Austerity’s Drug of Choice: Sisa
Standing in the Athens police headquarters, interviewing the director of the drug unit, I realised I had a bag of chemically enhanced crystal meth in my pocket. I’d bought it the night before from a Greek homeless man and had forgotten to throw it away. After the interview, I stepped outside to smoke a cigarette, which is when some officers noticed the film crew I had brought along, who were recording from a distance.
Minutes later the cops dragged us into a holding room, the little packet of drugs still stuffed in my pants. They made some calls, glared at us and eventually, reluctantly, released us – without ever searching me, thankfully. On my way out, I threw the baggie into the first garbage can I passed.
Several Greek police stations have been firebombed in recent months, so the cops have reason to be nervous, especially when they notice that they are being filmed. On our first evening in Athens, a different group of officers approached us and, after spotting our film crew down the street, demanded to see our papers. They deleted our footage and detained us for a couple of hours, until we’d managed to get our passports delivered to the station. Greece is a paranoid place at the moment. The police, fascists, anarchists, dealers and drug users are all fighting for local supremacy and no one trusts anyone else.
The night before our close call at the Athens police headquarters, I was approached by a group of homeless people, one of whom was smoking some horrible-smelling stuff through what appeared to be a meth bowl made from an old lightbulb. Although I don’t speak Greek, I managed to let him know that I wanted to buy some of the drug, colloquially known as sisa. The homeless guy wandered off with my five-euro note, and afterward an old man grabbed my arm and shouted, “No, no take! Very bad.” I wasn’t going to smoke it, but I was very curious about Greece’s infamous new drug.
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I Spent The Weekend Watching Topless Feminists Piss Off Neo-Nazis
Last Friday, I took the Eurostar from London to Paris to meet the topless feminist protest group Femen. Originally based in the Ukraine, the organization has since spread across the world. The idea was to film the buildup to Femen’s next protest, but I didn’t find out quite what I was getting myself into until I arrived at their headquarters—a lofty space above a theater in Goutte D’or—that afternoon.
The area has a large Muslim population and is dotted with Islamic cultural centrers, so it seems quite a ballsy (or boobsy? Is that a thing?) move to base themselves there considering a large part of their shtick is protesting against conservative Islam. Their last protest action, for example, was Topless Jihad Day—a day where Femen members got their boobs out in various European cities to show solidarity with Amina Tyler. Amina, is a 19-year-old Femen member from Tunisia who was drugged and given a “virginity test” after posting topless protest pictures of herself on Facebook.
When I arrived, the Paris HQ was plastered with banners from previous demos—one that read “Sextremism” in bright red paint covered an entire wall. A few members were trying to decide on the best slogan for the massive new banner, which a girl called Oksana was already decorating with paintings of topless Femen activists. The reason for the extended deliberation was because of a heated discussion over whether “Nazi factions” should be spelled with or without an s at the end. No one’s going to pay you much attention in the protest world if you mess up your spelling.
Hungary’s Appetite for Self-Destruction
Hungary isn’t necessarily a country famed for its defenses. After losing 1.5 million people in World War I, a third of its population deserted the country. Then, during World War II, over 60 percent of its economy was destroyed, leaving the Soviets to take control until 1989. It’s the George Costanza of landlocked central European nations—highly unlucky, kind of testy, and not particularly well equipped to defend itself from outside attacks.
In 2013, however, it’s not alien armies they have to worry about, it’s the burgeoning far-right movement, a worrying level of state control, and an increase in censorship all brewing within the country’s borders.
Last Friday, members of the European parliament met in Strasbourg to discuss the country’s human rights—a meeting that follows a succession of criticisms made by heads of states and political commentators; the refusal by acclaimed authors to accept cash prizes in protest against the country’s abuse of human rights, and its own people marching almost non-stop since the beginning of last year.
So what’s really been going on? And why—when there’s already Greece’s fascist Golden Dawn, Italy’s far-right Lega Nord, and Britain’s festering nationalists, the BNP, to deal with—are European politicians spending so much time on a small country with apparently little international presence? Here are a few potential explanations.
It might only be ten years old, but Jobbik (The Movement For a Better Hungary)—described by its opponents as fascist and neo-Nazi—is already the country’s third most popular party. At the end of last year, its Minister of Foreign Affairs, Márton Gyöngyös, called for the country’s Jewish population to be cataloged and screenedas potential security threats. A month later, 10,000 people took to the steps of parliament to protest the move and urge the government to condemn the man who proposed it.
Following that little flirtation with eugenics, FIFA ordered last month’s World Cup qualifying match between Hungary and Romania to be played to an empty stadium due to antiSemitic displays from Hungarian fans. Jobbik responded to that by protesting outside the stadium. There have also been attempts by sympathizers to talk down the extent of antiSemitism in the country, both from Jobbik and elsewhere. Even though defining Jews as potential threats just for being Jewish would seem to be more or less transparently bigoted.
Also, this week the government had to oppose a nationalist motorcycle club from disrupting the March of the Living, a commemoration of Holocaust victims. Which kind of says it all.
The New Roma Ghettos: Inside Slovakia’s Ongoing Segregation Nightmare
Children playing on a broken wall in the Vel’ka Ida Roma settlement, in eastern Slovakia. The massive US Steel factory is visible in the background. Photos by Matt Lutton.
Throughout history, sometimes events seem perfectly aligned to spark racial violence. On March 10 of last year, the residents of the small village of Krásnohorské Podhradie, in the mountains of eastern Slovakia, looked up to the hilltop at the center of town to see their beloved 14th-century Krásna Hôrka Castle being engulfed in flames. By the time firefighters made it up the hill, the roof was gone and three bells had melted down into the tower.
The next day, a police spokesman announced that the fire had been caused by two Roma boys, aged 11 and 12, who lived in a ghetto on the edge of the village. They had allegedly been trying to light a cigarette at the bottom of the hill when an unusually strong gust of wind carried a piece of smoldering ash up the mountain, where it ignited wood strewn on the castle grounds. Whether or not they were responsible, the accused and their families were terrified—perhaps because, in the last two years, according to data from the European Roma Rights Center, there have been dozens of violent attacks on Roma in Slovakia—the ethnic group better known as Gypsies. Fearing reprisal, the boys were quickly spirited out of town to stay with relatives, while Roma men prepared throughout the night to defend their community. Ultimately, the boys weren’t charged with any crime because they’re minors, but the damage was done: the image of Gypsy kids setting fire to a hallmark of Slovak national heritage seemed to only reinforce the prejudices many white ethnic Slovaks have toward their country’s poorest citizens. With the burning of Krásna Hôrka Castle, the far right in Slovakia had their equivalent of 1933’s Reichstag fire—the symbolic event needed to justify a crackdown.
In mid-March, I flew to Slovakia and drove out to Krásnohorské Podhradie for a rally to commemorate the one-year anniversary of the burning of Krásna Hôrka. Marian Kotleba, a former teacher and leader of the far right People’s Party-Our Slovakia—named in honor of the clerical-fascist regime that ruled the Czechoslovak Republic between World War I and II—had pegged his dim electoral prospects on Krásna Hôrka and his stand against “Gypsy criminality.”
On arrival, I entered a lot beside the municipal offices. A crowd of about 150 people—skinheads, tough-looking townspeople, and about 12 of Marian’s green-clad officer corps—stood around listening to Marian’s speech. My translator suggested parking away from the crowd so that there would be less of a chance of anyone noticing the Hungarian plates on our rental car. “If there’s one thing the neo-Nazis like less than Roma, it’s Hungarians,” he said, only half joking, referring to Slovak resentment of their former imperial neighbor.
Sticking to his campaign promise, French President François Hollande and the French state will now pay for 100 percent (!) of the cost of abortions. Not only that, teenage girls between the ages of 15-18 will have the option for free and anonymous birth control.
Prior to April 1st, French women over 18 could receive only 80% of the cost of an abortion covered, an operation that can cost up to 450 euros. This medical change is part of the 2013 social security budget, and France also hopes to increase the sharing of free contraceptives in an effort to cut down the total number of abortions in general — as there were close to 12,000 abortions performed in France last year.
- by Zach Sokol
Meet the Nihilist-Anarchist Network Bringing Chaos to a Town Near You
On May 7th, 2012, two masked gunmen crept up on the CEO of nuclear engineering firm Ansaldo Nucleare outside his home in Italy. As their target—56-year-old Roberto Adinolfi—emerged from his house, the gunmenfired three shots at him. One shattered Adinolfi’s right kneecap. The attackers weren’t petty extortionists or Mafia guns-for-hire, as was initially assumed, but members of what is considered to be a highly organized and shadowy left-wing terrorist organisation named Federazione Anarchica Informale—shortened to the FAI, or The Informal Anarchist Federation in English.
After the FAI had claimed the attack on Adinolfi, the mainstream press effectively attributed it to a bunch of trigger-happy Italian anarchists who were trying to imitate the Red Brigades—the Leninist-Marxist Brigate Rosse whose paramilitaries caused havoc in Italy throughout the 70s and 80s. In reality, the FAI actually holds no Marxist beliefs at all and have stated to me via an anonymous source that they have no affiliation with the Red Brigades whatsoever.
My source has taken many precautions and will only communicate with me via methods that are virtually untraceable, secretly handing me reams of FAI literature to sift through for research. The group’s members are people who international security agents would very much like to sit down and talk to. Clearly they’re anxious about police infiltration and take every precaution they can to protect the identities of their “comrades.”
As demonstrated by Adinolfi’s kneecapping (carried out because of his company’s affiliation with Italian defense conglomerate Finmeccanica, currently being investigated on corruption charges), the FAI’s MO is to carry out violent resistance against what they call the “European Fortress”—an FAI term for the unjust and oppressive forces they feel are running the continent.
Instead of peacefully handing out leaflets, they mask up and employ the full force of “direct action,” proven by their many attacks like the bombing of private banks in Rome, the torching of surveillance towers in Russia, and the destruction of rail lines in the UK. They’ve also tried to send letter bombs to MEPs, which were either intercepted or didn’t explode (something the FAI says was an intentional scare tactic).
Why Are All These Gays Taking Grindr Photos at a Holocaust Memorial Site? We Spoke with the Guys Behind the Website Grindr Remembers
VICE: How did you guys start this site?
Lewkowicz: It wasn’t started with an idea. It was actually pretty spontaneous; I saw this one picture and I sent it to Ariel. Then we started exchanging more and more pictures and wherever we went, we found a gallery of photos that we just couldn’t keep to ourselves. It was just too outrageous. We had a lot of fun making this blog, and then it started rolling over the internet and getting more and more pictures.
When did it become so popular?
Ashbel: Only a few days ago. Before it was just friends of ours who would send it to friends of theirs, and we just got pictures that way. I think someone on Twitter found it. I believe it was related to International Holocaust Day. It’s quite old, though. It’s really old news.
Lewkowicz: When it reached the mainstream media and the backlash came, Grindr changed their stance on the site.
Ashbel: There’s a righteous backlash not only from mainstream sources, but the gay community as well.
Lewkowicz: I think it’s really bullshit. I don’t see it.
Ashbel: I don’t think the pictures are problematic. It’s a prudish approach to assume that anything that has to do with sex is immediately disrespectful or obscene. I just think it’s really sad that people are so old-fashioned.
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Immigrants Are Being Stabbed to Death on the Streets of Athens
“I urge you to stop racism. At last, you have to realize that we are human beings and we are immigrant workers. We want justice,” shouts Javed Aslam, the Pakistani president of the Union of Immigrant Workers in Greece. He is addressing the crowd of about 5,000 people, who have marched all the way to Syntagma Square, in front of the parliament building, to protest against fascism and the growing wave of racist attacks against immigrants, some of which have been fatal.
The demo is occuring a couple of days after the murder of Shehzad Luqman, a 27-year-old Pakistani worker who was stabbed to death by a 29-year-old fireman and his unemployed, 24-year-old accomplice, both Greek and suspected Golden Dawn members. During the early morning of January 17th, Shehzat was cycling to his employer’s house in Petralona to load their truck before heading to the open-air market. The two offenders, who claim they had a fight with Shehzat because he’d been blocking their way, stopped their motorbike and stabbed him in the chest, causing his death a short time later.
Unlike many crimes against immigrants that go unreported, this one was witnessed by neighbors and a taxi driver who recorded the motorbike’s plate and called the police. When arrested a short time later, one of the assailants still had the bloody knife in his pocket.
The Iron Pipe of Swedish Fascism
Photo by Christian Storm
Last November, the Swedish newspaper Expressen published a leaked video that showed neo-fascist members of Swedish parliament running amok through the streets of Stockholm, wielding pieces of scaffolding pipe and shouting slurs like “Paki” and “little whore” at innocent bystanders. They are members of the Sweden Democrats, a political party that was a marginal outlier ten years ago with no hope of ever getting elected to parliament. But in a 2012 opinion poll, the Sweden Dems came out with 11 percent of the vote—which would make them the third most popular party in the country.
At first glance, the upswing of fascism and racism in Sweden appears surprising. The nation has no long-lasting history of colonialism, and far-right movements played a relatively insignificant role in 20th-century Sweden. So how did this ragtag group of anti-immigrant nationalists rise to such a prominent place in Swedish politics? And what made the Swedish people vote these hooligans into parliament?
Fascism seems totally out of place in Sweden, an affluent country with a well-functioning welfare system. But in the past couple of decades, xenophobia has festered under the surface of prosperity. Starting in the early 1980s, a handful of racist groups emerged, the most notable among them Bevara Sverige Svenskt(Keep Sweden Swedish). Distributing flyers that instructed Swedish girls to “avoid unprotected sexual intercourse with Negroes with deadly AIDS” and demanding “repatriation” of non-Nordic immigrants, the BSS functioned as a breeding ground for far-right activists. In the mid-80s, fascist rallies were held in central Stockholm to commemorate the death of the 18th century’s King Karl XII, a figure they positioned as their founding father. These rallies, which included hundreds of drunk skinheads communing with sweater-wearing fascist grandfathers, often ended in street fights and wanton violence. Swastikas and Hitler salutes were common sights.
The Sweden Democrats rose from the ashes of this milieu. Formed in 1988, the party was a coalition between ex-members of the BSS and leading figures of Nazi organizations like Nordiska Rikspartiet (Nordic Nations Party). The party spent the early and mid-1990s mobilizing the far right against the Swedish political establishment.
Although sectarian Nazi parties formed in Sweden as early as the 1920s, their “national movement” never gained much traction. The country’s postwar economic boom was made possible by large-scale immigration. In the decades after WWII, the number of Swedes who immigrated from foreign countries increased from about 100,000 to almost 600,000. The Social Democrats’ ideological vision of folkhemmet (the people’s home)—an exclusively Swedish community that spanned all social classes—involved eugenics programs and oppression of the Romani and Sámi people; however, the bulwark of Swedish socialism largely kept the nationalists at bay until recent times.
In 1992, after the serial killer and bank robber John “the Laser Man” Ausonius shot 11 immigrants in Stockholm, the Sweden Democrats arranged a march during which participants screamed that he should have shot more foreigners. A year after, police arrested the leader of the party’s youth wing at a Communist May Day demonstration for possessing a hand grenade.
In the late 90s, however, the leaders of the Sweden Democrats began to methodically sever their far-right connections. Skinheads were excluded, explicit anti-Semitism was dropped, and references to race were discouraged. By cutting its umbilical cord to Nazism, this violent party whitewashed itself into a softer, more respectable opponent of multiculturalism. In 2001, the party split in two, with the anti-Semitic and more militant factions founding the ultranationalist Nationaldemokraterna (National Democrats). The Sweden Democrats strategically presented themselves as invandringskritisk (immigration critical) and socially conservative rather than explicitly fascist. Led by Jimmie Åkesson, a respectable and smartly dressed young man with a self-proclaimed interest in “history,” the party received 160,000 votes in the 2006 parliamentary elections.
Aware of the increasingly anti-Islamic sentiments in Europe, the Sweden Democrats shifted their demonization to Muslim immigrants and scapegoated them for what the party alleged to be social decay in Sweden. They went so far as to appoint Jewish members to top positions and began to aggressively push a pro-Israel foreign policy. As Åkesson put it, Islam was the “biggest foreign threat [to Sweden] since the Second World War.”
With their carefully calibrated underdog image, the Sweden Democrats gained significant support over the next few years. Some former Social Democrats, discouraged by their party’s involvement in dismantling the welfare state, found the Sweden Democrats to be a source of stability, community, and tradition. The party appropriated the Social Democratic vision of folkhemmet and turned it against its designers, accusing the Social Democrats of having betrayed the Swedish people by submitting to multiculturalism, feminism, and “mass immigration.”
Why Are So Many Gypsies Killing Themselves?
Gypsies and travelers have long been a marginalized group. I suppose that’s one of the pitfalls of intentionally side-lining yourself from mainstream society for hundreds of years. But recent changes to legislation surrounding traveler communities (meaning they no longer have government-approved places to settle) has made them even more segregated. A report showed that travelers and gypsies are in significantly poorer health than other UK-resident, English-speaking ethnic minorities. They’re also more likely to suffer from miscarriages, still births, the death of young babies and older children because their access to healthcare—as a group with no fixed address—is limited. Which is obviously all extremely depressing.
Another related bum-out is the fact that, within the last five years, the rates of drug abuse in both communities have risen exponentially, and suicide rates have grown to be six times higher than those of the general UK population. Travelers and gypsies are already both pretty closed communities, and I imagine they’re not going to become any less reluctant to talk when it comes to their family members killing themselves, so there’s not a huge amount of information out there as to why this has suddenly started happening. To get a bit of insight, I called Shauna Leven from the charity René Cassin.
Ex-residents of Dale Farm.
VICE: Hi Shauna. Can you unwrap this statistic that suicide rates in the traveler and gypsy communities are six times higher than the general UK population?
Shauna Leven: First, I should just say that these statistics apply to Romani gypsies and Scottish, Welsh, and Irish travelers, not so much the Roma people who’ve started coming here more recently. However, they too experience the same kind of discrimination in Europe. Unfortunately, it’s hard to delve into specifics, because the NHS doesn’t collect statistics on health issues for this ethnic groups as it does for other ethnic groups.
Why aren’t they collecting statistics?
It’s just not part of the NHS framework. Gypsies and travelers are recognized as an ethnic minority, but the discrepancy between, say, the life expectancy of travelers and the general population is mostly ignored. If you were seeing the same kind of thing in the Muslim community, for example, it’s much more likely there’d be statistics taken. Our first recommendation towards solving the problem is to go out and do more research about the topic, because that’s the first issue here.
The first issue is what’s causing it?
Yes—well, higher suicide rates are really the result of a convergence of factors. Racism against gypsies and travelers is often referred to as the last acceptable type of racism here in the UK. Educated, socially conscious people often don’t hesitate before using the words “gyp” or “pikey” or other things like that, and that’s just the tip of the iceberg, really. It shows the level of social exclusion that travelers automatically fall under for being travelers.