In France, as elsewhere in Europe, the far right kills

The murder of the young anti-fascist activist Clément Méric in France is the tip of a rise in far right violence at the European level.

Astonishment but no surprise at all: the far-right has killed in France as it kills elsewhere in Europe. The young anti-fascist activist Clément Méric died under the blows of skinheads in the center of Paris. Yet who can maintain that such a violent act was not predictable, even predicted?

The murder of Clement is the tip of a rise in far right violence at the European level. The five people arrested for his murder are said to be members of a small extremist group known as Troisième Voie, but from skinhead groups to the "manif pour tous", through to the Front National, the whole French far right has gone along with, legitimised and even generated this violence. 

We know well that Alexandre Gabriac, the leader of the Jeunesses Nationalistes, went to Greece last December to get inspiration from the neo-Nazis of Golden Dawn. Virulently anti-Semitic and racist, with a heavy nostalgia for the Third Reich, they combine legal and illegal action, running for elections while at the same time violently assaulting migrants, on a daily basis, especially in the streets of Athens.

As soon as Golden Dawn entered the parliament last May, we have been developing a European solidarity with democrats in Greece, but the neo-Nazis have gone on gaining ground, especially among youth. In France, after his so-called exclusion from the Front National, Alexandre Gabriac has been maintaining close relationships with the FN group at the Regional Council of Rhône-Alpes.

We also know that, in Hungary, the Hungarian Guard, which is a paramilitary militia of the Jobbik party, terrorizes Roma people, often forces them to flee the country, and even regularly murders some of them. The French far right is an ally of Jobbik, which is the cornerstone of the European expansion strategy of the Front National. Together, they founded, in 2009 in Budapest, the "Alliance of European National Movements", of which the BNP is also a part.

We all remember the massacre of the young social-democrats at Utoya, in Norway, during the summer 2011. Already then, youth was the target and the murders were political. Repeating the racist delirium on a European civil war which White Christians should fight against muslims and migrants, the killer has been celebrated as a hero by the fascist blogosphere. The former leader of the FN, Jean-Marie Le Pen then declared that migration, not the killer, was to blame for the massacre,.

In France, the mobilisation against the extension of civil marriage to homosexual couples has provided an opportunity to express all forms of hatred. The echoes of hate speech inside the Assemblée Nationale; the rallies where leaders of democratic and antidemocratic parties walked side by side; the all-too weak condemnations of violent acts which took place at the end of the demonstrations; the welcoming into the protests of all the enemies of democracy, all the racists, all the far right thugs in these rallies, have paved the way to, made possible, allowed, the murder of Clément.

Now, just over a year since the killings by Mohamed Merah, Europe is again turning its attention to France and expecting a worthy response. It is vital that public authorities resume their support for the fight against racism and for democracy, in France as well as at the European level. It is high time to give life to two of the main themes of François Hollande's election campaign: youth, who are hurting the most today, and equality, which has been assaulted by months of a gruesome reactionary mobilisation. Lastly, it is a democratic necessity to ban far right groups responsible for the murder of Clément.

It is also time for a renewed effort by civil society, which has been too passive when opposing the rise in far right in France like elsewhere on our continent. We must tolerate no hate speech, no illegal act, since none of them is innocent. We must not let ourselves impressed by the feeling of might and permissiveness which the enemies of democracy feel because we, the democrats, are the many, in France as elsewhere in Europe.

What is at stake is clear: liberty, democracy and life. Let us ensure that Clément is the last one to fall under the blows of the far right.

Benjamin Abtan is president of the European Grassroots Movement Against Racism

Protesters hold a banner reading "Clement M. assassinated by fascists / No forgetting, no forgiving" at a demonstration in Toulouse. Photograph: Getty Images

Benjamin Abtan is the President of the European Grassroots Antiracist Movement (EGAM).

Show Hide image

With the Greek summer at an end, the refugee crisis is just beginning

Refugee camps are battling floods – and even arson. With each passing day, the chances of a fatal incident increase.

The Greek summer came to an abrupt end at the start of September. Nowhere was spared the storms or the floods. At the Katsikas refugee camp, near the north-western city of Ioannina, the effects were dramatic. The site, formerly a military airport, flooded. The gravel turned to mud, swamping the floors of tents that were completely unsuitable for this terrain or weather.

Hundreds of people were relocated to hotels in the city. Officials from the municipality and the UN High Commissioner for Refugees scrambled to find families suitable shelter. A former orphanage on the outskirts of the city was supposed to have been renovated to house the refugees, but bureaucracy has held up the work.

Autumn falls heavily in the western region of Epirus. The danger of refugees being caught outside is real.

“We all know that when the morning fog from the lake [of Ioannina] comes in, the tents will rot away,” Filipos Filios, a former mayor of the town and now the co-ordinator between the state and the charities in the region, tells me. “They [Europe] need to relocate 20,000 people from Greece. That would have solved pretty much all of our problems. Instead, they’ve taken 3,000.”

Around Epirus, the facilities available to refugees are in good shape. Empty civil-service buildings have been repurposed to host families or single people separately. Special measures are in place for Yazidi refugees, who are in danger from others in the camps. As at the other centres across Greece, however, the problems here are not organisational.

“We have 500 people living in tents with bathrooms available, grills and cleaners, with a fully stocked food storage space and doctors always present. There’s even a centre for creative activities for the children,” Filios says. “It’s the very existence of the camp, and the need for more like it, that is the difficulty.”

On 19 September, tents at the overcrowded Moria detention centre on the island of Lesbos were set on fire. False rumours had been circulating that large numbers of Afghans were about to be sent to Turkey. Four thousand people were evacuated and a night of anguish followed. Refugees slept on the streets and local people, who oppose the presence of the camp, seized the opportunity to attack refugees and activists.

The Greek far right, led by followers of the Golden Dawn party, is stirring up anti-refugee sentiment. Attacks on journalists on Lesbos and the nearby island of Chios have become more frequent. There is talk of vigilante-style citizen patrols around the camps, staffed by residents worried about their livelihoods.

During an anti-refugee demonstration in Chios on 14 September, Ioannis Stevis, the editor of the Astraparis news website, was attacked.

“No trouble had started when the representative of Golden Dawn attacked me,” he told me. “The invitation [to march] wasn’t from the far right, but the direction of the demo once there was very specific; they had the upper hand. Some who had gone in good faith left when they heard chants like ‘Greece of Christian Greeks’.”

The march in Chios took a nasty turn when extreme elements headed to the Vial refugee camp. There, they were confronted by riot police. The refugees also fought back, throwing stones at the marchers from inside the camp.

“There was no plan to attack the camp and not everybody followed that march,” Stevis says. “We have 3,700 people here in inadequate conditions, and there is some small-scale delinquency – we can’t hide that. But there are people who try to magnify that. There definitely is a desire for citizen patrols, and not just from the far right. Especially in the village near the camp, people want to organise without being [associated with the] far right.”

With every passing day, the chances of a fatal incident increase. It has become clear that the relocation programme, designed to distribute refugees proportionally across European Union member countries according to population, is not working. These refugees are now stuck in Greece. Mere dozens leave every month for other EU countries, and fewer still depart for Turkey.

The rumours that they will be sent back to the places they have fled are no longer just rumours. On 5 October the EU and Afghanistan announced an agreement to repatriate Afghans who have been turned down for asylum. EU data shows that in 2015, 213,000 Afghans arrived in Europe, and 176,900 of those claimed asylum. More than 50 per cent of these applications were rejected. Later, a leaked memo from the negotiations showed that Afghanistan was threatened with a reduction in aid if the country did not commit to accepting at least 80,000 returning refugees.

What does all of this mean in the camps? It is the most vulnerable refugees to whom we must look to understand.

At the Moria detention centre on Lesbos, four teenagers have been arrested for allegedly gang-raping an unaccompanied 16-year-old Pakistani boy. The actions of these children, who are perhaps the ones receiving the most direct support, expose how stretched and inadequate the system is.

Even for unaccompanied children, the focus of much international attention, conditions are terrible. Officials have been saying for months that the Moria camp, which has no private rooms or locks on its doors, is unsuitable for children. An activist there, who didn’t want to be named in order to protect their work, told me that they had witnessed a teenage girl being confined in the same space as 80 boys for weeks on end.

Back at the Katsikas camp, autumn is settling in. Rain, humidity and cold have replaced the warm summer days. There is word that this camp and the others like it might soon be evacuated permanently, though there is no hint where the people might go. If they are deported to the war-torn countries they have escaped, as the EU wishes, there is little to prevent them making the journey back here. They are desperate, and many are barely surviving. Yet the message from the EU governments is clear: we’re hoping they won’t make it. 

Yiannis Baboulias is a Greek investigative journalist. His work on politics, economics and Greece, appears in the New Statesman, Vice UK and others.

This article first appeared in the 13 October 2016 issue of the New Statesman, England’s revenge