Nazis in Greece; Blood on Our Hands

The World


Tuesday night just before midnight Pavlos Fyssas aged 34, hip-hop and graffiti artist known for his anti-fascist/ nazi activity was stabbed and killed by a 45 year old known to be hanging often at the local Golden Dawn (GD) party office, in the area of Keratsini in Athens.  Some recent reports suggest he was under their pay roll.  This event has sparked a series of protests across Greece that are filled with outrage, rather than shock.  Political parties have moved to condemn the act, but perhaps too little too late.  This sad event marks the peak of progressively escalating violence of GD and the absence of strong counter activity at the political and public level.  The reaction of the Greek public both in Greece but also outside of it is remarkable.  However, the repercussions that ensue risk further polarization of the social fabric as well as further deterring Greece from addressing the underlying factors behind this action and the rise of neo-Nazism in Greece.

GD has always been a group of thugs presenting themselves as a political group.  It has a weird mixture of nationalism, an obsession with national purity, an open disbelief to democracy and insights hatred speech as a default.  There is absolutely no characteristic that can legitimize this group as a political one.  If anything one could argue that this is an anti-political/ anti-democratic group that does not believe in democracy or the constitution.  However, as they used to receive fewer than 1,000 votes little attention was paid to them.  Their irrelevance however disappeared with the beginning of the crisis and the implementation of austerity measures.  It empowered the group giving it 7% of the total vote in the last elections (and until recently had a 14% in gallop polls).  However, it would be wrong to attribute austerity measures and the crisis as the causal mechanism for the growing popularity of these particular thugs.  It has been the catalyst.

On the contrary we should explore the reasons behind massive protests in Greece during the past 4 years and in particular the public disbelief in the political system.  While up until the crisis, budgets running in red (but well hidden) and EU funds offered Greece and Greeks an inflated high living standard.  Political discussions and ideology progressed very little since the mid-90s.  In fact one could even argue that they regressed back into mid-80s.  Politics took (and continue to resemble) the format of debates of fans of opposite football teams.  That is to say, voters and Members of Parliament (MPs) of New Democracy and the PanHellenic Socialist Movement (PASOK) (today replaced by SYRIZA) fought over gaining more voters by either hiring as many people as possible to the public sector or (even worst) turning a blind eye to illegalities ranging from the construction of illegal houses, to the illegalities of public companies/ universities, illegalities of private companies, the flooding of financial markets with inflated liquidity (consumer loans for vacations for example with little collateral).  In such an environment political ideology, meritocracy and politics were irrelevant.

When the crisis hit the response should have been one driven by political argument. However, the political numbness and lethargy of the past years made such a response impossible.  Instead the political and public debates revolved around cuts vs. no cuts; or around who should be facing cuts and who should not.  In the sterile environment where Members of Parliament could not; would not; and did not respond coherently the public lost its small, and bought out, faith in political parties.  The austerity cuts and the absence of a protective social net pushed large groups into poverty.  Here enters GD that provided anti-political/ austerity/ EU rhetoric utilizing politicians and immigrants as a scapegoat.  Moreover, with flashy “food-only-for-Greeks” events it wooed in the most deprived and most angry.  These people did not necessarily understand the extent of what they were voting for or the events they were attending; but it was a louder and more active and coherent reaction than that of other parties.  Similar to the Le Pen case in France, the protest vote boosted the right wing that took in votes from the extreme left but also the populist right (in Greece ND) which was considered (and validly) one of the main actors behind the crisis.

The past two years GD has progressively become more aggressive and violent.  Reports poured in of immigrants being beaten up by squads of youngsters that wear the banner of the group.  Thus the thugs generated more thugs since a reaction at the political level has been consciously and maliciously absent.  ND has been utilizing GD as a counterweight to the extreme left while it has refused to shut it down through legislation (until now) hoping that eventually its followers will fall back into their natural habitat; its extreme right wing.  Interesting fact; many of its MPs have argued that it should openly align with GD.  While some of it MPs and ministers are known to have been members of extreme right wing groups.  PASOK as a member of the coalition government has pretended to act upon this but has done little in reality.  Its imploded public approval leaves little resources for manoeuvres.  SYRIZA currently the second largest party in the Greek\ parliament moved into a different direction.  It struck an informal alliance with the Independent Greeks (IG) a political group that shows less Nazi like characteristics but also appears under a light anti-politics/ anti-EU frame.  Needless to say immigration runs top on its agenda.  Finally the Communist party remains in oblivion; Marxist analysis can model quite a few things but Nazis should just be outright condemned.  But as it hopes that a section it has lost to them will come back, it is less vocal as it could/ should be. 

From a political campaign strategic point of view one could argue that this has been very effective for all parties.  However, hatred speech and the polarization of Greek politics, public discussion and society are not a game.  The repercussions can be very harsh.  In a weird way, analysts may have jumped the gun when after the election of ND in 2004 they moved in to argue that the post-74’ cycle had come to an end.  The left-right divide Greece faced head on after World War II and that led to a bloody civil war that killed a few hundred thousand people in just a few years is not over.  The cleavages run deep and across policy issues.

This is where the Greek public, us, bear the blame.  We should have reacted to this entire situation years ago much before the crisis started.  We should have reacted if not for the absence of meritocracy, because are bellies were full, at least to the mistreatment of other human beings.  For the immigrants that came to Greece and were (and still are) used (not employed) for harsh manual labour.  They built stadiums for the Olympics and collect our strawberries in Peloponnese today.  We should have at least reacted when some in the Greek public thought it was a good idea to vote for Nazis, or ask our MPs to do something.  We did not.  Perhaps on the more abstract level we should have been honest with ourselves and pushed the political discussion forward when this whole thing started, even at the coffee-shop level.  At the end of the day a country’s parliament and its political system are the reflection of its own society.  If there’s something you do not like in this system it’s because something is not working within the Greek society.  That is the perception of "anything goes" and "hustle though neighbour".  From not paying our taxes to feeding the Commission fake stats.  The American dream (which is out of date even for the US) has become in a perverse way the Greek dream; do anything to make a quick buck.

Dealing with this problem has therefore a long way to go.  But shutting down a Nazi-thug-organization should be the first thing on the list.  France and Germany dealt with similar problems the same way.  It is important to note that this does not solve the roots of the problem but does reduce the horrifying adverse effects. 

The effects of Fyssas’ murder might go either way.  On the one hand it might cause a social eruption that will polarize Greece to the extent that it risks losing its (poor) political balance shooting us back into the 1960s.  The country will further lose track of its need for future plans and move into angry debates of its dark past.  This would be destructive.  On the other hand, (and I hope it’s this one) it may be the last human sacrifice needed in order for the wake up alarm to sound across the country.  It’s likely that this murder will now force us to open our eyes and more importantly deal with the underlying absence of political direction.

The Greek crisis is at its root a political crisis.  Discussions on debt reduction or deficit reduction are irrelevant as the absence of political drive will make any economic improvement only a timely (bubble) fashion that will soon again (be pricked to) follow yet another downward spiral restarting the current situation all over again (remember the late 80s early 90s kids?).  Until Greece pushes on towards an honest discussion with itself Fyssas’ blood, and all the victims’ his murder represents, is on our hands.

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