Four Years of Greek Austerity in Forty Pictures

This coming May will mark four years since the European Commission, the European Central Bank, and the International Monetary Fund took control of the Greek economy. Although massively important, it’s an anniversary not many people are going to celebrate.
As more of a memento than a celebration, photographer Dimitris Michalakis has put together a selection of 40 photographs that he’s taken over the past four years. The series depicts the social impact of austerity in Greece, and serves as a snapshot into almost half a decade dominated by headlines about social polarity, debt, and economic crisis.
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Greece’s Kissing Gays Defied Neo-Nazis and Bigot Bishops Yesterday
I have always been ambivalent about January 6. It is the day before my birthday, which means I can get presents and get drunk. On the other hand, it is a great celebration of Orthodoxy. Greeks gather at various ports around the country and watch a rather theatrical religious tradition: priests throwing a crucifix into the sea while several young men dive into cold water and attempt to retrieve it for good luck. The day is called Theophany, or Epiphany, and it commemorates the revelation of God in human form through Jesus.



Since I’m an atheist, this whole ritual doesn’t mean much to me. However, this year January 6 got a lot more interesting. I got up early in the morning and joined a group of gay activists, members of Greece’s LGBT community, who gathered at the port of Piraeus to protest against Seraphim, the town’s ultra-conservative Bishop, who is notorious for his homophobic statements. By the time Seraphim tossed his cross into the sea, the assorted Ls, Gs, Bs and Ts were giving each other big gay kisses and handling out leaflets that read: “Love is not a sin.”

Last November, the European Court of Human Rights ordered Greece to allow same-sex couples to enter into civil partnerships like straight people can. The Strasbourg-based tribunal ruled that, in not doing so, Athens was in violation of the European Convention on Human Rights. Greece remains the only EU country other than Lithuania to refuse to extend this right to same-sex couples. Seraphim responded to the plans to make Greece join the rest of Europe in the 21st century by stating that “homosexuality is a unnatural aberration not even observed in animals.” A statement that discriminates against the sexual habits of manyalbatrosses, king penguins, dolphins, giraffes, and ancient Greeks.
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Greece’s Kissing Gays Defied Neo-Nazis and Bigot Bishops Yesterday

I have always been ambivalent about January 6. It is the day before my birthday, which means I can get presents and get drunk. On the other hand, it is a great celebration of Orthodoxy. Greeks gather at various ports around the country and watch a rather theatrical religious tradition: priests throwing a crucifix into the sea while several young men dive into cold water and attempt to retrieve it for good luck. The day is called Theophany, or Epiphany, and it commemorates the revelation of God in human form through Jesus.

Since I’m an atheist, this whole ritual doesn’t mean much to me. However, this year January 6 got a lot more interesting. I got up early in the morning and joined a group of gay activists, members of Greece’s LGBT community, who gathered at the port of Piraeus to protest against Seraphim, the town’s ultra-conservative Bishop, who is notorious for his homophobic statements. By the time Seraphim tossed his cross into the sea, the assorted Ls, Gs, Bs and Ts were giving each other big gay kisses and handling out leaflets that read: “Love is not a sin.”

Last November, the European Court of Human Rights ordered Greece to allow same-sex couples to enter into civil partnerships like straight people can. The Strasbourg-based tribunal ruled that, in not doing so, Athens was in violation of the European Convention on Human Rights. Greece remains the only EU country other than Lithuania to refuse to extend this right to same-sex couples. Seraphim responded to the plans to make Greece join the rest of Europe in the 21st century by stating that “homosexuality is a unnatural aberration not even observed in animals.” A statement that discriminates against the sexual habits of manyalbatrosses, king penguins, dolphins, giraffes, and ancient Greeks.

Continue

Is the East Mediterranean the Next Front in the War on Terror? 
Collaborative efforts by the Greek and Turkish governments to fight terrorism have been in the headlines since June, when Turkish dissident Bulut Yayla was abducted from Athens and somehow wound up in Istanbul. Yayla allegedly had links to the DHKP-C, a far-left group that’s banned in Turkey and has claimed responsibility for a series of bombings. The Greek police denied all knowledge of the extradition, but evidence from various reportssuggested that this was bullshit. Yayla is still being held by the Turkish police on terrorism charges. His lawyer has been trying to go to Greece for the past six months in order to turn in crucial evidence relevant to the investigation into his abduction, but has been unable to get the necessary visa.
Until recently, other Turkish leftists in Greece were prepared for a similar fate: extradition followed by inevitable imprisonment. Among them were four Turks who were arrested in August after the Greek authorities seized a boat allegedly carrying guns and explosives from the Greek island of Chios to the DHKP-C in Turkey. They went on a hunger strike that lasted more than 50 days to protest their possible deportation. One, Mehmet Yayla, has particularly pressing concerns about going back to Turkey—he said he was tortured by the authorities there and survived two assassination attempts before fleeing the country.
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Is the East Mediterranean the Next Front in the War on Terror? 

Collaborative efforts by the Greek and Turkish governments to fight terrorism have been in the headlines since June, when Turkish dissident Bulut Yayla was abducted from Athens and somehow wound up in Istanbul. Yayla allegedly had links to the DHKP-C, a far-left group that’s banned in Turkey and has claimed responsibility for a series of bombings. The Greek police denied all knowledge of the extradition, but evidence from various reportssuggested that this was bullshit. Yayla is still being held by the Turkish police on terrorism charges. His lawyer has been trying to go to Greece for the past six months in order to turn in crucial evidence relevant to the investigation into his abduction, but has been unable to get the necessary visa.

Until recently, other Turkish leftists in Greece were prepared for a similar fate: extradition followed by inevitable imprisonment. Among them were four Turks who were arrested in August after the Greek authorities seized a boat allegedly carrying guns and explosives from the Greek island of Chios to the DHKP-C in Turkey. They went on a hunger strike that lasted more than 50 days to protest their possible deportation. One, Mehmet Yayla, has particularly pressing concerns about going back to Turkey—he said he was tortured by the authorities there and survived two assassination attempts before fleeing the country.

Continue

Are Greek Neo-Nazis Fighting for Assad in Syria?
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.”
Continue

Are Greek Neo-Nazis Fighting for Assad in Syria?

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.”

Continue

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.  

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Greek Neo-Nazi Beach Party!
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.
Continue

Greek Neo-Nazi Beach Party!

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.

Continue

Watch Episode 4 of VICE on HBO Now, for Free
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.
Click to watch

Watch Episode 4 of VICE on HBO Now, for Free

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.

Click to watch

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.
Continue

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.

Continue

Turkey Is Waging an Invisible War on Its Dissidents 
Above: A wall of Greek riot police. (Photo by Henry Langston) 
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.
Bulut Yayla
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.
Continue

Turkey Is Waging an Invisible War on Its Dissidents 

Above: A wall of Greek riot police. (Photo by Henry Langston

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.


Bulut Yayla

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.

Continue

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. 
Continue Reading + Watch the Documentary

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. 

Continue Reading + Watch the Documentary

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