came to live with dignity.
Demetre Katsikopoulos

"Parents, siblings, they're all part of the family. It is not the nuclear family that has the most importance for Greek families so leaving that and coming just as your nuclear unit is very isolating."

Demetre Katsikopoulos found a place to live and a job as an upholsterer within 20 days of arriving in Australia.

He has brought his parents out, too, but after more than three decades away from Australia it's like starting again.

"It's strange. I'm still trying to get used to Australia because they're two different countries," he said.

"I'm curious [to see] how it is going to be my future here. I didn't come to Australia to be rich, I just came to live with dignity."

Greek-Australian citizens look to Australia to escape economic crisis - ABC News (Australian Broadcasting Corporation)

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Parties seek joint line on bill to cut Golden Dawn’s funding


The government and leftist SYRIZA were today to continue talks aimed at reaching a common proposal for a bill that would suspend state funding for parties, such as ultra-right Golden Dawn, whose leaders or deputies are charged with criminal activities, as investigations by judicial, police and financial authorities into the group’s activities gathered pace.

Meanwhile a prosecutor turned down a request by Golden Dawn leader Nikos Michaloliakos, his second-in-command Christos Pappas and another MP, Yiannis Lagos, to be released from pre-trial custody so they can attend a vote in Parliament scheduled for Wednesday on whether to lift the immunity of another six Golden Dawn lawmakers.

According to sources, the government and SYRIZA appeared to be edging toward a compromise on the provisions of the bill concerning state funding, though the leftists reportedly insisted that any suspension should only apply when the charges relate to membership of a criminal organization and should be approved by an enhanced majority of 180 in the 300-seat Parliament. Interior Minister Yiannis Michelakis also discussed the funding issue with officials from smaller opposition parties.

In a related development, officials of the Financial Crimes Squad (SDOE) launched an investigation into the finances of the ultra-right party in a bid to trace any suspicious donors or indications of money laundering.

Investigations by the judiciary and the police into Golden Dawn also intensified.

Giorgos Roupakias, the 45-year-old Golden Dawn supporter who has been charged with the murder of leftist rapper Pavlos Fyssas last month, was returned to custody after testifying before a magistrate on additional charges of belonging to a criminal organization. In his testimony, which reportedly contradicted earlier depositions, Roupakias said he stabbed the 34-year-old Fyssas, after being set upon by the latter and a group of friends. He admitted to speaking by telephone with several Golden Dawn members before and after the killing but described his relationship with the party as “loose.” He rebuffed reports that relatives of his worked for the party. Roupakias further contradicted claims by another suspect – a 32-year-old man – who said he was in Roupakias’s car shortly before the fatal stabbing.

A police investigation also intensified on Tuesday with officers confiscating dozens of weapons from the home in the Athens suburb of Voula of Anastasios Pallis, a former associate of shipowner Victor Restis, following a tipoff in connection to their search for a suspected Golden Dawn weapons arsenal. Police seized 20 firearms, all with licenses, and 60 knives as well as two Tasers. Earlier this month, a British man, Edward Pringle-Stacey, wrote to Greece’s Supreme Court with information that he deemed useful for authorities in their search for weapons that Golden Dawn could be hiding. | Parties seek joint line on bill to cut Golden Dawn’s funding

Ex-minister's jailing a boost for faltering sense of justice


Former Defence Minister Akis Tsochatzopoulos was jailed for 20 years on Monday after being found guilty of money laundering. Although the ex-PASOK veteran will serve only a fraction of this sentence, his conviction is notable moment in Greek politics as it is the first time a frontline political figure has been found guilty of corruption since the early 1990s.

Tsochatzopoulos was deemed guilty of accepting bribes totalling about 55 million euros during his spell as defence minister between 1996 and 2001. Another 16 people were convicted of helping him disperse the money through a complex network of offshore companies and property deals.

The 74-year-old was one of PASOK’s co-founders and came within a whisker of becoming Greece’s prime minister in 1996 so the fact he is going to be spending at least the next couple of years behind bars goes some way to reversing the sense which many Greeks have that their politicians can act with impunity.

It is worth remembering that money laundering charges were brought against Tsochatzopoulos because they were not subject to the statute of limitations that prevented a bribery case being mounted against him. The judiciary used the full range of its powers to pin the ex-minister down and jail him. Again, this is somewhat of a landmark moment given the way Greek politicians have evaded the consequences of their actions in the past.

Tsochatzopoulos’s conviction also comes in the wake of two other high profile local politicians, ex-Thessaloniki Mayor Vassilis Papageorgopoulos and former Central Macedonia Governor Panagiotis Psomiadis, also being convicted of corruption. Papageorgopoulos is currently serving a life sentence for embezzling 18 million euros from the Municipality of Thessaloniki.

There are a number of other cases pending. Three ex-ministers are being investigated over their tax declarations and ex-Finance Minister Giorgos Papaconstantinou could be indicted for allegedly doctoring the so-called Lagarde list of depositors, which included the names of more than 2,000 Greeks with savings in the Geneva branch of HSBC. Papaconstantinou denies removing the names of four of his relatives from the list before asking for it to be investigated for possible tax evaders.

Voters have persistently complained since 2010 that they are lifting the burden of the crisis while some politicians and other members of Greece’s elite remain untouched. The fact that business owners and taxpayers are being arrested for being unable to pay their obligations to the state but that decision makers are not held accountable for stealing or wasting public funds is often cited as a cause for Greeks’ indignation.

Tsochatzopoulos’s conviction will not rectify this overnight but if his prosecution proves to be just one strand of a multi-pronged attack on corruption in public life then it would help restore some faith in the country’s institutions and instil hope that they will ensure the law is applied fairly.

Former Supreme Court prosecutor Yiannis Tentes took over a newly created post in the summer as Greece’s anti-corruption supremo. He will coordinate efforts to tackle graft and draw up a national anti-corruption strategy. It remains to be seen if he can have any impact on ensuring justice is administered.

However, as long as cases like the Siemens cash-for-contracts scandal and the Lagarde list are not properly investigated and those responsible are not brought to account, it will be very difficult to convince Greeks that this government is serious about correcting many of the wrongs committed by its predecessors.

Ex-minister's jailing a boost for faltering sense of justice | Macropolis

Volunteers try to fill void left by retreating Greek state

12/10/2013 By: Nick Malkoutzis

Photo by Myrto Papadopoulos [] Photo by Myrto Papadopoulos []

One of the most worrying aspects of the crisis has been that the financial constraints on the state and its ever-decreasing role in a number of areas, such as social welfare, healthcare and urban services. This has left thousands of Greeks directly exposed to some of the worst effects of the recession.

According to Eurostat, 31 percent of Greeks are at risk of poverty or social exclusion, compared to 27.6 percent in 2009, before the crisis began. Also about 65 percent percent of Greece’s 1.3 million unemployed have been out of a job for more than 12 months and therefore without proper social insurance. In 2009, just 45.6 percent of Greece’s jobless were long-term unemployed. At the time, Greece only had around 500,000 people out of work. The impact of the recession is as clear as the need for a safety net to protect the growing number of people being pushed to society’s fringes. In the state’s absence, this crucial role is increasingly played by volunteer groups.

Boroume (We Can) is one of the organizations that has attracted most attention over the last couple of years as it uses food donations and salvages ingredients that others discard in order to provide meals for Greeks who cannot afford to feed themselves. Similarly, the Greek branch of Doctors of the World relies on the volunteer work of doctors and medical experts to provide free healthcare to Greeks who do not have enough social security credits to visit public hospitals.

Also, a group of about 100 Athenians came together in May this year to form the Symahoi Ygeias (Allies of Health). While some of the group are doctors, it also includes people from many other walks of life. Their initial aim is to provide assistance to units that are providing vital social work, such as municipal medical centers, the “help at home” scheme for the elderly and disabled and neighbourhood “friendship clubs”. The group has already signed agreements with several municipalities in Athens and hopes at some point to be able to set up its own centers to provide medical assistance.

A similar role is carried out by the Metropolitan Community Clinic in the southern Athens suburb of Elliniko. Created in 2012, the clinic is run by volunteer doctors and other staff who provide medical assistance to more than 4,000 people a year who cannot afford care elsewhere. The medicines and equipment used at the clinic have been donated.

This type of volunteerism is a relatively new concept in Greece, which has a poor record of this kind of social engagement, partly because of the relative economic stability over the last few decades but also because of the dominant role of the family in personal life and the political party in public life. Even last year, Greece came 145th out of 146 countries in the World Giving Index, which also suggested that only 5 percent of Greeks donated money and only 3 percent volunteered their time.

However, recent research suggests that the crisis is prompting a change in the way Greeks approach the idea of helping others. An opinion poll carried out by QED for the Human Grid, a scheme set up by the TEDx Athens discussion forum to map and act as a bridge between the various volunteer groups in the Greek capital, suggests that a growing number of Greeks are giving up their time for common causes. The survey, published in May this year, indicated that there has been a 44 percent increase in the number of Greeks taking part in volunteer projects and solidarity activities since 2010, when Greece signed up to the EU-IMF bailout.

A third of those questioned said that they will likely join a volunteer group soon, while 84 percent said that they viewed the idea of volunteerism positively. Half of the respondents also had a positive view of non-governmental organizations and 46 percent were in favour of collective activism. The latter is significant as NGOs have often been viewed negatively in Greece due to cases of corruption, while some forms of activism, such as urban intervention, have been regarded with suspicion because of the absence of political influences and connections.

“So far our country has scored very low in terms of having an active civil society but there is constant improvement,” said Stathis Haikalis, who acted as a coordinator for the survey. “There is a subtle but continuous trend of people dealing with the nightmare in the Greek social and economic spheres, which is the lack of trust in every aspect of domestic life.”

There is a very practical element to the apparent trend for more Greeks to become involved in volunteer groups, since the effects of the crisis demand that people come to the help of their fellow citizens. But there is also a more existential aspect to this development as it indicates a growing willingness for people to trust each other and wean themselves off a dependence on political parties to act as their social networks and providers.

There is, however, plenty to be cautious about. The QED survey found that 38 percent of those questioned said they expect that they or their family members will soon be in need of volunteer help. As long as an economic recovery remains elusive, there will continue to be tremendous pressure on Greek society and even an increase in volunteerism is no substitute for a state that can provide the social services that are so desperately necessary in Greece’s situation.

Volunteers try to fill void left by retreating Greek state | Macropolis

Samaras ratchets up tension in clash with SYRIZA over violence


Photo by Myrto Papadopoulos [] Photo by Myrto Papadopoulos []

Tension has seeped through Greek politics in the wake of the Golden Dawn arrests but Prime Minister Antonis Samaras appears to have decided to play on this polarisation. On Friday, he launched a new attack on unidentified opposition parties, which he accused of not providing a blanket condemnation of violence.

There is no “good or bad violence,” Samaras told New Democracy’s political committee. Although he did not name SYRIZA specifically, it was clear that Samaras was trying to single out the leftist party. In recent weeks, his aides have followed a similar, if more outspoken, line with references to the “two extremes”.

It has been a concerted New Democracy tactic for some time to portray SYRIZA as a party containing radical elements that favour violent protest and which leader Alexis Tsipras is not able to control. SYRIZA has found it difficult to shake off the accusations and is often drawn into slanging matches with the conservatives.

On Friday, Samaras drew parallels between the violence committed by Golden Dawn and the firebombing of Marfin Bank in Athens in 2010, which left three people dead, and an arson attack this February on the premises of Hellenic Gold in Skouries, Halkidiki. He accused opponents of justifying the use of violence when it was part of “popular struggles”. The implication is that SYRIZA, if not directly connected, was tolerant of these kinds of expressions of violence.

While SYRIZA has been active in street protests and backed demonstrations against the Skouries gold mine, no evidence that it was involved in or encouraged violence has been produced so far. Twenty people have been questioned in connection to the attack on Hellenic Gold and reports on Friday suggested that another 54 are due to be charged in connection with a number of protests in Skouries.

This week, SYRIZA’s newspaper, Avgi, ran an unsigned article that claimed the party’s opponents were preparing to frame the leftists in a bid to damage them politically. This came just a few days after SYRIZA MPs started asking questions in public about whether they were being monitored by the National Intelligence Service (EYP). It was earlier revealed that the agency had been eavesdropping on Golden Dawn MPs. The leftists have also opposed draft legislation that would block state funding to any parliamentary party whose leadership is accused of criminal activity. SYRIZA has asked for the bill to be amended so that funding only ceases if the party leader or MPs are convicted of a crime. The leftists seem to fear the originally proposed legislation could be intentionally used to harm them.

Given this climate and the fact he pleaded for calm in the wake of a Golden Dawn member murdering rapper Pavlos Fyssas last month, Samaras’s decision to turn up the heat under this political pot boiler can only be seen as a calculated move to strengthen his appeal with right wing voters and damage SYRIZA’s chances of appeal to moderate voters. It is not a tactic that has universal approval within New Democracy. MPs that remain loyal to former prime minister and party leader Costas Karamanlis have expressed their concern. Karamanlis sought to appeal to the centre ground when he led the party.

SYRIZA’s response to Samaras’s latest attack was to label him the “high priest of political division.” A new round in the two parties’ war of words is inevitable. Whether it is a result of genuine differences or calculated politicking, the fraught atmosphere in Greek politics shows no signs of abating.

Samaras ratchets up tension in clash with SYRIZA over violence | Macropolis

TAUBE: Shunning Greece's Neo-Nazi 'Golden Dawn'

By Michael Taube Wednesday, October 9, 2013


Illustration by Alexander Hunter for The Washington Times

Illustration by Alexander Hunter for The Washington Times

During last year’s Greek elections, some fringe political parties were able to gain seats in the Hellenic Parliament. These included the Independent Greeks (right-leaning Euroskeptics), Democratic Left (socialists), SYRIZA (a coalition of radical leftists) and Golden Dawn.

It was that last political party that caught most observers’ eyes. Golden Dawn has been called everything under the sun over the years, including “right-wing extremist,” “neo-Nazi,” “fascist,” “neo-fascist” and “authoritarian.” In reality, this party is nothing more than a bunch of thugs who have regularly engaged in violent activity and riots in Greece.

This is exactly the problem Golden Dawn is facing right now. Various party members and its leader, Nikolaos Michaloliakos, were recently arrested in connection with the high-profile killing of left-wing political activist and hip-hop artist Pavlos (“Killah P”) Fyssas.

These individuals remain innocent until proven guilty, of course. If the Greek courts prove a connection exists in this crime, it will likely lead to Golden Dawn’s imminent collapse on the political scene. For mainstream political conservatives in Greece and beyond, nary a tear will be shed.

Golden Dawn is a political blight that the vast majority of rational individuals on the right have to deal with occasionally.

Senior party members have acknowledged great respect for former Greek Prime Minister Ioannis Metaxas in the past, for example. Mr. Metaxas modeled his authoritarian 4th of August Regime (1936-1941) after Italy’s fascist regime under Benito Mussolini. Even worse, Mr. Michaloliakos expressed admiration for Nazi Germany’s Adolf Hitler in a 1987 issue of the party’s magazine. Here’s a small portion of the translated version: “We are the faithful soldiers of the National Socialist idea and nothing else … we raise our right hand up, we salute the Sun, and with the courage that is compelled by our military honor and our National Socialist duty we shout full of passion, faith to the future and our visions: ‘Heil Hitler!’”

That being said, Golden Dawn never came close to crossing the 1 percent barrier in popular support in either the Greek or European elections. Yet when Greece faced its terrible debt crisis last year, this gave them a golden opportunity to make significant political gains.

In the May 2012 election, they became the sixth-largest political party in Greece by winning nearly 7 percent of the popular vote and 21 seats. Although this number dropped in the June 2012 election — after talks to create a new coalition government collapsed — to 6.9 percent and 18 seats, Golden Dawn actually became the fifth-largest party.

It’s not surprising to see a fringe outfit achieve some measure of electoral success owing to a country’s political and economic crisis. Notable recent examples include France’s Jean-Marie Le Pen, Austria’s Jorg Haider and Russia’s Vladimir Zhirinovsky. In the end, these parties frequently collapse owing to internal strife, changes in the political atmosphere, or voters simply waking up to political and economic realities.

Regardless, the liberal media went bonkers over the news that Golden Dawn was sitting in the Hellenic Parliament. Why? For the same reason they erupted over Messrs. Le Pen, Haider and Zhirinovsky: The sudden rise of the “extreme right.”

Ah, yes. The so-called extreme right, even though its supposed adherents barely have any right-of-center views or values. Isn’t it strange that we don’t hear much about the “extreme left” in politics?

The left-right political axis has never been a perfect science when it comes to extremist parties and movements. Marxist and communist parties sit on the far left — the same side as modern liberals, socialists and Greens — while ultranationalist and neo-fascist parties such as Golden Dawn sit on the far right — the same side as economic libertarians, classical liberals and conservatives.

Aside from occasional jokes and snide remarks, most people are fundamentally aware that communists are different from liberals, and fascists are different from conservatives. Yet when the political terms “left” and “right” are used interchangeably, it opens the door to some confusion. Case in point: Golden Dawn.

Hence, Greece’s mainstream conservative parties must take this opportunity to permanently remove the stain of Mr. Michaloliakos and Golden Dawn. This can be done by supporting right-leaning ideas and policies (smaller government, lower taxes, more individual rights and freedoms) that will help the country achieve some measure of economic stability and success.

In turn, Greek conservatives will prove Golden Dawn was another flash in the pan that frightened everyone for a spell but only ended up embarrassing their nation more than anything else.

Michael Taube is a former speechwriter for Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper and a contributor to The Washington Times.

TAUBE: Shunning Greece's Neo-Nazi 'Golden Dawn' - Washington Times