Migration and Struggle in Greece

CONCENTRATION CAMPS: the return of totalitarianism

Posted by clandestina on 23 February 2014

CONCENTRATION CAMPS: the return of totalitarianism

No prince was ever at a loss for plausible reasons to cloak a breach of faith
“Since love and fear can hardly exist together, if we must choose between them,
it is far safer to be feared than loved”
Niccolò Machiavelli, The Prince

“…dominion can be established, that is, men can be unified only in a unity against – against other men. Every association of men is necessarily a separation from other men”
Karl Schmitt, Political Theology, 1922

“The legitimation of violence against a demonized internal enemy
brings us close to the heart of fascism.”
Robert Paxton, The Anatomy of Fascism, 2004

“A nation cannot develop and become strong without a sense of urgency and a sense of crisis.”
Long Yongtu, China’s chief WTO negotiator
Financial Times, 17 November 1999

“Capitalism itself works in cycles of crisis production and crisis management. For global capital these ‘crises’ are actually its cyclical opportunities for radical restructuring. Capital doesn’t just manage crises, it directs them. Capitalism itself is the root crisis that is destroying humanity and the planet.” (Clandestina network, Joseph Matthews, Iain Boal, George Caffentzis, Silvia Federici et al., Europe at the frontline of the great enclosure. An opportunity to get real in the promised wasteland, October 2009).

Politics means the “other” must become the enemy

The concentration camp is a penal system in itself. It is an extra-judicial penal system because of the objective innocence of the detained (people are held only because they exist – without rights), and of the extra-legal status of the institutional existence of the camps (they function not as a prison, nor as a police station, nor as a hostel, they are not described in the law…). These two elements place the concentration camp system as a whole outside the realm of rational State-institutional calculation, and in a universe wholly different from a rights-based utilitarian regime. Despite their uselessness, even their cynically admitted anti-utility (they don’t produce labor, don’t reform characters, nor cure diseases), the camps are the key to sustaining totalitarian rule, for the camp system infuses society with an undefined fear that is essential both to maintaining the totalitarian regime’s hold over society at large and to inspiring ‘its nuclear troops -cops, guards, officers- with fanaticism’.

Until some years ago, the social movement in Greece had to organize campaigns just to make visible the immigrant detention centers in the country:  They were calculated about 80 in 2005, both formal (in military barracks or depots), and informal (usually in police stations). Nowadays, “concentration camps for immigrants” have became a flag notion in the dominant fascist rhetoric of the government. They are the symbolic place where the “unnecessary ones”, people without rights (an expanding concept) are being discarded. They are a black hole of fear and hate: Fear of being dumped there, hate for those who are already in there. The dominant regime manages social relations through the structure of a military camp. The “troops of sovereignty”, whether the legal state security forces or the fascist “assault squads”, are being trained on the naked bodies of those stripped of every human quality. Large-scale police operations are being conducted as military clearing operations. Hate spreads. Mixed with despair, it creates the kind of citizen that capitalism, the Party of Death, prefers to govern.

With the depreciation of life becoming the norm, the need for totalitarianism appears natural. Violence in everyday media iconography turns the perception of life into a Quentin Tarantino movie. Now we know: The images from concentration camps in Greece were not leaked in order to denounce brutality but in order to advertise it, just like the torture images from Guantanamo were publicized to assure patriots that the army was doing its job. When the destruction of personal human identity is being officially established through torture and contempt, hate spreads and pervades everyday life.

“The ideal subject of totalitarian rule is not the convinced Nazi or the convinced Communist, but people for whom the distinction between fact and fiction (i.e. the reality of experience) and the distinction between true and false (i.e. the standards of thought) no longer exist.” (Hannah Arendt, Origins of Totalitarianism, 1958)

Disciplining through destroying the value of the human

The December 2008 riots were followed by a “counterinsurgency” on behalf of the State. This countermovement began in the spring of 2009, as a direct response to the struggles following the assault against the Bulgarian cleaner and trade-unionist Konstandina Kuneva, and it was implemented through the attacks on immigrants and refugees. Immigrants and refugees actually became an issue for the first time: Let us not forget that already in 2007 there 257 migrants had lost their lives trying to cross the Aegean,  and the ProAsyl report had documented the systematic torture of immigrants by the Greek port police. Yet nobody had paid attention until then. In 2009, the “invisible” suddenly became “too visible” and were presented as the greatest threat to society. The joint attack by fascists and riot police against sans papiers immigrants who had squatted the empty and abandoned building of the Court of Appeal, as well as a series of meetings of the Minister of Public Order with the fascist so-called “citizens committees” were a foretaste of what would follow:

Aghios Panteleimonas is a poor neighborhood at the center of the city of Athens where thousands of immigrants, mainly from Afghanistan, were left to live out on the streets – with no hygiene nor shelter. Tension built up with the locals. Amongst the locals were also immigrants from Albania, who after years of exploitation had managed to buy appartments and were witnessing the dramatic fall in the price of land in the area because of this chaotic situation. Some of the “old” immigrants even backed fascist “vigilantes”, disguised as “citizen committees” and joined them in attacking the “new” immigrants (see the Norwegian documentary The battle for Attica square). Gradually, and through a systematic coordination by certain fascists, Aghios Panteleimonas became the cradle for both the internal enemy and the fascist attack squads. Fascist squads were born from the mafias exploiting immigrants and from the multipurpose trafficking networks, which in the previous years had been created and maintained through the illegal status of the immigrants – often under the direct control and participation, and always with the tolerance, of the police.

We must note here a change in the direction of exploitation compared to the period from the 1990s until the mid-2000s. The looting of the lives of immigrants did not aim to exploit cheap labor anymore. Instead, immigrants were used for the construction of the idea of “people seen as garbage”, of “human surplus”, leading to an overall devaluation of life.

Immigrants were criminalized and victimized simultaneously. Their mere existence as humans was converted into a problem, which was served together with its “solution”. The conditions (what the international Press would call a “humanitarian crisis” with migrants as the victims, and what the  Greek mass media would call “a war in the neighborhoods of Athens”, with the Greeks in the role of the victims), soon convinced everyone that we were living in an emergency situation requiring emergency action. The dominant elites had decided to restore their power through a publicly announced official state of exception.

Let us provide some background to this: In 2009 the “socialist” party PASOK won the elections. G. Papandreou, then premier of Greece, had described his government as a bunch of “anti-authoritarians in power”. PASOK temporarily halted the construction of an internal enemy and adopted a profile of modernization and democracy (shutting down the Pagani detention center in Mytilene with a command by the minister of Public Order Spyros Vougias, voting a more liberal Bill on Citizenship etc). However, this propaganda was aimed at the Greek audience. In reality, the situation for the excluded remained exactly the same: So there was a short wave of antiracist rhetoric in the mass media but the deep control of immigrants by the mafias in real life continued. At the same time, tension in Agios Panteleimonas neighborhood was still building up. Necessary attention to this development was still lacking, as the social movement remained largely drunk on the glory of the December 2008 riots or was expecting an explosion of radicalism in the population, as local assemblies and grassroots trade unions seemed to develop in many neighborhoods.

The impossibility to distinguish between fact and fiction and between true and false, which was fostered for decades by the spectacular commodity society, seemed threatened by the imminent violent impoverishment of the population and the consequent emergence of widespread discontent against the political system. The public discourse in 2010-2011 gradually shifted again towards fascism: Frontex and the fence on Evros, labelling the 300 migrant hunger strikers a “health bomb”, attacks on immigrant street vendors selling bags, CDs and mobile phone chargers (the fascists were saying small shops were allegedly closing because of the few African vendors, forgetting to mention the expansion of multinationals, heavy government  taxation and the general impoverishment).

In the same period, police forces gradually turned overtly and expressively fascist (a development which coincided with the establishment of the new “DIAS” motorcycle patrol units, and with the massive recruitment by the government of special guards, etc.). As riot police were constantly faced with hundreds of thousands of protesters, often in very violent confrontations, the regime did not feel safe having just uniformed servants who would defend the financial mafia in exchange for a salary. The new and enforced mercenaries had to see the protesters as enemies, they had to hate ideologically those who were resisting. Simply put, security forces had to urgently turn fascist (and indeed, in the 2012 elections half of the police voted for the nazi party).

The shift towards a full-blown fascist discourse and the transformation of society into a pro-fascist audience culminated in 2012, with the minister of Public Order Chrysochoidis announcing the creation of dozens of concentration camps for undocumented immigrants.

Making numbers speak

More than 5,000 undocumented immigrants have been arrested and detained in concentration camps since the launch of the police operation named “Xenios Zeus” (what a wicked sense of humor!), after the god who protected strangers in Ancient Greece. Amongst the detained are many refugees from Syria (who, according to international conventions, should be protected as war refugees). In addition, an unknown number of immigrants are held in police stations across the country. In order to grasp the meaning of the size of the detained population of undocumented immigrants in Greece, let us mention that the number of prisoners in the “normal” prison system is not more than double the number of detainees in concentration camps – and the overwhelming majority in the actual prisons are immigrants themselves.

This intensification of anti-immigrant policies was allegedly intended to “restrict immigrant population in the country”. Immigrants however did not and do not leave Greece because of the fascist attacks, for hardship and insane violence is nothing new to them. They leave the country mainly because there are no jobs and no way to get by. In the last two years they have been returning to their countries, even going back to Turkey (where they are still offered the bitter privilege of brutal exploitation as extremely cheap labor force), or they get trapped in other Balkan countries (Serbia, Macedonia) trying to reach the “European dream” and end up working in construction for some Russian mafia at Montenegro tourist resorts.

The decrease in the number of undocumented migrants entering Greece is not due to “anti-immigrant politics” but because of the policy of planned economic disaster. The sharp decline in the number of immigrants entering through the Evros river (the Greek-Turkish border) is not due to the much-discussed fence. This route was the choice of workers from northern and central Africa, the Middle East and Asia who could travel without a visa to Turkey and enter Greece crossing the river on boats and on foot. In the last years in Greece we are facing a systematic destruction of productive forces and living labor. So, simply put, migrant workers do not come anymore – they know there is absolutely nothing to do here.

It might sound contradictory to explain the decline in the number of incoming immigrants in Greece through the economic crisis, since most of them are “transit immigrants” and do not want to stay in Greece anyway. However, for the mere passage through Greece one needs money. If the undocumented do not have money, they must work to raise the amounts demanded by traffickers for the next part of the trip. If they have money, they should not spend it elsewhere. But as the undocumented are trapped in Greece, even those who have money for the traffickers, eventually spend it for their own survival. As there are no jobs, the passage from Greece is not a choice anymore and the same goes for choosing Greece as a final destination. The number of undocumented immigrants arrested on Greek territory had been in sharp decline before the launching of the “Xenios Zeus” operation in Athens and the “Operation Shield” in Evros: from 146,337 in 2008, the number of arrested fell to 76,878 in 2012. This number does not reflect the number of incomers, as only 60% of the arrests happen at the border. The total number includes many immigrants arrested again and again in big Greek cities: 28,558 of the 99,368 arrests of 2011, 27,541 of the 76,878 arrests in 2012 and 11,636 of the 31,050 arrests in the first 9 months of 2013. According to Greek Police data, the number of undocumented immigrants entering Greece fell from 90,000 in 2010 to 60-70,000 in 2011 and to 40-50,000 in 2012. In comparison, the number of undocumented arrested on an annual basis throughout the EU according to the website of the department of internal affairs of the European Commission is an astonishing 500,000. The overall decline in the numbers of undocumented in Greece is reflected by the fact that this year the number of those who left Greece for central Europe via the Balkan countries was double the number of those who entered Greece from Turkey according to the Frontex Risk Analysis bulletin-second quarter of 2013. The passage through the Western Balkans also demonstrates the economic dead-end that undocumented immigrants face in Greece. Is not the only route out of Greece, but it is chosen by more and more as it is the cheapest passage, since there is no strong network of traffickers yet, and the passage is largely done impromptu.

The sad confirmation of the change of the route entries of immigrants into Europe comes from the hundreds of deaths in Lampedusa.

The passage to Greece through the Aegean increased sharply (505%), mainly because of the war in Syria. According to the Reuters agency (21/10/2013) more than 600,000 refugees of this war are now in Turkey. A comparatively small number of refugees from Syria (which has a land border with Turkey) cross Anatolia on foot and try to enter Greece through the Aegean. The result: dozens of refugees dead in ship-wrecks in the Aegean and mass graves in Mytilene.

Cheap workforce without rights, now “for Greeks only”

The new Greek “Immigration Code” attempts to regulate “legal” immigrants who, in the new context of the devaluation of workforce, are seen as useless labour overaccumulation. The Code basically says to the “legal” immigrants: “Thanks for your cooperation, now goodbye”. The new Code encourages “flexibility” in the conversion of previously “legal” immigrants into “illegal” ones (because of unemployment and inability to collect work stamps necessary for them to remain “legal”). This flexibility is accompanied by a new regulation, which promises to convert the immigrant status of “long-term residence” in Greece to a legal option of going to work in another EU country. Hundreds of thousands of immigrants who are threatened to become “illegals” because of the “economic crisis” are practically forced to move to another European country. As far as Greece is concerned, Greeks are now meant to occupy the position and the social status of immigrant workers. Both fascists and neoliberals agree on this: Cheap workforce without rights is now the option “for Greeks only”.

The same goes for concentration camps: Greeks are intended to occupy the position of immigrants in the camps (or rather to obey, “or else the camps await”): Last spring Greek drug addicts were shut in the Amygdaleza immigrants detention center. Some weeks later, plans were leaked about the use of former military barracks for the imprisonment of Greek tax debtors (“after all, you used to send your kids for military service there, it couldn’t be so bad to spend some time jailed in a military barrack yourselves, or would you prefer immigrants to take advantage of this hospitality offer?”)… The intensification of anti-immigrant policies ultimately aimed mostly at the management of locals, not the immigrants.

“State sovereignty is based upon the distinction between friend and enemy” (Karl Schmitt), state unity is achieved by defining the content of politics as an opposition to the ”other” (a stranger, an enemy). Furthermore, “governments today seek to manage disorder [ …] The challenge is to intervene after the event of disorder, a posteriori” (Giorgio Agamben).

Scapegoating, initially in response to the December uprising, and later as a prerequisite for the success of capitalist attack within the so-called crisis, was to be expected.

The mechanism of “migration chaos”, the “state of emergency” that presented totalitarianism as necessary, is rather simple. The Undocumented go where trafficking mafias send them, in the same way that drug addicts gather where there are merchants of death. Obviously, someone who comes from Afghanistan does not choose by himself to head to Agios Panteleimonas… If the ruling elites wanted to exploit the refugees of new world order wars for creating cheap labor, as they did with Albanian immigrants in the early 90s, they could have used trafficking circuits to direct them into the ghettos in the periphery of Athens, where immigrants would get in contact either with smugglers who would send them to another European country or with black labor pimps who control sweatshops, as happens with the Bangladeshis who are sent by the traffickers directly to pick strawberries in Manolada.

In Greece, already after the Olympics in 2004, the future had been predetermined: It the methodical destruction of productive forces and of living labor, for a new round of capitalist accumulation: the game of destruction, devaluation and profit.

The choice of accumulating “human-garbage” in the center of Athens has often been attributed to a systematic reduction in land values as part of a broader «gentrification» plan. This may be true, as it is also true that this human accummulation contributed to the vast multiplication of many types of mafias.

The core, however, of the policy of “human-garbage” is that it set an example for greek society, an example which naturalized the necessity of totalitarianism, whether in the form of fascist assault squads or in the form of police raids.

This description of the mechanism of “immigration chaos” does not imply that the ruling elites designed it in every detail. They simply watched and encouraged the situation unfold in that direction. They reinforced what contributed to this direction and fought against what could prevent it.

The symbolism of concentration camps was a completely conscious choice within the framework of the publicly announced state of emergency, the public pronouncement of the politics of exception.

…and the real enemy?

Capitalism is not a safe way to live. Fascism is an “extremism of the center” in the sense of an overwhelming crisis beyond the reach of any traditional solutions. The struggle against concentration camps is inseparable from the struggle of life against death.

The rhetoric of the two extremes was manufactured systematically since 2009. The coalition government had every reason to promote the idea of a neonazi party representing one right wing  extreme to a left extreme, in order to ideologically instrumentalize the existing and dangerous social movement and create analogies between two allegedly similar but ideologically opposed sides of terrorism. This served two purposes: 1. a “fear of what the neonazi party could do” was used to pass racist policies, and secure the shock tactics of antisocial measures, 2. the equation of “the rightwing extremism” with “the leftwing extremism” was used for the persecution of the social movement (the criminalisation of the local antigoldmine struggle in Halkidiki, and the eviction of squats and social centers).

It should be noted here that the “fascist threat” was a media construct and a government promotion well before it actually became a voters’ movement with certain uncontrollable, and seemingly “antisystemic”, features.

Interestingly, the Greek version of the indignados movement (or the “squares movement”) in the spring and summer of 2011 excluded immigrant solidarity from the agenda, with the excuse that “this would divert the discussion from the attack against the Greeks…” Also, the Communist Party KKE as well as Syriza, the two left wing parties in parliament, did not refuse to partake of the construction of the Extremismustheorie, (at least until the assassination of the antifascist Pavlos Fyssas, which gave rise to huge demos and forced the government to play the antifascist for a while and lock up a few GD members, including the party leader). KKE did not hesitate at the beginning of 2012 to let GD members speak at an open assembly of striking metal workers, with the phrase “we are open to the whole of society [meaning not only anarchists]”, because the stalinist party saw the antiauthoritarians were becoming too important in the solidarity wave for the striking workers. The Syriza leader Alexis Tsipras also objected in 2012 to “being called a fascist or an anarchist”, and Syriza parliamentaries spoke on equal terms and often with racist slogans with GD fellow MPs. So much for what “the Left in power” can do!

At the moment, local antiauthoritarian assemblies are spreading throughout the larger towns, in Athens the antifascist movement has not ceased to fight at every corner, the struggle against the goldmines in Halkidiki, Northern Greece is holding strong despite extreme and ongoing pressure by the gold company and its subservient Greek State.

Let us never forget that immigrant struggles, since at least 2007 have been the solid, if unacknowledged, background to the Greek social movement’s struggles: The Bangladeshi strawberry workers’ strike in 2007, the Afghani riots at the settlement in Patras in January, August and September 2008, the immigrant workers’ hunger strike for full rights in Crete 2008, the majestic case of the Bulgarian immigrant trade-unionist Konstantina Kuneva in 2009, attacked and deformed with vitriol thrown at her by the bosses for her brave struggles for the rights of cleaners, the Egyptian fishermen very long strike in Michaniona, Thessaloniki in 2010, which, through bitterly shattered, still forced boat-owners throughout the country’s fishing ports to take all fishermen more seriously, the 300 immigrant workers’ hunger strike in 2011 for full rights for all immigrants, which gave rise to a tremendous solidarity movement at home and abroad, the Bangladeshi strawberry pickers again this year…and numerous protests within the detention centres and prisons…we should not let all this be written out of history.

Concentration camps mark the organized destruction of rights

The organized destruction of the “juridical person in man” that Arendt speaks about, is evident from the fact that concentration camps (announced by the “socialist” minister of public order Chrysochoidis in 2012 and implemented now by right-wing public order minister Dendias) do not fall under any European Union legislation. The European policy of “migration management” establishes three types of “facilities”: screening centers at the borders, designed to examine the accuracy of the arguments of asylum seekers, open support centers for refugees granted asylum status (one in four-that is 25 percent in the EU, only one in a thousand – 0,3 percent in Greece) and deportation centers for the ones whose deportation is underway.

Obviously, we do not mention this in order to support the … “harmonization with European legislation” but to highlight the fact the greek State officially positions undocumented migrants within an extra-judicial penal system, outside the purview of the law.

As regards the trust in European legislation from a part of the greek Left, we should mention that the extension of detention time of the prisoners of the “Xenios Zeus” police operation (when they will have completed one year of detention) was based on the infamous Directive on Return, the “shameful Directive” which was adopted in December 2008 and allowed EU member States detain undocumented migrants scheduled for deportation for up to 18 months (back then, maximum detention time for arrested undocumented immigrants in Greece was 3 months). The announcement of the extension of detention time from 12 to 18 months generated riots and hunger strikes in several concentration camps, which were faced with tear gas and police brutality. Insurgents from Amygdaleza detention centers have been scattered in various prisons and detention centers across the country.

The politics of the Greek State is the politics of devaluation, of “human garbage” talk and of concentration camps. It is the politics of permanent emergency, of constant exception and of sustainable, organized chaos. It attacks immigrants first, but the ultimate goal is the management of the whole population.


PS: this text has been translated in Serbo-Croatian and published in Margina (Clandestina. “Concentration Camps: The Return of Totalitarianism”, Margina – Magazin za sve ostalo, No 2, year I, Dec. 2013, pp. 32-40).

4 Responses to “CONCENTRATION CAMPS: the return of totalitarianism”

  1. […] 10Clandestina: CONCENTRATION CAMPS: the return of totalitarianism, 23.02.2014, URL:… […]

  2. […] 11Clandestina: CONCENTRATION CAMPS: the return of totalitarianism, 23.02.2014, URL:… […]

  3. […] “CONCENTRATION CAMPS: the return of totalitarianism” (October 2013) […]

  4. […] 11Clandestina: CONCENTRATION CAMPS: the return of totalitarianism, 23.02.2014, URL:… […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: