A Golden Dawn demo in Komotini, Greece in December, 2010. Photo by Ggia under a CC Licence.
‘The kid now suffers from serious psychological damage. You can see it when he talks; his voice just withers away. Every time that I put my arms around him, he starts to shiver and cry.’ Working at an NGO focused on human rights, Michalis K gives me a first-hand account of the traumas of an Afghan boy, after he was severely beaten up in the streets of Athens. Trying to escape from a war with Greek participation, the boy ended up in the Greek capital, where he suffered deep into his soul the ‘social policy’ of a party that might soon enter the Greek parliament.
The 15-year-old boy was gravely abused by supporters of Golden Dawn, a party created by a dishonourably discharged military man, who had fraternized in jail with the leaders of the Greek junta. These are not your typical far-right populists. This is National Socialism Greek-style, complete with Nazi symbols, a democracy-bashing rhetoric and killer instincts against anyone who is not white. So much so, that in the past they beat up a Cypriot man because of his dark skin. Criminal attacks against illegal immigrants, members of minority groups, leftists and anarchists are the trademark of the party’s actions. White supremacy, racism, antisemite conspiracy theories and a flirtation with paganism constitute its nebulous ideological stigma. In fact, the Norway killer Anders Breivik includes in his manifesto Golden Dawn as one of the European political forces that could help carry out an anti-Islamic, anti-Marxist and anti-immigrant campaign.
The serpent rises from its egg
Until recently, Golden Dawn’s toxic tentacles had limited reach. Its most alarming connection was with members of the Greek security forces. Leaked confidential documents admit not only to the party’s roots inside the police force, but also to the latter’s active engagement, in order to delay the arrest of a Golden Dawn member prosecuted for three attempted murders. In the same documents, the police are said to provide Golden Dawn with batons and radio communication equipment, in order to provoke riots during leftist and anarchist demonstrations. Countless videos show party members, armed with sticks, among police lines in such rallies.
In the 2009 general elections, Golden Dawn showed a significant rise in the polling stations where police specials forces were casting their votes. In total, however, its national score didn’t surpass 0.29 per cent. And yet, in the administrative election of 2010 it managed to reap a significant gain. Its leader was elected to the town council of the city of Athens, bringing the fascist organization out of the margins, and giving it publicity and higher hopes of increasing its ranks. Needless to say, the party celebrated its victory with a Nazi salute…
What led to this outcome? For sure, Golden Dawn’s demagogic slogans like ‘Greece belongs to the Greeks’ or ‘Politicians are the scourge of this country’ soothe some people’s ears, people who are tired of hearing every day about new taxes and price hikes. Opening up its rhetoric, from anti-migrant hate speech to anti-austerity formulations, the party has managed to increase its support. At the same time, however, it has opened up its practices, as the political scientist Hristoforos Vernardakis notes: ‘Golden Dawn fills, in specific urban areas, the wide gap that the official state, government policies, and the Left leave. Golden Dawn operates by doing “field work”: taking issue with objective everyday problems, rather than focusing an ideological struggle. It has managed to establish a state within a state in those urban areas, offering “security” – and this is a tangible result for local residents, especially because government agencies are absent.’
The state might be absent from these areas but mainstream political parties are present in helping Golden Dawn. The aforementioned leaked documents affirm that some members of the party illegally carry guns that they get from MPs, by posing as their bodyguards. In addition, a former high-ranking member of Golden Dawn has stated that the centre-right party New Democracy was printing Golden Dawn’s leaflets, in an effort to reduce the influence of the far-right populist party LAOS. So, if these allegations are true, the centre-right has been reinforcing the fascist right, in order to attack the far right…
As for the relationship between these last two (Golden Dawn and LAOS), while the latter for many years was openly supportive of the former, now they can be considered to be in competition. ‘Under conditions of crisis, the voters of one party are transferred to the electoral clientele of the other, and vice versa,’ writes the Panteion University professor Dimitris Hristopoulos.
Golden Dawn, though, has another ace up its sleeve: the help of mainstream media. Its organized and criminally minded anti-migrant rallies are often misrepresented as manifestations of ‘indignant citizens’ against the problems created by immigrants. Besides, in an effort to reduce the influence of radical left parties, the media often present the actions of the latter as equal to the actions of Golden Dawn, creating a false image of ‘concurrence of the extremes’, and thus legitimizing Golden Dawn’s activities.
These political manipulations are extremely harmful for Greek society. First of all, they shift the political agenda to the right, forcing the whole political spectrum to adopt harsh anti-migrant positions in order to face up to the competition. Secondly, by channelling the attention away from society’s real problems towards nationalistic and racist hatred, they help support the same system that brought Greece to its current situation. Given the recent polls, which forecast that Golden Dawn will pass the barrier of 3 per cent to enter parliament in the forthcoming election, the danger becomes imminent. It is the duty of all of us, both in Greece and abroad, to put it to an end.