#Greece: Free speech faces abyss #FOE #FOS #Censorship #Media


The arrest of editor Kostas Vaxevanis for exposing alleged tax cheats is just the latest attack on free speech in Greece. Democracy itself is now in danger, say Asteris Masouras and Veroniki Krikoni

UPDATE: Since this article was published, journalist Spiros Karatzaferis was arrested on an outstanding charge after claiming he would publish classified documents relating to Greece’s financial bailout. 

Athens, Greece. 29th October 2012 -- Greek Journalist Kostas Vaxevanis has his trial postponed. Stathis Kalligeris | DemotixIn recent months Greece has recorded multiple instances of censorship and attacks on the press. Systematic efforts to curtail media freedom are taking place against a backdrop of rising police brutality used to quell anti-austerity protests and mounting neo-Nazi violence against journalists, immigrants, and homosexuals linked to rise of the far-right Golden Dawn party, which gained 18 seats in June’s parliamentary elections (having achieved a record 21 seats in the May election).

28 October, National Day in Greece, saw the arrest of investigative journalist Kostas Vaxevanis, whose Hot Doc magazine published a leaked list (nicknamed the “Lagarde list”) of over 2,000 names of Greeks with bank accounts in Switzerland. Reporters Sans Frontieres appealed for his release, the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media, Dunja Mijatović, expressed her concern, and netizens rallied to his support on Twitter, gathering over 16,000 signatures on a petition demanding that charges be dropped, as did the European Federation of Journalists.

“They are after me instead of  the truth,” Vaxevanis stated in a video uploaded on the night before his arrest.

New York Times editorial slammed the Greek government for being “shamefully quick” to attack the messenger and strip basic social services from the country’s most vulnerable citizens but shamefully slow at probing possible tax evasion by the well-connected. Vaxevanis, whose magazine has been steadily publishing investigative reports on graft and corruption scandals, had reported a seemingly abortive ambush at his home on the northern suburbs of Athens earlier in September by five unknown individuals.

Several other incidents of censorship have plagued the media in the last month, leading to international condemnation and grave concerns about the state of democracy in its nominal birthplace.

On 25 September, a 27-year-old netizen was remanded to trial on blasphemy charges for maintaining a Facebook page titled “Gerontas Pastitsios” (Elder Pastitsios), which included satirical comments on Christianity and the noted Eastern Orthodox monk Elder Paisios and his alleged“prophecies”, as well as the commercial exploitation of Paisios’s legacy. The matter was raised by a member of parliament from Golden Dawn. According to the defendant, the blasphemy charge was later dropped, but he still faces defamation and insult charges over third-party comments left on the Facebook page (he maintains he never defamed or used abusive language himself, and even deleted abusive comments).

On 9 October, the Guardian published a report by the Nation’s Maria Margaronis on torture allegations made by anti-fascist protesters arrested after a clash with Golden Dawn members on 26 September, in which detainees spoke of being subjected to an “Abu Ghraib-style humiliation” at police headquarters in Athens. The Μinister of Public Order, Nikos Dendias, later announced his intention to sue the British newspaper for defamation and instead of ordering a public inquiry while investigating the torture allegations in a “sworn administrative inquiry”, a process described by the UNHCR in 2008 as an internal and confidential police procedure designed to protect the rights of the officer involved rather than those of the complainant.

On 11 October, religious groups and neo-Nazis protested against the gay-themed play Corpus Christi in Athens, deeming it blasphemous; they assaulted a theatre critic and forced the cancellation of the performance. Five days later, Greek public television channel NET censored a gay kiss scene from the British TV series Downton Abbey. Management apologised after a furore online against censorship, and rebroadcast the episode uncensored.

On 26 October, ERT3 state TV reporter Christos Dantsis, assigned to cover the celebrations of the liberation centenary of Thessaloniki, “disappeared” on screen, after reporting on citizen protests against the Greek Prime Minister and President of the Republic outside St Dimitrios’ church and the heavy police presence that had descended on the city. His substitute was ordered to present a more amicable image of festivities.

On 28 October, a 35-year-old man arrested in Corfu for posting photos of police and Golden Dawn on Facebook during the Ochi Day parade, was reportedly charged with breaching privacy, defamation and “spreading false news with the intent to destabilise the state”.

The following day, two journalists, Kostas Arvanitis and Marilena Katsimi, had their morning news show on Greek state TV (ERT) cancelled, after analysing claims by the Guardian of police torture of Greek anti-fascist protesters in Athens, and criticising the Greek Minister of Public Order, Nikos Dendias.Katsimi told the Guardian:

About an hour after the programme ended, the director of information called for a transcript. He didn’t ask to talk to us. And it was then announced that two other journalists would present tomorrow’s show. We were cut.

Aimilios Liatsos, ERT’s general director, defended his decision and stated that the two journalists “violated minimum standards of journalistic ethics”. Various political parties and organizations have condemned ERT’s action, while journalists at ERT/NET launched a 24-hour rolling strike as of 30 October, until the decision on Arvanitis and Katsimi is withdrawn.

In reaction to these developments, The Nation’s Maria Maragaronis argues:

Greece can no longer be called a functioning democracy […], as press freedom, always precarious in Greece where most private media are in the hands of well-connected oligarchs, is a dead letter.

David Hughes of the Daily Telegraph underlines that “press freedom is under threat in Greece and the EU doesn’t seem to care”.  Yiannis Baboulias similarly accuses European leaders of treating what is happening in Greece as a national problem, predicting in a New Statesman article that “they’re holding the door open for their countries to go down the same path”.

2006, WHERE IT ALL BEGAN…

An apparent lack of Internet policy and judicial ignorance of the nature of the internet had led to the first publicised incident of online censorship in Greece in October 2006. During the Internet Governance Forum (IGF) held in Athens, news emerged that Greek authorities had arrested Antonis Tsipropoulos, a Greek aggregation service administrator, and confiscated his hard drives, for linking to US-hosted blog posts that satirised Greek businessman and tele-evangelist Dimosthenis Liakopoulos. Bloggers organised a massive online solidarity campaign and held courtside protests, declaiming the lack of web savvy of the complainant and the court, as well as the technophobe spirit of the time. Tsipropoulos’ case was mired in legal limbo for years, as often happens in similar cases. Subsequent attempts over the years by Greek governments to institute “anti-blog laws” — similar to ones recently enacted in Jordan, Zambia and Malawi, among others — that would enforce mandatory registration and hold bloggers accountable for third-party comments, were held in check by netizen initiatives.

RISING ENCROACHMENT OF PRESS FREEDOM

Overt press censorship is banned by the Greek Constitution, but systematic efforts to curtail press freedom have intensified in recent years, as unpopular austerity measures, corruption scandals and police violence are fueling frequent protests and dissent. Greece notably plummeted 35 ranks in the Press Freedom Index published by Reporters Without Borders in 2010, in large part due to the assassination of online journalist Sokratis Giolias, allegedly because of his work on an undisclosed corruption story, and targeted police attacks on photojournalists covering protests. Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and other international human rights organisations have repeatedly chastised the Greek state, urging a “zero tolerance” approach to police violence. Threats and abuse against journalists by newly-elected politicians from the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn party prompted CPJ to remark that the party “casts a shadow on Europe’s press freedom”.

While Greece is widely and casually demonised as “patient zero” of the European financial crisis, politicians and the media are routinely displaying a callous shortsightedness in addressing its corrosive effects on press freedom and free speech,  eating away at the core values that made the European Union a necessary reality. This is, in large part, to oppose the spectre of totalitarianism ever rising again in the continent.

As Kostas Vaxevanis has written: “Greece gave birth to democracy. Now it has been cast out by a powerful elite”.

Asteris Masouras and Veroniki Krikoni are Global Voices authors and editors of Global Voices in Greek

 

 

 

 

 

 

Wade Michael Page and the rise of violent far-right extremism


 

guardian.co.uk, Wednesday 8 August 2012 20.00 BST

The man who opened fire in a Sikh temple in Wisconsin was not just a crazed loner, but a vocal neo-Nazi – in fact, his white supremacist ideology reflected a growing form of extremism that expresses its strength through violence rather than at the ballot box

o   Matthew Goodwin

Wade Michael Page

Wade Michael Page performing with white power group End Apathy. Photograph: Reuters

On Saturday 28 July 2012, Wade Michael Page walked into the Shooters Shop inWisconsin to buy a 9mm semi-automatic handgun, and ammunition. Eight days later, the 40-year-old military veteran arrived at a Sikh temple in Oak Creek and began shooting at members of the congregation who had gathered to prepare a meal. During the shooting, six members of the Sikh community, one police officer and the attacker were killed.

Within hours of the shootings, the Southern Poverty Law Centre (SPLC) revealed that Page was a known white supremacist. He had links to networks including the Hammerskin Nation and was involved in an underground music scene often referred to as “white power music” or “hate rock”. Influenced strongly by earlier bands in England such as Skrewdriver, white power music is seen by those who study extremism as one of the most important recruitment tools for the modern far right. Page’s involvement appears to have been deep: in an interview with online music magazine Label56.com in 2005, he claimed to have sold all of his possessions so that he could travel around the country attending white power festivals such as Hammerfest. The next year he formed a band called End Apathy recruiting bandmates from the other groups such as Definite Hate and 13 Knots. Asked in 2005 to elaborate on the meaning of the band’s lyrics, Page replied: “The topics vary from sociological issues, religion, and how the value of human life has been degraded by being submissive to tyranny and hypocrisy that we are subjugated to.”

Page’s body also contained references to white supremacism. A tattoo of the number “14” was a direct reference to the so-called “14 words” that occupy a central role in neo-Nazi vocabulary: “We must secure the existence of our people and a future for white children.” This passage, a reference to a section of Mein Kampf, was popularised byDavid Lane, a member of white supremacist terror group The Order. Another tattoo of the Odin or Celtic cross represents one of the most popular symbols among neo-Nazis, seen as the international symbol for “white pride”. Those who had been close to Page confirmed his ideological affinity to the extreme right. Reflecting a wider belief within the movement, an old army friend of Page claimed that as far back as the 90s he had talked about “racial holy war”, and would rant “about mostly any non-white person”.

As with the aftermath of the attacks by Anders Breivik in Norway, it was not long until sympathisers surfaced online. “Take your dead and go back to India and dump their ashes in the Ganges, Sikhs,” wrote one neo-Nazi. Others praised their “brother”: “All I feel is loss and sympathy for a brother that was overwhelmed by pain and frustration. I could [sic] care less though for those injured and wounded other than Wade.” Another warned of future attacks: “There are thousands of other angry White men like Page, the vast majority of them unknown … When will they, like Page, reach their breaking point…?”

The threat of violence from disgruntled rightwing extremists is not lost on the security services, or analysts. In 2009, Daryl Johnson, an analyst at the Department for Homeland Security, authored a report that explicitly warned of the growing threat of far-right violence. Pointing to the economic downturn, the election of Barack Obama and evidence that some military veterans were struggling to re-integrate into civilian life, the report was one of the first to flag the growing importance of the extreme right – a movement that was routinely overlooked after 9/11. Few, however, took the warning seriously. Rather, Republicans and rightwing commentators openly criticised the report. Some saw it as an attempt to discredit the insurgent and right-wing Tea Party movement while many viewed it as an unfair attack on military veterans. Others said it focused unnecessarily on domestic rather than foreign manifestations of terrorism.

But Johnson (who was later shunted into a different department) was not wrong. Following Wisconsin, some analysts reminded commentators that the far right is responsible for as many – if not more – attacks on US soil than religious-based extremists, and now poses the most significant domestic security threat. Indeed, prior to 9/11 the most damaging act of terrorism within the US was the bombing of a federal building in Oklahoma by militia sympathiser Timothy McVeigh, which resulted in 168 deaths and more than 800 injuries. Between 1990 and 2010 the far right committed 145 ideologically motivated homicide incidents in the US. Of these incidents, excluding the bombing in Oklahoma City, far-right extremists killed 180 people.

The data suggests that American far right groups have grown “explosively”, which is attributed to a potent combination of public anxieties over the financial crisis, the growth of conspiracy theories, the exploitation of fears over non-white immigration and the prospect of Obama securing a second term in office.

According to the SPLC, in 2011 the number of “hate groups” active in the US reached 1,018, 69% more than in 2000. The most striking growth has been within the “patriot” scene, which contains anti-government groups that cling to conspiracy theories and view the government as enemy number one. There were fewer than 150 of these (mostly inactive) groups in 2000. By 2011, there were almost 1,300. In fact, since 2009 this particular variant of the far right has grown at a rate of 755%.

While it is difficult to compare across borders, similar warnings have been voiced in Europe. Last year, the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution in Germany noted that while the number of people in far-right political parties had contracted to 22,000, the number of those involved in more combative and confrontational forms of far-right politics was on the rise: the number of rightwing extremists with a propensity to violence had increased to 9,800; the number of followers of more violence-prone neo-Nazi groups had risen to 6,000; and the number of street-based demonstrations had reached an all-time high.

Though less affected than other countries, from 2001 onward, authorities in the UK have similarly voiced concern over a rapidly evolving far-right scene. In recent years, at least 17 individuals who committed or planned acts of violence or terrorism, and who were linked to the far right, have been imprisoned. In 2009, the discovery of a network of rightwing extremists in England with access to an arsenal of weapons prompted London Metropolitan police to warn that far-right militants might attempt a “spectacular” attack. In the same year the English Defence League (EDL) was born, introducing a new form of far-right politics that is less interested than its predecessors in elections, and more focused on rallying support through street-based confrontation and networks that transcend national borders.

A candlelight vigil following the shooting at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin, Photograph: Chris Wilson/AP

Though often dismissed as alarmist, these warnings were partly validated in July 2011, when Breivik launched his politically motivated attacks in Oslo and on the island of Utøya. Shortly afterward, authorities in Germany discovered that a violent neo-Nazi cell – the National Socialist Underground (NSU) – had been responsible for at least a dozen murders. Then, in Florence, an activist connected to the far-right group Casa Pound shot dead two immigrant street traders in an unprovoked attack. While it might be tempting to treat the attack in Wisconsin in isolation, it is actually the latest in a series of acts of violence from individuals linked to far-right groups.

The perpetrators of these attacks are often dismissed as crazed and psychologically flawed loners. Perhaps this is because we have grown used to the security threat from religious extremists and tend to view their far-right counterparts as a loony fringe, rather than rational agents who are using violence to achieve certain goals. WhatBreivik in NorwayGianluca Casseri in Florence, the “London nailbomber” David Copeland and Michael Page all share in common is that they arrived at violence following a longer involvement with far-right extremism. For more recent examples – such as Breivik – their attacks followed an almost total immersion in online “virtual communities”. These perform a crucial role in cultivating a set of narratives that are often later used to justify violence. These include emphasis on the perceived threat of racial or cultural extinction, belief in an impending and apocalyptic conflict (a “race war” or “clash of civilisations”), belief that urgent, radical action is required and that followers have a moral obligation. In short, only by engaging in violence can they defend the wider group from various threats in society.

This preference for violence or terrorism reflects a viewpoint within the far right that has long prioritised “direct action” over a ballot-box strategy. For much of the past two decades in Europe, the strength of the far right has been measured through its number of votes at elections. But it is important to note that – for some within this scene – strength is measured as the ability and willingness to engage in violent action against “enemies” that are seen to threaten the racial purity and survival of the native group. These enemies can beimmigrants, minority groups, future leaders of mainstream parties or the state.

Identifying and tracking the Breiviks and Pages of this world will always be extremely difficult. But the reality is that – at least for the past 10 years – western democracies and their security agencies have focused almost exclusively on only one form of violent extremism. The far right may still pose less of a threat than al-Qaida-inspired groups, say, but our ignorance of this form of extremism is striking.

Wisconsin teaches us that the challenge that now presents itself is to understand what “pushes and pulls” citizens to commit violence in the name of rightwing extremism, and to develop an effective response. To do this, we must first start taking violence from the far right more seriously.

 

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