Wednesday, October 28, 2020
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A simple coincidence? Facing the reasons that led to Golden Dawn's rise in crisis-ridden Greece

Sofia Tipaldou. Political scientist

Greece is getting prepared for the notorious trial neo-Nazi Golden Dawn, scheduled for April 20. A total of 69 members and followers of Golden Dawn, one of Europe's most extreme political formations, will be tried for numerous crimes of the Greek penal code, like running and belonging to a criminal organization, illegal gun possession, attempted murder, racist violence, and anti-Semitism acts, to name only a few.

The defendants include Golden Dawn's entire parliamentary team from its electoral breakthrough in 2012, when it fared fifth wining eighteen of 300 seats in parliament and making a remarkable electoral jump from 0.29 percent in the 2009 parliamentary elections to 6.92 percent of the vote. This means that eighteen of 300 seats in Greek parliament were occupied for the first time by representatives of a party that has openly stood for national-socialism since its beginnings and has been using Nazi symbols, the Nazi salute, nativism and anti-Zionism in its discourse, and political violence as means of its action, and has been functioning as a "private militia".

The 2015 legislative elections won for the first time by a left party in Greece's modern history, placed Golden Dawn in the third place with 6.28 percent of the vote, despite the fact that it lost a marginal part of its electorate (0.64 percent).

The entry in parliament of the only European party with openly national-socialist convictions was widely received as a shock. The media, in Greece and abroad, rushed to connect it to the economic crisis that had begun in 2008 and to the dreadful results of the Memorandums that had already started to weigh down lower and middle strata.

Taxes payable: 337% to the poorest, 9% to the richest

Nevertheless, the Golden Dawn has existed since the early 1980s as a marginal movement and indeed became widespread only after the beginning of the economic crisis. Actually, the first sign of Golden Dawn's rise came in 2010, with Michaloliakos' election in the municipality of Athens when his popularity rose up to 5.26 percent of the vote.

Half a year earlier, Greece had entered the bailout agreement with the EU and the IMF that foresaw loans in exchange of austerity policies. The governments introduced unpopular measures that were unevenly distributed between social classes. Indicative, tax burdens of the lower strata was increased up to 337 percent in the last four years, whereas the burden of highest strata rose only by 9 percent. This has caused massive civil unrest and general disappointment with the established political elites.

It would be misleading to reproduce the widespread argument that economic austerity strengthens far right parties, mainly because such parties gain support merely for their solutions on socio-political issues (i.e. migration, European integration) and less for political-economic issues (i.e. unemployment). Take for instance the 2014 European elections that proved that populist far right parties as a whole failed in all five countries that entered bailout programs and scored much better in countries that were either not stroke by the crisis, i.e. Austria, Sweden, Denmark, or that faced milder economic problems, like France. Or the countries that underwent similar rescue packages and unpopular measures, like Spain and Portugal, without producing equally influential nation-wide far right parties.

The reasons that can lead to a similar rise of far right parties' influence are multifaceted and country-specific. The far right has ideological and historical roots in Greek society, which can be chronologically located in the years between the two world wars and were manifested through the Greek collaborators of the Nazi regime. Furthermore, Greece entered a systematic state-sponsored oblivion and social discrimination of its pro-communist elements after the prevalence of the nationalist right forces over ELAM's partisan fighters in the Greek civil war (1946-1949), which ended only 40 years later with the recognition of ELAM's resistance and the 1989 law for the withdrawal of ELAM's fighters convictions that also granted them with the right of receiving retirement. At the same time, Greek nationalism has been maintained by institutions, such as the Orthodox Church, school education, and the obligatory military term for men, all of which perpetuate an ethnocentric and chauvinist worldview.

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