Just days after a major protest in the island of Lesvos opposing the occupation of the main square of the island’s capital, Mitilini, by over 200 illegal migrants, Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras—who once demonstrated that his geography skills are akin to his English-language skills by referring to Lesvos and Mitilini as separate islands—paid a visit to the island for an absurd propaganda speech as part of the 14th North Aegean Regional Conference.
As Tsipras spoke at the conference, an estimated 3,000 residents of the island of Lesvos protested outside, said to be the largest protest in the island’s history. Protesters attempted to burst past a barricade consisting of 17 riot police buses—the same riot police which Tsipras and company had pledged to abolish prior to their ascent to power in January 2015—to issue a resolution to the prime minister. Some protesters rocked the riot police buses, attempting to topple them.
Among the complaints of the protesters is the elimination of the reduced value-added tax (VAT) rate for Lesvos and other islands—which SYRIZA had once pledged to protect and maintain and which had been put in place to alleviate the cost of shipping necessary goods to far-flung islands—while shops on the island were shuttered in protest of the tax increase. Perhaps even more so, the protests also concerned the daily problems and declining quality of life which the island’s residents face as a result of the migrant influx. Lesvos has, for years been at the front lines of the inflow of migrants, supposedly refugees from Syria, but many of whom—mostly unaccompanied young men—hail from other countries of the Middle East, Asia, and even Africa and… Latin America.
The mayor of Lesvos Spyros Galinos ended up being the one to issue the protesters’ statement to Tsipras. Nevertheless, the demonstrations turned chaotic on at least two occasions, when protesters attempted to break the riot police barricade.
Galinos, speaking to The Guardian, stated: “The people of Lesvos are exhausted. The rhythm of our lives has been shattered by refugees and migrants who now number a third of our population… fear prevails. Women are afraid to leave their homes at night, children are kept locked up indoors because parents are afraid to let them go out and play. No community would put up with this.”
It’s a wonder that Galinos wasn’t immediately branded a hardcore fascist by the open borders-supporting PC police at The Guardian, especially following his statements about women and children on the island and fear prevailing.
SYRIZA’s hypocrisy on display once again
Tsipras, oblivious to everything, filled his speech with talk about “growth” and Greece’s supposed forthcoming “exit” from the “bailout” (loan) agreements.
“When President Juncker speaks of a clean exit from the bailout program in the summer of 2018, when the head of the OECD speaks about the feat of the Greek people and of a country that is leading the way in reforms, what point is there to waste time on pointless disagreements?”
Come again? President Juncker? President of what? It seems Tsipras let the EU surpa-state cat out of the bag unwittingly with this statement.
Tsipras then made lofty claims of eliminating waste in the public health care system, even as his own government has offered patronage plum positions to SYRIZA hacks, such as a tire shop owner being appointed vice president of the public hospital of Santorini. Tsipras then went on a rant against Greece’s oligarchs, which SYRIZA has continuously described as their enemy, as part of the party’s “us versus the world” propaganda. Tsipras stated:
“No matter how many powers one gathers [against us], no matter how many entrenched financial interests, publishing groups and non-governmental power centers, no matter how much black propaganda and fake news [you just knew this would be referenced, following the proud example of Tsipras’ neoliberal bosses in the EU and the United States], reality does not change.”
Reality may not change, but Tsipras did not clarify whether SYRIZA’s reality is the same as that of the majority of the people of Greece. And as Tsipras went on this rant against “black propaganda” and “fake news” and bad oligarchs, his government issued, just last week, five nationwide television licenses to incumbent stations owned by those very oligarchs. Viva la revolucion!
Tsipras then added, referring to the protests regarding the recent migrant occupation of Sappho Square:
“We will not tolerate the murderous, aggressive actions against the refugees, and phenomena such as those of this past Sunday.”
In other words, Tsipras once again uttered the only thing that SYRIZA knows how to express: an “us versus them” mentality, where it is SYRIZA standing alone fighting against some unspecified, dark, “fascist” threat. This plays in to historical divides between the left and right in Greece, dating back to the Greek civil war of 1947-1949 and the military junta which ruled Greece between 1967 and 1974.
Further evidence of this is evident right in Tsipras’ speech, as he attempted to manipulate the emotions of the people of Lesvos and the entire nation, stating:
“The flag of our country was raised high on this land by the grandfathers and grandmothers of many residents of this island, when they arrived here in boats as refugees from Smyrna [and elsewhere] to rebuild their lives, stand on their feet again, and reunite with their lost relatives. The flag of our nation was again raised high by the men and women of EAM [Greek wartime resistance movement against the Nazis] who led the way in the liberation of Lesvos from Nazism.”
What the Smyrna catastrophe of 1922 and the anti-Nazi liberation movement has to do with protesting an out-of-control influx of migrants is something that only Tsipras and other members of SYRIZA can (attempt to) answer. It is clear though that by throwing out the same old buzzwords regarding “fighting fascism” and attempting to draw parallels between the culturally Greek refugees who were forced to flee Asia Minor in 1922 and the so-called “refugees” blowing in to Greece today, Tsipras and other members of SYRIZA are attempting to manipulate emotions and to stifle any dissent, pre-emptively labeling any opponents of mass migration as fascists and racists.
If this seems far-fetched, consider the statements made immediately after Tsipras’ visit to Lesvos by SYRIZA MP Giorgos Pallis, who represents the island of Lesvos, calling the protesters “a small minority of fascists” in a speech before parliament (see video here).
Recently, SYRIZA government ministers even went as far as drawing parallels between residents who choose to defend themselves and their homes from burglars, and “far-right terrorists.”
So for SYRIZA, anyone who disagrees with their politics and with the inflow of so many “refugees” that as much as one-third of the population of the Lesvos now consists of migrants, is a fascist. How very leftist and tolerant!
It is also quite ironic that Tsipras will reference the raising of the Greek flag on the soil of Lesvos by the Greek refugees of Asia Minor in 1922 and by the resistance fighters of EAM during World War II, when it was SYRIZA’s own MP, Dimitris Vettas, speaking on the oligarch-owned and full-on neoliberal radio station Skai 100.3, who described the raising of the Greek flag on uninhabited Aegean islands which Turkey has repeatedly claimed and encroached upon, as “shameful.”
For SYRIZA, patriotism comes a la carte: it is good when it can score SYRIZA cheap political points, but it is fascist if it is used to oppose any of the policies of SYRIZA or, by extension, the EU and the troika.
As stated by Dimitris Karagiannis, President of the Lesvos Agricultural Association:
“How can he [Tsipras] talk about growth, when we are facing this huge migrant problem? They have thousands of refugees and migrants trapped and exhausted here, who are also creating problems for the local community. How can we talk about growth, when Turkish aggression is rising daily?”
Migrant free-for-all in the Aegean
While Tsipras and SYRIZA fling accusations of “fascism” towards any and all who disagree, the migrant influx in the Eastern Aegean continues unabated, despite an EU deal with Turkey which essentially bribes Turkish sultan Tayyip Erdogan in return for, supposedly, stemming the migrant flow towards Europe. The money continues to flow to Erdogan so he can build lavish palaces for himself, but the migrants continue to flow towards Greece and into Europe as well.
One recent report speaks of 350 new migrant arrivals on the islands of Lesvos and Chios in one day earlier this month. Also recently, 223 migrants arrived on Lesvos in one day, traveling on four boats. And just in the month of April, approximately 4,000 migrants entered the northern Greek region of Evros, which neighbors Turkey. It is in Evros where the government is now planning on constructing a new migrant registration and detention center.
As early as 2015, 90,000 migrants had passed through Lesvos — an island with a population of 85,000.
The Greek “justice” system, which the government is supposedly at war with but which never overtly issues decisions that would alter the neoliberal, pro-austerity, open borders status quo, has also gotten into the act. In an April decision by the Council of State, Greece’s highest administrative court, new migrants will be able to reside in any region of Greece that they choose and will be able to move around the country freely.
In another recent decision, a court on the island of Lesvos acquitted five foreigners—three Spaniards and two Danes—who were employed by NGOs, for helping smuggle “refugees” into Greece. Representatives of every Spanish political party were said to have attended the trial, Amnesty International condemned the charges against the men, while the interior minister of the Spanish region of Andalucia and the aforementioned SYRIZA MP Giorgos Pallis testified in their defense – despite recommendations by prosecutors that the five men be found guilty. What does this decision, and the “solidarity” the five men enjoyed by Greek and Spanish politicians, tell you?
“Opposition” politicians can also play this game, as evidenced by the case of PASOK’s Thanassis Chimonas, who in a post on Facebook which can no longer be located, called the parents of a school on the island of Chios who “expressed their reservations” about allowing migrant children to attend the school “morons” and their children “bastards.” It’s no wonder SYRIZA and the “new” PASOK are said to be warming to each other recently, eyeing a possible electoral collaboration. Tolerance above all.
The free-for-all, of course, has impacts beyond just Greece’s borders. Illustrating the ease with which a migrant can receive counterfeit official papers, an Albanian woman was recently arrested in Great Britain, who had used a fake Greek identification card to get a £72,000 kidney transplant. Looking at the issue on a global scale, backers of the “open borders” regime recently created a mobile app allowing undocumented migrants to evade federal officials in the United States.
Tension in the Aegean continues
As the Eastern Aegean continues to enjoy the apparent benefits of open borders, tensions with neighboring Turkey have continued. Turkish violations of Greek airspace and maritime waters are a daily reality, and in a recent incident, a Turkish cargo shipped rammed into a Greek warship near Lesvos. This comes just two months after a Turkish military vessel slammed into and damaged a Greek coast guard boat in the Aegean. The Turks also recently claimed that they removed a Greek flag from one of the aforementioned uninhabited islets in the Aegean. Efforts of islanders to place Greek flags on these small islands were the ones Vettas described as “shameful,” though he did not clarify whether Turkish flags, or better yet, EU flags would be preferable.
And while Turkey continues to indefinitely detain two Greek soliders who were captured near the border in the region of Evros, Greek “justice” minister Stavros Kontonis—a dead ringer for President Snow from The Hunger Games and with approximately the same moral compass—rushed to release two Turks captured in the port of Kyllini, just days after another Turkish citizen captured in the Evros region was also released.
It is this same Kontonis, who once “talked tough” against specific oligarchs and football team owners unfavorable to SYRIZA (read: Evaggelos Marinakis of Olympiacos) and threatened to allow “Grexit” (of Greek football teams from international competition, of course, not a Greek departure from the Eurozone, oh noes!) in order to “clean up” football (as exemplified by the pro-SYRIZA gun-toting oligarch Ivan Savvidis). The same Kontonis who recently granted clemency to a convicted drug trafficker and waived his 50,000 euro fine and ten-year prison sentence, allowing him to work in the public or private sector, continue his doctoral studies, and to receive a visa to live abroad. The same Kontonis who is rumored to have such a violent temper (just as long as it isn’t against favorable oligarchs, migrants, or drug dealers) that he sent his mother to the hospital, not once but three times.
Pushback against SYRIZA continues
Opposition continues to grow against an increasingly out-of-control SYRIZA government which is pushing open borders at all costs, while its stance on national issues ranges from apparent inaction (in the case of the Greek soldiers detained in Turkey or the increased aggression of Turkey in the Aegean) to utter treason (through SYRIZA’s “negotiations” with FYROM, where the government is practically begging FYROM to accept the name Macedonia in some form).
In a recent public opinion survey, conducted in April, 54 percent of respondents in Greeks stated their belief that the government’s handles relations with Turkey “wrongly” or “rather wrongly.” And during May Day commemorations in the city of Halkida, organizers demanded that a SYRIZA MP in attendance leave.
The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The Duran.