Nobody in his right mind wants Nazis to have a say in how a country is governed. Despite all its flaws and failures, the (Western) European parliamentary system has been good at keeping Nazis out of legislative influence over the past six or so decades. However, thanks to the current, depression-style economic crisis popular faith in the parliamentary system has suffered, especially in very hard-hit southern European countries. In Greece, of course, this led to the rise of the Golden Dawn Nazi party, and 2012 marked the first year since the Third Reich when Nazis once again set their feet in the halls of a European parliament.
For a while, Golden Dawn showed some restraint and did not overtly behave like Nazis. There have been scattered reports of them harassing illegal immigrants and engaging in confrontations with Communists. But it has been hard to distinguish the two groups since European Communists – who by the way have held parliamentary representation in almost every Western European country since World War II – themselves are prone to extra-parliamentary, violent behavior.
Needless to say, none of this excuses any violence committed by any member of the Golden Dawn, especially if it is in the name of his party’s ideology. But this does not seem to concern the Greek Nazis, whose penchant for street-level violence seems to be growing stronger. The EU Observer reports:
Greek officials are considering banning the ultra-nationalist Golden Dawn party after a member is said to have fatally stabbed a prominent left-wing musician at an anti-fascist rally in Athens. Greek public order minister Nikos Dendias told reporters in Athens on Wednesday (18 September) that the government would table emergency legislation seeking to outlaw the group, reports the Guardian. … Dozens of Golden Dawn members chased the 34-year old musician, Pavlos Fyssas, and his friends, from a cafe late on Tuesday evening. Fyssas was then stabbed in the chest, sparking anti-Golden Party demonstrations throughout Athens the next day. Witnesses of the attack said it appeared to be premeditated because the killer suddenly emerged from a vehicle during the assault.
This would essentially mean that Golden Dawn would have to meet the equivalent of American RICO standards, namely that the organization itself can only exist if its members commit crimes on a continuous bases. If that is so, then it makes sense to outlaw Golden Dawn. However, that is unlikely to stop the violence, especially since there is widespread problem in Greece with politically motivated violence from socialist groups, exemplified by the deadly firebombing of the Marfin Bank in 2010 and the Athens Mall bombing in January of this year. None of the leftist groups that carry out terror attacks on almost a regular basis in Greece is, after all, legal.
Furthermore, it is fair to question what Golden Dawn activists and voters will do if their party is abandoned. Evidently, their ideas, beliefs and ambitions have been solidified to such a degree that they can form a presence both in the Greek parliament and in Greek society overall. The EU Observer again:
Prime Minister Antonis Samaras and socialist Pasok party leader Evangelos Venizelos are said to have convened a special meeting to discuss how to strip the party of its influence and voter appeal … the leaders want the government to adopt a two-pronged approach using criminal law to help dismantle the group and techniques to efface its popular “anti-system” image among supporters. … The party, which saw members voted into the parliament in June, has been known to use violence and intimidation against those critical of its views. Last week, a group of 50-or-so Golden Dawn activists also used iron bars to beat up Communist party campaigners putting up posters in the Greek capital.
According to the EU Observer, Golden Dawn is the third largest party in Greece now (they came in fifth in the June 2012 election). This is ostensibly based on opinion polls, and if this is indeed true, the Greek government has a formidable task on its hands. Furthermore, Golden Dawn seems to have strong support among the ranks of the military and the police, and although there are allegations that the party has infiltrated the police, that may very well have happened with the tacit approval from the top of the police hierarchy.
Any action by the legitimately elected prime minister and his cabinet against the Golden Dawn would be morally right, given the party’s ideology and proneness to violence, but it would only make sense if they took similar actions against leftist groups whose long streak of political terrorism dwarfs what Golden Dawn has done thus far. If the issue is politically motivated violence to promote a totalitarian ideology – a worthy reason to act – then it has to be consistent across the board. Otherwise the Greek parliamentary democracy is in grave danger.
That said, the clock might have run out on Greek democracy anyway. If Golden Dawn indeed enjoys strong support among military and police, it is not inconceivable that they may bet on seizing power on a wave of anti-EU, anti-austerity sentiments. That would be disastrous, especially if the result would be a Nazi-leaning dictatorship. But as with the perennial economic crisis in Greece, which has carved away one quarter of the nation’s GDP and put its prosperity beyond rescue, it is entirely possible that the train to save Greece’s democracy has already left the station.
I pray to God I’m wrong. The Greek people has suffered enough already. But if I am right, then may this modern Greek tragedy be an alarming wake-up call for leaders of all welfare states: when the current economic crisis reaches the Greek boiling point, you must choose between the welfare state and democracy. You cannot have both.