International meeting against racism and fascism, Athens, 15-16 October 2016
The annual Nationwide Assembly of KEERFA (Movement against Racism and Fascist Threat) held over a warm October weekend in Athens ended by adopting a raft of agreed actions and priorities for the coming year by the many Greek Anti-Racist and Anti- Fascist activists, networks and organisations, professionals such as teachers and doctors, trade unionists and journalists present. The range of contributions from the panel speakers and from the floor had been inspiring and chilling as all of us present listened to the current manifestations of the far right, the state response to refugee and migrant communities and crucially the anti-racist and anti-fascist response and resistance. Volunteer Interpreters ensured that non-Greek speaking participants from UK, Austria, Netherlands, Denmark, France, Germany, Switzerland and Turkey were able to participate fully. KEERFA’s focus in Greece currently is two-fold: ensuring that the Golden Dawn trial continues on the one hand whilst keeping up the campaigning for refugee rights and fostering a climate of solidarity with refugees.
Themes that recurred from the participants in Greece and across the rest of Europe were the conditions within ‘Temporary Immigrant Centres’ as they are known in Catalonia, Spain or more correctly referred to by many activists as ‘concentration camps’; building of physical borders of barbed wire and razor wire and walls; the right to stay or illegal expulsion i.e. from Spain to Morocco where people are left in the desert or from Greece to Turkey under the agreement made recently; provision of education, health and crucially housing to refugee/migrant communities ; cuts and austerity measures being cited as bogus reasons for state’s inability to support refugee communities ; rise in Islamophobia and media and state demonization of the Muslim community. An example of the last issue was a poster with a woman in a hijab next to a terrorist bomber as well as the ‘burkini-ban’ in French resorts that triggered massive back-lash in France and internationally.
Two days of panel discussions on the Golden Dawn trial, Solidarity with Refugees, Islamophobia, Education and others were packed with both really worrying accounts of specific policies impacting on refugees such as children in Greece finally being given school places but to receive only education in the afternoons so that the fight now has become to equip schools with ability to provide a decent education for refugee children throughout the school day. We then heard that some refugee families are being rounded up to be removed from Greece and that children being taken when on school premises and when they attempted an escape being pursued by police helicopters and that this appeared to be more than rare anecdotal accounts but the beginning of a systematic approach to remove refugees from Greece. UK delegates, no doubt, wondered for what purpose the information UK teachers are currently being directed to ask pupils regarding their nationality i.e. where they were born, will be put.
Greek speakers spoke of the far right re-grouping as ‘concerned citizens and parents’ speaking out about the strain on schools of refugee children and within their communities. Vigilance and constant challenging of their rhetoric was needed, not to convert the fascists themselves but to ensure that the workers and those experiencing poverty with the impacts of austerity are not drawn in by these racists and fascists posing as ordinary concerned citizens. Greek Fascists had attempted a physical attack in an area with high number of migrants but luckily anti-fascists and trade unionists had been able to mobilise to defend the migrant community in the unexplained absence of police in the area when the mob initiated the attack. The prompt and effective anti-fascist response had curbed further repeats of this tactic but incidents of individual attacks were high, as experienced throughout Europe and within the UK following the EU referendum outcome.
Petros Konstantinou, Coordinator of KEERFA and Athens city councillor addressed the closing remarks to the International Meeting on the Sunday afternoon of 16th October 2016. Petros took the opportunity to emphasize that as many speakers from Greece and elsewhere had stated, that whilst fascists are not at their strongest that they are not weak and that they continue to pose a real, imminent and ongoing threat. Petros stated that the many successes in the anti-fascist movement in mobilising large numbers at Pro-Refugee rallies throughout Europe , such as the 1,500 attending the Stand Up to Racism conference in the UK the previous weekend and the unprecedented actions of the German state in accepting 1 million refugees that efforts need to be made day in and day out to fight for refugee rights and that with the demands for improved education and health provision for refugee children in Greece and elsewhere that these improvements will be for in education and health would benefits to all. Petros called for continued attendance of anti-fascists in the public gallery of the Golden Dawn trial which speakers had stated can have a massive impact on the outcome of the trial as well as providing support to those having to give witness.
Petros reminded participants that refugee and migrant voices and experiences needed to be central in the movement and that the refugees and migrants are not passive ‘victims’ but are the people on the ‘front line of the movement’.
Calls were also made for all delegates to build for the UN Day for Elimination of Racism on 18 March 2017 but reminding people that fighting against racism was an every-day fight in our workplaces, with friends and family and crucially in our wider local communities. Many forthcoming days of action were announced by Greek and other delegates and it is clear that the anti-racist and anti-fascist movement is stepping up to the challenging and dangerous times that we are all living in and the movement needs to be able to maintain this heightened level of vigilance, campaigning and robust anti-fascist response.