It was only a matter of time. Actually, it’s rather surprising that it hadn’t happened yet, for the tactics of fear and intimidation and the public display of ideological beliefs in a beastly manner are the distinguishing features of the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn party in Greece. The rise of the party of Neanderthals (with all due apologies to the actual species, because its own [presumed] lack of mental acuity was due to nature) started suddenly, approximately two years ago, as a consequence of the economic catastrophe and the social decomposition the nation is experiencing thanks to the brutal austerity measures imposed by Greece’s international lenders – the European Union (EU) and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) – for the bailout agreements that were signed in May 2010 and June 2012. Since then, physical attacks against immigrants and leftists, with clubs, chains and knives – the primary weapons of gangs of black-shirted thugs who do their best to imitate the practices of Hitler’s stormtroopers (SA) of the 1920s and early 1930s – have occurred with frightening frequency. Indeed, the number of patients that end up in hospitals because of racial violence is so disturbingly high that it has propelled Greek hospital doctors to express their concerns repeatedly to the Greek authorities about the actions of Golden Dawn. Those actions include paying visits to clinics and hospitals to threaten staff members for providing medical services to immigrants. A few months ago, Golden Dawn supporters showed up outside a Doctors of the World Clinic in Perama, an impoverished dock-side district on the outskirt of Athens, shouting racial slogans. Previously, they had beaten up one of the clinic’s translators.
And then it happened. Just past midnight, on September 18, 2013, a 34-year-old man, an anti-racist, anti-fascist rapper named Pavlos Fyssas, was brutally murdered in Keratsini, a working-class district in the city of Piraeus, by a member of Golden Dawn. He was struck twice with a knife, once right into his heart, in what medical experts say was a professionally delivered blow. This was a planned execution, a cold-blooded murder. The left-wing musician had been targeted for some time by the criminal organization of Golden Dawn for his outspoken political views. A gang of approximately 150 neo-Nazis armed with clubs was in the neighborhood that night looking for the victim. The young man was inside a coffee shop watching a football game on TV with friends. When he left the coffee shop to return home, he and his friends were chased around the streets by a gang of about 15 neo-Nazis. He was knifed to death not long after, apparently when cornered, by a man who arrived on the scene by a car after having received a call by an unidentified source to rush to the spot where all the commotion was taking place. The murderer was on the payroll of Golden Dawn. Incidentally, this ghastly act took place a few days after some 30 Golden Dawn thugs had brutally attacked members of the Greek Communist Party in Perama as they hung posters.
It is impossible to say how many hundreds or perhaps thousands of hate-related attacks have been spearheaded in the recent past by Golden Dawn. Indeed, like all fascist and Nazi parties and organizations throughout the 20th century, what drives Golden Dawn is hate – and the list of “enemies” is almost endless: immigrants, leftists, communists, Jews, homosexuals, gypsies. To be sure, in spite of all the controversy still surrounding Adorno’s The Authoritarian Personality, and the study of political psychology in general, fascism is much more of a state of mind and a psychological predisposition than a political ideology based on concrete socio-economic analysis and rational assumptions and explanations, such as, say, Marxism. No economic or political theory can explain the actual behavior of those supporting fascism or Nazism as future social orders. Many people in Greece feel disgust toward fascism, but they don’t go around killing Golden Dawn supporters. Likewise, many ordinary citizens may be appalled by the presence of so many illegal immigrants in Greece, but they don’t get involved in organizing pogroms against them or seek ways to engage themselves in any form of violence. Is it because their levels of hate are not that deep? Perhaps. But if so, this merely begs the question about what propels individuals to hunt an innocent man like a wild dog in the middle of the night and kill him in cold blood.
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A combination of psychological, cultural, structural and historical factors is needed to explain the sudden rise of neo-Nazism in Greece. While the economic crisis in Greece has devastating effects for the majority of its people and has spurred the growth of a mass neo-Nazi organization, it would be a mistake to conclude that Golden Dawn is a product solely of the crisis. In the modern era, Greece has always had a strong authoritarian political tradition and a strong fascist element. Authoritarianism and fascism thrived in Greece from the 1940s through the mid-1970s. Censorship, political imprisonment, torture, concentration camps and killing political opponents run like a red thread through Greece’s modern political history. Major social institutions such as the army, the police and even the church were directly involved in the support of fascist ideology and the propagation of authoritarian values. Big capital – and the notorious shipping tycoon business community – always backed the most reactionary political forces in Greece. So did, unfortunately, a sizable percentage of the Greek citizenry, especially among the rural population and the petty bourgeoisie. The military junta which ruled Greece from 1967-73 was opposed openly by a tiny fraction of the population only, with the left, as always, at the forefront of the struggle for freedom and democracy and its supporters paying a big price for their resistance to the regime. After the re-establishment of parliamentary democracy, much of the extreme right and the “silent majority” that had backed the junta gravitated toward the conservative party of New Democracy. In the decades ahead, what remains of the fascist movement is a handful of die-hard fanatics, but this does not mean that the extreme right is extinct. It is still everywhere, with a particularly strong presence in the ranks of the police, which has always been an employment magnet for the most conservative and reactionary elements of Greek society.
In the political violence orchestrated today by Golden Dawn, the role of the Greek police is dubious at best – although deplorable might be a far more accurate description. It is doubtful if anyone involved in racist attacks by Golden Dawn has ever been arrested, charged and imprisoned. As in the incident against the members of the Greek Communist Party, the police were present, watching passively while the attack on the leftist musician was taking place. They intervened only after the stabbing took place, apparently uninformed that a murder had been planned.
The close ties between the Greek police and the neo-Nazis are beyond dispute. Polls seem to indicate that the majority of police officers voted in the previous elections for the Golden Dawn Party. The two, in fact, have collaborated many times in the past in the violent breakup of rallies and demonstrations held by leftist and anarchist groups and organizations. There are recorded videos showing neo-Nazis engaging in violent actions while police units literally are standing right next to them. Motorcycle police units have been seen to accompany Golden Dawn members repeatedly in their pogroms against immigrants.
Equally appalling, behind the political violence orchestrated by the Greek neo-Nazis has been the position of the Greek Ministry of Public Order and Citizen Protection, which has launched its own pogroms against immigrants and has so far used double standards in the way it reacts to the violence of the left and to the crimes committed by Golden Dawn. But this ought not to be surprising as in the challenge of containing the further growth of Syriza (polls show a head-to-head race with the conservative party of New Democracy, which now rules in coalition with the socialists), the Golden Dawn factor must be utilized or exploited in any way possible. Thus, some high-ranking members of the New Democracy Party wish to leave open the possibility of a collaboration with Golden Dawn, while others seek to put the blame on Syriza for the actions of the neo-Nazis, being fully aware that a sizable percentage of the Greek population sees the left as posing the greatest threat to their perception of social order. Such is the power of the anti-left sentiment in Greece today, and it is likely to grow stronger as Syriza moves closer to realizing its goal of emerging as the most popular party in Greece and winning the next elections.
The surge of neo-Nazism in Greec certainly would not have been possible without the ongoing economic catastrophe and the social decay caused by the policies of fiscal sadism conceived by the EU and the IMF and enforced by the servile and thoroughly incompetent Greek political establishment in exchange for the bailout loans; but neither would it have materialized had it not been for the presence of a long historical tradition of authoritarianism and fascism in Greece. Golden Dawn also might not have surfaced as a viable political force were it not for the criminal failure of the two major parties (the conservatives and the socialists) since the end of military rule to build a marginally fair and a barely just social order and to use the resources available to the state for true public purposes instead of as bait for ignorant voters and to enrich themselves and their associates.
Greek public reaction to the present crisis (a surge of neo-Nazism on the one hand, political paralysis and passivity by much of the rest the society on the other) probably would have been fundamentally different had the nation’s cultural, political and structural conditions been different. The murder of the anti-fascist rapper has provoked massive protests throughout Greece, so this tragic event could turn out to be a turning point in public consciousness about the real danger that neo-Nazism represents to the nation. Indeed, as Daniel Thomas, political scientist at the University of Leiden, pointed out to me recently, Ireland, which also is experiencing the deep adverse effects of austerity and fiscal sadism, is not experiencing similar developments with neofascist or neo-Nazi movements. Nor is Portugal, I would add. But a core eurozone nation like the Netherlands, on the other hand, has a serious problem with the rise of the extreme right.
Another point of clarification. Golden Dawn in Greece does not qualify as a political party of the extreme right. It is a neo-Nazi party, imitating all the habits and practices of Hitler’s National Socialist German Workers’ Party. It is an outright criminal organization, engaging, among other things, in protection rackets. And like Hitler’s party early on, it is being used by others for various political purposes, including political destabilization.
A major question around Golden Dawn involves the funding of its activities, which lately include efforts to purchase mass media outlets. There is a widespread rumor that it receives substantial financial support from the Greek shipping community. This would come as no surprise to anyone familiar with Greek politics were it proven to be true. In past history, all reactionary political forces in Greece – including the monarchy and the junta – enjoyed the financial support of shipowners. This is a show of their gratitude to Greek democracy for being exempt from paying taxes to the state on their profits.
While it is too early to tell, it is conceivable that the murder of the anti-fascist rapper will cause a shift in the Greek government’s attitude toward Golden Dawn. The party’s activities may now come under scrutiny, especially because the European authorities most likely will exert great pressure on the Greek government to take drastic action against it. What this should mean in practical terms is the government simply enforcing the law against practices of fear, intimidation and violence by individuals or organizations and showing zero tolerance toward the police for failing to do its job in the interest of public order, let alone supporting the actions of Golden Dawn.
While the neo-Nazis won nearly 7 percent of the vote in the 2012 elections, which allowed them to enter the parliament with 21 seats, recent public opinion polls suggest that they may now enjoy as much as 20 percent of the public’s support. Banning the party, as some suggest, could be counterproductive. The Greek people must, above all, rise to the occasion and say no to fascism, Nazism and other similar movements. And the Greek state, even if only this one time, must do the decent thing: show respect for democracy and enforce the rule of law. For it is a shame that the nation that gave birth to democracy is threatened once again by its fascist demons.