The beginning of a wider struggle against the far-right and racism
An anti-fascist festival took place in Nicosia on 19 October – the annual festival that the New Internationalist Left (the Cypriot section of the CWI) has organised since 2008. The first festival was held during the peak of a successful anti-fascist campaign, organised in 2008, which stopped the racist, hate-camp that fascists from Cyprus, Greece, Germany and Italy were planning in Cyprus.
This year the festival coincided with a very significant period for the anti-fascist movement. The murder of well-known left wing activist and rapper, Pavlos Fyssas, by a Golden Dawn (GD) member in Greece, revealed GDs’ clear neo-Nazi origins but also its murderous purpose. At the same time in Cyprus, the day after the murder, the neo-fascist party ELAM (the National People’s Front) publicly declared that they are the section of Golden Dawn in Cyprus.
There is a general mood of tolerance and even support towards ELAM from the government, the media and even the Church. When AKEL, the Greek-Cypriot communist party, gave the press photos of ELAM members doing military training, Nikos Anastasiades, the neo-liberal president of Cyprus, defended ELAM, saying that they are only playing airsoft (a paintball-type game) and that most ELAM members probably do not know what Golden Dawn is.
When asked to express his views about ELAM, Ionas Nikolaou, the Cypriot Minister of Justice, reassured people that there are no Neo-Nazi groups in Cyprus because the police have no evidence that connects any organization with racist, nationalist or neo-fascist attacks!
ELAM is also given public support from the Church of Cyprus and the Archbishop, who in the past praised the views of ELAM and referred to their members as “the kids with crystal clear positions”.
ELAM also has the support of some journalists and famous Cypriot actors, who give widespread publicity to ELAM activities. The media invite ELAM members to panels and prime-time talk shows.
Having seen a process of “normalisation” of Golden Dawn in Greece in the years before their entry into the Greek parliament and the murder of Fyssas, the need for anti-fascists in Cyprus to oppose local Neo-Nazis spreading their ideas and influence has never been more imperative. We still have time to learn from the lessons from Greece and to prevent the growth of ELAM.
A step forward in the struggle
The 6th anti-fascist festival became a first step in this struggle. Apart from the New Internationalist Left (CWI) and Youth Against Nationalism which organised the event, participants from many local organisations attended the festival. These included Accept (LGBT rights organisation), Skapoula (a school students organization), the Communist Workers Movement (a Turkish Cypriot Left organization), the UN’s NGO ‘Future World Centre’ (including their campaign for asylum seekers rights, ‘Strengthening Asylum’), Granazi (a Greek Cypriot Left organization) the Cyprus branch of SYRIZA, Anakyklos (an environmental NGO), and Gate 9 (the organised fans of Omonia football club).
There was live music throughout the festival, from Cypriot and other musicians and DJs. The festival opened with Cypriot hip-hop, in memory of Pavlos Fyssas, continued with some Latin and acoustic music and finished with rempetika [urban Greek folk music]. Four short anti-fascist films were screened at the festival, and there was also a photographic exhibition counter-posing the neo-Nazi character of ELAM and Golden Dawn with the struggles and solidarity of the anti-fascist movements in Cyprus, Greece and internationally.
The festival took place at Faneromeni Square, which is central to Nicosian life, despite the bureaucratic obstacles the municipality of Nicosia put before us. We were only given the go-ahead to use the Square and the permit to use amplifiers three days before the festival despite the fact that we had contacted the municipality months before with a specific request.
Furthermore, none of the media attended our press conference to publicise the festival. All newspapers were sent a press release, yet only one went ahead and publicised it. It is worth noting that the current mayor of Nicosia is a member of DISI, the right wing, neo-liberal party, now in power. The festival also took place behind a church, known to provide fascist youth organisations with a space to have their meetings. The area around the square is populated by a large number of immigrants, but also it has also been a meeting place for some of the more progressive layers among the Cypriot society. Historically though, the place has been linked with the slaughter of an archbishop by Turkish occupiers in the 1800s, as well as linked to a 1950 referendum for the unification of Cyprus with Greece. ELAM took advantage of this link and staged a pro-unification demonstration, on the anniversary of the referendum, last January, which was outnumbered by a counter demonstration of local anti-fascists. Since then, there have been incidents of tension between local anti-fascists and ELAM members around the square. For all these reasons, it was important for us to hold the festival in Faneromeni Square.
The response was very encouraging. The festival was met with enthusiasm and there was big interest for future anti-fascist events. On 19 October, we counter posed to the militarism and hatred that dominates all of ELAM’s public events, and their ideological background, a celebration, a space for anti-fascists to meet, discuss, dance and enjoy themselves.
We closed the festival with a loud chant: “Not in Faneromeni, not elsewhere – fascists out!”, and set the date for a next meeting for the formation of an anti-fascist front in a venue nearby.
On Tuesday 22 October, a meeting for the formation of an antifascist front was was attended by representatives of our New Internationalist Left, SYRIZA’s local branch, the ‘non-payment movement’ of Cyprus and some non-affiliated people. Throughout a very lively discussion, the basis for an initiative for the formation of an anti-fascist front was agreed. The aim is to include more organisations and, more importantly, other sections of society, in order to form anti-fascist committees in schools, universities, neighborhoods and workplaces. These can expose the actions and true nature of ELAM and Greek Cypriot fascism, through public actions and events, fighting against fascism, racism and nationalism but also against the capitalist system that nurtures fascist parties like ELAM. The meeting agreed to ask more organisations and people to participate in the initiative and to start activities leading up to a mass anti-fascist demonstration at the end of December.
After the murder of the leftwing rapper, Fyssas, in Athens, and in the lead-up to our anti-racist festival, we started a new blog – ‘antinazicyprus.wordpress.com’. Initially it was used as a tool to campaign for the festival, but most importantly it is being used to share articles, publications and analysis that reveal the character and the role of the fascists, taking lessons from history but also from the anti-fascist movements currently growing. We aim for the blog to become a tool in the hands of all anti-fascists, for it to develop into a library of concentrated anti-fascist resources -not only articles but also audiovisual material- to equip anti-fascists interested in taking action in their workplace, school or neighborhood with the arguments and the information to do so. Finally, we the blog can help start a discussion about how we fight fascism, becoming the voice of anti-fascist committees that we hope to build in the near future.