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‘From the Bottom of Aegean Sea’[1] to Golden Dawn

In modern Greece we often deal with little or large semiological civil wars or with a semiological poly-phrenia since different institutions employ the same language for very different processes. For example ancient Greek words referring to hospitality may either refer to e.g. touristic industry’s slogans (i.e. philoxenia, xenia hotels etc.) or to refer to the most brutal and xenophobic police operation that Greece has ever seen, named by the commanders ‘Xenios Dias’ after the ancient Greek god of hospitality.


Indeed the contradictions involved in the process cause complications since there are not only white people who come as tourists in Greece. So plenty of non-white tourists were brutally detained and beaten up by the Greek police since August 2012 that ‘Xenios Dias’ started. Moreover, the mainstream Greek perceptions of Europe and the West these days are shifting once again, since Greek government officials and their corporate media often blame the evil North Europeans for the austerity. Indeed the same governmental officials make also statements about the benefits of austerity.

Within such confused socio-cultural context, since the 1980s, the ideological elevation of a ‘Europe-ness’ took place, peaking in the 1990s in the name of the so-called European integration. Under this slogan on the one hand, the policies of European integration correctly led to a loosening of the internal borders for people living within the EU. On the other hand, this was accompanied with the militarisation of the external European borders leading to ‘Fortress Europe’, a continent where non-Europeans are often condemned to death for their effort to cross the sealed common border. Frontex, national borders police forces, and coastguards are just some of the apparatuses dedicated to the militarization of the European border.

So along the so-called ‘Europeanization’ of Greek state’s institutions we had the ideological upgrading of the Greek borders into European ones. Greece was located very much on the margin of that undetermined Europeness as the most south-eastern EU (and previously EEC) member country. Surrounded by non-members for decades. So it became the favoured territory for the application of at least two xenophobic projects: the Greek one and the European one, often in tension with each other, but usually in collaboration. This process in ideological level was confirming a much desired admission of Greece to the European family and even worse as a significant player in the European securitisation project.

This anti-migratory dogma did not limit itself to the borders; it was soon matched with the ongoing process of the militarization of public-space policing in European cities. The case of the Greek border guards symbolizes perfectly this extension of border-control security tactics to urban spaces; in 2010, it was reported that out of the 510 border guards employed in the country, 473 were, in fact, serving in Athens.6 Indeed, deployment of border guards in cities has become standard practice these days; for example, in the summer of 2013 UKBA organized a large-scale operation in London’s underground stations stopping and checking migrants and people of migratory origin. So security and military techniques developed supposedly to protect the borders of a nation-state from a military attack (from the organized army of another nation-state) have been applied against unarmed migrants on the borders or on the city centres.

It is not simply the deployment of border guards in the cities; the urban policing itself targets the ethnic Other. In the case of Greece, the semi-military police operation ‘Sweep’, in the early 1990s, targeted migrants in the Omonoia7 area of central Athens and elsewhere. However, this paled in comparison to what was to follow. In 2005, operation ‘Polis’ led to over 200,000 people across the country being stopped and searched, and although the emphasis was on youths and migrants, they were not the only victims. Today the ongoing operation ‘Xenios Zeus’ has resulted in over 84,000 migrants being detained between August 2012 and February 2013, targeting everyone who appears to be foreign.[2]

Such operations imply and apply a state-directed exclusion of the population of the cities, which takes spatial characteristics since it displaces people from where they live and locks them in police stations temporarily until their documents are checked or detention camps if they are arrested. The Other is gradually exiled or declared as undesired from parts of the city and more generally public spaces. Officially, this phenomenon is not based explicitly on racial criteria – as neo-Nazis demand; rather, the formal state authorities’ claim is that they are trying to tackle the ‘crime’ of living without proper permission. In the case of UKBA operations or the operations of the respective French police, some of the officers stopping and searching non-white passers-by are themselves non-white, precisely because the European state authorities are aware of the racism involved in the process, and there is the hope to give the idea that it is not racist since non-white people are the physical agents of racism.

However, as Kassidiaris’ case [3] suggests, you do not have to be white in order to apply fascism. By extension, as the example of police and border police forces physically targeting migrants en masse implies, you do not have to be explicitly and openly a neo-Nazi state apparatus in order to apply policies of racial discrimination in the streets and pave the way for the actual neo-Nazis. The cases of migrants who have been stopped and checked for their papers by Golden Dawn members, often in order to be beaten up afterwards, are not rare. The distance between anti-migratory policing in Athens and the Golden Dawn’s ban of migrants from certain public spaces was not that long.

by Dimitris Dalakoglou

A longer version of this article was published as: Dalakoglou. D. (2013) ‘From the Bottom of the Aegean Sea’ to Golden Dawn: Security, Xenophobia and the Politics of Hate in Greece. Studies in Ethnicity and Nationalism: Vol. 13, No. 3



[1]: One of the main slogans of Anarchists in Greece is ‘On the mines of Evros River (the river that marks the land border between Greece and Turkey) and on the bottom of Aegean Sea is built the security of each European’ (‘Στις νάρκες του ′Eβρου, στον πάτο του Aιγαίου, χτίζεται η ασφάλεια του κάθε Eυρωπαιου’).

[2] Given that this operation was implemented, ostensibly, with the intention of tackling crime level (implying a direct link between migrants and criminality) it has had very poor results indeed, as scarcely any of those detained was guilty of any offence other than lacking proper documents. Then the approximately 5,000 (by 9 September 2013) migrants who were arrested as part of Xenios Zeus have been transferred to and locked in new detention centres that were opened by the debt-ridden state. It is worth noting that another big public work completed by Greece during 2012 was the fence along the Turkish-Greek border in order to prevent migration.

[3] When the extreme-Right online forum ‘Stormfront’ published his photograph, in August 2013, setting the question to its users whether they felt he looked like a white man. Kassidiaris’ fellow Nazis were quite vocal on the subject; most of them concluding that he does not look like a white man.

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