ASTORIA — Local elected officials, community leaders and a group of residents gathered last week at an Astoria park to protest reported plans of a right-wing Greek party to open an office in the neighborhood.
The Golden Dawn’s plan to branch out into Astoria — home to one of the biggest Greek communities in the country — was announced on the party's website, which has since been shut down, elected officials said.
There have also been reported incidents in which Golden Dawn supporters have been distributing hateful anti-immigrant literature, officials said.
“Golden Dawn is an organization of Holocaust deniers, an organization that actually speaks admiringly of the Nazi movement,” said public advocate Bill de Blasio, who organized the press conference in Athens Square Park. “They don’t belong here in New York City.”
Chris Vournas, first vice president of the Federation of Hellenic Societies of Greater New York, said a group of young Greek Americans associated with the party had come to his office in July to offer help with the federations’ efforts to collect clothes for struggling families in Greece.
But Vournas said the group later took a photo of one of the boxes filled with clothes in front of the federation’s headquarters on 29th Street in Astoria and posted it online suggesting the building was the party’s office.
On the box, Vournas said they had written, “For Greeks only."
Vournas strongly denied any connections with the party. “We are not a political organization. They lied to us,” he said.
De Blasio said that the party did surprisingly well in Greek elections in August, winning 18 of Greek Parliament’s 300 seats.
“You can’t take Fascism lightly,” said de Blasio , who also presented pictures of the party’s enthusiasts and their brochure attached to a pole on 29 Street in Astoria saying “Foreigners out of Greece.”
De Blasio, who noted the party had not revealed specific information about opening an office in the neighborhood, said he would not rule out legal action against the group if its members entice violence.
He stressed out though that the main reaction would be “protesting on the community level.
“If they are only exercising free speech, we respect their right. We respect the first amendment,” de Blasio said.
Assemblywoman Aravella Simotas, who represents the area, said it’s important for the community “to show our outrage that a group like this would even think about coming and try to open a storefront here in Astoria.”
"There will be picketers outside every day, because it doesn’t represent who we are as Greek Americans, as immigrants and as people who came to this country to coexist in peace,” she added.
Local organizations, including Occupy Astoria, plan to organize a protest against Golden Dawn on Tuesday.