Not every report that comes out of Syria is bad news for Bashar al-Assad, the country’s president. While the world’s media worries about recently radicalized jihadists flying from England to Aleppo to gun down the embattled leader’s soldiers, there’s another type of international engagement playing out in the country—and this time, it’s playing out in the regime’s favor.
Since the conflict began in 2011, far-right groups from across the world have been courting the Syrian government. On the slightly more moderate end of the scale, BNP leader Nick Griffin rode into Damascus a few months back to have his photo taken with the prime minister, Wael Nader Al-Halqi, and publicly rail against the Free Syrian Army. On the more extreme end, fascist Greek mercenaries may now be training in Syria to help defend Assad and have formed a European support network to spread pro-regime propaganda.
Just over a month ago, the Irish-Greek blogger Glykosymoritis sent me an article translated from the right-wing Greek newspaper, Democratia. The clipping contained an interview with an obscure far-right group called Black Lily, who were making bold claims about having a “whole platoon of volunteers [who] are fighting side by side with Assad’s government forces.”
I spent the subsequent weeks emailing the group, looking for pictures or video evidence to prove that their fighters are on the ground. The group’s responses were guarded, as they were apparently worried for the safety of their members, but their claims weren’t totally implausible. “These days, more Greeks are in Syria with the Syrian Armed Forces,” they told me. “Very soon we are going to have news.”
We Spent Last Night Watching Greek Antifascists Clash with the Police
Last night, more than 5,000 people stormed the streets in Keratsini, a working class neighborhood in western Athens. They were there to protest against the first political homicide in Greece since the early 1990s: the murder of Pavlos Fyssas—a 34-year-old antifa activist and rapper, known locally as Killah P—who was stabbed twice on Tuesday evening, reportedly by 45-year-old suspected Golden Dawn member.
According to police and news reports, a group of at least 20 far-right thugs in military uniforms and Golden Dawn T-shirts watched and ambushed the rapper and six of his friends as they left a local coffee shop.
George’s wife claims that the suspect was at home while the game was on and only headed out after receiving a phone call. It also appears that, right after plunging the knife into Pavlos—twice into his stomach and once into his chest—the suspect called his wife and instructed her to get rid of all the Golden Dawn paraphernalia he had lying around at home.
The Golden Dawn is a steel truncheon crunching the bones of the European Project. In the lifetimes of the generation who fought in the Second World War, mainstream Nazis have returned to the continent. To openly read the anti-Semite blood libels The Protocols of the Elders of Zionin the Greek Parliament. To suppress entire towns beneath their thumb as vigilante social “cleansers.” To increasingly hold the balance of power in an increasingly unbalanced state. And, to party.
That’s right, just because you spend your spare time whipping Egyptian taxi drivers with a bike chain doesn’t mean you don’t need to blow off a little steam every now and then. Which is how, every year, the Golden Dawn hardcore end up in Crete, having a racially-pure away-day, where they pretend to be Spartans. Spartans in Crete. A bit weird, but historical anachronism is not something they can spell, much less avoid. The basic idea is simply to have a bonding sesh, get all Judd Apatow and express their man-feelings with one another.
Our Emmy-nominated HBO show recently wrapped up its first season, and complaint numero uno that we got throughout its run was: “I reaaaalllyyy want to watch your show, but I don’t have HBO.” Well, your cries have been heard. Yesterday we released the first episode on VICE.com, and today, right here on the page you’re on right now, we’re airing the fourth episode. Next Monday and Tuesday we’ll release episodes nine and ten, respectively.
In epsiode four of VICE, Thomas Morton investigates China’s dating customs, where old-fashioned courtship has been replaced by lucrative matchmaking businesses, and Shane Smith travels to Greece and Spain to see how the youth are responding to Europe’s crippling financial crisis.
Germany’s Blood-Drenched WWII Debt Could Save Greece’s Economy
Above: The rounding up of Jews in Thessaloniki in July of 1942. (Image via)
In early April of 1941, the German army defeated Greek forces along the country’s northern front. Where Greece had spent the previous winter in jubilation after successfully fending off the Italians, they now experienced existential horror at the inevitability of occupation by the Axis powers. The terror was so strong, in fact, that the prime minister shot himself just days before the Germans marched into Athens.
And the three-year occupation of Greece did indeed prove to be hell on Earth, most notably for the famine that wiped out more than 300,000 citizens, but also because it hosted some of the worst atrocities committed by German troops during the war. This included the raping and pillaging of villages, and the systematic execution of able-bodied men, and, in some cases, women and children.
The occupation of Greece tore the nation apart so much that when Axis powers left in 1944, the country soon broke out into a three-year civil war over the ensuing power vacuum.
Today, more than 70 years since the beginning of the occupation, Greeks and historians are pointing out that, aside from the question of unpaid reparations, Germany still owes Greece on two other counts: debt owed on a forced loan Germany took from Greece, and the returning of ancient artifacts stolen during the occupation.
Last April, Syriza, Greece’s second largest party, raised the issue with Greek Minister of Foreign Affairs Dimitris Avramopoulos. Avramopoulos agreed that the matter must be decided once and for all by an international court. It was the first time a Greek official had publicly made such an announcement.
Experts are estimating that, all told, Germany owes approximately €162 billion ($211.5 billion), including interest. However, the general accounting office in Greece refuses to make the number they’ve come up with public.
For the past week, we’ve been watching scenes of mayhem unfold in the streets of Istanbul, Ankara and other major Turkish cities. What started as a local initiative to stop a central Istanbul park being turned into a shopping center became a civilian street war against the rising authoritarianism of Prime Minister Tayyip Erdoğan’s government.
As if to cement everything the protesters were already angry about, Erdoğan sent police in to quite literallycrack skulls and fire tear gas and pepper spray at the mostly peaceful crowd. But alongside the highly visible violence, an invisible war is taking place on those from Turkey who dare to stand up and speak out against the government.
The story starts not in Turkey, but in downtown Athens, from where Turkish asylum seeker Bulut Yayladisappeared last Thursday. According to eyewitnesses, at around 9:30 PM Yayla was immobilized, beaten, and pushed into a car on Solomou Street in the neighborhood of Exarcheia. When support groups and lawyers looked up the car’s registration plate, the owner turned out to be none other than a member of the Greek police.
Shockingly, the Greek police force itself denies any knowledge of the incident. Yayla, a political activist who has been arrested and tortured in Turkey in the past, has been trying to apply for political refugee asylum in Greece for some time now. But given Greece’s famous bureaucracy, it probably won’t surprise you that Yayla hasn’t had much luck.
When he resurfaced after his kidnapping, Yayla was no longer in Athens, he was in Istanbul, being held by the Turkish counter-terrorism police. Since then, he has informed Greek support groups of what happened after his abduction. With a hood over his head, he was passed between three different groups of people, crossed the border to Turkey (under what he said felt like a wire fence in the middle of the night) and eventually found himself in Istanbul.
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.
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," shoutsJaved Aslam, the Pakistani president of the Union ofImmigrant 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 fascismand the growing wave of racistattacks against immigrants, some of which have been fatal.
The demo is occuring a couple of days after the murder of ShehzadLuqman, a 27-year-oldPakistani worker who was stabbedto death by a 29-year-oldfireman and his unemployed, 24-year-old accomplice, both Greek and suspected Golden Dawn members. During the early morning of January 17th, Shehzatwas cycling to his employer’s house in Petralona toload 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 witnessedby 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.