The ongoing crackdown on Golden Dawn, Greece’s neo-Nazi gang, is convincing: several MPs, including its leader, and senior party members have been arrested on charges of homicide, attempted homicide, money laundering, blackmail, grievous bodily harm, and other serious crimes. Also, Greek Parliament is set to vote a law pulling state funding from Golden Dawn or any other party whose leaders have been involved in similar criminal activities.
However, it is too early to speak of a Golden Dawn ”twilight.” We need to bear in mind that we are not talking about a typical far-right party, even by the stretched standards of European extremism. Numerous members of “Chryssi Avgi,” as it is called in Greek, casually exchange Nazi salutes among themselves and have been involved in deadly attacks against immigrants and activists, with 34-year-old rapper Pavlos Fyssas being just the latest tragic casualty on a long list of victims. The judicial crackdown that has been unfolding over the last few days shows that the country’s authorities had enough incriminating evidence to go after Golden Dawn much earlier. The fact that it took the murder of a Greek citizen to motivate them while earlier incidents, mainly involving immigrants, went largely unpunished is a troubling observation.
The infiltration of extremists in the country’s police and military forces is even more alarming: several senior police officers, including two leadership-rank officials, have been forced to resign or were stripped of their duties over the last two weeks as a result of the investigation into Golden Dawn. The same happened with the head of the counter-espionage unit of the Greek Intelligence Agency, while two police officers were also arrested on Saturday, together with the Golden Dawn MPs. Extremists are also to be found in the ranks the Greek armed forces, with the union of the special forces' reservists essentially calling for a coup d’ etat a few days ago. The call seemed to be serious enough for the chief prosecutor of the country’s highest court to convene an emergency evening meeting. Due to the sensitivity of the issue, involving high-ranking echelons of the security establishment, we may never know how deep the cancer has spread. What is certain though is that this “anomaly” is almost unique in the EU, a corner of this planet where democracy and the rule of law were thought to be safe from “uniformed interventions.” Yet decisive action is only being taken now – and it is long overdue.
The most serious question, however, is why hundreds of thousands of Greeks wanted to vote for this party, which never made any effort to hide its true face. A few days before the national elections of June 17, 2012, the spokesperson of Golden Dawn had physically assaulted and harassed two leftists MPs, live on television. Polls showed that party support went up right after the event, not down. Nor can Greeks claim that they were not aware that the MPs they elected into Parliament are Nazis. After all, many have tattoos of the Swastika on their chests. In fact, even after the murder of Pavlos Fyssas, and despite the fact that there was compelling evidence that Golden Dawn was involved in the incident, the party was still polling in third place, albeit weakened. Before the murder, there were even analysts predicting that the fascists would get second place in next May’s European Parliament elections, since their party was already polling at 15 percent of the electoral body. Also, 22 percent of Golden Dawn supporters responded in a recent poll that they voted for it because of its Nazi ideology. Nowhere else in Europe do pollsters report a similar prevalence of fascist ideals.
Obviously, the crisis was instrumental in the resurgence of extremism. Next time they discuss Greece, EU leaders should be aware that there are limits to how much you can impose on a democratic society before it implodes. The events of the last weeks are a tragic reminder of the shadow of extremism gathering around us. Nevertheless, the fact that there are no popular parties of this magnitude of extremism in most other European states, even in countries like Spain where unemployment levels are comparable to Greece’s, shows that there is also something idiosyncratic, and deeply Greek, in the rise of the Golden Dawn. These thugs have built on pre-existing ideas, popular among segments of our society – namely homophobia, xenophobia, anti-semitism and intolerance. The fact that these ideas didn’t have “official” political representation before the crisis does not mean that they were not there nor that there was an overlapping consensus of Greek society against them. It just shows that they were subdued because of the clientelistic practices of the two largest parties, which kept them silent in exchange for perks. Now that there is no money left with which to bribe those extremists, they have turned to bite the hands they were feeding them.
Until recently, one million Greeks had said that they are going to vote for Golden Dawn in opinion polls. I despise them. No matter the hardships people are going through, there is no excuse for those who fall under the spell of Nazism. Just ask the Germans. As for the rest of the political system, the so-called mainstream parties of the “constitutional arc,” there is an urgent need to reflect on what can be done, especially in Greece’s educational system, to make sure that extremist discourse becomes marginalized. We have been tested on our democratic resolve, and some of us failed. Let’s face it. If we save the next generation from darkness, at least some of the shame may go away.