OPINION

Charity begins at home

Rarely could charity have had such negative connotations as on Wednesday in Syntagma Square, central Athens, where neofascist Chryssi Avgi (Golden Dawn) handed out free food to passers-by, as long as they could prove they were Greek.

The party, which gained 7 percent of the vote in the June elections, was completely open about the fact that it had taken a political choice to feed just Greeks. The sociopathic nature of this decision is self-evident. The fact that the event was a bare-faced publicity stunt is also clear. Golden Dawn’s decision to use state funding (taxpayers? money) for ?good causes? is a direct challenge to the parties accused of consistently pocketing or wasting public funds. It underlines that Golden Dawn is a product of the political system?s chronic apathy.

It is too late to correct this now, the damage has been done. Cleaning up the political system and completing the transition from the self-serving politics of the last few decades to something more productive will take time. But this is a commodity Greece doesn?t have when dealing with the rise of extremism. Wednesday?s events highlighted that the country is fast approaching social disintegration.

The discrimination exercised in how food was handed out or the fact that Golden Dawn defied a ban by the City of Athens to use the capital?s main square for its event is the least of Greek society?s worries. There was something much darker, more malignant going in Syntagma Square. Anyone wanting to avail themselves of the far-right party?s ?generosity? was asked to produce an ID card proving they were Greek. This document was then taken by party members, who recorded all the details.

In other words, free citizens were voluntarily offering up to fellow citizens a document they are only legally bound to show to representatives of the state. In breach of privacy laws, the personal data on this document was recorded for the benefit of a political party. Aggressive marketing met extremist politics in the shadow of Greek Parliament.

The fact that we have reached a point where Greek citizens are willing to abandon their rights and give up their dignity for a free bottle of olive oil or carton of milk should be of utmost concern. The fact that a political party is willing to exploit this desperation or indifference by impersonating authority should be the cause of greatest alarm. This is a breakdown of the basic structures of a functioning democracy and suggests dangerous developments ahead. It requires an immediate and concerted response.

The answer cannot be just political. While Greece?s parties must realize the part they?ve played in creating this mess and discover what role they can play in rebuilding the country, there needs to be a wider response. Civil society and the media must contribute to highlighting and combating this problem. This needs to be tackled at the grassroots, not just the top.

Beyond that, though, there needs to be a European reaction. The European Union was formed to bolster and spread democratic principles. Overall, it has done a remarkable job but in one of its member states, the project is unraveling. Democratic institutions are being undermined and society is being divided. The role of the economic crisis, continuing austerity policies and questionable decision-making process cannot be ignored. Recession, unemployment, disparaging comments and the sense of being dictated to are breeding social disharmony. In the relentless chase for fiscal targets, democratic goals are being forgotten. It must be the aim of those with democratic sensibilities within Greece and Europe to take swift action and to prove that charity beginning at home is a principle that was perverted in Syntagma on Wednesday.

[Kathimerini English Edition]