A supporter of Greece's Golden Dawn extreme right party distributes packs of pasta to residents suffering from the economic crisis at the Syntagma square in Athens August 1, 2012.
Credits: REUTERS/Yorgos Karahalis
MONTREAL - Spyros Papageorgiou, a 38-year-old cook living in Montreal, told QMI Agency Saturday that although he supports the ultra-nationalist Greek political party, Golden Dawn, he is no Nazi.
He is a member of Montreal's chapter of the Greek party, which won about 7% of the popular vote in Greece's June election and has since increased its support among the country's electorate, polls show.
Golden Dawn in Greece is linked to racist, anti-immigrant attacks. After the country's June elections, it became the most extreme right-wing party to sit in parliament since Greece returned to democracy after the fall of a military dictatorship in 1974.
Now Montreal - like New York - has become home to an official chapter of the party. Papageorgiou said the group's members, which he said number between 100 and 200, aren't planning on running in Canadian elections under the Golden name. Rather, he said the goal of the chapter is to "support the party (in Greece) in any way we can."
So far, Papageorgiou said the Montreal chapter sent a package of non-perishable food, medicine and toys to the head office of Golden Dawn in Athens, for it to be distributed to the city's needy. He said chapter members "all chipped in" to pay for the package. He wouldn't say how much the shipment cost.
Reports suggest that Golden Dawn in Greece only gives aid to people who can prove Greek citizenship.
Golden Dawn ran on an anti-immigration platform and according to Reuters, "wants to rid Greece of all foreigners including what it calls the "stench" of immigrants." Reuters reported in April that Golden Dawn consistently denies it is a Nazi party, "but its leader, Nikolaos Mihaloliakos, did introduce himself to Athens city council (in 2011) with a Nazi salute."
Papageorgiou denied the party was racist or in any way influenced by Nazi ideology. He said Golden Dawn is the only party in Greece to "speak the truth."
"We are not against legal immigration," he said. "What is happening now is that criminals, from Middle Eastern countries and African counties ... are escaping to Greece and causing crimes - what are we supposed to do to these people? Say thank you? We want them all out, all back to where they came from."
Nine out of 10 illegal immigrants entering the European Union in 2010 arrived in Greece, largely from Turkey by land or sea, according to Reuters.
Papageorgiou said he was born in Montreal but left for Greece when he was six, only to return to Montreal when he was in his early 20s. He said he was a paratrooper in Greece's special forces and that many in the Montreal chapter of Golden Dawn spent time in the Greek military.
Human-rights activists in Montreal and other community organizations have denounced the city's chapter of Golden Dawn, but Papageorgiou said they don't have a right to their opinion.
He said people in Montreal don't know what it's like for the economically depressed Greek people.
"You cannot have an opinion," he said. "Let the Greek people handle the (immigration and economic problems) the best way they can."
However, Nicholas Pagonis, president of the Hellenic Community of Greater Montreal, made his opinion clear.
"Golden Dawn is a neo-Nazi party," he said in a phone interview Saturday. "It's a racist party. It's anti-immigrant and (the party in Greece) has adopted violence as part of their activities."
He said that his organization, which runs Greek educational, religious and charitable institutions across Montreal, will be reserving a special part of next week's meeting to discuss the city's chapter of Golden Dawn.
He said the chapter gives Montreal's Greek community a bad name.
"Golden Dawn has no place here," he said.
Papageorgiou vehemently denied he was a racist or a Nazi.
"My grandfather fought against German Nazis and the Italian Fascists," he said. "How can I be a Nazi?"
He said the Montreal chapter will send more aid packages to Golden Dawn's Athens office, if asked.
Moreover, Papageorgiou said he was willing to go to Greece if Golden Dawn needed "manpower."
"I would swim across the Atlantic if I had to. I would protect my country no matter what - I would do the same for Canada."
- With files from Reuters