The first in a series on the rise of the extreme right in Greece explores how xenophobia might arise out of the traditional Greek self-concept.
This article is the first part of a series on the extreme right in Greece, followed by part 2: “Greece’s Golden Dawn And The Extreme Right’s History Of Violence“
There is an energetic young man working at the hotel in Athens, Greece. Clearly the junior member of the desk staff, he helps with bags, answers questions from guests, and is generally helpful. He is in the staff uniform, but wears a tie, unlike the rest of the team. He presents a clean, trim, professional image: the model of a young man starting near the bottom, but one you expect to move up over time.
He is also Black. This changes the meaning of calling him a “nice young man, clean and respectful” as it raises the suspicion that the speaker thinks those characteristics are rare in that ethnic group. But nonetheless he is the epitome of a dedicated young professional, not a majority characteristic of any group.
It probably won’t protect him.
Over the past few years, Greece has seen a rapid rise in popularity of a far-right group, a political party known in English as Golden Dawn. Frequently called neo-Nazi, they are linked to violence against people of color, professional or not, accusing them of stealing jobs.
Are they really Nazis?
To be fair, far-right groups are often called neo-Nazi. Golden Dawn’s logo, drawn from the iconic “Greek key” pattern, even looks like a swastika at first glance. But is this party more than just far-right, more than fascist?
Yes, in fact — or at least the core group is. A local journalist from EnetEnglish (a part of the Greek national newspaper Eleftherotypia) who was interviewed on background provided a number of insights into this group and their appeal. The group is at least 30 years old. And the old guard, the inner circle, have many times been recorded giving Hitler salutes, expressing admiration for him, saying Hitler had the right solution for Europe, and so on. They have toned down this rhetoric of late to widen their appeal, and not all the followers probably would say they signed up to be Nazis, but the core is more than formally fascist or extremely right wing: They can properly be termed neo-Nazi.
How could Nazism have appeal in Greece?
The Nazis occupied Greece during WWII and it was a particularly brutal occupation. The landscape of rural Greece is littered with monuments recording those killed while resisting the occupation. In more than one case, Nazi armed forces rounded up and killed all the male members of a village.
There was a Jewish presence in Greece, especially around Thessaloniki, and they were persecuted severely despite being protected by elements in the Greek Orthodox Church. On top of all that, there was a severe famine in Athens during the Nazi presence.
So, how on Earth could this appeal to Greeks?
Nazis from another angle
Greece, which in not-so-distant generations was a very homogenous nation, has seen a rise in immigration, mostly undocumented. Or at least that’s how many Greeks imagine their national mythology: Ethnic Greeks tend to be light-skinned, speak Greek, and subscribe to the Greek Orthodox faith. They have no history of their own ancestors immigrating to frame this new immigration as just the next wave.
In recent years the wave of immigration has taken advantage of the long, unguarded coastline to enter the country. The immigrants are mostly dark-skinned, not native speakers of Greek and aren’t Christian. There is no significant community of previous immigrants like them who have become established, so there are no networks for them to fit into and become established themselves.
Marginalized, they sink into poverty, take menial jobs and indeed often turn to crime. Resentment arises, and blame for any crime gets attached to this new group. As an unfortunate result, Golden Dawn can attract votes with their campaign slogans like “So we can rid this land of filth.”
Key to the rise of the Nazis were the brownshirts, a paramilitary group that intimidated people into silence, broke up the meetings of opponents and used violence against perceived enemies.
Golden Dawn has a less organized approach, but violent incidents attributed to them are not rare. Kathimerini’s English edition for May 27 told the story of the impending trial of an arsonist who allegedly burned down a bar in Athens belonging to an immigrant group. The accused indicated he was part of a citizen’s patrol, a self-formed group that conducts regular patrols around the clock in their neighborhood, one with a large migrant population. He allegedly told police the arson was for “the common good.”
This particular person may not actually be a member of Golden Dawn, but officials from the party rushed to support him. Other groups who have committed a number of violent acts are directly associated with the party. The same Kathimerini story reported on clashes with an anarchist group at a recent demonstration.
Threats against the growing Muslim community are also common. A Muslim organization reported a letter threatening that they will be “slaughtered like chickens” if they don’t leave Greece, and Golden Dawn is openly organizing to stop the construction of a mosque in Athens. Many other incidents of threats, beatings and burnings have taken place.
Golden Dawn members of the Greek parliament have been using their immunity from arrest to carry guns into the parliament building, flouting a ban. This is an action even the NRA has not advocated in the United States. It is hard to see what purpose this could serve but to intimidate those who disagree. One thinks of brownshirts ringing the Reichstag in 1933 to intimidate MPs into voting for Hitler.
The right wing and the State
Golden Dawn only polls at around 10 percent and a majority of Greeks express opposition to the group. Why, then, do they seem to be so influential?
There is more to the phenomenon of Golden Dawn — including their media strategy and the long history of intertwining of right wing groups and the State. That will be the subject of next week’s report.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Mint Press News editorial policy.