By Ilektra Tsakalidou
The “rise” and “fall” of the Far Right in Europe have been in the heart of debates among political analysts since the late 1980s. In Greece, the debate only became relevant after the 7th of May elections and the last weeks of political campaigning preceding them. The issue still fascinates because for many it cannot be comprehensively explained.
In previous elections (2004, 2007) the percentages that the party had accumulated in previous elections were below 1% nationwide. Despite previous tendencies polls preceding the 2012 elections were indicating an unexpected rise in the percentages of the Golden Dawn, a political organization, lately turned political party. On the night of the 17th of June their percentage rose to an unexpected –for many- 6.92% nationwide, electing 18 representatives in the Greek Parliament.
In a country where since independence inter and intrastate violence have been an important part of its history, from the Balkan wars of the beginning of the 20th century to the military junta of 1967, there had been public belief that far right parties would not gain active participation in the political life. Hence, was the unprecedented surge of support for the Golden Dawn an unexpected event or was the dynamic for the rise of the extreme right in Greece a phenomenon to be expected?
For the past 4 to 5 years Golden Dawn has been using populist tactics in order to reinforce its popular support. In urban areas where small crime and insecurity prevail (i.e: the historic centre of Athens), they have exploited the vacuum of effective strategies from the security apparatus, to create “proximity patrols” and protect the inhabitants. Furthermore, given the exasperation due to minimization of purchasing power, they took the opportunity to set up food distribution and blood banks for Greeks –and only Greeks-. They advocate for “band aid” solutions, which because their short term effect appeal to an exasperated population.
At the same time, the major political forces of the Greek bi-partist model should also be considered as indirectly responsible for the rise of the far right. The lack of accountability and the constantly changing stance both Pasok (Social Democrats) and New Democracy (Christian Democrats) hold on issues of high official corruption, has given the opportunity to a party with no previous governance experience to criticize and put forward its platform for reforming the Greek state. Furthermore, the inability to negotiate efficiently for the reform of Dublin II on immigration legislation and the increasing insecurity has provided platform for Golden Dawn to advocate on nationalist ideas. On the economic policies front, the demonization of the EU, as initiator of austerity measures (5 billion euros in cuts for 2013), has led to a shift of the public opinion towards protectionism and isolation –both being important components of the Golden Dawn platform-.
Additionally, the role of the media should not be underestimated. During the 2012 pre-election campaign, with the argument that extremist ideology has no legitimized space in the political debate, they did not provide with the members of the Golden with a platform to express their program. If Golden Dawn leader, Mr. N. Michaloliakos, had spoken publically and debated on his ideas, the electorate could have the uncovered the flaws in his argumentation. The will to “protect” democratic institutions had an adverse effect to the one intended.
Greece is one of the states where nationalism is more than civic; it is based on ethnic characteristics. The average Greek feels closer to Aristotle and Socrates than to Karagiozis, an uneducated hero in popular culture. The ideas of “freedom”, “polity” and “democracy” are part of the lexicon of Greeks, but in many instances used without their intended philosophical meaning. Assuming superiority as a means to ease a nation’s psychological insecurity? Probably yes. Nevertheless, it has grown to become rooted in the conscience of Greeks; it comes out with the form of nationalist comments on the strength of the Greek spirit, such as the one made by athlete Fani Halkia, after her win (under the effects of performance enhancers) at the 2004 Olympic Games. Hence, the appeal of the Golden Dawn is based on the premise that a globalized interconnected world has done more harm than good to the Greek national identity.
Since the June 17th elections, analysts have consistently compared 2012 Greece to the Weimar Republic. However, the first German Republic was never a inheritably “violent” one. The belief for the benefits freedom was entrenched in all aspects of the German intelligentsia. In Greece, on the other hand, the use of the phrase “violence is the midwife of History” has never shocked anyone and has been used both by politicians and citizens. It is undeniable that there are similarities between pre-war Germany and modern day Greece; the political system is in crisis, the economy in recession (for 5 consecutive years in Greece) and the middle class does not feel adequately represented. Nevertheless, in Greece the problem might have come to the surface due to the economic crisis, but it is not economic in nature. Socially, violence has always been an “acceptable” phenomenon. Non-respect for the rules, tax evasion and disrespect for fellows citizens are part of the Greek psyche. Citizens do not –or stopped- believing in the legitimacy of the state and its institutions and consider bellicosity as a normal aspect of social interactions (for example in sports).
News about MPs of the Golden Dawn being arrested for aggression or murders of immigrants by members of the Golden Dawn do not make the headlines of newspapers anymore. The Greeks have accepted violence as being part of their everyday life and some of them do not strive for change. Aggressive behavior (vocal or even physical) seems to be an acceptable way to solve disagreements. Hence, having potential murderers in the Greek Parliament does not create popular outrage. The question therefore remains; will an improvement in the economy and a growth acceleration solve the Greek societal problem or in order to move forward with an accountable state Greeks have to change their stance towards the “virtues” of bellicosity?
lektra Tsakalidou is a 2nd year MA Candidate in International Relations and International Economics at the School for Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University in the United States. She has also worked for the Permanent Mission of Greece to the European Union in Brussels and served as a diplomatic advisor for the Permanent Mission of Greece to the United Nations in New York City.