home Europe, Human Rights, Politics, Racism What’s behind the rise of Golden Dawn in Greece?

What’s behind the rise of Golden Dawn in Greece?

The biggest story to come out of this month’s Greek elections has been the 21 seats won by the neonazi party Golden Dawn (Chrysi Avgi.) Golden Dawn secured seven percent of the vote, with 750,000 Greeks casting ballots for the party, which promises to rid Greece of “the stench of foreigners,” to line the Turkish border with land mines, and to impose a strict litmus test for citizenship that prizes birthright over time spent in the country.  Elias Panagiotaros spoke to Vice last year, explaining the party’s organizing principles:

We have five basic principles: Greece belongs to the Greeks. One does not become a Greek, but is born one. […] If a black man comes from Africa and stays in Greece for 15 years, he is still not a Greek. We are anti-capitalists, anti-communists and believe in a national state. We also have extremely normal and strict opinions on matters regarding illegal immigration, drugs and homosexuality. It’s all pretty straightforward if you think about it.

Quite. Golden Dawn has gone to great lengths to leave the taste of fascism in people’s mouths while still officially distancing themselves from the neonazi label. They adopted the Meandros in black and red as their flag, a very unsubtle tribute to the swastika of the Third Reich, they utilize the roman salute as the Nazis did, their supporters wear black shirts, and one of their members of parliament recent stated on Skai TV that “Hitler has not yet been judged by history.”  Translation: That particular MP can foresee a future in which humanity revisits mass murder and genocide as possibly morally virtuous. Hmmm. I hope I’m dead by then.

Amidst all this, the rich are fleeing Greece, looking for a safe place to transport their families and their wealth, taking money out of an economy that can ill-afford it. Wealthy Greeks have read the writing on the wall and are seeking shelter in the United Kingdom, and this process only accelerated before the elections, which failed to produce a viable coalition government. Besides the fact that Greece’s raison d’etre seems to have been reduced to meeting the terms of debt agreements wrestled out of them in a rigged match with the titans of the continent, the European Union, the European Central Bank, and the International Monetary Fund, collectively known as the The Troika, Greeks just elected a fragmentary parliament featuring heavy gains from the most extreme political parties in the country.

With the country in the thrall of a deepening recession and the unemployment rate rising over 21%, some have blamed economic desperation for the inroads Golden Dawn made in the most recent election. Others have tried to claim that those who voted for the party weren’t fully aware of what they were doing or what the party stood for.  While facing the bilious and putrid ideology of the worst portions of society is difficult and unsettling, it is a duty that cannot go unanswered. Especially considering how insidious and pernicious and metastatic extremism can be. Along with the rest of the world, Golden Dawn’s ascension has worried those in neighboring Cyprus, prompting President Demetris Christofias to speak out about the dangers of embracing nationalism and xenophobia during times of economic turmoil.

The world economic crisis unfortunately offers today such possibilities to the extreme right particularly where there is no awareness of the historical truth and the mature democratic awareness. History teaches us that any tolerance to fascism is catastrophic.

Cyprus’ own National Popular Front (ELAM,) a right wing nationalist party formed in 2008, greeted the news of the Greek elections with jubilation, donning black shirts and taking to the streets immediately after the election results were announced. Members of ELAM see Golden Dawn’s victory as a precursor to the rise of their own fortunes.

The picture that is emerging is that you can’t pin Chrysi Avgi’s ascension into power solely on the economy. Other political parties that made large gains in this election espoused erasing the debt agreements with the Troika, ceasing austerity measures, and possibly even pulling out of the Eurozone. Greeks seem to roundly reject the last proposal — they don’t want economic stagnation but they likewise don’t want to return to the drachma — but the first two are common currency among the parties that did win. Golden Dawn ran specifically on expelling immigrants, espousing Greek “purity,” and preventing and reversing immigration with the threat of violence. Both Syriza ( which captured 17% of the vote) and Independent Greeks (10.9%) ran on anti-austerity platforms, meaning the votes Golden Dawn received were uniquely xenophobic and rabidly nationalistic.

The economic decline allowed the party to extend their local outreach in a visible way by filling vacuums left by spending gouges with their own agenda, including forming local mobs to roam the streets and violently harass foreigners and having party members deliver groceries to poor families. But already they’ve given a disturbing preview of their place in national politics. Journalist Xenia Kounalaki published a criticism of the party in the Athenian daily Kathimerini, concluding they should be banned by the government. For her trouble she was threatened by the party on their website, in a 2,5000 word polemic which recounted details of her life, mentioned her daughter, and told her to watch her back. This threat prompted WordPress to shut their website down. In the article she wrote for Der Spiegel detailing the the harassment she faced, Kounalaki said that the two major political parties (PASOK and New Democracy) started xenophobic campaigns of their own that normalized Golden Dawn’s message.

A month before the elections the police conducted a series of “clean sweeps,” rounding up undocumented immigrants in downtown Athens which the country plans to house in detention centers, one of which has already opened. To Vima predicted that around half of the police officers in Athens voted for Golden Dawn, with polling places centered around the police station turning over votes for the party at a higher rate than those father away. This wouldn’t be surprising, given the reports that the police have turned a blind eye to the group’s activities:

International observers who closely follow refugee affairs say the police watch passively when Golden Dawn thugs rough up immigrants. The Racist Violence Recording Network, set up at the initiative of the Greek National Commission for Human Rights and the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, reported 63 racist attacks in Athens and neighboring Patras between October and December 2011, but the UNHCR said the results “represent only minimally the real situation.”

As of Sunday the Greek government had failed to find a parliamentary coalition, with Syriza balking at joining without first jettisoning the terms of the bailout agreement. Syriza’s leader, Alexis Tsipras, announced he wouldn’t be attending the subsequent meeting on Monday and Fotis Kouvelis, leader of the Democratic Left party, stated he wouldn’t be able to join a coalition without the support of Syriza. New Democracy and PASOK combined do not hold enough of the vote to form a coalition without the other two parties. Amid the escalating political brinksmanship, European officials began speculating openly about the fitness of a EU without Greece. If a coalition cannot be formed by May 17th, Greece must hold new elections.

If the factious new parliament cannot form a coalition Greece will be forced to hold another round of elections and Golden Dawn’s fortunes may sour, if their rise to power is as anomalous as some Greeks believe it is. Or they could gain seats and wield more power, especially if the police force sanctions their violence through inaction and links their cause in the public eye to law, justice and order, If so, Greeks may begin to see Golden Dawn as an auxiliary to the mechanism of the state and choose to ignore the dangerous rhetoric it is founded upon.

2 thoughts on “What’s behind the rise of Golden Dawn in Greece?

  1. Excellent article, very thorough, fact-based, and insightful.

    As this article makes clear, Golden Dawn’s success and its popularity with Greek law enforcement (and army?) present the immediate danger that neo-Nazism will be ‘normalized’ in the minds of Greek voters.

    Such ‘normalization’ of fascism is not limited to Greece. In France, the far-right Front National gained 18% in the first vote, and Sarkozy, like PASOK and New Democracy in Greece, ‘normalized’ FN’s xenophobia by including it in his campaign rhetoric. In Britain, although the British National Party did not do well in recent elections, it is not yet clear that the Conservative Party will not similarly ‘normalize’ BNP rhetoric in order to attract far-right Britons.

    Thanks for writing this article. The American public needs to know what’s going on in Greece.

  2. Although Greece tends to have a bias towards the political left, the truth is there were plenty of collaborators amongst the Greek population during the Nazi occupation. Not everyone was a member of the resistance.

    Indeed, if Italy had not invaded Greece in 1940 the pro-German King of Greece might have pushed the country into an alliance with the Nazis and not the Allies.

    Those pro-Nazi and collaborators were never purged from society after the war, instead they were seen by the US and UK governments after the war as allies against the potential take over of Greece by the popular communist movement EAM. It is not wrong to say they took over the security apparatus and they were behind the military coup in Greece in 1967.

    After the restoration of democracy in 1974 again these fascists and their descendants were not properly purged, all in the interests of national unity, despite them being the cause of terrible suffering in Greece and the destruction of Cyprus through their support of the openly fascist EOKA B movement in the 1960s and 70s.

    So the Golden Dawn is not an unexpected phenomenon. It has deep roots in a part of Greek society that has often been tolerated (even pampered) by the Greek establishment and overseas interests. Greek people tend towards the left in politics. But that has not been true of their leaders, and the tolerance of those leaders of Greek fascism in the past has lead to its re-emergence now.

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