Poverty can be beaten, hate cannot

The rise of Chrysi Avgi will seriously damage our society. The whole political system of the past decades conspired — through indifference and stupidity — for such an extremist organization to make it to the brink of entering Parliament.

Successive governments allowed a dangerous vacuum where they should have had a serious immigration policy. Extremist leftist organizations and anarchists established violence and impunity as means of political expression, with the fatal tolerance of the state. The collapse of the state?s and governing parties? credibility opened the way for small, dynamic groups to move from the margins to the center of the political scene.

The political system fell into the hole that it had been digging. For years it had ignored the issue of illegal immigration, believing that if it pretended not to see the migrants they would disappear. This cynical indifference succeeded for years, until the moment when there were so many foreign people here that they became a problem in the areas where they congregated. The unavoidable decay of neighborhoods and rising crime led to conflict with local residents. Chrysi Avgi grabbed the chance to present itself as a support network for Greeks, offering help and a sense of security where the state and other political groups were absent.

Chrysi Avgi presents itself as a social movement, just as Hamas and other groups in the Arab world made political inroads on the back of their social work. Suddenly, in an effort to stem the loss of votes to the extreme right, the centrist parties which had avoided formulating a functional and just immigration policy have sprung to life and adopted the extremists? language, presenting all migrants as an amorphous mass and a problem, not as people with individual stories in need of different solutions. This does not weaken the extremists, it gives them legitimacy.

If the polls are correct and Chrysi Avgi enters a Parliament with no strong center, the extremists of both left and right will be able to play a disproportionately large role in deciding on the country?s course. In the context of today?s fragmented political system, a group that has repeatedly shown it is bigoted, organized and violent will be able to cause even greater harm, provoking strong reactions and leading to further division. It will cause new, deep wounds in our society and further damage Greece?s image.

We are a democracy and people will vote whatever they will. But, after the Nazi occupation, after the right-wing junta of 1967-74, facilitating the rise of such an extremist right-wing group shows the magnitude of our society?s failure.