In Greece, the fallout from the Eurozone Crisis is beginning to work its way into the public psyche. As political and technocratic blunders become common knowledge, signs of discontent and disillusionment with the established political system are growing. One of the parties to capitalise on this wave of dissatisfaction is the ultra-nationalist and anti-immigration party Golden Dawn. Since 2010, media coverage and public attention has helped Golden Dawn’s profile to rise dramatically.
This essay will address the reasons Golden Dawn have achieved support during the Eurozone Crisis, examining how ultra-nationalism has become prominent in Greek society and politics.
The effect this has is wide-reaching, as American anthropologist Neni Panourgia (2012) notes: “Europe stands on the head of a needle, steeped in a crisis that threatens the foundational premises of democracy, self-determination, and autonomy. Golden Dawn is a European problem, not a limited and containable Greek one.”
Nationalist Parties in Contemporary Europe
Following the actions of the Nazi regime during the Second World War and the Soviet Union during the Cold War, political extremes became a taboo in mainstream western politics, and as a result faded into relative obscurity (Marchetos 2012).
“For many years, extreme right parties had limited political impact. They were not considered as viable coalition or co-operation parties – they were political pariahs. More recently the picture has changed. Extreme right parties have grown in legitimacy and influence, to the extent that they may be on the verge of becoming a “naturalised” part of the European party systems.” – Anders Widfelt
The real change began in recent decades; whereas before they would have remained fairly separate in their own country or region, far-right groups and political parties around Europe have begun to coordinate with each other to legitimise themselves in the eyes of the public, with increasingly sophisticated tactics used in voter baiting. The parties began to utilise polarisation from the mid-1950s onwards, selling themselves as alternatives to ‘corrupt’ or ‘inept’ mainstream politicians , and shifting their political focus towards anti-immigrant and anti-immigration arguments (Von Beyme 1988, Widfeldt 2010).
As Michael Whine (2012) discusses in his chapter Trans-European trends in Right-wing Extremism, interaction and cultural transfers have become common with the development of the internet and communication technology: “We see an emerging pan-European extreme-right identity, which claims to be based on common European histories, identities and cultures in reaction to the increasing presence of new migrants” (ibid, p. 318). This observation from Whine links the focus on anti-immigration policy to a sense of protectionism and exclusion of foreigners, thus emphasising a sense of nationalism.
With the increase in collaborative efforts, it becomes necessary to address why people from various countries would consider the nationalistic vote in the first place.
Ferruh Yilmaz (2011) has theorised that the immigration issue sold by nationalistic parties is a created problem; people do not respond to it because they are reacting to the problem of immigration, but because the right has framed it as a problem. By turning foreigners, particularly immigrants, into an alien threat, there is a basis for cause of alienation from the sovereign population. “The populist right managed to frame media debates, via ongoing moral panics around immigrants’ ‘cultural’ behaviours, in such a way that political parties of all persuasions are forced to respond continually to ever fresh scandals and intentional provocations. They thus tacitly accept the premises for these so-called debates” (ibid, p.377). This seems close to the state of affairs in Greece, where there has, for a long time, been high immigration levels without a similar sense of antagonism.
The rhetoric has changed from a fanatical-ideological basis towards a stance against immigration levels. This is basically along the same lines of the usual far-right ideology – there is an ‘us’ and a ‘them’ – though the debate can continue indefinitely.
Golden Dawn is best understood as an ultra-nationalist party. While the term ‘right-wing’ varies between political spheres, the right tends to follow a format of hierarchical power, rather than the socialist-memorandum that Golden Dawn advocates, as seen on their website. Many have alluded to the group as a neo-Nazi party as their appeal to voters comes from nationalistic rhetoric.
It then becomes necessary to address and understand why people support ultra-nationalist and/or anti-immigration parties: how much of this is a protest vote, how much belief is actually invested in the ideals put forward, and how this is relevant to the current situation in Greece.
The Political Climate in Greece
In many ways, Greek politics never completely recovered from the military junta-rule from 1967-74, often referred to as the ‘Regime of the Colonels’. The effects of the junta still resonate in Greek politics and society; a “large number of the population still retain the living memory of the military junta, and this perhaps explains why support for Golden Dawn is at particularly low ebb among the elderly” (McKenna 2013).
However, it has been argued that the level of authoritarianism developed during the junta still lingers in various public service sectors, the most prominent being the military and the police. It has been alluded to that “there is a tradition of authoritarianism in parts of the Greek police, which dates back to the time of the military Junta and beyond” (Philips 2012). Golden Dawn’s founder and leader Nikolaos Michaloliakos “met the leaders of the military junta in jail. [Golden Dawn] was founded in 1985 under a direct order from the imprisoned leader of the Greek junta, George Papadopoulos” (Panourgia 2012).
At the time of writing, Golden Dawn is polling as the third party in Greece. The disillusionment with established political parties comes into play; the two main parties, New Democracy and the PanHellenic Socialist Movement (PASOK) – both of which are largely blamed for the economic crisis – have suffered greatly at the polls. After the May 2012 elections resulted in a hung parliament, follow-up elections ended with no party winning a majority vote.
With the troika and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) imposing increasingly harsher austerity measures on Greece, requiring them to cut public services, wages, and benefits, many Greeks consider themselves the scapegoats of the crisis, blamed for the blunders of northern Europe and a corrupt financial system. As historian Robert Paxton (2005) says, this lays out the ideal ground for fascism (ibid, p. 218).
The Greek government, in an attempt to draw attention away from the problems caused by austerity have come to place much attention on the high immigration levels in Greece, particularly in the centre of Athens. With immigration in the spotlight, and with the economic situation and austerity worsening the lives of many ordinary citizens in Greece, this has given Golden Dawn the opportunity and a strong foothold to establish themselves.
Immigration Levels in Greece
Greece has one of the highest immigrant populations in Europe per capita (Kasamis 2012). “Widely seen as the easiest entry point to the west, Greece has had a surge of new arrivals, with government figures showing more than 100 migrants daily crossing the country’s porous border with Turkey. The majority go to Athens, a magnet for migrants desperate to find work before moving on to other parts of Europe. An estimated million immigrants are believed to live in Greece where the population is barely 11 million” (Smith 2012).
Facing public pressure, the new government attempted to distract the people from the austerity measures by drawing their focus to the immigration levels. In an interview with the New York Times in September 2012, Prime Minister Samaras said “that “waves of illegal immigrants” were sweeping through Greece, a “major problem” that would worsen if Syria imploded and more refugees entered Turkey and then Greece. “Illegal immigrants have taken over Athens,” he said, causing a “public health problem” and a rise in crime” (Donadio and Alderman 2012). The interview came shortly after a crackdown on illegal immigrants began in Athens throughout August, where police detained over 7,000 immigrants and arrested 2,000, most of whom were of African or Asian descent (Smith 2012).
Amid these crackdowns, Golden Dawn has been widely considered as a proactive arbiter in tackling the issue. There have been documented cases of varying degrees of support for Golden Dawn, from neutrality to outright support, and many now consider anti-immigration activities as beneficial to Greece. This has given Golden Dawn a solid footing in the Greek socio-political sphere (Mason 2012; Smith 2012; Philips 2012).
The Support for Golden Dawn
Golden Dawn has seen a surge in support since November 2011; “Golden Dawn is suddenly everywhere. Its eight local offices at election time have become 60 nationwide” (Mason 2012). It has been speculated that the main target audience of Golden Dawn is the working class, or those vulnerable to the austerity measures (McKenna 2012). With wages facing increasing cuts and unemployment levels at 26%, Golden Dawn have used this to their advantage: “Every foreign worker equals a Greek unemployed: Deportation of all the illegal immigrants mean hundreds of thousands of new jobs for the Greeks. Since 1993 the newspaper “Golden Dawn” circulated with this slogan in the front page” (Golden Dawn International website).
Golden Dawn has become something of a ‘Robin Hood’ figure to many in Greece. Party activists have recently begun handing out free food in Athens to people struggling financially, though they are only eligible to receive the food if they produce their Greek citizenship card (BBC online video, 2012). This is a perfect example of Golden Dawn’s tactics: portraying a cultivated image of concern for its people with a basis of xenophobia.
The violence perpetrated against immigrants by Golden Dawn activists, sympathisers and affiliates is well known, and growing as the party works its way into mainstream consciousness. “The group has been implicated in torture cases, and for inciting a wave of racial violence sweeping the country. ‘Violence is getting wilder and wilder and we still have the same pattern of attacks… committed by groups of people in quite an organized way,’ Kostis Papaioannou, former head of the Greek National Commission for Human Rights told AP (Associated Press). Out of the 18 MPs selected in June to represent the Golden Dawn in parliament, four are under investigation for violent attacks and have been stripped of their parliamentary immunity” (Russia Today 2012).
The numerous attacks on immigrants have also seen party members with apparent immunity from prosecution. This highlights the ever-growing evidence that Golden Dawn has high support among the police force in Greece.
“There is a feeling among some Greek policemen, working on the rundown streets of central Athens, that “my enemy’s enemy is my friend”. The police feel overwhelmed by the influx of immigrants, and they also feel hostility from anarchist and leftist groups. In some neighbourhoods, they will see Golden Dawn as a more sympathetic alternative.” – Barnaby Philips
Mainstream Greek media has also been slow to address the violence perpetrated, focusing on the party’s communitarian work as a way to relive the pressures of austerity from their audience, at times going as far to describe Golden Dawn as legitimising democracy (Chatzistefanou 2012; Margaronis 2012).
Young Greeks are also heavily affected by the current political and economic climate. Youth unemployment in Greece was recorded at 55.4% at the end of 2012 (Eurostat 2012), and has been coupled with a feeling of being abandoned, stigmatised and threatened by the state and the authorities (Tsimitakis 2013).
This conflict between Greek youth and the police force properly began in 2008 when 15-year-old Alexandros Grigoropoulos was shot dead by two police officers in central Athens. This resulted in riots throughout the city, which cost the lives of three people when a bank was burnt down. The violence in 2008 became a precursor to the anti-austerity riots which were a regular occurrence throughout 2010-12. As the riots gained international media attention, they served to polarise and lessen the credibility of both anarchist groups and those wishing for a legitimate protest (Kitsantonis 2010).
This highlights the differing attitudes of the police to each political group; Golden Dawn members who have been arrested for violence have not been berated or used as a warning to other nationalists in such a way (Tsimitakis 2013).
This situation is easy for Golden Dawn to play off; they can adopt a ‘with us or against us’ stance with Greek youths, and are widely seen by many as the only political group offering a solution to the immigration problem (Mason 2012; Smith 2012; Philips 2012).
Golden Dawn have managed, as Yilmaz (2011) alluded to, to mobilised support in Greek communities – and perhaps even the authorities – by instilling in the minds of the people that there is an immigration problem, one which only they are able to counter.
Golden Dawn to no longer be considered as a fringe movement, and now hold real sway on the political outcome in Greece and therefore Europe. Following the format of other nationalistic groups they have maintained the focus on immigration, and in its current climate Greece is a fertile ground to build upon. The IMF-imposed austerity measures are due to last into the foreseeable future, and with the right strategies and tactics, Golden Dawn can easily direct the public anger they have caused against the migrant communities.
As the Newsnight’s Economic Editor Paul Mason (2012) described; “What I have seen on the streets of Athens convinces me this is not rhetoric. The situation is changing rapidly. There is a violent far-right party, its MPs committing and inciting violence with impunity; a police force that cannot or will not prevent Golden Dawn from projecting uniformed force on the streets. And a middle class that feels increasingly powerless to turn the situation round.”
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