Migration and Struggle in Greece


Posted by clandestina on 1 October 2012

The manufacturing of a populist ultra-right “movement”
and 6 myths about migrants in Greece

Α lot has been written about how we decide to discuss political affairs without falling into the trap of simplifying facts and taking power structures for granted. Power structures are for granted however until they are challenged. A few years ago Greek Universities and the bar culture were still a paradise for Erasmus students, the islands an agreeable yet maybe increasingly expensive place for vacation.

And it was plain to see, almost everywhere, that a significant part of the population, and that does not only include youth, subscribed to a kind of rhetoric of anti-authoritarianism and vague social justice. Public spaces in the cities were often used as commons, and it was much more fashionable to be an anarchist than a neonazi.

This has changed. We will try to merely outline, rather than to explain, this change, and will point to a simple fact: That today we are experiencing a devaluation of labor and life in Greece and that this seems to be part of a larger picture. This larger picture has been described in different ways… Subcomandante Marcos declaring, in 1997, that the 4th World War has begun, has given a lucid account of it:

“…[T]here is a proliferation of “regional wars” and “internal conflicts”; capital follows paths of atypical accumulation; and large masses of workers are mobilised. Result: a huge rolling wheel of millions of migrants moving across the planet. As “foreigners” in that “world without frontiers” which had been promised by the victors of the cold war, they are forced to endure racist persecution, precarious employment, the loss of their cultural identity, police repression, hunger, imprisonment and murder (…) The objective of neoliberalism’s migration policy is more to destabilise the world labour market than to put a brake on immigration. The fourth world war – with its mechanisms of destruction/depopulation and reconstruction/reorganisation – involves the displacement of millions of people. Their destiny is to wander the world, carrying the burden of their nightmare with them, so as to constitute a threat to workers who have a job, a scapegoat designed to make people forget their bosses, and to provide abasis for the racism that neoliberalism provokes…” (Subcomandante Insurgente Marcos, The fourth world war has begun, 1997)


The place: Greece, the time: 2012

Some stills of an undeclared war


“The national income within 2 years decreased from 240 billion to 200 billion €, while unemployment in Greece, after four years of recession, increased from 9% in 2009 to 20-25% in 2012 … after the lowering of salaries and the imposition of new taxes and the raising of older ones, the average per capita disposable income has decreased by 40%…”

“Great decline in births…”

“The suicide and mortality rates have risen rapidly…”

(from the Press)


STILL 2:In early 2012, the US State Department was warning US-citizens traveling to Greece of the potential dangers:

 Strikes and demonstrations are a regular occurrence. Greece is a stable democracy and these activities for the most part are orderly and lawful, although early 2012 protests signaled an uptick in the level of violence with extensive fire-bombings and vandalism in Central Athens  (…) As a result of recent austerity measures imposed by the government, labor unions, certain professions, and other groups affected by the current financial crisis hold frequent demonstrations, work-stoppages, and marches throughout the center of Athens (…) You should be aware of and avoid places where demonstrators frequently congregate such as the Polytechnic University area; Exarchia, Omonia, and Syntagma Squares in Athens; and Aristotle Square in Thessaloniki. (State Department’s Office of American Citizens Services and Crisis Management, directions to US travelers, March 2012)


STILL 3: At home, against the threat of destabilization, the classic antidote is scapegoating and  the manufacturing of a right-wing populist “movement” with help from the media, the government and (at first) only marginally the neonazi party.

In early March 2012 the Press and the so-called blogsphere echoed a completely ungrounded threat. “Ultra-rightwing organizations and reserve soldiers’ associations will gather in the Syntagma square during the March 25 national army parade” (from the Press and the Internet, early March 2012)

The far right did not show up for the appointment, so institutional racism took over …

The next day Michalis Chrysohoidis [minister of public order – and citizens’ protection] announced the creation of 30 concentration camps for the imprisonment of 30,000 illegal immigrants’ (26 March 2012) and was immediately backed by Health Minister:

“The direction of M. Chrysochoidis camps for illegal immigrants is absolutely correct … a health bomb has escaped from the foreigners’ ghettos”  (Andreas Loverdos, March 31, 2012)

Τhe current prime-minister agreed:

“We will recapture our cities” (Antonis Samaras, March 29, 2012)

Of course neither the clearing operations nor the camps were actually realized then on any serious scale. The symbolic role of these announcements was much more important.

 The right-wing finally performed well in the elections and on August 4th, institutional racism celebrated the anniversary of the 1936 Metaxas dictatorship by launching the “Zeus Xenios” operation, a spectacular celebration of mass arrests of sans-papiers in the center of Athens…

 The reasons justifying the operation went back to some contested conception of Bronze Age history: “From the Dorian invasion, 4,000 years ago, the country has never accepted such a large scale invasion … migration might be a bigger problem than the economic crisis”(Nikos Dendias, Minister of Public Order, August 4, 2012)

 Soon, it seemed almost natural that “… [i]n the first half of 2012, there ha[d] been more than 600 violent racist attacks in Greece…” (from the Press)

 And the progressive ‘public opinion makers’ abroad suddenly realized it was already too late: “… [N]ational authorities – as well as the EU and the international community at large – have largely turned a blind eye to xenophobic violence in Greece (…) the governments of Greece and Europe seem willing to tolerate this as the social cost of an ongoing austerity consensus (…) Drawing historical parallels with Nazism is a weary rhetorical technique that commentators on left and right have cheapened by tossing the simile into discussions of food labelling and over-enthusiastic traffic control. In this case, however, it’s not rhetoric.” (The Independent, August 30, 2012).

  In other words, the shift of public discussion towards fascist dilemmas (“kill them or lock them up?”) was encouraged on an official level first – and it then took the form of a seemingly “militant” fascist organization.


6 myths for the management of a constant state of emergency

The devaluation of immigrant labor and immigrant life seems to be part of an experiment that is being conducted in Greece, aiming to test how to better impose and manage a constant state of emergency. The success of this experiment has depended on the systematic cultivation of the six following myths:

Myth 1. They say: There is no more room for immigrants

Even 5 or 5,000 people, if they are abandoned somewhere with no means to survive, are enough to cause a “humanitarian crisis”…But what does this digital logic of numbers say? According to the UN, “if the EU wants to maintain the general population’s living standards of 1995, it will need 135 million immigrants by 2025”. So the immigrants in Europe are simply not enough. There is obviously plenty of space and plenty of need for the young, quiet, and able amongst them– as long as they work as slaves, like the Albanians in the 1990s, or as long as they can be treated as human garbage, and used as a scapegoat for the planned and orchestrated destruction of the productive structures of Greece.

In other words: Development capitalism needed cheap labor. For two decades, the cheap labor of immigrants reduced unemployment, by boosting the primary sector of production and creating jobs in the secondary and tertiary sectors. Disaster capitalism, now that the economy has to be structurally adjusted to bring faster profits, needs to treat more and more people as waste, to exclude them from any productive activity and deem them useless for capital. Today, disaster capitalism uses the attacks against immigrants in order to take away the rights and crush the dignity also of the hitherto privileged Greeks.

There is plenty of room for slaves and beggars. There is no room for immigrants and Greeks with rights, decent work, hope and dignity.

Myth 2. They say: Immigrants are bad for the economy

The British Parliament concluded in 2008 that 17% of development in the country is due to immigration. France announced in 2009 that her net profit from immigration every year amounts to 12.4 billions of Euro. In 2010, the US declared that “the legalization of sans-papiers would boost the American economy over the next decade” by 1.5 trillion. In Brussels, it was decided that the EU is in need of immigrants from North Africa, since the East European workforce does not suffice to cover the needs of Europe.

From the point of view of economic rates and indices, more immigrants in Europe rejuvenate the ageing population, provide the productive sectors with cheap labor, do jobs turned down by most citizens (from the recycling and selling of garbage by hand to the hard labor on the fields), and keep undeclared profits from the  “black” economy under control. What the economy of numbers needs is highly selected workforce with flexible rights (e.g. a 5-year work permit and no pension or possibility to be joined by the family from the country of origin), or keen and disposable workforce, possibly in the grey zone between legality and illegality – and it will also turn thousands of persons into “human trash”, with no papers, no name, no prospects.

So the devaluation of the workforce, evident at least since the early 1990s, has not aimed primarily to drive away immigrants, as much as to create an intensely “zoned” and divided immigrant population, and to reproduce a workforce that will live and work under conditions of constant terror and insecurity. The inhuman treatment of the unemployed and unregistered refugees in the last decade has encouraged the dissolution of the productive sector and the further destruction of any values of community, solidarity, and of any political culture of rights.

In other words, it is racism that destroys jobs and the workplace in the first place. And when racism is not enough, when, in other words, it is in the interest of the bosses not to encourage but to destroy production and restructure labor (as is happening right now in their crisis), then they mobilize fascism and its “sanitization operations”. If not by design, then by default.

Myth 3. They say: Immigrants are a public health hazard

According to official data from the Hellenic Center for Disease Control & Prevention (KEELPNO), between 2004 and 2010 there is a significant drop in the number of cases of tuberculosis in Greece, and in fact the percentage is much lower than the EU average, as ECDC data confirms. As for the unprecedented rise in HIV cases in 2011, it is due to the rise in intravenous drug use and is not directly connected to immigrants.

During the 2011 hunger strike of 300 immigrant workers in Athens and Thessaloniki, the “public health” card, so viciously played by politicians and media, failed to convince people that immigrants are some kind of a disease bomb. On the contrary, the minister’s propaganda only proved first the state’s readiness to promote an ideology of racial supremacy, and maybe also the fact that hundreds of people, even if they are not eating, even if they are psychologically tortured and blackmailed by the authorities, even if they are forced to pursue a hunger strike in unhygienic conditions, can stay alive and healthy if solidarity is strong.

The Afghans with TB, who were overexposed in the media, did not contract the disease in Afghanistan, they got it here, from the dire living conditions in Greece. As Μedecins Sans Frontiers announced in April 2012: “It is not the foreigners who are sick, it is the poor. The poor are sick because politicians deprive them of access to health services.”

Myth 4. They say: The immigrant street vendors damage small and medium businesses

The first so-called resident patrols in Athens a few years ago targeted the “illegal trade” of the immigrant street vendors. The fascist “concerned citizens” presented preposterously inflated numbers for this trade: “Street vendors are costing us 25 billion Euro a year”, which would actually mean that every single Greek citizen spends 3,000 Euro a year on street vendors’ products!

The truth is, all kinds of small and medium businesses are collapsing, since people have much less income to spend: Restaurants, bookshops, cafes, florists’, printers’, radio stations, ad companies are not being affected by the minimal trade in a few Chinese-manufactured umbrellas and bags sold on the street. Also, the fact that people can consume a few cheaper products actually means that they have more to spend on other goods from other businesses. Most importantly though, if 100,000 immigrant street vendors (that is the official number the police authorities provide) make an estimated average daily 10-15 Euro, most of this money (300-400 million Euro a year) returns to the State as direct and indirect tax money: cigarettes, municipal tax, petrol, electricity, and, notably, high (usually collective) rent, for tiny and shabby apartments that would otherwise remain empty…So the autorities and their fascist employees forget that they are actually profiting from the side-economy of the street vendors…

Myth 5. They say: Greece has to carry the whole of the weight of immigration in the EU

The state of abandonment, poverty and misery in which the immigrants are living has been a conscious political choice of State and capital in Greece. This is obvious in the fact, for instance, that Greece, while complaining about the influx of a large number of sans papiers immigrants into Greece, demanded only 16.8 million, from a total of 628 million Euro available through the EU Fund for Refugees! This amount was handed to Greece immediately (and it was not even used for “humanitarian infrastructure”…)

Three quarters of immigrants who enter the EU do it through the Greco-Turkish borders. That, however, does not mean that they all stay – even if it is illegal to leave. According to the official Eurostat data (February 2012), last year there were 220,390 applications for asylum in the EU, while in Greece the number did not exceed 10,000. (Incidentally, the EU average of acceptance of asylum demands was 25%, while the Greek a mere 2%.)

In other words, there is a significant number of immigrants who enter Greece and somehow end up in other European countries. Who is responsible for “lightening the weight” of illegal immigration in Greece? It is the trafficking circuits which are making considerable profit. At the moment, the fee to pass from Greece to say France is 4,000 Euro, and a cheaper way to approach e.g. Austria through the Western Balkans is 2,800 Euro. So the value of a person who crosses the Evros border for 500 Euro rises six times as they enter Greece. The black market of human trafficking (including many local officials) will not want this to change any time soon!

Myth 6. They say: Immigrants raise the level of criminality

As with trafficking, the slave trade too is a huge circuit in which many are involved, including pimps, drug dealers, police officers, fascists, and managers of “protection services” to businesses. The slave trade mafias are also drug cartels and prostitution businesses. Their networks control many forms of criminality at once. When there is no way for someone to make a living, and when street vendors are being treated as drug dealers, it is easier for the mafias to recruit members…

Poverty definitely breeds criminality – or rather, the criminal onslaught of capital always creates new rounds of criminality: Our Balkan neighbors, after the capitalist structural adjustments of the last 20 years, suffer from higher rates of criminality than Greece, though the immigrant population within their countries is sparse. Immigration is not directly connected to criminality. The connection between criminality and immigrants is forged in a specific and conscious way.

The State prefers to rely on the mafias for the management of the influx of immigrants and on the fascists for the “solution to the immigrant problem”. The State is actually assigning tasks to mafias and fascists so that it can then present its repression measures as necessary and desirable. In any case it is much easier for government officials and cops to “discuss matters” with the leaders of mafia gangs and of para-State groups (though such arrangements often run the risk of really getting out of hand from the point of view of “law and order”…)

As for the mafia leaders and fascists themselves, they are a flexible lot. The same people can be “concerned citizens” chasing immigrants in an Athens square in the morning, and professional assassins executing a death contract in the evening. They can be on duty in uniform in the morning, blogging patriotic-nazi propaganda in the afternoon, selling protection services and collecting money from a prostitution business in the evening.

A great crime is being conducted in Greece right now: Nazis, encouraged and often promoted by the State, are claiming social legitimacy. The reason is simple: Mafias are particularly useful in times of social tension. It is well known how in Italy the mafias were used, in collaboration with the fascists, in the attack against the social movement, as it is also obvious that, at this painful moment, in Mexico the war against the wide and powerful social movement is being fought in the context and under the pretext of a so-called “war on crime”.


What now?

We are not presenting some conspiracy theory of “how, in the crisis, fascism was manufactured in the laboratories of the State of Disaster Capitalism, behind closed doors or with contracts signed with blood.” However, these metaphors, if used within the informed context of the ruthlessness of Capital and its use of State control mechanisms and of public resources alike, are, we believe, possibly simplified but hardly incorrect tools to describe the actual reality people are experiencing every day.

Our intention is to show that recent attacks are not some spontaneous outcome of poverty, since shared poverty can inspire solidarity as much as it can awaken fascist reflexes. Neither is the spread of fascist violence always in the interest of all capitalists and all States in times of crisis: Fascism is only one of the weapons of Capital, and, furthermore, it is not necessarily the best one for business or for whatever bio-political management.

We have watched the attacks against immigrants develop over time. There is a pattern forming. This pattern is not specific to Greece in its broad features, however it is not a pattern that one can easily deduce employing the traditional criteria for capitalism in Europe: Capitalism uses fascism, as it also has in the past. Yet today we are experiencing a devaluation of labor and life that is unprecedented in recent European history. Is this the beginning of an era we should try to understand? For the moment we will only point to (yes, repeat) one of the social functions of fascism.

The creation and promotion of fascist gangs does not aim merely at diverting attention from the crisis and the IMF attacks. The dominance of fascist rhetoric has a specific psychological function for disillusioned people. Shocked by sudden devaluation and redundancy, they are allowed to feel stronger by looking down on someone conveniently inferior, and are encouraged to turn their rage and fear into hate and to direct it against somebody of even less value for capital.

But that is not all. If the attacks against immigrants continue and the State continues not to defend them, and, even more crucially, if the social movement itself does not defend and support the immigrants, the way is being paved for immigrants to react, not in the name of social liberation and justice, but within the traditional power structures of nation and religion.

In 2009, Konstandina Kouneva became the shining example of an immigrant woman working for a workers’ subletting company, who dared unionize in a grassroots union and speak up for the rights of herself and her fellow workers in the cleaning business. In 2010, Egyptian fishermen in Michaniona, Thessaloniki, initiated the first strike in the post-IMF period in Greece. In 2011, 300 immigrant workers went on a 44-day hunger strike demanding human and labor rights, sending the first message of hope, solidarity and struggle amidst the crisis. Will the next paradigm be immigrants demonstrating with placards praising Allah and accusing the Greek State of insulting the Khuran? Let us remember some of the contingents in the 24th of August 2012 demonstration in Athens, where an anti-racist demo was turned into an occasion for mass muslim prayer… Let us remember September’s demo on Syntagma square following a Press conference by the Muslim Union where, for the first time the PM of Greece was accused of being “the greatest racist” [by the president of the Muslim Union], but again, only because of the youtube “Innocence of Muslims” video… Immigrants were chanting “Allah Akhbar”, though before, the vast majority of them never felt they could take the chance to denounce the killings, the pogroms, the beatings, the humiliation, trafficking, exploitation they have been experiencing all these years…

We are not saying that hundreds of thousands of immigrants subscribe to this religious channelling of anger…Yet these moments are the ones which are being encouraged and promoted – in the same way that the few Albanians who collaborate with the neo-nazis in the pogroms have often been used as the prime example of the “true Albanians”…

Indeed, it seems quite possible right now: If the regime decides upon some “strategy of tension”, it will not necessarily manufacture some micro-civil war or some “war between the extremes” (between the far-right and the far-left, as the State managed to crush the movement in 1970s Italy). The State might opt for another solution, the alleged (and famously proclaimed) “clash of civilizations”. That is exactly what happened with a part of the indignados movement in the squares in Greece last year: The enraged Greeks tried to revolt, populist support from the media talked of “traitor politicians” and inflated the  metaphysical distinctions between “bad” financial capitalists and “good” investment capitalists, then the protesters started waving national flags and calling for what could be generally summarized as a “patriotic class war.” That was it. Their rage had been channeled towards fascism. With a similar technique, the expression of immigrants’ discontent could be placed under the control of muslim leaders and mullahs. Indeed, authorities and bosses of all kinds always find a way to coordinate their practices.

And if the social movement is absent from solidarity to immigrants, soon there will be no social movement.

clandestina, september 2012


  1. ubeudgen said

    Reblogged this on Ubeudgen’s Blog.

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