Fear & Loathing
By Ioannis Pappos
Illustration by Gracia Lam
I was at a bar in Gazi, the gay-friendly neighborhood of Athens, when my friends started talking about Ilias Kasidiaris, the spokesperson of the extreme right-wing Golden Dawn party, who had slapped a woman on live TV. My gay compatriots had gone to university, had jobs (most of them), and voted liberally—or so they said. Still, they chuckled over Kasidiaris’s half-naked photos, his street-fighting body, tattoos, and tight black T-shirt.
“Did you see the neo-Nazi swastika on that shirt?” I asked. “Have you read about Golden Dawn’s immigrant abuse? The anti-gay statements on their websites?” I yelled, partly dumbfounded, and partly to be heard over Despina Vandi, a Greek singer, belting out her hit “Suffering” in a club-beat remix.
“You’re so American.”
With unemployment at 23%, unprecedented crime, immigrant bashing, the first Greek slum emerging in Aspropyrgos (a suburb of Athens), and paramilitary organizations popping up -- and just as European negotiators were heading to Athens for yet another exasperated round of negotiations to avoid national bankruptcy -- I was scolded for my political correctness.
“I’m suffering, I’m suffering,” Vandi kept pleading through the club’s speakers, and I wondered if it was not merely our financial doomsday that had made Golden Dawn attractive, but some kind of Stockholm Syndrome. Were we perversely attracted to our offenders?
“Gay bashing has not happened…yet,” Grigoris Vallianatos, the Larry Kramer of Greece and the grandfather (his term) of Greek gay activism, told me a few days later at an Athens hotel. “But that does not mean that the Golden Dawn can’t strike at any moment, the way they did with immigrants before Xenios Zeus swept anyone with dark skin.” He was referring to a law enforcement raid that alarmed human rights groups. “The American embassy is running overdrive to deal with their tourists’ arrests,” he said.
I told Vallianatos about my night out in Gazi.
He smiled. “First of all, it’s the Golden Dawn’s moment. Given the chaos that previous governments left Greece in, it was easy for extreme nationalists to pick up phrases from ancient Sparta and the Greek Orthodox Church and sell them to desperate or fed-up people—not that far from your friends in Gazi. Are they out?”
I had to think about this. Although my friends lived gay lifestyles, none of them were out to their families. Or at work. “To some extent,” I said.
“Of course they’re not,” Vallianatos said. “There are absolutely no role models. No one’s out. Racism and homophobia are constitutional here because the church is behind every state expression. Our constitution begins with ‘In the name of the holy and consubstantial and indivisible trinity.’ ”
“So you’re saying that the fear of the queer -- foreign, you name it -- comes from the church?” I asked Vallianatos. “I believe it grows from hunger and anger,” I added.
“The hypocrisy of our organized religion supports both fear and hunger,” Vallianatos explained. “Christodoulos, the late, insanely popular archbishop, backed LAOS, the first far-right-wing party in parliament, and argued that condoms don’t protect kids from HIV. At the same time, monks in Mount Athos staged the biggest financial scandal ever in Greece while they ran gay sex tourism in the monasteries.”
“Come on…” I replied.
“Go to the aphrodisiac hospital at Syngrou and see the monks there waiting for their HIV prescriptions,” Vallianatos said.