First posted at Second Council House of Virgo.
Sexual Violence and the Greek Left
by Mhairi McAlpine
As anyone who reads this blog, particularly the updates from Greece will know, this is incredibly difficult time in the country’s history. The veil of democracy which hides an authoritarian and despotic government is threadbare, and the rise of an openly fascist party, combining thuggery on both the streets and in the parliament makes for a dangerous environment for left activists. In such conditions there is a temptation to sideline internal issues within left organisations in the interests of challenging the issues at hand, but the rise of Chysti Avgi didn’t come from nowhere, it tapped into regressive social ideologies within Greek society, which passed under the radar before the crisis and which the Greek government has capitalised on.
Although the Golden Dawn has been most prominently associated with violent attacks on migrants and religious minorities, radicals and gay men have also found themselves subject to violent fascist attacks – for fascism is a ideology which goes beyond simple racism to upholding the kyriachial power structure. As such, fascism is not only racist, it is also deeply misogynistic, as can be seen by the attitudes found within Chrysti Avgi. Just after the election of fascist MPs to the Greek Parliament, the rape of an Albanian child by one of its members was met by claims of consensuality by the rapist and threats to the family by other party members, while one of its elected MPs was revealed to be the co-owner of a “pink hotel” where rooms are hired for the hour so that men can sexually abuse women for money in comfort.
As the New Left of the 1960s embraced the Sexual Revolution, many radical women found themselves relegated to the status of fucktoys for male revolutionaries, who embraced the new acceptance of “free love” without consideration of the costs in terms of health and emotional wellbeing to women comrades. As previously consent to sexual activity had been given without bounds or contraints by the signing of the marriage contract, the absence of promises to “love, honour and respect” vanished as sexual violence dressed up in a revolutionary veil became acceptable behaviour.
The Second Wave of feminism in the 70s was characterised by the slogan “The Personal is Political”, highlighting that it was not just women’s status in the social and economic domain, but also their position within the private sphere which kept them in a subordinate position. Frustrated by their experiences within the traditional left, women set up autonomous womens organisations, which explored issues of intimate relationships, reproductive rights and the role of sexual violence and how that intersected with the economic and social postion of women in society.
In contrast the Greek womens rights movement of the late 70s, emerging after the end of the Junta in 74, was dominated by womens organisations associated with major left parties. The three major organisations, KGD (Democratic Womens Movement),EGE (Union of Greek Women) and OGE (Federation of Greek Women), associated with the Eurocommunists, PASOK and the KKE respectively all prioritised the role of women in the public and working life. With membership drawn primarily from the female members of their party affiliations, they had enormous mobilising power yet this constrained their activity, situating them firmly within the established Left, rather than the newly revived feminist movement. It was not until the early 80s that fledgeling autonomous feminist organisations emerged in Greece, but as the Second Wave started to wane, the dominance of economic and class analysis returned.
The urgent need for feminism can be seen in the effects of the crisis on women - the rise in sexual and domestic violence coupled with the growth of the increasingly brutal sex industry bears witness to this. Yet the Greek Left is seriously wanting in this regard, with rape apologism, rape minimisation and even rape advocation coming from within.
Last month, as controversy raged over the coverup of sexual violence perpetrated by one of UK SWP’s Central Committee members, the its Greek international section, the SEK, the largest constituent element of the leftist coalition, Antarcia, welcomed him onto an anti-fascist platform. Apparently seeing no irony in this, they proudly published a photograph of the rapist addressing the crowd. One of the MPs for Syriza is a lawyer currently representing a man arrested for four rapes, has continually delayed the trial on the grounds that she is “too busy” prolonging the ordeal of the victims, prompting condemnation from women within her own party. Meanwhile some Greek antifascists coined rather lovely slogan advocating anal rape as a means of challenging fascism (you dont want to know it, seriously, you dont). And throughout the rhetoric of left-wing activism – epithets of “whore” and “prostitute” to describe the politicians and journalists conspiring to rob the Greeks of their money prevail, belying an attitude of sympathy with sexual preditors and a hostility to the women they abuse.
One of the most visible forms of sexual violence against women in Athens is in the enormous and thriving sex industry. As children go hungry and women are forced into sex industry through poverty or trafficking, there seems to be no shortage of men willing to pay a few euros to sexually abuse them. Including, it must be said, from my observations living near a street which hosts a number of brothels, men who identify with the left and who attend left wing meetings. There is nothing so dispiriting to return from a radical event to see people that I would previously have considered comrades disappearing into a small house with a light outside to abuse the women within, mimicking the behaviour of right-wing MPs who boast of such exploits.
When a sexually abused Russian woman was found to be HIV positive in April last year, there was no attempt to find the man who had infected her. Instead the Hellenic authorities published her photograph and personal data on the website of the Greek police, who then rounded up many other sexually abused women and forcibly tested them – sixteen more were found HIV positive, and held in custody for “intentional bodily harm”. They too had their names, addresses and photographs published. Over a thousand men rang a special helpline devoted to abusers who were worried that they may be infected, yet no action was taken against a single one, – instead they were offered sympathetic councilling and medical assistance. Every night in Athens, women are plucked from the streets by armed men in cars to be taken to a police station and accused of the crime of being available for sexual abuse, yet outwith the small autonomous feminist organisations, the response of the Greek Left to these outrages is muted.
As women rise up across the world – in Egypt demanding freedom from sexual harassment; in India demanding liberty to travel free from fear of sexual violence; in Ireland, demanding control over their reproductive systems – across the globe for safety, security and bodily integrity, the situation of women in Greece and the misogynistic actions of self-styled left men who put rapists on platforms and collude in the sexual abuse of women must be ended. One Billion Women are rising and its high time the Greek Left not only stopped being part of the problem, but starts to actively work with women and join with them to challenge the misogyny that underpins fascist and authoritarian ideology.