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Hullabaloo


Friday, January 11, 2013

 
The wages of austerity

by David Atkins

The social chaos and extremist rightwing backlash in Greece is getting worse:

Greek police have stepped up efforts to catch illegal immigrants in recent months, launching a new operation to check the papers of people who look foreign. But tourists have also been picked up in the sweeps - and at least two have been badly beaten.

When Korean backpacker Hyun Young Jung was stopped by a tall scruffy looking man speaking Greek on the street in central Athens he thought it might be some kind of scam, so he dismissed the man politely and continued on his way.

A few moments later he was stopped again, this time by a man in uniform who asked for his documents. But as a hardened traveller he was cautious.

Greece was the 16th stop in his two-year-long round-the-world trip and he'd often been warned about people dressing in fake uniforms to extract money from backpackers, so while he handed over his passport he also asked the man to show him his police ID.

Instead, Jung says, he received a punch in the face...

Jung says that outside the station the uniformed officer, without any kind of warning, turned on him again, hitting him in the face.

"There were members of the public who saw what happened, like the man who works in the shop opposite the police station, but they were too afraid to help me," he says.

Inside the police station, Jung says he was attacked a third time in the stairwell where there were no people or cameras.

"I can understand them asking me for ID and I even understand that there may have been a case to justify them hitting me in the first instance. But why did they continue beating me after I was handcuffed?" he asks...

And some visitors to Greece have been detained despite having shown police their passports.

Last summer, a Nigerian-born American, Christian Ukwuorji, visited Greece on a family holiday with his wife and three children.

When police stopped him in central Athens he showed them his US passport, but they handcuffed him anyway and took him to the central police station.

They gave no reason for holding him, but after a few hours in custody Ukwuorji says he was so badly beaten that he passed out. He woke up in hospital...

In May last year a visiting academic from India, Dr Shailendra Kumar Rai was arrested outside the Athens University of Economics and Business, where he was working as a visiting lecturer.

He had popped out for lunch, and forgotten to take his passport with him.

"The police thought I was Pakistani and since they didn't speak English they couldn't understand me when I tried to explain that I am from India," he says.

When passing students saw their lecturer being held by police and lined up against a wall with a group of immigrants they were horrified and rushed inside to tell his colleagues.

Despite protests from university staff who insisted they could vouch for him, the police handcuffed him and marched him down to the police station.
The police are now mostly in league with the fascist Golden Dawn party, and conspire to terrorize and intimidate anyone who doesn't look "Greek."

While we can tut tut and shake our heads, it's crucial to note that this isn't happening in a vacuum. These are the wages of austerity little different from the fate of immiserated Germany after World War I. When a proud and previously prosperous people are suddenly thrown into extreme poverty and their safety net destroyed, nationalist, anti-immigrant, anti-"other" sentiment is the inevitable result. One would think the Germans of all people would recognize this pattern.

The austerity crowd isn't just temporarily destroying economies. They're toying with entire cultures, failing to learn lessons that should have been permanently etched into the world's memory over 70 years ago.


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