Turmoil in Greece continues to trouble the world’s economy and Europe’s union. It’s also bringing up bad memories of the Nazi era. In Greece, the Nazis murdered or starved 300,000 Greeks and destroyed one of the largest and most prosperous Jewish communities in the world. The country took years to recover. Yet last Sunday seven percent of Greeks voted for Chrysi Avgi (Golden Dawn), a political party that enourages fascist salutes and uses a swastika-like symbol as its emblem.
In Der Spiegel, Greek journalist Xenia Kounalaki describes Golden Dawn, which attracted a mere 0.29 percent of voters in the 2009 elections, as an organization of “shaved heads, military uniforms, Nazi chants, [and] Hitler greetings.” Kounalaki compares Greece today to Germany’s Weimar Republic in the 1920s: Pensions and wages have been cut by almost a quarter. Unemployment is at 22 percent; for those under 25, a startling 50 percent. Violence has become commonplace. As Lucy Ash of the BBC reports, downtown Athens has seemed liked “a war zone” for many months. In situations like this, scared and desperate people often turn to extremists for answers. And Golden Dawn is more extreme than most.
Dawn of a new Nazi Age?
Golden Dawn leader Nikolaos Michaloliakos says the party is not neo-Nazi or fascist, but nationalist and patriotic. But its rhetoric is anti-Semitic, anti-Roma and anti-immigrant. Some Greeks accuse Golden Dawn of using Nazi-style fear tactics to intimidate opponents. Kounalaki and other journalists have been publicly threatened for work critical of Golden Dawn. The group also attacked a deputy from the socialist party, PASOK. Just yesterday, WordPress suspended Golden Dawn’s blog for its threatening language. A recent report in the New York Times includes video of Golden Dawn protestors storming a television studio and pelting a journalist with eggs and yogurt; there’s also one of Michaloliakos giving a fascist salute at a meeting of the Athens City Council. The party’s symbol, the meandros, was common in the art, architecture and armor of ancient Greece, but its eerie similarity to the Nazi swastika has troubled many. Greece’s Jews are understandably worried, according to a piece in Haaretz.
Xenophobia on the Rise
Members of Golden Dawn wear tight, black t-shirts and have become notorious for violent attacks on Greece’s growing immigrant population. The party has called on the government to seal the border with landmines in an attempt to stop the flow of immigration, both legal and illegal, into Greece. Greece is an entry point into the richer job markets of western Europe for people from Africa, Asia, and Eastern Europe. Some never leave Greece, and those that do make it to London or Paris, if caught, are deported not to their home countries but back to Athens. Golden Dawn accuses these newcomers of taking jobs away from ethnic Greeks and being involved in crime, prostitution, and the drug trade. According to Kounalaki, mainstream politicians have begun to adopt Golden Dawn’s xenophobic language as the competition for votes heats up. The center-right New Democracy party, for one, has stated it plans to repeal a law granting citizenship to the children of immigrants born in Greece.
New Parties, Few Solutions
Sunday’s fragmented elections revealed widespread anger at New Democracy and the socialist party, PASOK. The two parties have governed Greece without interruption since a U.S.-backed military junta fell in 1974. Al Jazeera’s @BarnabyPhillips tweeted a revealing quote from a man on the streets of Athens: “My father fought Hitler and Mussolini but I’ll vote Chrysi Avgi; the old parties are rotten.”
Golden Dawn was not the only extremist party to gain ground. Its 21 seats in Parliament (out of 300) were actually less than the 26 won by the hard-line Communists. In the end, it may not matter – the top two vote-getters, New Democracy and the leftist party SYRIZA, have failed to form a coalition government, and third-place PASOK looks set to suffer a similar fate. That means new elections will probably be scheduled for early-mid June.
Analysts expect the far-right’s share of the vote to drop, as Greeks look to elect a more moderate and workable coalition. Golden Dawn will most likely remain in Parliament as a fringe party. But its partisans will continue to roam the streets.