The press is expecting far-right parties across Europe to dominate the European Parliament elections in May as one in five voted for Jobbik in Hungary last Sunday, a week after Front National took control of eleven towns in France and a few months after Slovakia saw the election of a neo-Nazi governor in the Banska Bystrica region.
Greece is no exception. Golden Dawn entered Parliament in 2012 and is currently polling between 9 and 12 percent, despite the imprisonment of its leader and several MPs after antifascist rapper Pavlos Fyssas was killed by a Golden Dawn member in Athens last September.
The social fabric is collapsing
Economic woes and austerity have certainly boosted the far right as more and more voters believe that the EU is driving them into poverty to benefit business elites, or at least bringing in policies that force them to pay for debts they haven’t created. More crucially, the collapse of the social fabric and the welfare state in countries like Greece have turned voters to parties like Golden Dawn and its militant membership that claims to help them by providing food drives “only for Greeks”, job banks “only for Greeks” and “cleaning up the city” from immigrants. Unfortunately, in countries across Europe the political mainstream has done a lot to legitimize far-right electoral platforms; in Greece, the “national unity” government seems to go out of its way to confirm the Golden Dawn agenda, in an exercise to attract votes from the disenfranchised and impoverished communities that buy the argument that immigrants are to blame for their misery.
Golden Dawn has built its electoral success on the presence of the far-right Popular Orthodox Rally (LAOS), which was part of the interim government of national unity formed under former European Central Bank (ECB) Vice President Lucas Papademos in 2011. LAOS was invited to form part of the government, even though there was no practical need for their votes in parliament. As some of their members became ministers, people like Makis Voridis – an ideological child of Jean-Marie Le Pen – and Adonis Georgiadis – who made a career selling books that deny the Holocaust on television – were normalized in the eyes of the public. Both are now high-profile members of ruling center-right party Nea Dimokratia (ND).
Golden Dawn demands immediate deportations
The new government that formed after 2012 under Prime Minister Samaras has not been much better than Papademos. It launched a police operation ironically named “Hospitable Zeus” which targeted illegal immigration around the country. The operation was essentially an exercise in racial profiling, where anyone who didn’t “look Greek” was called upon to prove that they had the right to reside in the country lawfully. Immigrants arrested during this operation and at Greece’s external borders are now stacked in “hospitality centers” resembling concentration camps with “deplorable conditions”, according to a report by aid agency Médecins Sans Frontières. The government also scrapped the “Ragousis Law” which offered citizenship for second-generation immigrants who attended Greek schools. The right to vote in local elections was also taken away from legal immigrants, including EU and EEA citizens. Former PM George Papandreou, who presided over the implementation of the law granting that right, said that its revocation created “a political and psychological gap that will intensify suspicion and racism” in Greek society.
Our prime minister, Antonis Samaras, was quoted saying that “there are as many unemployed people in Greece as there are illegal immigrants” during meetings with the PMs of Italy and Malta last October.
Greece officially had 1.38 million jobless people in February, according to the BBC; Greek research unit ELIAMEP estimated illegal immigrants in Greece at 390,000 in 2011, with around 62,000 of them being legal immigrants who had lost their permits. It is very unlikely that one million illegal immigrants settled in Greece in the two years leading up to Samaras’ statement. This only confirms the political shift towards a narrative created by Golden Dawn and their likes. These choices and policies legitimize the central claims of the Golden Dawn, which demand the immediate deportation of all illegal immigrants and blame them for all of Greece’s woes.
Xenophobic policies have resonated
The recently leaked recording made by cabinet secretary Takis Baltakos proves the prosecution of Golden Dawn’s leadership in spite of cosy relationships between the far-right and the government. This has managed to shock even those Greeks that have been ignoring the warnings concerning the ideological stance of governing party ND made by the parliamentary left. Even if there is no official collusion, the government has done wonders to confirm the Golden Dawn’s platform in the eyes of the population. As its economic policy fails to deliver tangible benefits to its voting base, ND is set to lose even more votes to the far right, as two years of reversing progressive legislation on citizenship and advancing xenophobic policies have resonated in the minds of the Greek population. For a country with so many of its own abroad, and thousands leaving as we speak to find a livelihood abroad, it is deeply ironic that Greece’s own government seems to have picked a side that could be used against the millions of Greeks around the world.