Caught in the offside trap?

It is hard to know whether the ongoing backlash against the so-called “theory of the two extremes,” championed by various conservative officials in a bid to discredit the left, is a result of the persecution syndrome that has historically dogged the Greek left (not without good reason in some cases) or whether it is an offside trap set by the more experienced SYRIZA politicians for their conservative rivals.

Whatever the case may be, the left scored a tactical victory here – not so much by knocking down the foolish comparisons between Golden Dawn and SYRIZA, but by convincing the Greek people that there is only one extreme out there that deserves our attention.

The truth is that Greece has suffered from far-right as well as far-left violence. That said, the two camps have different motives and goals and they often use different methods.

In May 2011, unknown arsonists set fire to a makeshift mosque in the district of Kallithea, southern Athens. The arsonists broke a window of the ground-floor apartment that was used as a place of worship and threw incendiaries inside, causing extensive material damage. No group ever claimed responsibility for the attack but it is not too hard to guess the identity of the perpetrators.

Earlier this month, unidentified arsonists damaged Merchant Marine Minister Miltiadis Varvitsiotis’s office in Kolonaki, central Athens, in more or less the same way. One difference is that in contrast to the mosque attack, the assailants in Kolonaki set the building on fire only after they had made sure that the two employees had left the premises. A second difference is that an anonymous organization claimed responsibility for the attack, saying that it was carried out in the service “of anarchy and communism.”

We shall not dwell here on the fact that communists never really got on with anarchists in the past (terrorist groups, it seems, are trying to broaden their appeal), but it is hard to overlook the fact that, in a statement released after the attack, the arsonists lashed at the “two extremes theory.”

“The aim of the theory is to put fighters and… Nazis in the same bag,” the statement said. The term “fighters” was of course referring to those who damaged Varvitsiotis’s office while the word “Nazis” refers those who set the mosque on fire.

Any reasonable person would agree that both acts were committed by extremists. Sure, there may be differences between the two acts but they are both bad for our democracy. Strangely, however, instead of debating how we should deal with violence committed by extremists at both ends of the political spectrum, public discussion is revolving around whether it is legitimate to draw parallels between SYRIZA and Golden Dawn. Was this a deliberate choice of leftist officials who outdid their conservative rivals in evaluating political trends?

It seems just too perfect to be an offside trap.

Meanwhile, conservative spin-doctors saw the cheese but not the trap. They saw a chance to score an effortless tactical win against SYRIZA and they thought that by lumping them all together they could harm the leftist party. Of course the game was lost before it even began, for who would ever take seriously the claim that SYRIZA lies outside constitutional contours?

Now that the discourse has shifted, everyone sees a need to condemn the theory of the two extremes – both the centrists as well as people like those who burned Varvitsiotis’s office. Everyone now seems to agree that there is only one extreme; so the Kolonaki arsonists thought it was OK to declare that “we have to stage a counterattack… so we entered the office of Merchant Marine Minister M. Varvitsiotis in the center of Athens, who is the son of one of the biggest right-wing political families in the country and, after we ensured the safety of the personnel, we set it on fire. Everything goes on…”

Everything goes on, same as before.

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