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The Spectre of Fascism is Haunting Greece

The xenophobic, ultranationalist Golden Dawn party is gaining clout in the birthplace of democracy.
 
 
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A Golden Dawn party demonstration in Athens in June 2012.
Photo Credit: Steve Jurvetson/Flickr

 
 
 
 

Sitting at a sidewalk cafe beneath the illuminated symbol of democracy, the Parthenon of Athens, the sight of a fierce-looking man in a black shirt with a shaven head passionately giving the Nazi salute openly in the street was a shock.

It was difficult for us to conceive that on the same streets where Socrates and the great philosophers of ancient Greece once strolled and conversed are now found the enemies of democracy and freedom of thought - the fascist and neo-Nazi party Golden Dawn. The stark contrast between these two images underlines the social crisis currently facing Greece today.

Amid the economic woes of the nation, Golden Dawn is quickly gaining influence and power. Anti-Semitism, xenophobia, and hatred of immigrants, especially Muslims, are at the heart of their vision of the world. As guests of the British Council in Athens for a series of high-profile talks and meetings with senior political and spiritual leaders, diplomats, academics, and community groups, we discovered an immigrant community left voiceless and terrorised and a broader Greek community, with notable exceptions, unsure of the emerging dangers on the right and how to counter them.

Just over half a century after Hitler and his military ravaged the Greek people during World War II, in which more than 300,000 Greeks were killed resisting the Axis powers, Greece is again facing the spectre of the man with the little moustache. It is Adolf Hitler's image, along with other Nazi symbols, and his fascist ideology of racial superiority, now superimposed onto Greek nationalism, that Golden Dawn advocates.

Travelling through the streets of Athens, we witnessed banners hanging from buildings bearing a sinister portrait of Hitler with a swastika in the background. Golden Dawn MPs have shouted  "Heil Hitler!", denied the Holocaust, and given the  Nazi salute in the parliamentary chamber. Stories circulate of black-shirted Golden Dawn members attacking and killing those they define as foreigners. They have also encouraged Greeks to  "kill those who are responsible for their problems", referring to bankers.

One shudders to think that mere decades after the horrors of the Holocaust occurred on this continent such actions are possible. The implications and impact are very real for the European Union and NATO nations, focused as they are on issues of immigration and relations with the Muslim world.

As Greece's economic crisis continues, Golden Dawn has emerged as the fastest-growing political force in the country. The unemployment rate has risen to the historic high of  27.4 percent, with youth unemployment at a  record 64.2 percent. This crisis has been marked by an absence of effective and clear leadership. As part of the conservative government's austerity measures, for instance, it  shut down the state television and radio service on June 11 with little warning, the primary source of news for those in rural areas of the country. This was the first time since World War II that this service went off the air, a blow to the people's confidence in the national government.

Amid the instability, Golden Dawn has unfortunately found resonance among a segment of the Greek population,  winning 18 seats in parliament in the June 2012 elections and garnering  14 percent support in recent polls. They have portrayed themselves as an alternative to government services, running food and blood drives and protection patrols as an effort to promote solidarity and nationalism among "pure blood" Greeks. What it lacks at the moment is a leader - like Hitler - who can mesmerise his supporters and organise his movement on a national scale.

Golden Dawn's messages of hate have largely centred upon pledging to rid Greece of its growing immigrant community, particularly Muslims. A flashpoint has been the recent controversy around the plans for an official mosque of Athens, with many protesting against its construction. Currently, Athens is the only EU capital  without an official mosque.

 
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