Aspropyrgos is a busy Greek shipping and industrial center. Along with the imported car parts and electronics come illegal drugs, weapons and contraband cigarettes, as well as violence and nationalistic tensions between locals and immigrants. In a sense, Aspropyrgos is a microcosm of Europe itself, struggling to benefit from the global economy while protecting its identity.
In 1843 magazine, Alexander Clapp follows a scrap metal collector and the relative of a murdered businessman to profile the Greek city and its reputation for lawlessness. Despite a violent strain of nationalism that has taken hold in Aspropyrgos, a Chinese business is now trying to develop it into a railway hub in a potentially lucrative distribution network. If the region is going to benefit from outside investment, someone has to tame the violence.
The economic crisis made the lives of the Aspropyrgians harder than ever before. Relations between Pontic Greeks and Roma grew increasingly hostile, as each group blamed the other for their misfortunes. “Look how lawless they are,” Kostas says of his Roma neighbours. “They leave their trash and their kids everywhere.” Lambros views people like Kostas as intruders. “Nothing bad came in from the sea before they got there,” he says. Into the void left by the emaciated and neglectful state stepped Golden Dawn, the neo-Nazi party that has thrived on resentment of austerity.
Golden Dawn attracts nearly one in three votes in Aspropyrgos. Kostas heartily supports them; so does almost every other Pontic Greek I meet. Many approve of Golden Dawn’s willingness to put the Roma in their place, often through brute force. But even more attractive to Pontic Greeks is Golden Dawn’s veneration of their distinctive identity. By resisting assimilation and maintaining their traditions for thousands of years, the Pontic Greeks affirm Golden Dawn’s central tenet: that the Greeks are exceptional people. They preserve the connection to the era of Hellenic supremacy. While others treat them as interlopers, Golden Dawn elevates them to aristocrats. No other politicians have ever talked to them like this before.