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We recently heard a rumour that supporters of Greece’s Golden Dawn party had held a fundraiser at the Stathakion Cultural centre in Astoria, Queens.Astoria is ground zero for New York City’s Greek population — by one estimate around 25,000.
So we could imagine encountering being a handful of sympathizers among them.
But we were surprised to find the lengths to which a man identifying himself as a representative for Greece’s mainstream New Democracy party went to explain the appeal of a party many describe as neo-Nazi.
Petros Galatoulas is also the general secretary of the Federation of the Hellenic Societies in Greater New York, which is based out of the cultural centre.
Behind the 57-year-old’s desk are photos of himself with former Chicagoy Mayor Richard M. Daley (that’s the younger one) and other dignitaries.
Although his English is solid, he wanted me to make sure I was absolutely clear on what he was saying, so he phoned up friend and Federation member Francis Papadopoulos to translate for him.
I asked him how a neo-Nazi party could possibly have any support in Greece, especially given that in less than 24 hours after my visit, the Federation would be celebrating “Oxi Day,” which marks Greece’s refusal to allow Axis powers to occupy their country.
“I am against them — we don’t support them,” he said. “I don’t like this [Nazi imitation]. It’s five or six people, crazy people.”
However, he indicated Golden Dawn had sympathy throughout Greece.
In many regions, the party has become a sort of defacto police force as actual law enforcement, who’ve been victims of austerity cuts.
“People didn’t know where else to turn,” he said.
Both Galatoulas and Papadopoulos also said that immigration was a serious problem, with foreign nationals exacerbating the country’s labour problem by taking jobs and undercutting wages.
“It’s the same system in America: if they are illegal they need to be deported,” Papadopolous said.
It was clear Golden Dawn remains an extremely controversial subject — the tension in the room immediately increased as soon as I brought up the subject. Galatoulas never addressed the initial rumour about the fundraiser.
I also since discovered that the Federation has put a special “Golden Dawn Disclaimer” on their website: “The Federation does not provide space, at the Stathakio Cultural centre, nor has any affiliation, to the Golden Dawn, aka Chrysi Avgi.”
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