A provisional assessment
After the fatal stabbing of Pavlos Fyssas in Nikea (Athens) by Giorgos Roupakias (a member of the neo-nazi party Golden Dawn, organizer and coordinator of the party’s blackshirts’), mass demonstrations took place across the country. A few days later the conservative government launches crackdown on GD, resulting to the prosecution of party leader Nikolaos Michaloliakos and five other Golden Dawn MPs, who are charged with murder, sex trafficking, money laundering, benefit and tax fraud. But it was only two weeks ago that government officials and members of the ruling coalition were openly discussing the possibilities of a future collaboration with the far-right party whilst for years the Greek State was deliberately tolerating the proliferation of neo-Nazi violence against immigrants and leftists. It is also evident that the Greek police has strong ties with the far-right, given that in the past elections 50% of the various police divisions are said to have voted for GD. Thus, racist attacks are systematically being covered up while illegal methods of detaining protesters and dissidents are continuously reported and condemned by Amnesty International; the most alarming case, however, is the story of fifteen anti-fascist protesters, who after being arrested in Athens in a clash with supporters of GD last year, during their custody in the Attica General Police Directorate (GADA) have said they were heavily beaten up and tortured by officers. Unsurprisingly, the Greek Minister of Public Order, Nikolaos Dendias denied any act of deliberately inflicting severe physical pain and injury, ignoring at the same time the forensic surgeon’s confirmation that corporal coercion has indeed been used against the detainees. In addition, the thousands of anti-fascists who took to the streets of the major Greek cities (around 50.000 marched in the streets of Athens)were confronted with tear gas, whilst the campaign group Info-war.gr recorded a scene where rocks and stones were thrown by GD’s sympathizers against protesters with the riot squads only standing by.
What did, however, urge the Greek government to order such investigations on GD after years of concealing its criminal activities? Can we deny that Antonis Samaras acted under the pressure of the public outcry against the impunity of the far-right and the erosion of the police forces by GD? This is what the leader of the left-wing opposition party SYRIZA has claimed during his recent party conference. It can also be said that ND (being a europeanist and pro-bail-out party) would do everything possible to pretend that the rule of law prevails in Greece and applies to everyone equally (hence the Greek justice system is supposedly incorruptible and trustful) and that the alleged connections of GD with members of the police forces are only some of the aberrations of the State mechanism. But there is also another scenario: a possible collapse of GD would perfectly suit Samaras’ plans to secure a stable government; according to polls issued by VPRC (September 2013; see p.9), the popularity of the far-right party has significantly decreased (after the September riots and the numerous negative discourses that appeared in the progressive press) reaching 8.5% in contrast with 14.5% a few months before the assassination of Fyssas (see p.10). The same statistics reveal that an approximate 13,0%of GD’s disappointed voters could ‘return’ back to ND (see p.17) whose agenda has adopted much of the former’s rhetoric[I]. This came as a relief to Samaras whose party was polling behind the left-wing SYRIZA for a couple of weeks, and thus by seeing ND gaining an additional 1,5% – 3%, not only succeeds in avoiding early elections but at the same time appears confident to win the next round (scheduled for 2016).
Nonetheless, an important point should be made here: it is possible that many respondents be apprehensive to admit support for a party whose leading members are associated with the organized crime. If this is true then Samaras will have no other choice but to transform GD into a more ‘europeanized’ party, removing all its members that have close relations with the underworld and are outspokenly anti-Semits, replacing them with more ‘moderate’ executives in order to collaborate with them[II]. Whether this scenario is plausible or not, what we obviously see is that parliamentarism cannot any-more be considered as a system waterproof to fascism. The empirical observation of Greece shows clearly how the serpent’s egg is incubated within the system of liberal ‘democracies’, through a regime where the so called “moderate” and “prudent” voices (as opposed to the far-left and far-right “extremist” forces) dominate. This will be further examined below.
Institutionalized ‘anti-fascism’ and the horseshoe theory
It is undeniable that GD’s nature is utterly hubristic, and as every misanthropic paramilitary gang that is attracted by totalitarianism, anti-Semitism and conspiracist scapegoating, contains all the elements that have no place in a truly democratic world. But the claim that the conservative coalition is the sole defendant of Greek democracy is entirely inaccurate. Not only because ND has absorbed the most reactionary forces of Greek society (as aforementioned) but – and especially – due to the fact that Samaras and his co-workers were always looking for the right moment, for the opportunity where under the pretext of legality and public security will suppress every voice that calls into question ND’s political platform. Indeed, Samaras in Washington, in a conference organized by the Institute for International Economics in collaboration with the Stavros Niarchos Foundation stated the following:”we are crushing extremism, […] but we have to confront the other extreme, the one that talks of leaving the EU and NATO” (directly denoting the left-wing eurosceptic opposition parties). In another speech, he stressed that any refusal to accept that the country is exiting from the crisis constitutes incitement to extremism (using again the far-right rhetoric of “invasion of illegal immigrants,” and promising deportations to “relieve society”). As the pro-government columnist Stefanos Kasimatis confirms (in his article posted in Kathimerini on the 16th of September 2012) the crackdown of Golden Dawn provides a vital “opportunity” for the Greek State to get rid of the other “extreme”; the anti-fascist movement.
This is the notorious horseshoe theory – constantly promoted by the Greek and European mainstream media and the political intelligentsia – which claims that the far-left and the far-right whilst being at opposite and opposing ends of a linear political spectrum share many view-points and practices. The entire Greek conservative political elites constantly defend this oversimplistic stand-point, supporting that the left (either talking about the extraparliamentary anti-capitalist voices or the social-democratic reformists of SYRIZA) is equally offensive with the far-right, that both forces are battling each other to gain control over districts and neighborhoods descending the country into chaos. Whilst this perspective is presented as the basic principle of common sense, a deeper research on the socio-political prattein shows that it is utterly myopic and instrumental; this is obviously seen not only through Samaras’ speeches but also from the constant reluctance of ND’s government to clean up the police forces from all the fascist enclaves long before the assassination of Fyssas. Additionally, no far-right group (GD is not the only active in Greece) has been dissolved and brought to justice since ND came to power (and for the last 10 years), but instead police brutality and beatings during custody (as mentioned also in the first paragraph), repression and attacks against anti-austerity and anti-capitalist protesters has become the only reality. We should acknowledge the evictions of self-organized social centres in Athens such as Villa Amalias – a social space that is considered as the feeder of the city’s anti-fascist spirit – between December 2012 and January 2013, that were located close to areas where thugs of GD organize attacks against migrants on a daily basis, after several complaints of GD’s sympathizers who also reside in these neighbourhoods (the so-called “outraged citizens”) in the mainstream media[III].
As it becomes obvious, the theory of the “two edges” implicitly inclines towards the right-wing direction. But additionally, it obscures the complicity of the “moderate centrist voices” (which according to its logic appear the only trustful political forces to safeguard ‘democratic’ institutions and social stability) in the cultivation of the conditions that allowed fascism to rise from the dead. In fact, no concentration camps for immigrants (such as that of Amigdaleza[IV]) were ever created by Golden Dawn, no protester or HIV victim was pilloried by any far-right political organization. It was the “centrist” government of PASOK that took such measures, and its “center-right” successor that criminalized immigrants publicly, launching witch-hunts like the Xenios Zeus[V]. Historically speaking, it was not the far-right that persecuted communists and leftists during and after the Greek Civil War, but the government of the “centrists” Themistoklis Sofoulis and Giorgos Papandreou that ordered the re-opening of penitentiaries and concentration camps for dissidents and sent thousands to the fire squads in coordination with the so called dosilogoi[VI].
This, however, does not apply only to the Greek case. In Britain, for example, it was not BNP or any fringe organization that uses vans for explicit anti-immigrant campaigns, declaring that “there will be no place to hide for illegal immigrants.” It is not a fringe neonazi magazine that publishes the profiles of students who participate in demonstrations calling for other citizens to report them to the police (as the Nazi authorities were doing when they seized power) but the so-called “centrist” newspapers, like Telegraph and Daily Mail. From this it follows that, in reality, no fascist organization is actually needed to give the green light for zero tolerance against immigration and criminalization of dissent, since the agenda of many center-right conservative parties often relies on the law-and-order ideology and justify the Weberian approach of the State as the only legitimate source of violence (which is the essence of occidental liberalism). Law, order, security and protection are also the main ideological bases of the far-right where the State is seen as the sole legitimized force that guarantees social peace. In other words, both the centrists and far-right ideologues recognize structural violence as a necessity to overcome personal violence. Both accept the Hobbessean motto that “covenants without the sword are about words” (Hobbes 2006, p.93) as the cradle of harmonious co-existence which practically shows that a strong connection between the far-right and the ‘centre’ exists. And this assumption leads us also to another crucial conclusion: if indeed the left has utterly failed, this is because it accepted the State as a tool of social well-being (contemporary history is full of examples where party bureaucracies exploited genuine movements and instead of leading societies to liberation, imposed their own dictatorial rule). Thus, the condemnation of any action that does not comply with the “moderate” voices – which theoretically safeguards social balance – as a “potential extremist” and any arbitrary invocation to the so called “common sense” falls into an ambivalent subjectivity. The subjectivity of this doctrine is unveiled by its ineffectiveness to secure political dialectic, as it seeks to monopolize its own defended order, eroding at the same time, the foundations of a free society towards authoritarianism and prevention of political freedoms in the name of protection and security.
Xenophobia as a self-reflection of hubris
While liberalism has incarnated all the elements that open the back door to authoritarianism and fascism [VII], to blame solely the political intelligentsia, the ruling classes and the media for the rise of the reactionary right is utterly unacceptable. Can we practically deny that all undemocratic measures are imposed with our own complicity? Can we honestly claim that the percentage of the Greeks who voted for GD were fully unaware of what they were voting for during May and June (2013)?
Many confine the rise of the far-right and the political regression we experience to the current crisis, an argument that lacks substantial depth; we can see that the first tensions between natives and immigrants in Greece (and also in Austria and France) appeared long before the financial turmoil. As I have stressed in the first Issue of Democracy Street (2013, p.27), the rise of the far-right can be understood as an indirect effect of the economic downturn since intense competition (that is also expressed in national or racial terms) over scarce resources cultivates a climate of social introversion and generalized insecurity which is exploited by ultra conservative forces. In other words, the break out of crisis has intensified the feeling of pessimism, fear and uncertainty, creating, at the same time, the appropriate opportunity for charlatans and xenophobic demagogues to increase their electorate support. The border-walls (such as that between U.S. and Mexico, of Morocco and Ebros) are not only the results of the Fordist and anti-immigrant policies of Western countries (which in an essence is only a reflection of the profiteer laws that govern and regulate labor market aiming to overexploitation). Additionally they promote the image of a protected and safe society that allows us to continue living in complete peace within the artificial and false paradises of consumerism, even though deep down we know that the years of our prosperity are numbered. The role of the ideology of security contributes to a fake image of national self-sufficiency that hides the misery, isolation and loneliness we experience as mortal beings. This ideology is not necessarily created from above and not always relies to the historico-political background of a country, but many times is generated by society itself, as the same society when it feels threatened attempts to maintain the illusion that the prosperous life of consumerist (pseudo)happiness is always safeguarded. This not only maintains the deterministic logic of the necessity of the State but, at the same time, enhances xenophobia as the massive waves of migrants arriving in the West appears symbolically like an onslaught of the “Third World” in our living room. This is the obvious answer to the question “why the Greek people voted for such party”, an answer that also applies to the occidental world (where the only difference is that most of the far-right parties consist of ultra-conservative demagogues who do not oppose parliamentarism whilst GD is a neonazi paramilitary group[VIII]).
While Samaras and his cronies portray themselves as the only source of justice against the brutality of GD, the strong ideological and practical links between his own party’s rhetoric and policies with the neo-nazi group do not allow us to consider his claim as plausible. While reactionary forces are taking over the ‘public’ sphere attempting to fill the political ‘gap’ and the incompetency of parliamentary ‘democracy’ we must be aware of the severe consequences of racism, the worst hubris of our times that will continue to penetrate social life beyond the parliaments. GD is only a reflection of the actual problem whose solution can be only found in the struggles for social emancipation, that propose rupture with heteronomous institutions and further spreading of direct democracy and equality.
[I] Samaras during his pre-election speech in Alexandroupoli called the clandestine migrants the tyrants of Greek society and proclaimed mass and quick deportations. “Our cities have been taken over by them” he stated a few months before the 2012 elections, promising, at the same time, to repeal Ragousi’s Law (which allows every foreigner who has been born within the Greek territory to obtain citizenship). He also ‘borrowed’ the unconfirmed but populist claim, that the number of illegal immigrants in Greece has reached two million, which during 2007-2009 was the main argument of the anti-immigrant campaign of LAOS – Popular Orthodox Rally, (the previous but more moderate far-right party that suffered heavy defeat (1.58%) during the 2012 elections).
[II] Makis Voridis (who twenty-five years ago was an axe-wielding fascist patrolling the streets of Greece chasing leftist students according to Helena Smith) was a member of the political council of LAOS and Adonis Georgiadis served as the spokesman for the same party before both joining ND in February 2012. This clearly shows that Samaras would not hesitate to collaborate with a far-right party that acts solely according to the parliamentary laws and does not support street violence. Moreover, Michaloliakos in Vergina Channel declared that “If ND promises to withdraw from the memorandum, to clean up the country from illegal immigrants and cut all ties with the economic oligarchy […] then nothing is excluded in order to save the country.”
[III] This is not the first time that GD offers a helping hand to ND: when the government decided to shut down overnight the National Public Broadcasting TV, GD launched a smear campaign against the public sector workers.
[IV] The detention centre of Amygdaleza, else called “the Greek Guantanamo”, is located in a desolate land 25 kilometers from the centre of Athens. Approximately 1,600 migrants are currently held there (according to police) forced to live under inhumane conditions until the day of their deportation. Rights groups claim that migrants have constantly been subjected to abuse by police and denied proper health-care. Activists from the group KEERFA said that Muslim detainees had been beaten by guards during prayers. In July, the same group reported the death of an Afghan detainee from a lung infection while the guards had deliberately ignored his severe condition for months.
[V] In August 2012, Samaras and Dendias passed a new enforcement strategy known as “Operation Xenios Zeus,” aiming to detain and deport clandestine migrants who reside in the Greek territory. Roughly 85,000 people were detained whilst 4,200 (around the 6%) face charges for unlawful entry, and were sent to Amygdaleza or other similar detention centres. As Eva Cosse says “the fact that such a small percentage was actually found to be in Greece unlawfully suggests ethnic profiling”, a claim that seems plausible since this strategy not only targeted immigrants but also tourists, like Hyun Young Jung from South Korea and Christian Ukwuorji (a US born Nigerian), who were also stopped and searched, then detained and beaten up in a police station.
[VI] In Greek the term dosilogos (δοσίλογος) derives from logos–λόγος (reason; or in a less strict translation account, report) and dino–δίνω (give), meaning the task to give account (to report) to a third party whatever I am obligated. It does not only refer to the nazi collaborators during the occupation who were obligated to report to the German authorities any act of resistance, but also the action of every citizen who believed that it was vital to report to the police whoever had connection (or was suspected to have connections) with leftist organizations during and after the civil war and the military junta of 1967-74. Whilst dosilogism can be found in every totalitarian state, such as that of the Nazi Germany, the fascist Italy and Spain, as well as in the Stalinist regimes, it is visible even in the liberal “democracies” (as the example of the 2010-2011 students’ protests in London confirms). It is constantly being fed by the obsession of the masses with security and blind obedience to the values of the established institutionalized norms, pointing out the heteronomy of the modern occidental world; absence of self-limitation, that is the inability of individuals to understand by themselves where their power ends, without being forced to control their desires for pride and domination or acquisition of material goods due to obedience to a superior authority or due to habitual orientation.
[VII] According to Mark Neocleous, the liberal notion of security and protection refers to the various governmental declarations, often constitutionally justified, according to which the use of illiberal means (police and army repression) are necessary aiming to the removal of an alleged potential (often suspicious and not confirmed) common threat coming from ‘violent’ opposition groups, which undermine civil liberties, social or global stability and well-being. As John Locke supported (Neocleous 2012), when public freedoms are threatened by such aggressors, the Sovereign has the right to reduce a certain amount of civil liberties, “only so that [freedom] would be preserved forever”. However, the state of emergency, as this condition is officially called, for Neocleous is nothing but a pretext for various statesmen who usually invent fictitious social enemies (or take advantage of the existence of one real enemy in order to invent more) aiming to suspend basic civil rights for their own private benefit. This simultaneously opens the back door for the imposition of harsh authoritarian measures. In agreement with Neocleous, Giorgio Agamben (2008) also claimed that the state of emergency signifies the beginning of the state of exception (or else constitutional dictatorship), where modern totalitarianism is gradually established; “the entire Third Reich can be considered as a state of exception that lasted 12 years” says also Agamben (2008, p.2) claiming that Hitler took advantage of liberal constitutional laws; “the last years of the Weimeir Republic passed entirely under a regime of the state of exception” (Agamben 2008, p.15) thanks to a systematic abuse of the 48th Article of the Weimeir which writes: “if security and public order are seriously disturbed or threatened in the German Reich”, then the president of the Reich may take any necessary measure to establish public order, even with the help of the army (Agamben 2008, p.14). The Xenios Zeus could be also taken as a state of emergency and this denotes that there is a close relationship between liberalism and authoritarianism. Nonetheless, this loss of liberty ‘for security reasons’ is significantly minor compared to what takes place in a fascist regime. But “the practices involved, the wider state of emergency to which it gives rise, and the intensification of the security obsession, have a disquieting tendency to push contemporary politics further and further towards entrenched authoritarian measures. Liberalism is not only unable to save us from this possibility, but actually had a major role in its creation and continuation”. (Neocleous 2012)
[VIII] But the reasons behind this are historical: Greek nationalism contains more ethnic elements than civic, given that the Greek State was not founded upon the imaginary of capitalist production but on “the messianic irredentist discourse, the ‘Great Idea’” (Giovanni 2012), a narrative that promises border expansion and re-occupation of territories that were lost after the collapse of the Byzantine Empire. GD is clearly a party that embraces racial theories (claiming the superiority of the Greeks) and eugenics, rather than being confined to the ideology of national borders sovereignty.
Additional references (bibliography)
Agamben, G., 2008. State of Exception. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.
Hobbes, Th., 2006. Leviathan. New York: Dover Philosophical Classics.
Theodosiadis, M. (2013), “The Society of Intercultural Relations”, Democracy Street, Oct 15.
I am a PhD Researcher and academic mentor in Goldsmiths, University of London, working on the field of Politics, Sociology and International Relations.
♦ Areas I am interested in include: totalitarianism, populism, direct democracy, civic republicanism, civic humanism, anarchism, history of European political thought, modern European, Greek and Irish politics.
♦ Email: mtheo001 (@gold.ac.uk)