Nazis in Greece; Can't Wish them Away

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Greece
Europe
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We Can Do ItThe 21st of April is a bleak anniversary for Greece; it marks the rise of a military dictatorship lasting from 1967 until 1974.  Today the country finds itself with an extreme right wing party within Parliament and approval ratings between 10%-15%.  This often makes it the 3d largest political party in the country (depending on the polls).  Initial hopes classifying this as a vote of protest have been both wrong and overly optimistic.  This appears to be the expression of bad Greek politics (from top to bottom); future evolution of the political debate scene and political co-ordination are required. 

Golden Dawn received almost 7% of the total votes in the 2012 elections.  Analysts were quick to classify this as a protest vote and/ or a European trend.  Harsh austerity measures and unpopular policy often see voters turn to extreme political poles.  But with the party breaking ground at the bottom level it  seems that there is something much more disturbing and sinister going on.

First, there is a pretension that this turn to the extreme right is brand new for Greek political standards; it isn’t.  The right wing has always had a strong populist section which often bordered with the extreme.  Historical context puts Greece’s left and right in an endless brutal and dirty pit against each other. This has pushed political opposites to the extremes.

The dictatorship in Greece lasted 7 years.  Established under the pretence of “Greeks cannot be Communists"; but more of a part2 of the civil war with heavy sprinkles of Soviet vs. West influence over the region.  Many people were tortured during these seven years, some died and many were sent on to little islands in exile under the excuse of being lefty.  The whole thing ended in 1974; but Greek politics have not evolved much since the early 80s.  Two major parties (PASOK; ND) have worked as catch-all parties incorporating multiple issues across policy fields on their agenda.  This has been detrimental in the long term as the political scene/ debate in the country stagnated.  To make things worst both parties followed West European patterns moving towards similar directions.  The smaller parties in the equation had little incentive to gear up the political debate as a skewed electoral system gives considerable more weight to the two first parties. 

In addition, Greek society has a strong conservative component.  Same sex marriage does not exist (civil partnership does but is only a recent addition); the State and Church have not been divided (Church property remains un-taxed).  School books present a skewed view of the country which echoes the propaganda of the 1920s. They still refer to an international city with the name it had 600 years ago during the Byzantine empire; Constantinople.  There is an insistence on Greek historical ties to ancient Greece (not much there besides a common geographical area) rather the contemporary historical developments.  Greece is one of the most difficult countries in the EU to obtain citizenship.

Golden Dawn (GD) has thrived in this environment.  Acting as a one issue party focusing solely on immigration it has largely pinned the entire crisis in Greece on to illegal immigrants taking the jobs of Greeks or stealing Greeks at the neighbourhood kevek.  Of course all this is a much more eloquent description of a crew of thugs that have formed patrols that search and beat immigrants and males not “manly” enough; "for Greece".  The party openly both in its promo material and events advocates hate speech against minorities such as gays, jews, blacks (just pick one, any one). And are in open communication/ co-ordination with Nazi parties across Europe, this included a visit of Germany's banned NPD head members. Hence this is not just your everyday right wing party with e.g. an strong anti-imigration component.  This is a crew of Nazi thugs.

Initially political parties (and the public) thought they could wish this one away.  They could not and did not.  Recently there have been some voices attempting to block GDs activity such as Thessaloniki’s progressive mayor who has called for a fight against the party in light of the anniversary of the 21st of April. Unfortunately political parties in Greece have opted for continuing the same debate they have pretended to be having the past 20 years.  Left vs. Right wing arguments straight out of the freezer and into the media microwave.  Even if PASOK has imploded its position and 1980s line of argumentation, have been essentially taken over by SYRIZA (currently main opposition party and 2nd largest). 

The results of recent polls for a popular newspaper (Eleutherotypia) show that 30% of the people asked thought that “Things were better during the dictatorship”.  These results might be an overstatement and do not necessarily show a causal effect regarding politics and how things are/ were.  But the fact of the matter is that: i) this is very (very) disturbing; ii) going directly against or even shutting down the party for hate speech will not make the problem go away.  First, a head on clash would rub off legitimacy on to a Nazi gang; second “Never argue with an idiot; he will bring you down to his level and win from experience.”  More importantly his this does not deal with the underlying deeper ideological issues.  These are ideals entrenched; lurking in the shadows of the darker corners of the Greek social psyche. 

Can’t Wish Them Away

To get rid of structurally built-in undemocratic values much more than a few condemnations are necessary.  Courses in schools need to be updated; more critical thinking in them would be useful.  Political parties should take a stance to increase the quality of the overall debate and promote through their discourse democratic ideals.  Further transparency would help raise confidence in Institutions; Greece does not do very well either according to Transparency International. Open political debates should be further promoted from top to bottom in order to get things going and indicate that pinning a financial crisis onto a minority is simply idiotic. Symbolism matters as well; spending 5% of GDP on military spending and just 3% on education is indicative of the country's priorities.

Ironically Greece, the country that allegedly invented democracy, needs to be reminded the value of democracy.

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