The new rise of European political extremism – Greece today, where next?

History Future Now has written about the inevitable rise of extremist political parties in Europe as society is torn apart by austerity measures.  Spain now has an overall unemployment rate of more than 25% and youth unemployment is now approaching 60%.  The Catalan government in the north east of the country is threatening leave Spain.

Greece has similar levels of unemployment and Maria Mararonis, writing in The Guardian, describes the rise of Golden Dawn, a neo-Nazi party that has the backing of much of the police and society.  She writes:

In austerity-ravaged Greece, neo-Nazi party Golden Dawn is on the rise. Their MPs give fascist salutes, while on the streets black-shirted vigilantes beat up immigrants. And some of their most enthusiastic supporters are in the police.

and that:

Legitimised by democracy and by the media, Golden Dawn is opening branches in towns all over Greece and regularly coming third in national opinion polls. Its black-shirted vigilantes have been beating up immigrants for more than three years, unmolested by the police; lately they’ve taken to attacking Greeks they suspect of being gay or on the left. MPs participate proudly in the violence. In September, three of them led gangs of black-shirted heavies through street fairs in the towns of Rafina and Messolonghi, smashing up immigrant traders’ stalls with Greek flags on thick poles.

She describes seeing the leader of Golden Dawn and is as horrified by the positive support he gets from people she has known her entire life as she is by his message:

Standing among the citizens of Megara as Michaloliakos addresses them, I feel as if I’ve slipped into a parallel universe. As a Greek, I’ve known these people all my life: middle-aged women with coiffed hair and well-upholstered bosoms, men in clean white shirts and neatly belted trousers. They’re the people who run the cafes and corner shops; who work hard every day, often at two or three jobs; who pinch children’s cheeks and won’t let you pay for your coffee; who were always cynical about politicians’ promises. I never thought they could fall prey to fascist oratory. Yet here they are, applauding Michaloliakos as he barks and roars, floodlit against a low white building next to the petrol station. We could almost be back in the 1940s, between the Axis occupation and the civil war, when former collaborators whipped up hatred of the left resistance.

Michaloliakos has his populism down pat. His message is pride, and purity, and power. He lambasts the other parties for selling out the country, for their lies and corruption, with special attention to the left party, Syriza. Golden Dawn, he says, are the only patriots, the only ones who haven’t dipped their hands in the honeypot. He praises Megara, which used to supply all of Greece, “before we started eating Egyptian potatoes, Indian onions and Chilean apples”. Then he turns to “the two million illegal immigrants who are the scourge of this country”, who sell heroin and weapons with impunity. “Voting for us is not enough,” he says. “We want you to join the struggle for Greece. Don’t rent your house to foreigners, don’t employ them… We want all illegal foreigners out of our country, we want the usurers of the troika and the IMF out of our country for ever.”

The article is well written and foreboding.  Greece, Portugal and Spain are very much part of the European Union today and are pleasant places to visit and live in.  But they were military dictatorships a generation ago.

Some people will just sit back and tut tut the Greeks, saying that Greece’s problems are their fault, and that they had it coming.  This is true: Greece’s problems are mainly caused by significant overspending by both the private and public sector.  Their economies grew on the back of significant transfers of funds from the rest of the European Union, helping to create new roads and infrastructure.  Those funds are no longer available.  But this view is neither helpful nor empathetic.

Centrist political parties are in a difficult position.  There is a limit to what they can do within the bounds of what they believe to be “responsible”.  Extremist parties, on the other hand, have no qualms about providing solutions that are, well, extreme.  The fact that most of their solutions will not work is irrelevant: they are at least offering solutions.  Centrist parties offer no acceptable solutions, just more cuts to services and higher taxation.

Political movements are contagious and cross national borders.  Right wing fascism was popular in Italy, France, Spain, Britain and Germany in the run up to the Second World War. Conversely, mildly left of centre governments swept into office all over the western world from the time of Bill Clinton and Tony Blair.

We all need to pay attention to Greece and Spain.  They are the canaries in the coal mine.


Click here to read Maria Mararonis’s article:  Fear and loathing in Athens: the rise of Golden Dawn and the far right | World news | The Guardian.

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