The inability of both the Greek and Cypriot states to stand up to fascist groups is a call to action at European level
'What explains the rise of Golden Dawn? The short answer is chronic corruption, economic austerity and the perpetuation of populist lies about immigration.' Photograph: Yannis Behrakis/Reuters
The rise of the far right is a daily reality in austerity-striken Europe. Its effects are more prominent in countries like Greece and Cyprus, where the impact of the crisis has been most severe. Yesterday, in Greece, a self-confessed member of the far-right party Golden Dawn allegedly killed leftwing activist and singer Pavlos Fyssas. This is not the first time that members of Golden Dawn have been in the news for violence – they routinely attack immigrants, anarchists and communists, but they are rarely prosecuted for doing so.
Their rise has been spectacular. Contrary to popular belief, Golden Dawn has been around for a long time. It was created in the 1980s, became registered as a political party in 1993 and elected 18 MPs in 2012 with 6.9% of the vote.
Worryingly, the political establishment in Greece seems willing to tolerate Golden Dawn. The veteran New Democracy MP, Vyronas Polydoras, has said that the troika poses a greater threat to Greece than Golden Dawn. Now that the core members of Golden Dawn are elected MPs, they enjoy parliamentary immunities, which their fellow MPs, like those of the ruling New Democracy and Panhellenic Socialist Movement, seem reluctant to remove. This reluctance has meant that the leaders of Golden Dawn can freely go about slapping female MPs on TV without facing any consequences for their actions.
What explains the rise of Golden Dawn? The short answer is chronic corruption, economic austerity and the perpetuation of populist lies about immigration. Golden Dawn has managed to channel the ensuing public anger to its favour. It capitalises on the fact that its members were not in previous governments, which contributed to Greece being considered one of the most corrupt countries in the EU.
The clientelism that rules political conduct in Greece has largely been one of the reasons behind the discontent of the Greek voters – it was fun while the urban middle classes could get some pieces of the pie, but when the pie became smaller in the age of austerity, those left out inevitably reacted.
At the same time Golden Dawn exploited the fear of immigration that has been masterfully constructed in Greek society. The party leaders have depicted themselves as the problem-solvers: honest people who have never taken a bribe, whose main interest is the welfare of Greek people. They portray themselves as "men of action", that don't make promises that they cannot keep. These actions consist of attacks on immigrants, anarchists and communists, all in the light of helping the Greek people, some of who, to their shame, ask for their help – "to clean the area". A horrible euphemism for "please come here, beat the immigrants and make them leave our neighbourhood".
Where will this end? How far will a rising Golden Dawn with ties with the police and military go before Greece becomes a totalitarian military state? There is no easy answer to this – I don't think this downward spiral can be stopped without an external intervention. The current state of the Greek political scene is such that it requires coalitions. Since leftist Syriza and communist KKE refuse to form a government with either of the two ruling parties whose power has been significantly reduced, the only solution for the two mainstream parties is to look to the extreme right. As the two governing parties continue implementing the troika-prescribed austerity policies, they will keep getting increasingly unpopular. Eventually, they will have no option than to form a coalition that involves Golden Dawn, which has scored highly in opinion polls, rising from 6.9% to 11.5% after it entered parliament.
This is where external factors may come in. European partners will not be able to ignore the social impact of their economic policies for long. The fascists are winning seats, or masquerading their extremism and joining the mainstream parties, where they have even bigger platforms to spread their racist views. The next step is Golden Dawn's expansion beyond Greece. Its officials often visit Cyprus and give talks to its sister party, the far-right Elam, which, thankfully, is nowhere near as popular as Golden Dawn. Like Greece, racist violence is tolerated both by the authorities and by the mainstream political parties.
The inability of both the Greek and Cypriot states to curtail the racially motivated violent actions of these groups, as well as the inability of the mainstream political parties to stand up to them, is a call to action for our European partners, who can no longer afford to sit back in their economically recovering countries as if nothing is happening elsewhere. What is naively considered a Greek problem is much more than that – it is no accident that Marie Le Pen's Front National and Nigel Farage's Ukip have increased in popularity recently. The far right is on the rise and collective action at a European level is needed. When parties like the Greek Laos or the French FN become part of the mainstream right, what is considered extreme becomes even more so. The result is what you see happening in Greece – violence, vigilantism and murder.
This article was commissioned after a suggestion from Kizbot.