Guest Contributor Vasilis Migkos offers an in-depth analysis of Greece’s Golden Dawn neo-Nazi party and how to make them less appealing to Greek society.
Everything started a very long time ago in Greece. Back to 1940’s at the period that Greece was violently invaded and occupied by Germany (April 1941 – October 1944). The German invasion succeeded the failed attempt of fascist Italy to occupy Greece. It was at that time the Nazism appeared in Greece. Although the vast majority of Greeks fought bravely against the Germans and struggled against the occupation, there was a small minority who cooperated with German administration, acting against their fellow citizens. These people, with the aid of the Nazi regime, earned privileges, protection and, of course, money at the expense of other Greeks.
After the liberation of Greece, paradoxically, these people were never punished. On the contrary, they enjoyed their big fortunes, created by dirty means during the occupation and got actively involved in social and economic life of Greece. Betrayers, black marketers, blackmailers, snitches and some of them murderers, had the chance to become stronger and remained unpunished.
In 1967, when the military coup occurred in Greece, a new generation of fascists came to the surface, assisted by the old ones. The new generation collaborated closely with the military regime till its collapse in 1974. The way and the methods were almost same as it happened during the Nazi occupation. Privileges, power, money and protection. Democracy was, of course, paralyzed and human rights were violated. People were pushed to exile, tortured and killed during the 7-year Greek Dictatorship.
Golden Dawn is the main nationalist extremist party in Greece nowadays. It is very well known for its radical ideas, violent methods and provocative behaviors. It was created in 1980 and its initial aim was to publish the homonymous magazine. The principles of the movement were absolutely neo-Nazi with hymns to Hitler and propaganda in favor of the superiority of the Aryan race. It was strange though, because like-minded extremists in Germany were fond of killing immigrants, especially Greeks and Turks who traditionally can be found in Germany in vast numbers and are considered to be inferior to the locals. Recently there was a trial of a member of the National Socialistic Underground of Germany, a woman who was involved in the murder of 8 Turks, 1 Greek and a police officer, during the period 2000 – 2007.
At the beginning, Golden Dawn had absolutely no power in Greece. It was a very small group of people that participated in the Yugoslav War (alongside the Serbs) and tried to get involved in the “Macedonian Issue” at the beginning of 1990s, when nationalism in Greece had risen against its neighboring country the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (F.Y.R.O.M.) which claimed the name “Macedonia” to be the official name of its state. However, despite the tension in the relationships of Greece with its neighbors (mainly Turkey, Albania and F.Y.R.O.M.), Golden Dawn had little impact on Greek politics. I must mention that, traditionally, Greek society on average was a leftist one. The Greek Left was always strong and present at the social and political movements of the country and the European Union (EU).
Although Greece has been a member of the EU since 1981, the transformation of Greek society and political life went wrong. Since 1974, two political parties have succeeded each other in the governance of the country. The socialists (PASOK) and the liberal right wing party (Nea Dimokratia). Their way of governance established totally wrong ethics in political and social life of Greece. Nepotism, opacity and corruption became such a usual phenomenon in Greek daily life, especially in politics. Each party was trying to promote their people, the public sector became huge and the wages of the civil servants were unreasonably increased.
At the same time, Greeks were enjoying an impressive improvement in their standard of living, able to consume more and more, linking their social status to the cost and the amount of the products they were buying, including houses and cars. Nepotism had penetrated in almost every aspect of their lives. It was a common secret that “if you don’t have good connections, you cannot do anything”. That was true. This system was so well constructed and enlarged, that if someone wanted to enjoy even the simplest things, such as finding a job, he should become part of this system and ask for the assistance of a politician or an important person in the local community. At that time, in the 1990s, Greece faced its first serious immigration problem. After the collapse of communists’ regime, massive waves of illegal immigrants from Albania were coming to Greece. Poor and desperate and most of them uneducated, it was logical that crime rates would become higher after their entrance in Greece. After the bankruptcy of Albania, Albanian prisons were opened and Albanian criminals were set free while at the same time the military equipment (guns and bullets) were looted. Many of them came to Greece, armed and illegal and continued their action in a country which was traditionally the wealthiest among the Balkans. This was the first time that racism appeared in Greece. It was because of all these incidents that many among the Greeks created a stereotype about Albanians, who are supposed to be criminals and thieves.
Problems also existed at the eastern borders, where territorial disputes were poisoning Greek-Turkish relations. In 1996, Greece and Turkey almost went to war because of a dispute related over two tiny Aegean islands. The war was prevented at the very last moment. At the same time, Turkish intervention in Thrace, the oppression of the minorities of the two countries and the “eternal” Cyprus issue kept always alive the fear of a possible Greek – Turkish war that could erupt at any time between the two countries.
Under those circumstances, someone would expect that Greek nationalism and Golden Dawn would rise. This didn’t happen though. The only instances that Golden Dawn appeared in public life was the demonstrations organized in memory of the three Greek members of a military helicopter pilot who died in the background of the crisis and the prosecution and trial of a member of Golden Dawn, Antonis Androutsopoulos, known as “Periandros” after the violent attack by him and his group against Dimitris Kousouris in 1998. The percentages of Golden Dawn in the elections were extremely low and its impact on Greek society was of no importance.
Things changed rapidly after the economic crisis emerged. The sudden change in Greece at all levels, political, economic, social and cultural, made Greeks wake up from a dream they were living in since 1974 when Democracy was reestablished in the country after the collapse of Junta. Or, better said, was supposed to have been reestablished. The dramatic reductions of the wages, the massive dismissals and the tremendous increase of crime rates, ruined the normal, quiet life of Greeks who, on average, were able to spend money, consume, travel and generally enjoy the goods of capitalism. The scandals that were revealed remained unpunished with a very few exceptions. The sense of injustice grew among Greeks. Some people, who played important political and economic role in Greece, were proved or rumored to have stolen huge amounts of money and participated in countless scandals. Very few of them were prosecuted.
People felt betrayed. No one ever told them about the perils of Greek economy, no one ever cared really about the destiny of Greek economy. Both of the parties that were altering in power, were constantly trying to give more and more to their people, in order to gain votes and secure their reelection. People, on the other hand, learned to expect more and more from their governments, and were disappointed if someone talked about the need of austerity measures and regularization of the economy, although it could easily be foreseen that this abnormal kind of economy would, sooner or later, collapse. Until today, the number one demand among the Greeks is Justice: Punishment of the perpetrators and confiscation of their properties. It is very well known that, if the Greek government had the courage to punish say 50 people (politicians and businessmen) and prosecute those who systematically don’t pay taxes (I am talking about professional debtors who owe huge amounts of money), Greece could pay all or almost all of its debt. Punishment of banks is also a great demand in Greece, because their unreasonable funding policies led them very close to bankruptcy and the Greek government spent a huge amount of money in order to save them. Money that normally could (and should) be spent for the payment of the debt.
The political system seems unwilling or unable to punish and distribute justice. Traditional political powers were now seen as the bricks of the same dirty wall. Thus, Golden Dawn appeared. They showed muscles, discipline, power, decisiveness and followed the typical strategy of all neo-nazi parties around the world. They accused immigrants of the high crime rates and unemployment of the locals. They presented themselves as the “cleaners”, the strong muscled guys who want and are able to “clean” the country by kicking immigrants out of the borders and punishing the politicians who stole money.
At this point I should also mention the strange role of media and the immigration problem. The presence of Golden Dawn in Greek media became almost daily. People got used to watching scenes of violence. Muscles and militarism became a lifestyle. The flags, the ceremonies, the symbols and the outraged extremists became attractive to those who were feeling angry, desperate and disappointed. Lack of education and of a minimal standard of political analysis gave a place to Golden Dawn in peoples’ minds, while, at the same time, none of the political parties made a clear and effective suggestion about how the problem of illegal migration problem of Greece could be solved. The position of the country (neighboring with Asia), the NATO wars and several conflicts brought thousands of desperate people to Greece, in their attempt to enter EU, in order to find a better future.
That’s why we reached the point that a neo-Nazi political party managed to get so much support in the last election in a country that was traditionally leftist, a country that is historically bonded with democracy, a country that fought and achieved victory against fascist Italy during World War II, fought bravely and was occupied and devastated by Nazis in 1941, a country that has countless cemeteries full of bones of people who were killed fighting Nazism and Fascism.
The recent arrests of some of the leading member of Golden Dawn and the imprisonment of their general leader, after the murder of Greek leftist Hip Hop artist by a fan of Golden Dawn, showed to people the structure and the way of action of this party. Guns, Nazi flags and objects and several things were found in the houses of the leading members of the party. Their prosecution of those people is something that may be legally correct, but not so much effective when it comes to the struggle against the roots of the problem. As it happened in Germany, Italy and other countries, fascism and Nazism rely on fear which, combined with ignorance, leads to hate.
How can this change?
Active citizenship through education with the adoption of a transparent way of governance under the umbrella of justice: Greeks were familiarized with the distorted idea that politics is something strange, full of dirtiness and not something that they should actively get involved, not something that they should really be concerned about. Politics were identified with opacity and corruption and was totally unattractive for the masses which, however, were strongly willing to get fanatics for a party and follow someone who promised to them privileges, job and money. It has been a vicious circle, feeding more and more the monster of nepotism and cultivating the ethics of competition and individualism. Greeks should be taught that politics is something they should actively be involved. So we need education. We also need the sense of injustice to be restored. We need decisive measures for the punishment of the perpetrators and the establishment of transparency and substantive legality. There must be a wide campaign with the aid of media, social networks and activist actions. I am afraid though, that it is extremely hard for this to work under the circumstances of crisis and strict austerity measures. This is not only about Greece. It is also about EU and the whole world.