Over 20,000 people took part in the anti-racist and anti-fascist protest in Athens on Saturday. The day was organised mainly by KEERFA (United Movement Against Racism and the Fascist Threat – the equivalent of UAF in Greece). KEERFA is an umbrella organisation initiated by revolutionary socialists, and has had some successes in gaining roots and mobilising anti-fascists in working class neighbourhoods. It was impressive to see such big numbers on a march that was effectively organised by a small fraction of the left.
As my friends and I approached Omonoia Square, we joined the loud and confident feeder march from the Empros Theatre. Artists there had actively campaigned for #22M by organising an anti-fascist arts festival that lasted ten days and was due to end the day after the protest. They performed a play on stage as soon as we arrived in Omonoia, and played drums throughout the march with artist collective Quilombo.
One of the impressive parts of the day for me was the involvement of disability organisations and LGBT groups. A few years ago, the idea that such groups are important parts of the movement was pretty marginal on the Greek left. In fact, there are still large sections of it, even anti-capitalists, that have not been won to accepting LGBT people at all. The new Antarsya LGBT group was a brave step in the right direction.
The banners and groups as we moved toward Syntagma Square showed the recent history of racism and the anti-fascist movement. A large banner read “Pavlos Fyssas is alive”, referring to the rap singer who was murdered by Nazis a few months ago. Immigrant workers from Manolada, who were shot by their employers, and Shehzad Luqman’s parents marched with a large group of members of the Pakistani Community of Greece. Shehzad was murdered by Golden Dawn members in September 2012 and his murderers’ trial is ongoing. Lawyers from the anti-fascist movement involved in the prosecution legal team.
School student groups, among others, emphasised the demand to naturalise children of immigrants, a demand that used to be seen as “too advanced” a few years ago. Unemployed workers from Greece’s former broadcaster, ERT, as well as other trade union delegations were also present. After the march to Syntagma Square and Parliament, the protest continued with a concert by well-known artists well into the evening.
There were also reports of around 3,000 people marching in the northern city of Thessaloniki, and another 1,000 in Chania, Crete. The last attempted anti-fascist day of action was a national demonstration, so it is a great success of the movement to be able to mobilise people in three big cities.
At the same time, the protest could have been, and desperately needed to be, much bigger and broader. Golden Dawn is still worryingly strong on the electoral front, and they still seem to be involved with street violence, despite large parts of their leadership being in prison, as leaders of a criminal organisation. Even on the day of the march, neo-Nazis violently attacked yet another immigrant who was working at a market in the working class suburb of Nikaia. The government’s racist policies that lead to the tragic deaths of immigrants trying to enter Greece hoping to build a better life, as well as the shameful existence of modern-day concentration camps for “illegal” immigrants, make the building of a strong anti-racist movement extremely urgent.
It is clear, however, that the Greek left is divided when it comes to fighting fascism and racism. The anti-capitalist organisations are rightly focusing on mobilising people to the streets. Even though SYRIZA supported the day of action, there was some disappointment that it failed to mobilise in any significant way, with anti-capitalists attributing this to the party’s move toward “respectability” and its focus on the electoral race to become the next government. The communist KKE unsurprisingly also stayed away from the march, as it tends to refuse to collaborate with anyone else on the left. The majority of anarchists also avoided getting involved.
This uninspiring state of affairs is being challenged by KEERFA, and a relatively small group of revolutionary socialists within it. What remains to be seen is whether events like #22M will manage to push SYRIZA and more trade unions into a united anti-fascist protest movement that will smash the confidence of Golden Dawn’s thugs.