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The middle class is the surest remedy against political extremism

24 April 2014 / 20:04:56  GRReporter
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Lora Doncheva
GRReporter exclusive

"The rise to power of Golden Dawn is impressive. It emerged as a formation in 1980 and was registered as a political party in 1993 after a long incubation period and insignificant electoral percentages (its first breakthrough was in 2010 (with 5.29%) with the election of its leader Nikos Michaloliakos a municipal councillor in Athens). It entered parliament after the parliamentary elections in May 2012 with 6.97% and 21 seats, the number of which declined to 18 after the elections in June 2012." This is the opinion of Professor Ricky van Boeschoten who is Dutch by birth, a professor of social anthropology at the University of Thessaly in Volos, Greece. She is director of the Laboratory of Social Anthropology of the University and President of the Hellenic Association for Oral History. The range of her research interests also includes social memory, migration, post-communist societies and ethnic communities. She has works related to the children of political emigrants during the Civil War in Greece and to the politics of memory. She conducted field research in Greece, Yugoslavia and Hungary. Professor Boeschoten was recently in Sofia and delivered at the  "Xaspel" Social Centre a lecture on "Political extremism, xenophobia and crisis - the case of Golden Dawn in Greece." Professor Boeschoten, who is a social activist, arrived with several of her ​​students from Greece whereas in the audience there were students from Bulgaria and other Balkan countries, university professors and journalists.
The lecture delivered by Ricky van Boeschoten focused on the threat on the part of the extreme right in Europe, the trends after the 1990s when mainstream anti-immigrant, xenophobic, racist and anti-Semitic political movements were on the rise almost throughout the entire continent. They have a variety of manifestations in different national contexts - the National Front of Marine Le Pen in France quite successfully seeks to soften its image, whereas in other countries such as Greece and the Ukraine such movements are responsible for the violence against political opponents and/or immigrants. The austerity policy across Europe is the reason for the intensified xenophobia and racism. In her lecture, Ricky van Boeschoten presented in the European context the development of the far-right Golden Dawn movement in Greece, advocating the view that the fight against xenophobia and racism must take place not in the individual countries as it should be treated as a problem of European dimension of the highest priority.

Professor van Boeschoten stressed that "despite the numerous acts of violence, namely 400 injured and 4 killed by Golden Dawn contingents, the Greek state mechanism initiated proceedings against the party leaders only in September 2013, after the murder of Greek hip-hop singer and activist Pavlos Fyssas. The state subsidy for the party was then suspended and its deputies were stripped of parliamentary immunity."
Golden Dawn claims it is not a Nazi but a nationalist party that respects democracy and the constitution, that it fights against the system and protects the Greeks from immigrants and corrupt politicians, attracting a large percentage of voters, especially with the last claim. The reality is however different. In 1978, the leader of the movement, Nikos Michaloliakos was sentenced to one year in prison for throwing a bomb in a theatre. The “achievements” of Golden Dawn include murders of leftist activists, attempted murders (280 attacks), violence against immigrants, indicating a criminal organization that should be pursued by the criminal court. "Until the tragic case of Pavlos Fyssas the party acted with impunity, the murder of a Greek citizen had to happen to provoke its prosecution by the Greek state," emphasized Prof. Boeschoten. "The movement is related to the state apparatus and

has strongly penetrated the Greek police forces. There is evidence that Michaloliakos was a collaborator of the secret service in 1981.
In 2004, "Ta Nea" newspaper published facts on the close relations and cooperation between Golden Dawn and the police authorities, on its members who had been infiltrated among the special forces, simulating the "angry citizens" and taking part in the violent dispersion of non-parliamentary leftist demonstrators. The police was supplying them with batons and walkie-talkie devices; there is evidence of illegal possession of weapons supplied by the right New Democracy party. In the elections in 2012, almost half of the police force in Greece voted for Golden Dawn." In 2013, a "Nazi museum" was discovered at the house of a Greek ship owner, which led to the unravelling of a network of informal relationships. It turned out that Golden Dawn deputies voted in parliament for a law on tax concessions for ship owners, being respectively funded by the water transport tycoons. Aris Papastefanou film "Fascism Inc," incriminates this exchange of political and financial favours between the party and big business. In its pre-parliamentary period (1980-2009), Golden Dawn carried out systematic Nazi propaganda. The lecturer's words were backed up by photos showing party spokesman Ilias Kasidiaris with a tattooed swastika on his arm, members of the movement with their hands raised in the Hitler salute, the cover of the party magazine clearly showing their respect for Hitler and Rudolf Hess as well as symbols of Waffen-SS (the military branch of the SS) such as the Totenkopf ("skull" in German). A photo of Kasidiaris with a member of a British rock band with a neo-Nazi orientation shows how ideology is spread through popular culture. Some of the slides showed corps of Golden Dawn supporting the Serbian rebels in Kosovo. One of the deputies (from Serres) was extreme racist Artemis Matheopoulos, praising Auschwitz methods. He was a member of the political council of the movement. Musician by profession, Matheopoulos was a member of a white power rock band and the following indicative lyrics of his songs were cited, "Fuck Wiesenthal, fuck Anne Frank ...", "Oh, how I love Auschwitz ...", "David's star makes me vomit".

The key weapon in the Golden Dawn's arsenal is the use of anti-capitalist rhetoric. The activities performed by it are as follows: points of food distribution, only to Greeks after showing an ID card, provision of security services in neighbourhoods (if your foreign tenants do not regularly pay their rent, you do not need to contact the police, all you have to do is call the local club of the movement and they will be thrown out), indoctrination of children in infancy, penetration among football hooligans, in schools, breaking up shops, destroying stalls of immigrants.
Professor Boeschoten attempted to explain how it is possible for such a party to appear in a country like Greece where there was a mass resistance movement during World War II (Greece along with Yugoslavia was the only country in Europe that rejected the Nazi occupation almost completely on its own). The wound of mass executions and criminal operations among the civilian population by the Nazi occupiers is not yet fully healed. On the other hand, however, the percentage of Greek collaborators during the occupation (1941-1944) was higher. The struggle continued and took on different dimensions with the fratricidal civil war in Greece (1946-1949) followed by the authoritarian regime from 1949 to the restoration of democracy (1974). Golden Dawn is a kind of a successor to this segment of society, which it has mimicked over time, but this is not the only explanation. According to Professor Boeschoten the movement has gained strength as a result of the economic crisis, which has led to a 28% unemployment rate, 60% of which among young people, to a crisis of values​​, shrinkage of the middle class, collapse of social services, despair, fear, lack of alternative and search for scapegoats.
The rise of Golden Dawn is not an isolated phenomenon but symptomatic of trends across Europe. The increase in the votes for far-right parties to a maximum percentage is typical in the Nordic countries, Central Europe, for example in Hungary (Prime Minister Viktor Orban declared zero tolerance for anti-Semitism), Germany, Austria. "The entry of a large number of deputies, extreme nationalists, in the national parliaments of a number of European countries after the 1990s is a universal phenomenon associated with the Cold War and the change of the image of the enemy, of communism with Islam," said the professor activist. Boeschoten also raised before the audience the question about the presence of the Attack political party in Bulgaria’s public life, which in turn provoked the question of whether someone in Greece speaks for Golden Dawn as a far-left party, since the Attack party is sometimes qualified as such because of its ideas for nationalization, for limiting foreign capital and for a referendum for the purchase of land by foreigners. "The use of populist slogans, symbols of the left wing and leftist discourse by far-right parties is even more confusing for people. Far-right parties have appropriated the rhetoric and many of the symbols of the left wing. A similar tactic was used by Hitler and Mussolini, so their parties were called national socialist" was the answer of the guest lecturer who explained, "Golden Dawn is associated with Freemasonry too. It uses in its arsenal ancient Greek symbols. However they are not borrowed directly from antiquity but mediated by Nazi sources; some of its members are pagans and believe in the pantheon of the twelve Olympian deities."

When asked by Prof. Ivaylo Dichev how the supporters of Golden Dawn are rewriting history, with what historical figures and national heroes they identify themselves, what rituals they respect and practise, Ricky van Boeschoten replied that "the strongest among ancient references is their piety to the Spartan militarized model of society. Despite the identification with paganism to some extent, since it has been a parliamentary party, all or at least its MPs declare they are "Orthodox Christians".    

How to explain the "Norwegian mystery"? the Dutch activist with academic status asked a rhetorical question. "In Norway, there is still a strong welfare state, a small number of well-integrated immigrants and Anders Breivik attacked there, in 2011, the camp of the Workers' Party of Norway on the island of Utoya, shooting 69 young activists of Socialist Youth. The new discourse in Europe is linked to the emergence of a radical right wing that denies the very definition of it as "extreme right". For example, Marin Le Pen said she would condemn anyone who called her party far right. This is very dangerous talk because this discourse is perceived by the media, academic circles, governments and it legitimizes such parties."
The forms of resistance offered by Prof. Boeschoten must be initiated both at institutional level and at grassroots level, by the citizens. Such a discussion forum is the one created by the Greek parliamentary left SYRIZA party, namely "European antifascist manifesto" supported by celebrities and artists of international standing such as director Ken Loach and philosopher Etienne Balibar. From 13 March to 23 March, in the days around 22 March (the International Day of Remembrance of the Victims of Fascism and War), an antifascist festival of performing arts took place in Athens on the initiative of art groups for "opposition to the violent nazification of society". Ricky van Boeschoten gave as an example the activities of leftist activists in the Kipseli neighbourhood in Athens, which is one of the main battlefields of Golden Dawn because of the high percentage of immigrant population, in which oral history is used for mutual understanding and rapprochement of Greek immigrants and citizens, and the work at schools is another similar form. She stressed that for a long time the middle class has been the core of Greek society and the far right could exploit its shrinkage and disappearance if there were no left-wing alternatives.

Tags: Golden DawnNationalist and xenophobic partiesPolitical extremism in EuropeProfessor Ricky van Boeschoten
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