They see the ridiculing of the “other” as a game and the invocation of Golden Dawn as a fashion and a tool of intimidation. High school students talk about the beating up of immigrants and how the organization approached them.
He identifies as a nationalist and a staunch supporter of Golden Dawn. Dimitris is a student in the final class of high school, he’s 5′ 9”, with a childish face and a strong grip. In his words, he’s a core member of the group Northern Suburbs Nationalist Gathering. Its members include teenagers his age, younger people and thirtysomethings. “We made our one stickers, we wrote slogans. But also there were some of us who beat up immigrant beggars in the street” he says.
Since the inclusion of the Golden Dawn party in the parliament, the organization’s popularity in his school has radically increased. “Anarchism used to be hip. It was just a way to oppose the system. In the same way, today many young people call themselves nationalists. They wear Greek Army or Golden Dawn shirts in the school. Maybe they do it for the girls” he says. This tendency appeared in his neighborhood after the municipal elections in 2010. As he says, during this time, each classroom suddenly had three to four students with far-right beliefs.
The spread of Golden Dawn’s influence in student circles isn’t restricted in Dimitris’ neighborhood. In the other end of Athens, in the western part of Attica, Apostolis and his friends wait for me near the school entrance. That’s were he did his first ambush. His hands are in his pockets and there’s adolescent stubble on his face. He’s 15 years old and he’s beating up immigrants. “We chase every Pakistani we see” he says. “We got as many reasons to do it as Golden Dawn has”. In this neighborhood, the hunt begins after the school’s finished.
“I saw him standing next to that pole over ther. Me and a friend run up to hit and started beating him”, Apostolis recounts. “I’ve beaten up a lot of them. Ten, fifteen. Something like that. If the teachers at school learn about it, I just lie and say I was provoked”. Many kids take part in these attacks. Students 13, 14 years old. “We’re not Golden Dawn members. It’s just our hobby. Whoever doesn’t have papers should get beaten up” says Yorgos, age 14.
“These kids are going to join Golden Dawn, sooner or later” says 17-year-old Dimitris, after I tell him about the previous dialog. Similar attacks have been recorded in other schools of the country. “They use the name of the organisation to intimidate people. They exploit it. In this way, they want to have control, to supervise the school. They’ve even said to teachers “if you don’t give us a good grade, we’ll wait for you outside” says a secondary education employee in Attica.
THE APPROACH. Officially, the Golden Dawn party denies that they approach students. Last October, using a fight between greek and immigrant students at a school in Heraclion, Crete, the local organization of the party said in an announcement that “no political action is deployed in schools, and no underaged children are accepted in their offices without the presence of their parents.” Despite that, in September 2008, a post in the blog “Antepithesi” (Retaliation), which speaks for the Youth Front of Golden Dawn, called for: “A struggle in schools, gyms and wherever children and youngsters are gathered”. In the same blog, there are posts with pictures which depict Golden Dawn members handing out fliers outside schools. Specifically, in Drama, 11th October, 2010, in Ioannina, 19th February, 2009, and in Ksanthi, April 13th, 2006.
Two years ago, Dimitris visited the headquarters of Golden Dawn by himself, where every Saturday there are meetings for the members of the Youth Front. He had been following the organization on the internet since 2008, when he had seen the fight between Golden Dawn members (with the riot police on their side) and anarchists. He thought they were fierce, he says. “Maybe the fact that I grew up with a nationalistic sentiment has something to do with it” he adds. “In their offices they’re really friendly towards you. They want to draw you in. They asked me for my phone to let me know about meetings.” The organization’s rules state that only adults can become members. Dimitris explains, though, that in practice there’s no age limit imposed, only appearance codes. “They call you to meetings or marches. If they see that your heart’s in it, or that you have a strong build, or that you know people, they give you flags. Secondly, they test you when shit gets rough, to see if you’re worth it. That’s how you become a member. The 20 euro subscription comes by simple supporters, everybody can do it”, he says.
“We’ve been beating up immigrants for about a year now”
Since the opening of the Golden Dawn offices in the northern suburbs, the Nationalist Gathering was dissolved. According to Dimitris, though, some former members formed their own, smaller groups, and they continued attacking immigrants. “This bothered me. Attacks like this are nonsensical. If they caught them, I’d get mixed up to. The members have orders not to carry out attacks” he points out.
Similar incidents have been reported in other places. Three weeks ago, three greeks, students in a highschool that belongs to the Secondary Education Management of Piraeus, tied an indian student on a tree with a rope. They accepted their fault, they said that their motives weren’t racist, and they were punished with expulsion. What shocked the principal, Eudoksia Mandali, was society’s apathy. “The incident happened in noon, in a central place. No adults intervened” she says. “Some people were cheering for the attackers. The reaction of the mother of one of the punished students was similar.”
Some miles away, in school in western Attica, the role models of the students are the same. “We’ve been beating up immigrants for about a year now” says Apostolis, 15 years old. “We saw older men do it. We thought we’d do it for fun, and then we got used to it.” When asked the question about what does Golden Dawn represent for them, a kid from the same school replies “only violence” and another one says: “The Golden Dawn doesn’t threaten. They just fuck you up. So do we”. Our newspaper chose not to disclose the name of the neighborhood, to protect the school and the students. The names of the children aren’t the true ones, also. However, you can find parts of our recorded conversations, in which they admit to the attacks, on our website (www.tanea.gr).
One teacher that has these kids as students points out that her students “have always had the tendency to prove that they’re not situated in the bottom of society, so now immigrants become their target”. At least one unemployed person lives in every house in this neighborhood. The father of 15-year-old Apostolis lost his job five months ago. The kid blames the immigrants. Once, this high school functioned as a sports school. Today, it doesn’t have a Music or an Arts teacher. Last year, when a classroom was to be used for an after-hour Greek class for immigrants, many parents objected. Now this class doesn’t exist anymore.
THE RESPONSE. There have been attempts of addressing the problem by principals and teachers, either explicitly or subtly – as they fear being stigmatized – while the newly-formed Prevention and Addressing of School Violence Watch, a part of the department of education, plans new special programs to address discrimination. Until now, the majority of racist violence incidents in schools have been punished by expulsion. Apostolis faced a five-day suspension in his school in western Attica. The teenagers that took part in the fight against their immigrant classmates during last October in Crete were punished by being transferred to another school.
In the western Attica school, faculty members have been searching for other ways to counter racist violence. At least ten in thirty teachers took part in seminars for education and difference last year. They have passed out questionnaires to students, and, with the help of a psychologist, they’ll try to evaluate the stance of the children toward immigrants. They are planning a school trip to the Museum of Political Exiles in Athens. They hope that in this way, given time, the hunting of immigrants will stop being a game.
[Translated article from ‘Ta Nea’ newspaper, 23/02/2013, found online at: http://www.tanea.gr/news/greece/article/5002747/xrysh-aygh-kai-ratsistikh-bia-eisballoyn-sta-ellhnika-sxoleia/]