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on the world: a view on human rights

The Antifascists: A Film Review


2017, Sweden/Greece, documentary directed by Patrik Öberg and Emil Ramos, running time: 75 minutes

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From Rodrigo Duterte in the Philippines to Narendra Modi in India and Donald Trump in the USA, the spectre of fascism haunts the world. The current political landscape has emboldened the far right.

At street level, this translates into the increasing number of far-right marches and attacks on minority communities. Attacks on immigrants and violence based on perceived or actual racial, ethnic, religious or sexual identity, from verbal abuse and threats to physical attacks and even murder, do not only take place when they are reported in the media.

The mainstream media itself has demonstrated, in recent elections in the United Kingdom, France and the Netherlands, that it offers disproportionate coverage to far-right candidates and parties. On the other hand, right-wing acts of terrorism, even when prosecuted as such, are seldom given that label, such as the 2016 murder of British MP Jo Cox.

The police, whose job it is to ensure the safety and security of all residents and citizens of a state, are frequently accused of institutional racism. In the ongoing “kebab murders” trial in Germany, the authorities overlooked a string of murders by a Neo-Nazi cell, including that of a police officer, over a period of seven years.

The documentary The Antifascists, released in March 2017, opens up this rather narrow mainstream discourse. Starting with a warning from history about the failure to deal with the threat posed by Nazism and the far right, the film offers a glimpse behind the masks of anti-fascists in two European states: Sweden and Greece.

It looks at two cases in Sweden: the first, a neo-Nazi attack on an anti-racist demonstration attended by families in the Stockholm suburb of Kärrtorp in December 2013. Armed Nazis travelled to the protest, turning the peaceful demonstration into a violent clash between fascists and anti-fascists. The police knew that Nazis would be attending, and informed the organisers, as shown in the film, but claimed they lacked the resources to deal with the situation; they were aware that the attack was planned. One anti-fascist was convicted after he grabbed a knife from a Nazi protester who was threatening others. A number of Nazi activists were also sentenced, including one who already had a murder conviction.

The other incident was an attack in March 2014 in Malmö that left an anti-fascist activist seriously injured. Showan Shattak from “Football Fans Against Homophobia” was one of four people attacked. His neo-Nazi attacker, who fled to Ukraine and was later extradited to Sweden, was convicted of assault but not attempted murder; he was acquitted on appeal. Speaking in the film, Shattak calls anti-fascism “self-defence”. Both incidents led to large anti-fascist marches.

Although there are similarities across Europe, the situation in Greece has a unique feature: the Golden Dawn party is both represented by neo-Nazis on the streets and as a parliamentary party.

According to Professor Spyros Marchetos, “fascism starts from above”. Rather than challenge the financial and political structures that led to the current financial crisis and collapse, channelled through fascist ideologies such as those espoused by the Golden Dawn, people instead look downwards and blame those in an inferior social position. The film, however, concedes that the rise of fascism is not directly linked to austerity: Norway, a more affluent state, is also witnessing a rise in the far right and has suffered the worst right-wing terrorist attack in Europe.

Marchetos also talks about the three pillars of anti-fascism: deconstructing fascist slogans; mass mobilisation against fascist groups; and stopping fascists from terrorising the streets. Other anti-fascists interviewed state that anti-fascism is about reclaiming social spaces, so that people do not feel afraid in their own neighbourhoods or excluded from participation in society. Others see anti-fascism as a necessary component of class war.

In Greece, the police not only facilitate fascist activity but were reported to have tortured anti-fascist protesters in 2012. Claims of infiltration and collaboration with Golden Dawn have been made. In July 2017, a Greek court convicted two men and a women for an attack on an Afghan man in 2011; it was the first such case brought before the courts since 1999.

In both countries, and elsewhere, the problem continues to intensify. What is the role of anti-fascists, and is violence the only answer to the violence of the state? Non-violent resistance  can also encounter violence, as experienced by the peaceful demonstrators in Kärrtorp. The authorities in some states have also been accused of using far-right groups to stir up violent confrontations with left-wing and other activists.

Discussion of forms of institutional and state violence that are not perceived as such – for example, forced evictions, punitive measures against the poor and homeless, surveillance of minority communities and activists – that demonstrate the depth and extent of state violence, could have strengthened the premise of the film. On the other hand, the lack of excessive post-editing lends a sense of urgency to the subject matter and makes it more engaging.

The far right response is often to attempt to equate anti-fascism with fascism. The mainstream focus on fascist groups overshadows those on the opposite side of the spectrum. The film does not offer solutions or preach an ideology. It allows viewers to make up their own minds. The film is the start of a debate, which has thus far been one-sided.

Future screening information available here.

Trailer:

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