Return of the far right: Greece’s financial crisis has led to a rise in violent attacks on refugees
Nikos Gionakis faces a similar predicament. He is the head of a mental health centre called Babel whose stated mission – until now – has been to help destitute foreigners. The problem is that the more public health spending is cut, the greater the need for aid among the Greek population. Gionakis actually needs help himself. Neither he nor anyone else who works with him – psychologists and psychiatrists as well as administrative staff – have been paid since last June. Meanwhile, Babel’s potential client base is expanding.
“My fear,” says Gionakis, “is that next month children with severe problems will come in and I won’t be able to help them.” But how does he help himself, how does he live? “Well, like others, thanks to my family,” he replies. “My wife works. My parents buy us food. This is Greece today. Meanwhile, we wait.” They wait, among other things, for threats from Golden Dawn. Yet there is some reason for cheer, says Gionakis. More and more volunteers are coming to the centre to offer free help, including experienced psychoanalysts. “Every action generates a reaction,” explains Gionakis. “As the anti-immigrant feeling grows, so does the solidarity of the Greek people.”
What we are seeing is the difference, Gionakis says, between people who think with borders and people who think without borders. For the day-to-day problems of the Greeks, he says, are almost identical to those of the refugees. “They don’t trust the Greek state; Greeks don’t trust the Greek state either.” But there is something that sets refugees apart from Greeks, whatever their political views. Refugees place more trust in the future. Their living conditions are more fragile, more sordid, more dangerous than those of the Greeks. But they are also more used to it. Today, Greeks are struggling to survive; most of the refugees in Greece have struggled to survive since the day they were born. More so than those people clinging to Golden Dawn’s illusory message, they are people with a belief that, having come so far, nothing will stop them reaching their final destinations.