"People don't feel safe anymore, in any way, and it makes them tense, angry, suspicious," says Father Maximus, the priest at Aghios Panteleimonas, a cathedral in a central Athens neighborhood of the same name that has seen some of the worst crime in the past year. "I don't know what to tell the elderly women who show up crying, bruised after an Afghan or African migrant has mugged them on the way to church. I don't know what to tell the teenage prostitutes from Africa who show up here, begging for help and a way out of the trap of their lives, or the homeless migrants squatting outside the church. There's no order, and in this atmosphere anyone who is a victim can also be a villain."
I met Father Maximus, a Greek who lived in Germany and likes to play improvisational jazz, at his church earlier this year. Like other Greeks who have lived abroad, or like diaspora Greeks like me, he held on to the idea that Greeks stuck together in tough times and always opened their hearts to strangers. "It seems like we lived in some kind of nostalgic fantasy," he told me, as we walked through his battered neighborhood. Things have really devolved in the last year here, he said. Many pensioners refuse to leave their homes because they are scared of getting held up by xenoi, the "foreigners" from Africa and Asia who now outnumber them in the neighborhood. In response, right-wing gangs police the streets and have attacked makeshift basement mosques while Bangladeshi migrants worship inside.
Many in those gangs belong to Chrysi Avgi, or Golden Dawn, a fringe fascist group despised by most Greeks. In provincial elections last October, exasperated residents in crime-ridden Athenian neighborhoods helped elect Chrysi Avgi's leader, Nikolas Michaloliakos, to the Athens municipal council because he promised to crack down on crime and kick out migrants, who were presumably responsible for it. Michaloliakos has been known to greet his fellow council members with a Nazi salute. While Chrysi Avgi has no prospect of winning parliamentary seats, "its appearance in politics does show that, as support for the two main parties in Greece have weakened, the space for the fringe has opened," says Stathis Kalyvas, a political science professor at Yale University who follows developments in his homeland closely.
One party already in parliament, the Popular Orthodox Rally, has rallied support by playing on Greeks' increasing fear of foreigners. New Democracy leader Antonis Samaras, an Amherst-educated economist who was Papandreou's college roommate, got the most applause from his fellow conservatives during an anti-austerity speech last week by saying he would roll back PASOK's citizenship law, which gives citizenship to the Greek-born children of migrants who have lived here legally for five years. "It's an uneasy time, and it's disappointing that prominent people are scapegoating immigrants to explain away our problems," says Anna Triandafyllidou, who studies migration as a research fellow at the Hellenic Foundation for European and Foreign Policy.
Most Greeks are not xenophobes, but the crisis has made this somewhat parochial culture more insular. Many are recoiling from Europeans, especially the Germans, who are judging them, often unfairly, for being lazy spendthrifts with an entitlement complex. Others are recoiling from the IMF, whom they fear is trying to take over Greece. I've seen flyers for the "buy Greek" movement, which aims to stoke both national pride and the economy by promoting Greek products. A few conspiracy theorists are also reaching for a dated anti-Americanism that assumes an Evil Empire United States, with President Obama as Darth Vader, is bringing Greece to its knees because they want to pillage it. "We have hidden reserves of oil and gold," a mechanic named Yiannis told me at a recent anti-austerity demonstration. "The big powers want to take it all away from us."