Friday, 4 October 2013

The face of hatred

While I was writing my Master's thesis at university, I remember how important it was to substantiate everything I said in it. Since my topic was about language maintenance in the Greek community, I would often add a snippet of informal information here and there in the drafts, which I felt I could assume without substantiating - but my professors always picked this up because they viewed the situation otherwise:

"Where's the evidence for this?" they'd ask.
"Oh, I'm a community member and I know it's true," I'd say.
"But you don't have any other evidence except your word," they'd remind me.

One of the most contentious issues for my supervisors concerned something as basic as statistics. I had to try to find a way to discover how many people of Greek descent were living in New Zealand/Wellington. When I finally presented my thesis to different people - the academic community and the Greek community - I was, on the one hand, praised for my meticulous research using all available statistical resources (the academics), and on the other, reprimanded for showing a smaller number than anticipated (the Greeks). This kind of 'assumptional evidence', as I liked to call it back then, still plagues me in my daily dealings with Greeks, when they use their own expectations to base their ideas on, thier own interpretation, and not necessarily certified sources. They like to interpret things for themselves It has to do with a different way of thinking and rationalising, shaped by a different kind of educational background.

So at university in New Zealand, I learnt that I cannot assume anything unless I could substantiate it by hard evidence. But when I came to Greece, I realised how much Greeks relied on pre-judgment. The idea that assumptions cannot be treated as evidence is only now finally assuming some importance in the relatively youthful Greek judiciary system. In the case of Golden Dawn, we can all say we 'knew' what was happening (the racist attacks, the police turning a blind eye, the military-style inductions in schools), but we couldn't provide any concrete evidence because no one could (or would) catch people in the act (often out of fear), so to speak, until this finally took place, and the rest is history, as they say.

To a certain extent it is true that the public had the chance to view Golden Dawn's ugliness on camera a number of times in the past year or so, but we did not really have the chance to see how they would behave or what they would be talking about when they were actually caught in the act. We think we 'know' what Golden Dawn was like - but most of us wouldn't have had any chance to get near those directly involved (mainly because it is our choice not to do so), so we were only relying on other people's accounts, which could not be substantiated because any act was officially over and done with and the evidence collected (or not) did not (or could not) pinpoint an individual. On previous occasions we got hard evidence of what was being said only when Golden Dawn members were among themselves (when they videotaped or photographed each other), so it was very hard for an outsider to accuse them of doing anything, and even when they were caught on camera hitting someone in the face, the victim did not take the case to court, most probably out of fear, or because they couldn't find/catch/incriminate the individual concerned.

What we have been seeing and hearing on the TV news his past week may at first seem like a barrage of such scenes, but that's only because in our time there is a lot of hard evidence to display, all due to the technologically advanced world we live in. We have zillions of photos, tapped phone calls, videos - that's the 21st century for you:
Phone records give authorities the opportunity to establish the hierarchy within the party. In the case of Fyssas’s murder, his attacker Giorgos Roupakias called his local cell leader Giorgos Patelis, who in turn called the local Golden Dawn MP, Lagos, who then phoned Michaloliakos. This is totally in keeping with the chain of command set out in the party’s charter and appears to strengthen the argument that Michaloliakos and his MPs knew about the violent attacks and murders carried out by party members.
One of the Golden Dawn phone webs
All of a sudden, a whole host of connections among phone numbers and their owners are uncovered. Phones are being wire-tapped, producing hard evidence of what has been said and done. We are being bombarded with minute details of Golden Dawn members that have been recorded as talking about their membership to the association. In the following dialogues (all taken from, we hear B, George Patelis (who has since been remanded in custody), Golden Dawn chapter leader in the Athens suburb of Nikaia (where the murder took place), speaking with A, another Golden Dawner:

Β: Hey malaka*, I can't, I'm not well (weeping) [he's scared]
Α: Hey malaka, don't break, you too malaka, don't break [tries to calm him down]
Β: Hey malaka, look what they done to me. I'm phoning Lagos [a Golden Dawn MP, also remanded in custody] and he's not picking up. They're gonna throw me out, I'm sure of it 
Α: Hey Georgie, don't break, you too malaka, hold on please
Β: They're gonna throw me out. I can't malaka, I'm really unhappy
Α: Hey Georgie, the same's gonna happen to me. I'm gonna go in, and I've got a kid... [implies guilt]
Β: They're gonna throw me out mate, they're gonna throw me out
Α: Is that what's bothering you?
Β: Did you speak? [he fears being told on]
Α: Hasn't come yet. I'm waiting for it to come. 
The following excerpt between an accused and another Golden Dawner shows how much can be implied in a conversation. It is not so much evidence that something is happening, but more a lack of education on the part of the speaker:
Β: Do you understand? They are gathering evidence. Hey malaka, they have sent 200 files worth of court cases
Α: Sheesh...
Β: They aren't fake. Well, at least most of them aren't fake. They are real. So the thing is, the bad thing is that they have evidence
Α: Niko, the only thing that's true is that military training was taking place in military camps. That's what it is, but...
Β: What's that, malaka, that's not a complaint filed in court
Α: That isn't bad then...
Β: Hey, that's not what filinf a case in court is all about. It's something like hitting Pakistanis, that they got wood [people were being beaten], they attacked citizens who weren't with them ['with' here possibly means 'for', ie people were against them] or that assault battalions were barging into people's homes, that they were butchering the foreigners in Perama, that they were attacking the communists here in Perama ['here' tells us about the origins of the speakers]

This kind of conversation doesn't actually nail anyone in particular; it just gives leads to the authorities, who now face the very hard task of uncovering who/what is being implied in the conversations. Jumping to conclusions won't help to uncover the evidence needed to nail someone; it's easier to pretend not to know about something at all. But there are also some emotional conversations that don't so much point to an accusation, as much as they show the defeat suffered by bullies - they could be used by psychologists to reveal how people are feeling. Such evidence is very hard to work into the real hard facts required by a judicial system. The conversation below doesn't actually nail anyone in particular; it just gives leads to the authorities, who now face the very hard task of uncovering who is being implied in the conversations. It shows how Golden Dawn works like a gang of thugs, bullies and cowards, who are now lamenting their defeat:
Β: Yes, a mistake happened [implying that the murder was not supposed to happen]
Α: And he [the murderer of the musician] turns and says immediately I'm a Golden Dawner. Hey malaka, it happened over the ball [implying that the confrontation before the death concerned a football match and not political leanings], not a pre-arranged appointment [implying that this was an 'accident', and that there are also pre-arranged attacks]
Β: Yeah, yeah, what can I say, malaka, what a wanker that man was [implying that the purpose of an attack is not to kill, but possibly to terrorise]
Α: Yeah, he ruined everything
ΒNot only that, but he's gonna put a noose around the neck of the others who were there, he's gonna pull them along by the throat
Α: Whoever was there could go in for being part of a gang [implying that they knew the dangers of their actions and the risks of being found to be engaged in such activities]
B: Gee, malaka
Α: He destroyed everything, all that we had built ['we' incriminates them]

This kind of evidence raises questions about the evidence that the authorities are collecting, showing the gaps that they have to fill. Already, we are hearing stories that both the state and Greek citizens are in shock over the fact that some of the accused have been released:
The fact that certain Golden Dawn deputies were released from pretrial custody – conditionally – does not in any way represent evidence of their innocence, just as their being remanded to appear before a magistrate had not meant that they were guilty of the crimes being leveled against them. If these two very simple principles were applied with professionalism and aplomb, we would have no problem today. Instead, what is essentially a case for the police and jurisprudence has become political, leading to the outbreak of an “anti-fascist struggle” and the excitement of public opinion. The motives behind this stirring up of the public may have been innocent, but all it achieved was a few high television ratings that may possibly have beaten those of the dubbed Turkish soap operas screened by the Greek channels.
On a personal note, I felt quite defeated that Kasidiaris was let out; I regard him as the most dangerous member of Golden Dawn after the leader Mihaloliakos, who was remanded in custody, because Kasidiaris seems like a well-trained bully. Either Kasidiaris covered his tracks well enough to be allowed out (clever boy), or he had a really good lawyer (highly unlikely). All that hype in the press about gun ownership doesn't convince me at all: most homes in Crete have a gun in them, whether it is a legally owned weapon or not, but that doesn't make them criminals in the same sense, who can all be placed into the same basket.

I like to keep in mind that we mustn't get carried away with making assumptions (and Greeks often do fall prey to this emotion). The judicial system, if it is working properly, is there to protect both the villains and the victims. It often seems that in some cases they aren't being dealt with appropriately; most people will also recall that the Greek state threatened to sue the Guardian when the paper linked Greek police with Golden Dawn. But did the state have that concrete proof that this was happening? No one gave it concrete proof - it was all just hearsay, points of view, μούπα-σούπα as we say in Greek. Now, Golden Dawn has become a case of national importance to the state for many reasons. The state has to show it's being fair, even to criminals; it didn't manage to show that very well when it decided to strike off Kasidiaris' lawyer from the governing party's members' register. Someone would have represented Kasidiaris, and it could have been anyone (as if the state did not learn lessons from the trials of the 17 November gang) - even criminals deserve a fair trial.

Just because most of us assume to know how evil these despicable samples of humanity are doesn't mean that we can pass judgment without concrete evidence. People can't be detained if the evidence against them in not substantial enough. Still, it's very hard for Golden Dawn to win back a very tarnished image, especially with the videotaped behaviour being televised on the evening news broadcasts, which shows almost all members of Golden Dawn spitting, hissing, throwing things, never smiling, showing arrogance, and acting as if they are completely oblivious to the reality of their predicament. At any rate, a rather high level of damage has already been done:
But Greece's neo-Nazi party is in chaos. Decapitated of its leadership, on the back foot and facing a barrage of damaging disclosures, it is hard to see Golden Dawn being able to fight back.
Videos capturing the reactions of the arrested Golden Dawn members and their families - still a sacred institution in Greece, despite globalisation and the crisis, and where everything starts from - are now making the rounds on global media:
Above: Greek MP Ilias Kasidiaris spitting into the camera. Below: Eleni Zaroula, Golden Dawn leader's wife (also a Greek MP, appointed by the leader of the party, Mihaloliakos, who is her husband) spitting on journalists. She also threw coffee and a rubbish bag on them (eventually, she ran out of things to throw). This kind of behaviour damages them even in the eyes of their supporters, who will feel a certain level of shame to admit their allegiance to such people, or to admit that they emulate their beliefs. Such people damage their image even more when they are forced to make ridiculous choices for the replacement of their incarcerated members, using relatives: His [Mihaloliakos'] wife, who is expected to replace him as head of the party, and his daughter, a senior Golden Dawn cadre, shouted words of encouragement as he was brought out ashen-faced. Eventually, they will run out of extras. Already, their supporters' patience is waning: only 10 people waited in the cold and rain in the early hours of the morning to support Mihaloliakos when he was remanded in custody and taken to jail.
We suddenly discover that Golden Dawn members behave like nothing more than a bunch of ace-class bullies and cowards, who spit and hiss like animals when they are cornered:

Ilias Kasidiaris lashes out by hitting and kicking people after his release on 50,000 euro bail. 

But we could never have discovered this if it weren't for the evidence that modern technology allows us to have so quickly, cheaply and effortlessly, with state institutions grabbing the opportunity to take their place:
Greeks are stunned by the latest developments. They are shocked not only by the tactics employed by police, and the ferocity with which they have clamped down on the group but also the revelations that have since emerged surrounding the country's third biggest political force.
Onserving the appearance of the majority of people involved in Golden Dawn, we do notice certain similarities - they all seem to share a certain stockiness about them, suggesting that they eat a lot and don't exercise much. It didn't surprise me to hear from one of the anonymous witnesses (who were formerly involved with Golden Dawn but were too frightened to come forward out of fear of retribution until now that everything has been brought to the fore) that the food donations delivered to the Golden Dawn offices by their ignorant supporters were rarely distributed to the needy, but were in fact consumed by the members themselves. It is hard to swallow this information by even the most hardened Greek citizens, who would only have seen the shenanigans of the food handouts that Golden Dawn staged, as shown on Greek TV.

But what can actually be said about the appearance of Golden Dawn members, despite its lack of objectivity, remains rigidly disturbing. Their faces cannot hide their hatred. They never smile, they continue to smirk behind bars, they react only with sarcasm to all the accusations made against them. Most sickening is the hatred written all over the face of the daughter of the leader of Golden Dawn:
"We fear nothing... we're going to do whatever we feel like" (rough translation). Ourania Mihaloliakos is accompanied by a Golden Dawn MP with whom she maintains a 'private relationship.'

What is specifically important to me at this stage is (especially for kids) to be able to identify the hatred as it is depicted on these people's faces, so that we (and especially our kids) can learn to recognise it easily when we next sight it. We need to make people aware of what hatred looks like on a human face - no amount of referenced sources will be able to give you that information.

The behaviour that we have seen displayed so far by all these people is typical of bullies and cowards. It's the way most defeated villains react. We all need to see it too to trigger our feelings of shame if we were supporters of Golden Dawn: humiliation is in fact a way that pro-Hitler sympathies were partly quashed; this is something we need to learn to do in Greece, where the limits of democracy were such defined that everyone felt like they could do or believe in whatever they liked, even if it was wrong. And if we weren't supporters of Golden Dawn, these videos have given us a chance to come face to face with a kind of hatred that very few people would openly claim in front of authorities and respectable members of society. The face of hatred is often depicted in fiction-based films; these vidoes allow us to gain an understanding of what it looks like in real life. The videos and phone calls remind us that you can't actually believe what you feel like believing, because some things are not just anti-social - they are damn well wrong:
If we settle for congratulating ourselves on our anti-Nazi and anti-racist reactions, the future will end up looking a lot like the present...  If we view these people as nothing more than self-delusional, if we fail to accept that many embraced the party’s fascist ideas, if we do not fight this trend on a political level, we will one day be faced with the same nightmare.
For the same reasons, we have to trust and show patience in the justice system, which works along the same lines of any other Western nation's, holding the premise that you are innocent until proven guilty. Greece's judicial system is only just maturing; amateurs make mistakes, but eventually, with experience, they improve, especially when they know they are being closely monitored. Even Tspiras is showing belief in the Greek judicial system - now that's a first. I also read somewhere that Mihaloliakos' daughter is now trying to contain her hatred, even though she still tries to sound like a little Hitler and she continues not to smile, probably because she wants to show to the public that she can keep her hatred under control (now that daddy is in jail, she may even be reinventing the rules). Even the sceptics among us are now realising how such ugly faces no longer fool people.

*Try not to read too much meaning in the word 'malaka'. It is basically over-used in Greece. In these conversations, it generally means 'mate', but there are also times when it means 'jerk/wanker' (the person being referred to in this sense is not within earshot). The word 'malaka' is basically a filler.

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