After Golden Dawn activists in Australia announced the imminent arrival this week of two MEPs (Members of the European Parliament) of the far-right party, reaction from the Greek Australian community has been swift and strong to oppose the visit.
According to Golden Dawn’s Australian spokesman Mr Ignatius Gavrilidis, the parliamentarians Eleftherios Synadinos and Georgios Epitideios (both retired army officers) will visit Melbourne and Sydney to promote the party and fundraise in October.
In a rare interview, Mr Gavrilidis told the ABC this week that Golden Dawn had between 60 and 70 “activists” in Australia, and thousands more “supporters” in the wider Greek community, particularly among young Greek Australians.
Australia’s Golden Dawn supporters have established links with the anti-immigration Australia First Party, with whom they held a joint rally in Brisbane earlier this year.
Speaking to the ABC, Mr Gavrilidis said he shared Australia First’s concerns about Muslim immigration to Australia.
“One thing I am for is controlled immigration in the interests of Australia and in the interest of Australian citizens,” he said.
“We’ve got a serious threat from the east. If you cannot control immigration, you’re asking for trouble.”
Golden Dawn currently has 18 members in the Greek parliament and three seats in the European parliament.
Despite its leader Nikos Michaloliakos languishing in jail since September 2013, charged with forming a criminal organisation (charges he denies), the party made significant gains in May’s European elections, capturing 9.4 per cent of the popular vote.
Golden Dawn won 7 per cent of the vote in the 2012 national elections.
As speculation mounts over the MEPs’ visit, reaction from the Greek Australian community has been vociferous.
Former Victorian minister Nicholas Kotsiras told reporters that Golden Dawn’s “politics of hatred” were abhorrent.
“I am embarrassed by the existence of Golden Dawn. [It] does not represent me, it does not represent my family and does not represent the vast majority of Greeks living in Victoria,” Mr Kotsiras said.
“Also they are not representative of Greeks living in Greece.They are the antithesis of what the Hellenic spirit is all about.”
Entering Australia however may present obstacles for the MEPs.
To undertake political or cultural activities in Australia they will require temporary short-stay visas.
The visa assessment process investigates whether applicants “have, or have had, an association with an individual, group or organisation suspected of having been, or being, involved in criminal conduct”. If they have, such applicants are denied entry.
Where individuals have no criminal conviction, are not on an alert list and are not members of a proscribed terrorist organisation, Australia’s Immigration Department has few grounds to refuse entry.
Immigration also assesses whether a person wishing to enter Australia would be likely to “incite discord in the Australian community or in a segment of that community”.
In September 2012, a concerted campaign failed to prevent controversial anti-Islam campaigner Geert Wilders from carrying out a speaking tour in Australia.
Greek community leaders across Australia have expressed unanimous opposition to the visit.
President of the Greek Orthodox Community of Melbourne and Victoria Bill Papastergiadis said that “the visit by an anti-immigration party is incompatible with the pluralist and multicultural society within which we live.”
“GOCMV has consistently opposed discrimination on race and religion, hence its opposition to the Brandis proposed changes to the Racial Discrimination Act.
Mr Papastergiadis said “the Community’s position on these matters applies equally to Golden Dawn”.
In Sydney, the Greek Orthodox Community of NSW released a statement saying that it “condemns the presence of the Golden Dawn in Australia”. ”The Greek Orthodox Community of New South Wales, in response to recent reports on the ‘expected invasion’ of executives of the criminal Nazi organisation Golden Dawn in Australia, is deeply concerned and opposed to such a move.”
GOCNSW has urged the government to intervene to prevent the MEPs entering the country, a position shared by the Australian Macedonian Human Rights
In Melbourne,Victoria’s Multicultural Affairs Minister Matthew Guy said “the proposed arrival of two Golden Dawn representatives [would] do nothing to improve the economic situation in Greece, and more importantly, will do nothing to enhance social cohesion in our dynamic and resilient multicultural society.”
Mr Guy added that “the words of Golden Dawn are cheap and simplistic and have no place in our great multicultural society, which is based on the values of tolerance and acceptance of all communities and faiths.”
Federal Labor MP Maria Vamvakinou told Neos Kosmos that if the MEPs are allowed to enter Australia, “they will find the vast majority of the community are not interested in what they have to peddle, and would be very adverse to it.”
“it’s a slur to say that young Greek Australians embrace the politics of the far-right.
“The Australian Government takes very seriously any suggestion of radicalisation of young people and is in fact taking measures to prevent and avoid such practices.”
Alex Kakafikas, an organiser with the Melbourne Anti-Fascist Initiative, said opponents of the visit were considering a blockade of any event involving the MEPs.
Mr Kakafikas told Neos Kosmos his group would make a non-violent but direct response.
“Many Greek Australians, trade unionists and activists have expressed support and wish to assist in planning a broad counter-demonstration.
“The visit of Golden Dawn isn’t merely the visit of a party we disagree with; they are a group that routinely attacks migrants, workers, women, gays and lesbians In Greece. It’s this reason that members of these groups in Australia wish to have an organised, militant response in solidarity with our brothers and sisters in Greece.”
Meanwhile leftist activists in Athens who are in contact with the Melbourne-based “No to Golden Dawn” campaign have vowed to help prevent Golden Dawn widening its support among the diaspora.
Petros Constantinou – a campaigner with the Movement against Racism and the Fascist Threat (KEERFA), told The Guardian that Golden Dawn’s intention is “to set up Nazi cells of hate in the Greek diaspora that would strengthen far-right forces that already exist in Australia and the United States.”
“We will coordinate with our friends over there to stop them creating this black international of fascism. We will help and support their mobilisations in any way we can.
“Diaspora Greeks, immigrants themselves, have been very vociferous in rejecting Golden Dawn’s message of hate.”
While the planned visit has made headlines, uncertainty remains as to if and when they will arrive; it is likely the MEPs have yet to submit visa applications.
A spokesperson for Immigration Minister Scott Morrison told Neos Kosmos that “the Minister has been advised that the individuals currently have no matters before the Department.”