Sunday, 24 March 2013

Film student in UK at heart of Greek neo-Nazi storm

Golden Dawn flag
A member of Golden Dawn displays a flag bearing the party’s logo. Photograph: Yannis Behrakis/Reuters
A British-based film school graduate who filmed rightwing extremists making inflammatory speeches has found himself at the centre of a political storm in his native Greece after his footage prompted the first official investigation into the neo-Nazi group Golden Dawn.
In the runup to last year's general election, Konstantinos Georgousis followed members of Golden Dawn, which was on its way from relative obscurity to winning support at a national level for the first time. The party won 7% of the vote and 18 seats in parliament.
Since then support for the party has doubled amid a crippling austerity regime and rising unemployment rates, which have seen a third of Greeks fall below the poverty line.
Golden Dawn is demanding tough new anti-immigrant laws, including banning non-ethnic Greeks from the military and police. Since the election the Golden Dawn Youth Front has been under fire for distributing nationalist leaflets in schools.
Georgousis, 32, a National Film and Television School (NFTS) student, spent a month with the organisation, as Greece held two general elections.
The group, founded in 1980 as an anti-immigration lobby and registered as a political party in 1993 by a handful of rightwing extremists, was accused by opponents of playing on the insecurities of Greeks. It won 21 of the 300 parliamentary seats in the May ballot and 18 in the reruns in June. Georgousis's film, The Cleaners, illustrates how the language used by group members during pre-election rallies was openly racist, referring to the Holocaust as a "solution" to the immigration problem and talking of boiling people down to "make soap".
"Even though there is a great tolerance to such fascist views in Greece, I was shocked by their hostility," said Georgousis. "Greek nationalism is not a new thing, and there is a huge acceptance of open racism and such things. There is a tendency to be a bit over-proud of being Greek, of the ancient culture, and with the current crisis a lot of the values that Golden Dawn represents are unfortunately symbolic of values that exist among ordinary Greeks.
"I was terrified that these members were proud to express their extreme ideas during campaigning openly in public. I was shocked by the way they treated immigrants."
Excerpts from the documentary were broadcast on Greek TV, and the footage was considered so incriminating that the country's criminal prosecutor has launched an investigation. The group's membership is said to have doubled in the past year as many working Greeks have seen their standard of living plummet.
Golden Dawn spokesman Ilias Kasidiaris has claimed that the film-maker "failed to officially identify himself" during the interviews with party members. He said the party condemned all acts of violence. The group has put a statement on its website claiming that the documentary was illegally filmed with a hidden camera, and that in fact its members were "joking".
The NFTS told the Observer it was totally satisfied that the party's allegations are untrue, and said that it had film evidence that the men knew Georgousis was a student film-maker and that his large video camera, a professional-looking 151 Panasonic, was on full view at all times. He had been filming with the group over a period of some 25 days.
At one point, a Golden Dawn candidate, Alekos Plomaritis, is filmed saying to camera: "I am saying these things for you, British people; we gave you the lights of civilisation …"
The NFTS has issued a statement saying: "On 5 March 2013, Channel 4 News broadcast extracts from Konstantinos Georgousis' film The Cleaners – an observational documentary about members of the Golden Dawn party, filmed in Athens in the runup to the Greek elections of May 2012. Golden Dawn members featured in the film were also fully aware of the fact that Konstantinos Georgousis was a student at the National Film and Television School in England, and that film footage of their electoral campaign would be edited and submitted as his graduation film.
"The NFTS fully endorses the authenticity of the footage and the fairness of the final film."
As for the investigation by the authorities into Golden Dawn, said Georgousis, "I am not too confident that anything will really happen with a criminal prosecution, there is a tendency to avoid such things in Greece. But I am a film-maker, not a politician. What I am working towards now is having an open screening of The Cleaners in Athens, then Greeks will perhaps talk about this and debate if they really want this hatred and resentment to fester within the country."


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