Greece Between Austerity and Fascism
Issue #
180

ATHENS, Greece — The European Union has been awarded a Nobel Peace Prize. But it is today’s Greek anti-fascist movement that deserves an award for doing what European states have so far failed to do — confronting the rise of violent neo-Nazi movements on the continent.

Although fascism is not new in Greece, it has seen a resurgence in the Golden Dawn party, which won 18 parliamentary seats in the last election. Some polls indicate that approximately half of Greek police support Golden Dawn and that the party enjoys legitimacy in wide social circles. Police sometimes even refer crime victims to Golden Dawn for follow-up on law enforcement and citizen protection.

Rising poverty and political instability have caused turmoil. Hostility towards foreigners has also been on the increase, helping the party achieve its growing popular support. Greece has experienced record-breaking job losses, with the official unemployment rate currently at 25 percent. More than half (54 percent) of workers 18 to 30 are unemployed. Countless more are underemployed. Mandatory military service provides a significant, albeit temporary, release valve for many youth who would otherwise also be unemployed.

The unemployment statistics do not, of course, reflect the hidden suffering of many more. Greece is a gateway for refugees and undocumented migrants making their way to Western Europe; they are not counted in the official statistics.

Playing on real social anxieties and insecurities, Golden Dawn has managed to carve out a leadership role for itself, in large part by terrorizing the country’s weak and vulnerable and turning them into scapegoats for current social and economic woes. Golden Dawn MPs are known for their violent outbursts of public rage against immigrants and political opponents. Recently a friend came to me in shock after he was forced to leave the theater hosting the Athens premiere of Terrence McNally’s play Corpus Christi (depicting Jesus as gay), which was shut down because of Golden Dawn protests outside. Upon leaving the theater he was confronted by two of the party’s MPs and more than 100 of their supporters, including priests brandishing crosses — all hurling homophobic insults at those attending the play.

Center-right prime minister Antonis Samaras has cited Golden Dawn’s ascendance as evidence that Greece could suffer the same rise in Nazism as Germany’s Weimar Republic did in the 1930s after economic collapse. He has also said that he would not ban the party from participating in the electoral system. But many Greeks are concerned about the party’s rise and express a need to do something about it.

“It is in everyone’s mind to fight back against Golden Dawn but nobody was doing it,” said one participant in a recent anti-fascist patrol. “We fought back and now people know that they can, too.” This man participated in a brigade of 70 to 80 motorcycles, each carrying two riders on each bike and baseball-bat-sized poles flying red-and-black flags. The purpose of the brigade was to shake Golden Dawn’s confidence that it is above the law and to show the world that a number of people are committed to the fight against fascism in Greece. This patrol is just one of many different kinds of anti-fascist actions that are occurring more frequently around the country but have not yet reached a
critical mass.

“Everyone is fighting for control over space,” explained another anti-fascist activist. “Imagine a square. Everyone is fighting for their share of space in this square. We cannot let the fascists gain any of that space because if they do they will take more.”

But the fascists have already won some level of state power. “Hitler first won the streets and then he won in the parliament,” he said. “Golden Dawn has won in parliament but not yet on the streets. So we must fight them there.”

Government-imposed austerity contributes to social suffering and anxiety, creating fertile ground for the surge of fascism in Greece. The fight against Golden Dawn is also a fight against racism, poverty, homophobia and authoritarian rule. The anti-fascist forces here are aware of these complications. As I write, a solidarity caravan is moving across the country in support of workers’ efforts to take over their factory and put themselves back to work. An alternative economies festival is being
organized. Invitations are being sent and posters distributed for a mass assembly of people to discuss how to carry their anti-fascist struggle forward. Let’s hope that their momentum builds and that they gain support.