Greek fascists prosper as austerity bites

Dark hour: Golden Dawn members give out food – but only to ‘true Greeks’ © Getty Images

As the Eurozone crisis plunges Greece into unemployment, unrest and poverty, far-right party Golden Dawn are reaping the benefits. Is history repeating itself?

Greece has been brought low by the crisis days of Europe. Today, one in four Greeks – and half the country’s young people – are unemployed; austerity has meant poverty for thousands, and the streets are plagued with riots.

Now, this real-life Greek tragedy is threatening to revive another historical spectre: fascism. Between 2009 and June 2012, far-right party Golden Dawn expanded its share of the vote from 0.29% to 7%. Today, it has 18 parliamentary seats, and polls suggest support has risen to 14%.

In Athens, hundreds of young men in black t-shirts salute at the rallies, chanting ‘Blood! Honour! Golden Dawn!’. The party preaches a strident nationalism: its symbol is reminiscent of the Nazi Swastika.

‘Golden Dawn’s target is simple,’ says one leading member. ‘We want the absolute majority in parliament so we can replace the constitution with our own. It will then be easy to immediately arrest and deport all illegal immigrants.’

The party has cleverly exploited hardship. It blames immigrants for Greece’s troubles, and suggests getting rid of them is an easy solution. Members distribute food to hungry people, and help the elderly. One popular – and unverified – story tells of a family that find their home squatted by immigrants. The police call Golden Dawn, who leave the house empty, clean and repainted.

There are darker tactics. Party thugs beat up ethnic minorities, political rivals and gay people. Worryingly, the violence has lead to greater popularity: support surged after a member slapped a left-wing, female rival on live TV, and some experts now say Golden Dawn could take 30% of the vote.

Prime Minister Antonis Samaras is one of many voices to liken modern Greece to Germany’s Weimar Republic, which collapsed in the early 1930s. In the economic chaos that followed the Treaty of Versailles and the Wall Street Crash, far right parties enjoyed huge popularity.

In Italy and Germany they triumphed, winning over millions with nationalist visions and scapegoating of minorities. Then, under Hitler, the Nazis perpetrated one of the biggest genocides of human history.

History repeating

What a terrible warning, many say. The perfect storm of hardship, poverty and extremism now brewing in Greece has been seen before. Unless we do away with the systems and injustices that created this mess, Europe will face the same kind of tragedy again.

What an unhelpful interpretation, others argue. Sure, there are similarities with the past, but people have learnt lessons, and will use them to come to better solutions today. Though humans are inclined to see patterns, it is foolish and fatalistic to argue the small steps of progress do not make a difference to the present day.

You Decide

  1. In modern Greece, are we seeing the rise of the Nazi Party all over again?
  2. What are world leaders more likely to do: ignore the lessons of history, or overplay its warnings?

Activities

  1. Design a poster encouraging people to take a stand against fascism and racist rhetoric in politics.
  2. Create a graphic that shows the similarities between the situation in Greece today, and the rise of Germany’s Nazi Party.

Some People Say...

“All politics is a protection racket.”

What do you think?

Q & A

Is this only happening in Greece?
Absolutely not. All over Europe, pundits have noticed an increase in the influence of far-right parties. In France, for example, the popularity ofFront National France’s right-wing party, led by Marine Le Pen, has surged recently, as have groups in Finland and Greece. But they haven’t been booming everywhere – and where they have, the right’s popularity has been accompanied by an increase of radical left-wing parties.
Why?
Hardship frequently pushes people to further political extremes – and there is plenty of it around. Governments everywhere are making big cuts, causing joblessness and fewer public services; the private sector, too, is struggling. That makes people more critical of things like immigration.

Word Watch

Immigrants
Because of its location at the gateway to Europe, Greece has an unusually high immigrant population – one million, in a country of 11 million. These minorities have also been adversely affected by the economic crisis, and many have turned to crime, fuelling xenophobia and racism toward immigrants as a class.
The Police call
Some sources, most of whom choose to remain anonymous, have reported that the police have started to ‘outsource’ work to Golden Dawn, calling the party to deal with problems involving immigrants, for example. Others believe that authorities have historically turned a blind eye to the far-right party and its violence, because it controls elements in society, such as the radical left, that may be threatening to governments.
Political rivals
Both Golden Dawn and the Nazis presented the Communist Party, and other left-wing activists, as serious threats that had the potential to instigate a revolution and bring down society. This technique exploits the fears of middle class people and business owners who often feel their prosperity would be threatened by lower-class workers demanding more.
Treaty of Versailles
The Treaty of Versailles established the terms of peace after World War One. It insisted that Germany accept responsibility for the war, and demanded that it give up some of its territory and pay reparations to victorious countries like Britain, France and America. The burden of this, and the bitterness that it fostered among Germans, is thought to have contributed to the rise of Hitler.

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