Interview with Kevin Ovenden and Thanasis Kampagiannis

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Kevin Ovenden is a left-wing activist, author and politician currently residing in Athens. He was born in Britain, but is now part of the anti-racist and anti-fascist movement in Greece as he has been in Britain for many years. At the moment, he is writing a book on polarization. We met him together with his partner, Thanasis Kampagiannis, a lawyer and political activist in the anti-racist and anti-fascist movement in Athens. Kampagiannis is presently representing victims of the far-right political party Golden Dawn in the on-going trial against these neo-nazis.

 

“This is the biggest trial against Nazi criminality after WWII, because it is not just people who are nazis that are being prosecuted, it is a whole political organisation for committing criminal offences.”

 

TK: “As an initiative of the anti-racist and the anti-fascist movement, we began in October 2013 with the prosecution of the leading members of Golden Dawn after the murder of Pavlos Fyssas. We formed an initiative for the civil prosecution of Golden Dawn, which has a website, called ‘Jail Golden Dawn’ and we stated our goal that the anti-fascist movement should intervene, not only in the streets, but also in the court process against the leaders of Golden Dawn. We were able to achieve our target, because we are now a part of the legal process against Golden Dawn, representing the Egyptian fishermen alongside their own lawyers. Pavlov Fyssas was a young rapper, known as Killah P, and was murdered back in September 2013, and his murder together with the attack on militants of the communist party by a battalion squad of Golden Dawn set off the trail in April 2015.

 

The trials have been going on for two and a half years. But now it’s picking up in pace. The process is near the completion of the list of witnesses that have been called by the district attorney. It was a long list of members: friends of Pavlos Fyssas, immigrants, trade unionists, mayors, journalists… Most of them were victims of Golden Dawn themselves and the goal of the whole process is to proof, not just that these people committed the crimes – this is self-evident – but also that all these crimes are embedded in the framework of the political party of Golden Dawn which according to the law is criminal conspiracy in disguise. So this is a very big trial: it is the biggest trial against Nazi criminality after WWII, because it is not just people who are nazis that are being prosecuted, it is a whole political organisation for committing criminal offences. This is why it’s a long process and we estimate that it will get to a close at some point in 2018.

 

The final thing I want to say in terms of the fight against racism is that our part of the intervention inside the trial is an effort to highlight the racism of a national organisation that attacked refugees and immigrants. There was a big rise of racist violence in 2012-2013, so this is a very important feature. But also to the racism in the state mechanisms and in the mainstream political parties that gave rise to Golden Dawn and that made its intervention easier. Because in reality what happened was that mainstream racism and institutional racism helped Golden Dawn having credibility in all the attacks that perpetuated against immigrants and so on. So part of our efforts is to highlight not just the racism of the organisation, but also the impact that racist politicians have and the fact that the Greek police and the Greek state mechanism tolerate it.”

 

“In a Greek society so heavily under pressure 58% of the people said “yes” to the question whether Greece should help out the refugees.”

 

KO: “There is an extraordinary feature about the Greek society: it has been hit the hardest by austerity, by the interference of the European institutions, by great suffering and by massive privatisation. Youth unemployment is about 50% and the general level of unemployment is about 25%. Yet, this society was the place that received one million people fleeing for their lives and from the consequences of war and western imperialism. In this society so heavily under pressure 58% of the people said “yes” to the question whether Greece should help out the refugees. How did it happen that hundreds of thousands of people passed through Greece, up to the western Balkan routes, before it was closed by the deal between Erdogan and Merkel? How were they fed? How were they sheltered? How were they helped? It was not by the NGOs, though many of them did their best. It was not by the Greek state that was not capable of doing this, given that it had been eviscerated as a state. It was not by the European Union. It was the working class in Greece that did it. How is that possible? It is possible only because a minority section persistent and consistent in its arguments said: “We reject this racism. We do not accept that if we have economic distress, the national outcome must be a resurgence of the right. That is a possibility, but we do not accept defeat in this battle. We say that a different kind of politics can emerge as a result of this battle.”

 

“The last few years in Greece the left has known its greatest hope, expressed electorally, but at the same time there has been the biggest progress of an actual nazi organisation.”

 

That’s really what has been happening in the wake of the prosecution of Golden Dawn. The last few years in Greece the left has known its greatest hope, expressed electorally, but at the same time there has been the biggest progress of an actual nazi organisation. This is not just a reaction, not just people with bad ideas or people that have a problem with violence, we are talking about an organised nazi force. The battle against this organisation – in contemporary Greece –is of course a battle to stop all of this, every progress made against Golden Dawn is to save our lives. But it’s something else as well: if this razor in the hand of the other side is struck out of their hand, then it can really enable the social progress of working people, the oppressed, women, gay people, the immigrants and so on. And that’s what’s happening in Greece. And it was, I think for the European left, an inspiration to look to Greece two years ago. Perhaps now they’re not so inspired by us, but they should look to Greece, because this is the future in every respect. Things won’t just march on in our direction, but nor will we automatically be defeated. There is a fight going on, and it is happening in this country.

 

I don’t think there is a formula of necessary things to do for anti-racist organisations, but it is that if you have to sum it up, I think it is saying: “We identify this question as an existential question, it is going to be a big question for us, and if we do that, how do we work consistently towards answering it?” And if you do that, than you are more likely to form alliances and think about issues in a way that is militant but at the same time broad.”

Interview by Sonderland & Steff Coppieters
Photos by Sonderland