17 April 2014, Thursday
Today's Zaman

The stench of xeno’: Why Turks should be vigilant about Chrysi Avgi
by Pınar Tremblay*

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10 June 2012, Sunday /
It was about five years ago when a conference took me to a nice hotel in the center of Athens.

Yet I was uncomfortable with the surroundings. It just seemed there were too many young men hanging out on the street and the nearby park, which the hotel receptionist referred as a “druggie place.” I was only there for a couple of days, but this was the first time I realized the city center of Athens has pockets that are turning into “be careful” zones.

The flipside of the coin is the black-shirted, big-chested “native” Greeks who are against immigrants, gays, Jews, Muslims, leftists, anarchists and drugs. They are cut from the same cloth as neo-Nazis; mind you, they are even anti-German. My first encounter with Chrysi Avgi (Golden Dawn) -- before I knew they were a political movement -- was at a gym across from the same hotel. I could not help noticing all the weightlifting machines were taken by big guys with dark-colored T-shirts and shaved heads. Of course, being a well-educated political scientist, I knew unemployment levels in Greece were high, but why were they in my gym all at once?

I experienced my first culture shock about this different face of Greece when one hulky guy initiated a conversation. Speaking with a British accent, he asked if I was American. Once he understood I was in Athens only briefly, he asked, “How do you guys deal with ‘those’ in Los Angeles?” Those were the guys across the street; those who did NOT look Greek; those with the darker skin; those with calloused hands. I attempted a graceful exit from the gym. My new friend offered to accompany me “for my own good.” He told me he walks the elderly to the stores and banks for their protection. Would I want my grandmother to be attacked by a stranger? No, I said, I would not. “They should all go back to where they came from,” he opined.

It was a hot summer’s day when my extremist friend stopped in front of the hotel and asked: “Do you smell the stench? It is the xeno.” It was just the uncollected trash and maybe some urine, which I accept is not pleasant, but I had never before heard about “the stench of xeno.” It was too much for me. I remember the hatred in his eyes, matched by the fear in mine.

In the May 7 elections, Chrysi Avgi won about 7 percent of the vote, which translates to 21 seats out of 300 in the Greek parliament. They won more than 20 percent of the vote in some neighborhoods in Athens. The residents of poverty-ridden areas voted for the new faces of the extreme party that include a Holocaust-denying leader, Nikolaos Michaloliakos. Michaloliakos is not shy in declaring Greece for the Greeks; the necessity of land mines on the Turkish border to keep out immigrants; only those of Greek blood gaining party membership; and most importantly that one is born Greek, one cannot become Greek. He questions the existence of Auschwitz and the gas chambers. He is bold enough to ask interviewers: “Were you there?” Remember, there are “authentic” ultranationalist groups and different breeds of neo-Nazis in almost all European countries -- Greece may be one of the last to join the bandwagon.

A protectionist foreign policy

Chrysi Avgi’s foreign policy platform is protectionist, to put it mildly. After the elections, Michaloliakos shouted, “The Europe of the nations return; Greece is only the beginning.” Not only are eurozone regulations a burden for the Chrysi Avgi leadership, but maybe even the EU passport. Pundits have already stated that Chrysi Avgi is a European problem, and the European Jewish Congress has called for a ban on the party. Chrysi Avgi wants to make sure Greece starts drilling for gas and oil off the coast of Cyprus and other islands, a concern shared by many Greeks. They have made it public that the unresolved sea border issues with some neighbors needs to be handled so that Greece can return to its greatness. In other words, Chrysi Avgi takes it one step further.

If you are not familiar with this political movement, a quick YouTube search will reveal images of Chrysi Avgi with the Roman salute, Nazi chants and a swastika-like logo. It may seem as if they belong to another time and another place -- not in my beautiful EU-member Greece. Nevertheless, they claim to be the “real” Greeks. You can also view some of their favorite pastime activities: attacking immigrants. Muslims praying in a square for Eid is an invitation to be attacked by hulky guys. If you watch such videos, it is highly probable that the attackers are Chrysi Avgi members or supporters. I should note that there are hundreds of mosques all over mainland Greece and the islands; Athens still remains the only European capital without a mosque.

Anyone can be “the xeno” for this group. They are suspected of attacks on Jewish synagogues and cemeteries, various immigrant groups, as well as leftists, anarchists and homosexuals. Plus, their hooligan activities against Albanians, Macedonians and Turkish Cypriots are to be noted. Apparently, several members of the Greek police force are sympathizers of the movement. Yet this does not prevent the group from clashing with the police from time to time.

To be fair, tensions are not one-sided. Chrysi Avgi’s offices and now MPs have been attacked by leftists and anarchists. So there is a strong dislike against the movement from other “natives.” They are the big angry Greek men (I am sure there are women, too, but they are not at the forefront) who are determined to cure their troubles by cleansing their country from all things not Greek, or from the stench of xeno.

The good news is that all Greek parties have refused to work with Chrysi Avgi and there will be another election in June. Some polls indicate that the neo-Nazi party will lose votes in the upcoming election. (Just a note, my prediction is that Chrysi Avgi’s vote will remain the same or increase in June.)

If this is the case, and if this is mostly a protest vote, why should Turkey be vigilant about Chrysi Avgi’s domestic and foreign policy platform? The answer is simple, yet subtle. Extremist parties might not become the “most popular” party overnight, but they influence the platforms of other parties. Mainstream parties of the left and right adopt some of the rhetoric of the extremist parties and alter their own platforms to attract votes. This might look like the end of Chrysi Avgi, which has survived since 1985, but it indicates a subtle success by enabling its extreme rhetoric to infiltrate the mainstream parties. For example, we have already witnessed the opening of detention centers for asylum seekers, such as the Fylakio detention center in northeast Greece, referred to as Greece’s Guantanamo. Another example is the proposed fence on the Greek-Turkish border to stop the influx of immigrants.

Accommodating extremist policies

Now that Chrysi Avgi has gained a European-wide reputation, its rhetoric might catch on faster inside Greece. That might suggest that whoever assumes power in Greece is likely to accommodate some of their extremist policies. We also might see other parties listing candidates in the June elections who are xenophobic. Given the fact that the Greek financial crisis has lingered for well over five years now -- as the Greek exit from the euro seems very likely -- and the austerity measures have hurt the lower and middle classes and hard-working Greeks, it should be wise to consider that Greek foreign policy will be meandering through these rough times with some potential outbursts.

The extremists will not come to power in Greece in the foreseeable future. However, the services they have provided to struggling communities enable a normalization of their extreme rhetoric. This should be a red flag for Turkish policymakers that even though the intentions are good, our neighbor might exhibit some abnormal behavior. Turkey should not fall into the false security of the EU’s ability to control extremist movements. Despite the fact that the EU has provided an amazing example of supra-nationalism for students of international relations and has accomplished significant successes, progress in taming human nature is never a linear line. Indeed, many Greeks I have spoken with -- none can be classified as “ultranationalist” -- express feelings of being stuck between the EU and a hard place.

On the one hand Greece is a transit country and a gateway to the EU’s richer places. On the other hand, strict Schengen policies require all illegal immigrants to be returned to their port of entry. To make matters worse, I believe many Greeks are uneasy with Turkish visa changes. I could not help but notice the concern in my friends’ voices that the burden of immigration is considered too high for Greece; some put the blame on the Turkish approach to the issue. I believe Chrysi Avgi also represents the disappointment with the EU in Greece. Therefore, Turkey will have to make military and political contingency planning as if Greece is no longer part of the EU. The best policy advice, I argue, is the one that arrives on time.

I have been back to Greece several times in the past five years and have not experienced any racist or xenophobic activity. I only have good memories of Greek hospitality. The last time I was there right before the May 2012 elections, we were strolling the streets with an Italian friend who observed that “the city has the smell of fear and havoc.” It was only then that I remembered my shaven-head extremist friend and his scary statement of the stench of xeno. It is my personal hope that no one will ever look at another human being in disgust and feel or speak of the “stench of xeno.” Until then, laws for hate crimes should be in place to keep human nature in check. And Turkish foreign-policymakers should watch Chrysi Avgi’s rhetoric and repercussions carefully and be prepared for further challenges ahead on the Western front.

*Pınar Tremblay is from the political science department of the University of California, Los Angeles. [email protected]

The pot calling the kettle black!
Ms. Tremblay perhaps you should take the beam out of Turkeys eye before attempting to remove the speck in Greeces.. Really Turkey is the nation where all these illegal aliens come through and Turkey yet again going against her signature does no take them back. Dear this social chaos is caused by T...
Paul S
Interesting piece ! One comment, I was in Athens 3 weeks ago and witnessed how gangs of Golden Dawn were chasing black salesboys on the streets of center Athens while we were drinking coffee @ Plaka. I believe the violence against migrants has worsened the past months and daily reports can be fou...
Chrysi Avgi votes increased prof!!! you were right. Impressive. Noone else thought they would climb up further. Also some of these comments are just weird. Of course every country has nationalistic parties what does it mean for this piece? The piece does not deny that.
So hmm..and Turkey does not have its own nationalists. Turkey for a long time has had just as hard extreme nationalist running Turkey or influencing it ... look at how Turkey has treated its Christian minorities....and dont lie to yourself and say it treated them well and good.. i do not call pogro...
to all nationalistic greek friends writing here, count your blessings dr tremblay does not work for turkish foreign ministery. She is only too sharp. There is fire at all corners of Turkey and still they are troubling us Israelis. Too bad
aharon beitz
The article is definitely very interesting to read. The author does an effective job in being captivating and informative. It is not dry toast, but really gets you. Also if those racists were nice to you mrs tremblay you must be a very intersting lady. do you have a news program in turkey?
I came across this piece while trying to understand the golden dawn. I live in Australia, and i found this piece to be very useful. The author does not claim the party members are true blood GREEKS, he just explains their thinking and foreign policy statements. I did not even know aobut this newspap...
@paul -- the article makes it clear that chrysi avgi will never assume the control of the parliament but its rhetoric will affect the mainstream parties and hence the turks should be vigilant. there is no harm in vigilance now is there?
@ Tania--here's my issue with Ms. Tremblay's article: her final sentence says "And Turkish foreign-policymakers should watch Chrysi Avgi’s rhetoric and repercussions carefully and be prepared for further challenges ahead on the Western front." Reads like a veiled threat to me--here's why: Chryssi...
Chrisi Avgi may shout that all foreigners must leave Greece but at the same time this organisation has relations with the albanian mafia and others alike. During the last election for example, in an election center in Kifissia/Athens, Chrisi Avgi's electoral representative was a woman from Armenia. ...
Natalie from Greece
some analysts and scholars are unique because they have foresight, i would like to applaud prof tremblay for her wisdom and foresight. The analysis does not really say anything negative about greece so some of the criticism here is rather harsh. Tremblay has written candidly as an American woman, br...
david ben-amit
@evangelos i think it is called humour. Pricky Greeks!!! She has not even really criticized all the mess Greece is going through and how corrupt the political system is. That is why it is dangerous when it comes from Greece but not from the US. you have no system. You cant even get the joke so i gue...
It looks like the piece has done a great job just by saying be vigilant to Turks, all angry Greek men are up in arms. Just for that mashAllah sister, there are so many Greeks in Istanbul and Turkey, working studying Turkey, they criticize Turkey harshy and you have NOT even criticized Greeks and eve...
@ paul - the author has written about Turkey as well. She is a foreign policy expert, the piece advices NOT GREEK politicians but Turkish foreign policy makers, why does not she have the right to talk about chrysi avgi?
tania kasiadis
The piece is very soft spoken and actually does justice to almost all aspects of the golden dawn. It covers even attacks on golden dawn members. Much harsher pieces have been published all over greek press but greeks cannot stomach criticism from Turks. Chill guys, you want the Turks' money for tour...
there is only one problem with the piece, it was written by a Turkish American young woman. None of these greek guys can stand this, if it was penned by a man, a non-turk, none of these comments would be an issue. The piece deals with Chrysi Avgi. She is a political scientist, you are telling me she...
Chrysi Avgi got huge votes in Macedonia. So for how can XA be racist against Macedonians ? I believe you meant the Slavs in FYROM and Northern Greece. One more thing, politcal correctness will be the downfall in the USA. Whites will be the minority in 15 yrs or less. Thats not to say its a bad thing...
Headline in Today's Zaman: ‘Christian murders might be repeated if Ergenekon case not extended further’ While you're discussing "stenches," you might want to investigate the one coming from your own country--it's much stronger, and has been in the air over there for a very long time...
@Pinar Tremblay I need to remind you that Greece invented Democracy. One of the fundamentals of which is Freedom of Speech. Is Golden Dawn any different to people in the USA who wear pillow cases on the heads and hate the Jews, Blacks and homosexuals. Sort your own mess up before you give advice to ...
MHP not only equals Chrysi Augi.but has proven its animocity in Cyprus...dont confuse apples from oranges another Osignt admirer from the western front....Gule Gule
Chrysi Avgi are racist-fascists in Greece. Turkey should be quite familiar with the mindset, it's dominated official Turkish policy towards non-ethnic Turks within Turkey for decades. People in glass houses, Pinar....
this is a well written piece but reads almost as if the Greek Min of Foreign Affairs or Defense people wrote it.
Right, so you have to be a 'well educated political scientist' to know that greece has had unemployment problems the past 5-10 years.
evangelos loizos
Dear Pinar Tremblay, thank you for this report. Personally I don't think Turkey needs to worry about Hrysi Avgi. Greeks have far stronger tendancies to associate with the left (Soc, KKE(GCP))than the right. For every nasty bald heade Hrysi Avgi thug, there are probably at least ten potential SYRIZA ...
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