Four thousand attend three-day event in Athens
Four thousand anti-fascist activists from all over Europe came together at the School of Fine Arts in Athens over the week-end 11 – 13 April. The aim was to exchange experiences on fighting the far-right, neo fascism and capitalist crisis. Most of them gave their general support, attended the concerts, watched the drama productions and the anti-fascist films. Up to a thousand participated in the meetings, commissions and workshops.
Activists from 20 different countries, representing 32 different organisations, as well as 30 groups from Athens and Piraeus were present. They came together in the first instance to offer solidarity and support to the struggle against racism, fascism and austerity in Greece, most sharply represented by the struggle against Golden Dawn, but also to build a Europe-wide coordination against racist and fascist ideas and parties throughout the continent.
The idea of linking this battle with the battle against the capitalist system itself was present throughout the whole weekend. Particularly important were the reports from activists from countries like France, Hungary and the Ukraine, where the battle against the far-right is sharply posed at this stage.
Many discussions reflected the seriousness of the activists there and a generally high political level. CWI members in Greece (Xekinima) were the first to put forward the idea for this initiative about a year ago (at last June’s Anti-racist Festival in Athens) and helped spread the idea of coordination internationally. Members of different sections of the CWI came to take part in the discussion including Joe Higgins (Socialist Party TD) from Ireland, who got an excellent reception at the main rally on Saturday night in a hall packed with activists keen to spread the battle against fascism and racism in Europe.
The proposals for international coordination of anti-fascist forces all over Europe include having a ‘European Day of Action and Solidarity’ around Saturday 8th or Sunday 9th November. Other suggestions were for commemorative events to remember activists killed by Neo-Nazis last year – Clement Meric (France) 5th June and Pavlos Fyssas (Greece) 18th September) and for an international (all-European) website to be launched.
In the discussions it was clear that the anti-fascist movement in Greece has played a huge role; if it was not for the anti-fascist struggle, the fascists would have probably dominated the streets by now. While the workers’ struggle against austerity has slowed down, the anti-fascist movement is the major movement on the rise and spreading across the country. Nevertheless, there are notable struggles being conducted such as the Vio.Me occupation, often referred to in the discussions. The workers there decided two years ago not to accept the closing of the factory, to take over production and reorganise it in an environmentally friendly way. The Vio.Me workers had a stall at the conference, selling their products – naturally produced, environmentally friendly household cleaning products.
Nikos Kanellis, a member of Xekinima and a leading figure in the anti-fascist movement in the city of Volos and the region of Magnesia, explained how the anti-fascist committee had been built. It started with setting up a network of parties, groups and individuals who wanted to fight fascism. They had no intention of repeating the common mistake of the Greek left – doing something ‘spontaneous’ and then ‘leaving it’. They wanted to build consistent intervention and continuous activities in the communities.
They organised festivals and demos but also solidarity work for marginalised and poor people, collecting food and distributing it to families in desperate need. In this way, they can prevent people from being drawn towards the fascist Golden Dawn and involve them in the struggle. They aim particularly to organise students and school students. The anti-fascist committee in Volos/Magnesia also organises blockades to keep the fascists off the streets. It is one of the most successful examples nationwide and quite well known. They were successful in kicking Golden Dawn out of the city of Volos when the latter tried to open offices there.
The conference was only stewarded at night to defend it from fascist attack as Golden Dawn does not feel confident to attack such large meetings of the left. They continue to be a grave threat to individuals, however, especially immigrants. Just before the conference, they attacked the neighbourhood where Pavlos Fyssas lived and took down all the Fyssas memorial banners.
Fighting the far right
The Greek government went on an offensive against Golden Dawn in the autumn – after the murder of Pavlos Fyssas. But there are no illusions among Greek activists that the government of Samaras, with a powerful far right nucleus inside it, will carry out a serious fight against the fascists.
There is an urgent need for collaboration among the parties of the left but the fact that the left refuses to come together in common struggles, even against the fascist danger, provides a huge advantage for the right.
Speakers from France, including Alain Krivine, pointed to the worrying developments there – homophobic marches of hundreds of thousands, violence towards LGBT people and women, especially Muslim women and the lack of a fighting left or trade union opposition to austerity.
The conference heard how in Sweden the CWI (Rätttvisepartiet Socialisterna) had understood the importance of being prepared to counter the far right at any moment; it had been calm and ‘silent’ in 2013 until the fascist attack in Karrtorp, Stockholm. The response had seen the biggest anti-racist demonstration ever in Sweden of 20,000 in Stockholm and another 20,000 in 30 other towns or cities. 10,000 had marched in Malmo after the attempted murder by a fascist at the beginning of March. Now there are anti-racist activities every week in different parts of the country. A participant from Denmark told the conference that 300 anti-racists had gone to the Malmo demonstration from Denmark where fascist attacks have been on the increase.
The speaker from Sozialistische Alternative (CWI in Germany) reminded the conference of the experience of fighting Nazism in the inter-war period in his country. Hundreds of thousands of social-democratic and communist workers had been ready to fight, but their leaders had refused a joint struggle. In the course of the conference, a skype link was set up with a parallel conference in Berlin of a hundred or so anti-fascists. A representative of the ‘Alter Summit’ anti-fascist movement expressed approval of the idea of holding common days of protest.
There were several organisations represented from Turkey, Cyprus, Portugal and Italyand some countries in Eastern Europe. In Bulgaria, where nationalism is widely accepted, fascists are allowed to patrol the streets, make passport checks on people and dominate football. In Hungary, the neo-fascist party Jobbik went up from 17 to 23 percent in the recent election with support among middle-class youth and in the countryside. Ukrainian representatives from the organisation Borotba conducted a special workshop on the situation there. (Socialistworld.net hopes to carry a separate interview with them.)
There were ten different workshops at the conference – one on Fortress Europe and the need to close down the horrific, racist refugee camps all over Europe and stop the killings at borders. Others were ‘Show racism the red card’ on football and ‘Working with the Media’. One on sexism, homophobia and transphobia was well attended and generally there was a lot of discussions on personal experiences of harassment, which needed to be generalised and brought up in plenary sessions.
Joe Higgins addressing the conference
Lenny Shail from Coventry, representing ‘Youth Fights for Jobs’ and a member of the Socialist Party in England and Wales (CWI) emphasised the need to build on the political plane. In Coventry, where there has been a tradition of a socialist MP and councillors offering a political alternative to workers and youth, the fascist and racist groups like the BNP, NF and EDL have so far not been able to build in the region.
Xekinima members who were amongst the main organisers of the conference said they were pleased with the results; it had surpassed expectations. Even the costs were more than covered through the sale of the good quality and cheap food and drink on the premises.
The Greek anti-fascist activists who organised the conference have managed to build a powerful movement. It was capable of organising demonstrations in twenty cities and 16 different parts of Athens immediately after Pavlos Fyssas’ murder. They are forced to challenge not only Golden Dawn but also fight for an end to the dire social and economic crisis, aggravated by the impositions of the Troika.
They were right to appeal for an international event. Racism and fascism must always be answered by internationalism. Anti-racists and socialists in Europe will be asked to consider proposals from the coordination panel set up by the conference, in the context of the diaries and planned activities of their organisations, parties and networks.