Uncomfortably unique

Far-right Golden Dawn has been catapulted onto center stage of Greek politics. That’s almost an achievement for the post-1974 political system that emerged from the collapse of a pathetic military dictatorship only to shape the conditions for the rise of extremist nationalism.

Greece’s leftist parties have mostly countered GD in the name of “fighting racism and xenophobia.” But these are only few of the epithets that can be attributed to GD, whose main characteristic is a primitive, ultranationalistic outlook.

National pride has been tarnished over the past three years. Anachronistic as it may sound, the “nation” as a concept has never ceased to exist. Radical reforms were needed after the derailment of the Greek economy, but the program was imposed by outside powers.

Some have interpreted the crisis as a first-class opportunity to modernize the Greek people, as it were, or as a chance to overcome the perennial east-west dichotomy. But any solution to the crisis would come through national mobilization, not through a show of loyalty to the country’s lenders.

In Turkey, on the other hand, economic growth and national self-confidence were restored as Ankara sought to differentiate itself from its natural partners instead of aligning with them. Strong anti-Americanism, confrontation with Israel and a return to Islam – all these gave the impression of a nascent rift with the West. Yet the opposite happened.

Turkey’s new-found nationalism worked as a catalyst. The economy boomed. Turkey too made a deal with the IMF but this did not create a sense of humiliation and defeat. It was rather treated as a technical snag.

In Greece, meanwhile, modernization had the effect of discrediting virtually all social groupings. Civil servants have been viewed as lazy and ineffective; the middle class has been portrayed as a mass of tax-evading, counter-productive people; the higher class has been denounced as corrupt and self-serving. Some say society has merely succumbed to foreign diktats.

It should come as no surprise that nationalism is seeking an outlet. Old PASOK had retained a strong nationalist element that SYRIZA lacks. GD is now the magnet of nationalist sentiment – also in its sick, racialist manifestation. Having established direct contact with a section of society, GD has managed to cultivate an antisystemic profile on many other levels. The absence of well-articulated political discourse has not been an obstacle as the party operates as a vehicle for blind rage. Golden Dawn is unique in that it cannot be dealt with using conventional means.