Greek

Exclusive interview with jailed Golden Dawn politician Giorgos Germenis

Kostas Kallergis

Giorgos Germenis is one of the most high-profile figures in Golden Dawn, the Greek party which describes itself as nationalist but has been widely condemned at home and abroad as neo-fascist. He was the first Golden Dawn member to state publicly that his family had a communist background.

Giorgos Germenis

Photo: Paavo Teittinen

Germenis, who is a member of parliament, said his grandfather had been a communist guerrilla during the Second World War. Soon after that TV interview with Greek journalist and publisher Themos Anastasiades was aired in May 2012, bloggers questioned his statements.

They cast doubt not only on the details of his story but on the very idea that anyone in a country where the scars of the 1945-49 civil war still run deep could go from a leftist family to a far right party.

I interviewed Germenis via correspondence as he is now in Korydallos Maximum Security Prison west of Athens, awaiting trial after being charged, along with the majority of Golden Dawn’s members of parliament, with joining and operating a criminal organisation. He denies all the charges against him.

The Greek judicial investigation, launched soon after the assassination of anti-fascist rapper Pavlos Fyssas by a Golden Dawn member in September 2013, is examining whether the party directly orchestrated a number of racist attacks in recent years.

I originally came into contact with Germenis’ wife, Evgenia Christou, who is also a Golden Dawn member. She passed my questions to her husband when visiting him in prison. About a week later, Germenis supplied handwritten answers, which Christou then typed up and emailed to me.  This is the full text of the interview:

-In your interview with Themos Anastasiades you mentioned that your grandfather had fought with the communist guerillas during the Second World War. Can you tell me some more details? Where did he fight? Do you remember any stories of his from those years?

Yes, he had organised a group of guerillas with people from his village. Their base was the village of Kefalovryso [in Aetolia-Acarnania, western Greece], if I’m not mistaken the village is called Thermo today, as many villages have changed names since then. A very important battle that was based on a plan by my grandfather was the one at Makrynoros and he was even congratulated by [former general secretary of the Communist Party of Greece] Florakis for that battle. Another important battle for the resistance against the Germans was the one at Goritsa, which started at the valley and even reached the mountain.

In addition, since I have the opportunity, I would like to reply to Communist Party MP [Spyros] Chalvatzis who chose to taunt me at the committee which was convened to lift my parliamentary immunity by saying that the [Communist Party of Greece official newspaper] Rizospastis was not in circulation when I said that my grandfather used to send my mother to fetch it between 1964-66. Mr Chalvatzis wanted to reduce the importance of my testimony or rather, as the KKE [Communist Party of Greece] usually does, he wanted to refute an old comrade fighter obviously because his grandson become a member of Golden Dawn instead of a communist. It can’t be explained otherwise, it’s impossible that Mr.Chalvatzis and many others, the blogs and newspapers who rushed to ridicule me, were not aware that Rizospastis was in circulation, even though illegally, and was usually passed from one hand to another secretly. Therefore, to restore the truth, [my grandfather] Panayotis Griziotis used to send his then 10-year-old daughter to Mr. Mazarakis’ shop in order to fetch Rizospastis.

-How close was your relationship with your grandfather?

He was a modern grandfather, very close to the youth and its needs. Just to give you an idea, when my cousins and I were kids, he’d even offer us a cigarette but he’d later tell us to stay away from that devil. He was an honest man, a fighter and a patriot, who managed to create a family, to have three daughters and nine grandchildren. We used to hang around with him at the coffee house in Neo Iraklio [an Athens suburb], he’d play cards and would buy us lemonade. He lived in that neighborhood until he died and there was not even one person who would say a bad thing about him.

-You also mentioned that your mother voted for the KKE. Were you, as a teenager, influenced by your family, politically speaking? I’m asking because it’s common for families in Greece, when an ancestor was a communist guerrilla, to follow his ideology for 2 or even 3 generations.

Yes, I can remember my mother carrying me in her arms as a child when she was putting up posters for the May Day rally with her comrades from the party [KKE] along Irakliou Avenue. I know what you mean but, no, they never tried to influence me politically. As long as I didn’t go near [right-wing] New Democracy, right?

-How did you come in contact with Golden Dawn for the first time? What made you join the party?

It was in the early 1990s. Back then there was the great dispute about the naming of Skopje. If you remember, there were many big rallies in Omonoia square [in Athens] with thousands of people. My school had also joined and all the schoolchildren participated. At some point I bumped into a different block of demonstrators, they were handing out leaflets about the issue with impressive titles. The next step was to go and visit them in person.

-How did your parents react when they heard that you became a member of Golden Dawn?

Actually they hadn’t heard of Golden Dawn before, not even its name. And of course I never told them I became a member. My mother had seen the red colour of our newspaper and the Greek flag and she thought everything was ok. In addition, if I remember well because a lot of years have passed since then, I must have given her a leaflet we made which said that Popular Nationalism is a left-wing movement according to [Danish national socialist Povl Riis] Knudsen and another magazine which was called Greek Worker and had Che Guevarra on its front page.

-How did you manage to convince them to follow you? What kind of arguments did you use?

I never did anything of the sort and they never followed me, they remained faithful to their line. But a little before I was elected to parliament, my mother came to one of our rallies out of curiosity and she admitted to my sisters that Golden Dawn was a truly revolutionary party. She saw what kind of people were joining our gatherings and remembered the people she used to see in the gatherings when she was young. In our rallies she didn’t see the usual party henchmen and the politically appointed executives but people from next door, workers, breadwinners; that impressed her. In fact she even managed to spend some more time with some of these people and she understood better what attracts people to Golden Dawn.

-What ideological similarities are there between a leftist and a Golden Dawn supporter? How is it possible for someone to move from the left to Golden Dawn?

I’ll tell you something that, if you don’t have political blinkers, you will understand straight away; KKE has been transformed into a bourgeois party. By being at the front of the political stage, they have become professional revolutionaries. No matter how much of a communist you may be, you can’t accept being represented in the parliament by someone like [KKE member of parliament Liana] Kanelli who had a right-wing upbringing and hangs around the outskirts of Attica, in Kastri, NeaErythrea and Kefalari [Athens’ posh northern suburbs]. No matter how much of a communist you may be, you can’t accept [KKE general secretary Dimitris] Koutsoumpas as your leader when he has never worked in his life. I’m not telling you all these things in order to annoy the KKE but because this is the truth. You can’t tolerate the destruction of the Greek society by the Samaras-Venizelos [the two party leaders from the current governing coalition] dictatorship and at the same time all you care about is organising an anti-fascist festival by the Communist Youth against Golden Dawn. Is Golden Dawn the problem of Greece or is it the criminal organisation of Samaras and Venizelos who have loaded the memoranda [austerity policies insisted on by international organizations] onto our backs? You can’t be the opposition to the opposition. The opposition should target the government. Today the youth needs a vision and Golden Dawn can provide this. Take for example the age of our members of parliament; 14 out of 18 are below the age of 40.

-Have you seen similar stories to yours?

I’ll tell you this. In one of our offices in eastern Attica there were around 120 people gathered for a meeting. I asked them where they belonged politically and ideologically before they joined Golden Dawn and a big part of them used to be leftists or supporters of PASOK [the socialist party]. Keep in mind that these people usually become the staunchest supporters of Golden Dawn. Because they feel that the parties they were following all these years betrayed them!

-There are some neighbourhoods in Athens that used to be thought of as KKE strongholds, e.g. Perama and Nikea. Today we see a rise of Golden Dawn popularity in these areas, at times higher than your average ratings in other areas of Greece. Is there an explanation for this according to your opinion?

Since you are a journalist I would suggest you go and investigate in these neighbourhoods, without a camera but only with a pencil and a paper like the good old journalists. Listen to their problems, go to the fishing port or the shipyard in Perama. If you go to these people who have no idea how their life will be tomorrow and speak to them about the proletariat, real existing socialism and about imperialism, they’ll look at you as if you came from Mars. If you ask them about the professional trade unionists at Perama’s shipyards, you’ll freak out with what you will hear.

Why is there this rise, in my opinion? Simply because today by being a Golden Dawn supporter you are simultaneously a Revolutionary! I just need to remind you Mr. Kallergis that during these moments when I’m answering your questions, the early hours of 12th July 2014, I’ve been locked in a prison cell for 6 months already without any charge against me apart from the fact that I’m a member of parliament from Golden Dawn*. This by itself makes me a Fighter, a Revolutionary, an Uncompromised man in the eyes of anyone, people just like him, irrespective of political preference. I’d feel the same in any similar situation. I have the courage to recognize anyone who remains faithful to his beliefs and is imprisoned or dies for them.

-Do you personally consider it a paradox when someone comes from a leftist family and now votes for Golden Dawn?

As I said before, no, I don’t think this is a paradox. All these years we knew that if you wanted to be a revolutionary you had to be a leftist. Today we have proved that you now have to support Golden Dawn. The Left is responsible for the moral bankruptcy of the universities, for this decline… Today’s Left must ask itself about its leaders. You can either be with [Hugo] Chavez or with the Texan oil producers, Mr. Tsirpas. I can’t talk about socialism to our clients and educate my kid at an American college where they teach imperialism and the economic strangling of the Nations, [former general secretary of KKE] Mrs. Papariga. This is why I’m telling you, go through our MPs, they are all guys from next door, most of them up until yesterday were simple wage earners.

Giorgos Germenis

12.7.2014

Korydallos Prison.

*Since this interview was conducted, the indictment against Germenis and other Golden Dawn leaders has been leaked to the media. Germenis is charged with joining and operating a criminal organization and with illegal possession of firearms.

The interview was undertaken as part of reporting for a feature article on Golden Dawn members and voters who came from a leftist background. It was limited to this topic did not touch upon the ongoing judicial investigation into Golden Dawn. The words in brackets have been added by BIRN to provide explanation.

Kostas Kallergis is a freelance journalist and television producer based in Athens who has worked with many international news organisations on their coverage of the Greek economic crisis.

Fellow Bio

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Konstantinos Kallergis

Kostas Kallergis is a freelance journalist and television producer based in Athens, with extensive experience in documentary-making.

Topic

Topic 2014: Generations

This year’s annual topic is Generations. Think of a powerful story that you have always wanted to report, and link it to this theme while crafting your proposal. Remember, it is better to have a strong central idea that is loosely linked to the annual theme than to have a weak idea that is strongly linked to the theme.