Golden Dawn Office Sparks Protests
By ROSS BARKAN and MEGAN MONTALVO
|Public Advocate Bill de Blasio denounces the arrival of a right-wing Greek political party in Astoria.
Tribune Photo by Ross Barkan.
It was a message they hoped would be heard in Greece: Golden Dawn, we do not want you here.
Elected officials, religious leaders and concerned residents gathered in front of Athens Park in Astoria on Oct. 5 to condemn Golden Dawn, a far-right Greek political party that now holds 18 seats in the Greek parliament, for planning to open up an office in Queens.
The party was founded in the 1990s but rose to prominence in Greece only recently as economic conditions worsened. Blaming immigrants for Greece’s economic collapse, the xenophobic party has won a small following among the disaffected population.
The exact location of the office, very likely to be in Astoria where there remains a relatively high Greek population, is not currently known.
Public Advocate and mayoral candidate Bill de Blasio called last week’s press conference. For de Blasio, it was yet another foray into Queens, where he is looking to build a support base in anticipation of next November’s election.
“Golden Dawn does not belong in New York City,” de Blasio said. “Golden Dawn stands for something that is absolutely foreign to this great city. They stand for intolerance, they stand for division, they stand for a kind of negative attitude toward people who are not like them.”
Outside of Athens, Astoria has the highest number of Greek residents in the world, according to Assemblywoman Aravella Simotas (D-Astoria).
As a fellow Greek-immigrant living in Astoria, Simotas said she deeply understands the need to exclude the Golden Dawn party from the neighborhood.
“Astoria was built by immigrants,” Simotas said. “It is a community that is proud of its diversity.”
Golden Dawn’s presence in Queens became known when members of the party reached out to The Federation of Hellenic Societies of Greater New York to help collect clothing for Greeks, according to Christos Vournas, first vice president of the federation. Vournos said that “for Greeks only” was written on the clothing boxes.
On Tuesday night, hundreds of residents and civic groups converged at the Church of the Redeemer in Astoria to further denounce the anti-immigrant party, which has been labeled by many as a neo-Nazi group.
Focusing on the history of Golden Dawn and their impact on the economic collapse of Greece, the town hall meeting featured several key academic speakers of Greek nationality.
“Greece is experiencing a true economic crisis comparable to the one we saw in the U.S. in the 1930s,” said Costas Panayotakis, Assistant Professor at New York City College of Technology. “Part of the reason Golden Dawn has risen so fast is because they are using the immigrants as scapegoats.”
Noting the organization’s willingness to step in and help Greeks during the fiscal hardship with free food and clothing, Panayotakis added that it may appear that members of Golden Dawn are actually working to help better the community, not dismantle it.
“They’re not just a neo-Nazi party, they’re basically an organized crime party,” Panayotakis said.
Extremist right-wing groups are not new to Astoria. In 1977, a neo-Nazi group firebombed the office of Peter Vallone Sr., then a city councilman, after he led a protest against the group.
Fearing similar attacks will resurge with the arrival of Golden Dawn, local officials are urging residents to stand up against the proposed headquarters.
“I can speak for my fellow Greek-Americans when I say that there is no place for a group whose primary purpose is to spew hate language,” Simotas said. “This is not what Greek-Americans are about. This is not what Astoria is about.”