Dawn of a new danger
The world’s media has gone into a panic about Greek fascists Golden Dawn. Here, Yiorgos Vassalos examines their neo-Nazi politics and the reasons for their support
Members of the neo‑Nazi Golden Dawn march through the streets in their blackshirts. Photo: Alexandros Michailidis. Below, Hitler on the cover of Golden Dawn magazine
Golden Dawn is not exactly subtle in its Nazi allegiances. This is a group that in 1989, four years after it was founded, decided to put Hitler on the cover of its magazine (pictured right). Even as late as 2007 the publication led on a big picture of Rudolf Hess.
In 2005 the magazine ran an article headlined ‘May 1945-May 2005: We have nothing to celebrate’. It read, ‘[The real] winner is the young fighter of the Hitlerjugend, who fell fighting in destroyed Berlin. The soldier of the Wehrmacht and the Waffen SS, against the forces of nature and the forces of the enemy.’
Yet somehow Golden Dawn continues to deny that it is a neo‑Nazi organisation. ‘Let everyone know that they should not speak of neo-Nazism,’ says Ilias Kasidiaris, the Golden Dawn MP best known for punching left-wing MPs on a TV chat show. ‘For us, this is hubris and criminal defamation. We are Greek nationalists.’ This is a man who, in an article written for Hitler’s birthday just last year, wrote that the Nazi leader was ‘a great social reformer and an organiser of a model state’.
While the veil might seem transparent, and the international media hasn’t been slow to build up the threat from Golden Dawn, 425,000 people in Greece still voted for this neo-Nazi party. How did that happen?
To answer this question, we need to look back at where Golden Dawn came from, the base of its support and how it has built a following during Greece’s crisis. Only then can we look beyond the horror story to see who is really threatening democracy in Greece – and how we can stop them.
The long shadow of the colonels
Golden Dawn was founded in 1985 – but its roots stretch back much further, to the fascist dictatorship of General Metaxas that ruled Greece from 1936 to 1941, and more directly to the colonels’ junta of 1967 to 1974.
The personal political history of Golden Dawn’s founder and leader Nikos Michaloliakos shows the links. At the age of 16 he joined the ‘4th of August Party’ – named after the 4 August 1936 coup that brought General Metaxas to power. Then in 1984 he became the head of the youth organisation of fascist party EPEN, a group openly nostalgic for the colonels’ regime. Michaloliakos was put into the position on the order of the chief of the deposed colonels himself, Georgios Papadopoulos.
Since 1980, Michaloliakos had been publishing a magazine called Golden Dawn. When EPEN failed to make the electoral breakthrough that had been predicted in 1985, he decided to split and turn Golden Dawn into a new party.
He was helped by the fact that large parts of the state were left unchanged despite the fall of the dictatorship in 1974. The extreme right remained strong in the police and the security forces in particular.
Today Golden Dawn’s ties with the police and the secret state are becoming more and more obvious, as anti-fascists and migrants are constantly harassed and physically attacked but the neo-Nazis remain uninvestigated and unpunished.
This September, for instance, supposed ‘indignant residents’ backed by Golden Dawn completely destroyed two shops belonging to migrants and a Tanzanian community centre. The police pressured the migrants not to identify those who had been involved in the attack. When one insisted on doing so, he was arrested – while his attacker was set free. Ioanna Kurtovik, a lawyer who went there to support the migrants and was attacked, reports that Golden Dawn members and police officers could be seen chatting all over the police station.
More recently, arrested anti-fascists reported police bluntly telling them: ‘We will send your names and photos to Golden Dawn and they will come after you.’
The battle of the nurseries
Over the last few years there have been two factors that have helped Golden Dawn’s rise. The first was Italy and Spain’s crackdowns on migrants, in particular Italy signing a treaty with Libya’s then-dictator Gaddafi to close the ‘Libyan corridor’. This has meant that nine out of ten ‘irregular’ migrants trying to make their way to Europe now come through Greece.
Then, in 2009, Greece became the epicentre of the global economic crisis, and the Eurozone debt crisis in particular. Greece’s two traditional governing parties, New Democracy and the social democrats of Pasok, both turned to scapegoating migrants to try to divert anger away from the austerity measures that the EU, finance and employers demanded.
New Democracy leader and current prime minister Antonis Samaras claimed that migrants were ‘taking the places of Greeks’ in council-run nurseries. He was exploiting the fact that publicly funded nursery places are limited by income to the very poorest. Migrants are often the poorest of the poor, meaning they get places that used to go to low-paid workers. Much like the issue of housing in Britain, this has become explosive.
Once Samaras had opened the door, Golden Dawn ran through it and went much further. The party pledged to go into the nurseries and violently throw out migrant children.
With stunts like this the neo-Nazis try to pose as an ‘anti‑capitalist’ force that is on the side of the middle and working classes against ‘corrupt’, ‘traitor’ politicians. Their answer to austerity is an awful form of ‘direct action’ that claims to win more resources for struggling Greeks by taking away migrants. For example, Golden Dawn often barges into businesses and threatens employers, telling them they must fire their migrant workforce and hire Greeks instead.
But in truth this does not threaten the bosses’ system – in fact it helps it. The businesses are more than happy to hire Greeks at the same wage they were paying the migrants, not least because doing so undermines collective labour agreements along the way – which the trade union movement is struggling to defend. And Golden Dawn, for its part, doesn’t limit its attacks to migrants – it has also attacked left wing activists, as well as journalists, gay people and all the other long-established targets of fascists.
A question of democracy
So who is voting for Golden Dawn? Are there really 425,000 Nazis in Greece?
According to pollster Christophoros Vernardakis, Golden Dawn’s primary audience is the traditional lower middle class: small business owners, shopkeepers, lower middle class unemployed people, and of course the police.
As well as making political capital out of immigration, Golden Dawn has also been able to tap into the general ‘anti-political’ mood. Nikos Michaloliakos frequently declares at rallies that ‘democracy hasn’t worked’. In today’s Greece, with the austerity-pushing troika of the European Commission, the European Central Bank and the IMF undermining democracy at every turn, and those who claim to speak in the name of democracy daily demonstrating their disdain for the people, that’s a message that appeals to many.
Meanwhile the media whitewashes the Nazis, reporting on the marriage of this Golden Dawn MP or the love affair of the other one. They are legitimising Golden Dawn’s anti-democratic views through day to day banality.
But none of this means that it is too late to stop Golden Dawn. This is a country, after all, that will have seen at least four days of general strikes this autumn alone. And the marches during these strikes, and the local committees organising people’s everyday struggles against austerity, are places where Golden Dawn never goes.
Indeed there is a constant struggle taking place over public space. In many places, people have mobilised to stop Golden Dawn’s marches and anti-migrant raids.
But the labour movement and the left in Greece is in a battle against time. Progressives need to hurry up in not just bringing down the government but agreeing an alternative programme to the anti-democracy of the troika: more public services, more rights, more power to working people. All over Europe and the world, we need to put an end to austerity and privatisation – before more racist gangs like Golden Dawn get in our way.
The magazine Golden Dawn was first published by Nikos Michaloliakos, the party’s General Secretary, in 1980. Long before that however, the views of the publisher were hardly unknown.
In 1973, at the age of 16, Michaloliakos became a member of the August 4 political party, named after the August 4th 1936 coup that established the dictatorship of General Ioannis Metaxas August 4 had been founded in 1969 by the neonazi ‘theorist’ Konstantinos Plevris, known for literary feats such as Jews: The Whole Truth.
In 1976, Nikos Michaloliakos was arrested for assaulting journalists who were covering the funeral of Evangelos Mallios – a notorious torturer of the Colonels’ junta – assassinated by terrorist group November 17. Michaloliakos was also arrested in 1978 and sentenced to a year in prison for being a member of an extremist far-right group and for possession of explosives.
In 1984, Michaloliakos became leader of the youth organization of EPEN (National Political Union), another fascist party – this one openly nostalgic of the dictators that governed Greece between 1967 and 1974. Michaloliakos himself has expressed his pride in the fact that he was appointed to this position on the order of the leader of the Colonels himself, Giorgos Papadopoulos, who by then had been sentenced to life in prison. The “National Popular Movement Golden Dawn” (later, “Popular Association Golden Dawn”) was founded in 1985 but its exploits intensified after 1993 when it began organising protests over the issue of Macedonia, aka the “Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia”.
Michaloliakos bears the title of General Secretary, though members refer to him as the “leader”. In December 2005, the “leader” announced that Golden Dawn would cease operating autonomously and would form part of the nationalist Patriotic Alliance party, which he founded. It was a first effort at blurring the organization’s neonazi character. It didn’t work. In March 2007, Golden Dawn withdrew its support, and Patriotic Alliance faded out of the picture. Golden Dawn’s sixth political convention took place in the same month. An unprecedented rise In the Athens municipal elections in 2010, Michaloliakos was elected in the municipal council.
If there was ever doubt as to whether his organisation had abandoned its neonazi views, they quickly disappeared: at the end of a council session, the Golden Dawn leader gave everyone the Nazi salute. Despite this, the Greek mainstream media are not eager to delve into Michaloliakos’s murky past, even when a document surfaces in which the leader of Golden Dawn appears to have been on the clandestine payroll of KYP (State Service of Intelligence, later EYP, “National”, the Greek Intelligence Service) in 1981. According to the document, his monthly salary was 120.000 drachmas. Michaloliakos has denied this and has claimed the document to be a fake. Golden Dawn appeared in national polling in November 2011 at 1 per cent nationwide.
The following Spring, according to political scientist Efthymis Papavlassopoulos, there comes a crucial moment: Illegal immigration is focused on by the [Greek] media, which presents it as the first and foremost threat that Greece is faced with. In the beginning of 2012, Golden Dawn begins to be presented by the media as a counterpoint to SYRIZA, the left coalition party, which at the time is also rising in popularity. Golden Dawn seizes the opportunity and steps up its rhetoric, condemning the government’s pro-austerity policies. But, in contrast to SYRIZA, it also has a vehemently racist anti-immigrant side to its rhetoric.
The government responds by stepping up its anti-immigrant police action, even opening concentration camps for illegal immigrants. But Golden Dawn still offers up the more “authentic” version: it speaks of Greece as a place for those with “Greek blood”. In the following months it will give out food to the poor, but only if they can prove their “Greekness”, and it will set up a blood bank, with “Greek blood only”. In the national elections of June 2012, Golden Dawn gets an unprecedented 6.92 per cent of the vote, and secures 18 seats in the 300-seat Greek Parliament. Golden Dawn poses as “anti-systemic”, but its party program does not bear this out. The party is certainly not anti-capitalist. Its rhetoric is vague, full of attacks on “thieves”, “banks”, and “corrupt politicians”, and exclamations about Greece’s “huge strategic depth”, through which the country can acquire “inexhaustible power and international influence”.
The party’s proposal for economic recovery is drilling for oil. About the only concrete thing in the party program is what to do with immigration, a subject where proposals take on a ghastly specificity: Golden Dawn proposes to reinstall the anti-personnel land mine fields on the Greek borders – a criminal weapon, banned by the Ottawa Treaty, which Greece has of course signed. ‘Olympian greatness’ Browsing through Golden Dawn magazine, it is difficult to keep a straight face. In its pages, one finds gems such as: “Is the great god Pan dead? The racial soul answers: NO”… The text is signed by the “leader” Michaloliakos himself, who also asserts that “the renaissance of Hellenism means a return to the Models of the Olympian Gods, with which our ancestors achieved greatness”. There other great finds also, such as the story of Rudolf Hess’ Greek ancestry or the story of the resurrected Hitler roaming around Berlin for 40 days.
But nostalgia for Hitler and nazism is not all in the sphere of naive metaphysics. There are titles such as: “May 1945 – May 2005. We have nothing to celebrate”. On the contrary, one reads, in a text bemoaning the defeat of the Nazis in World War II, the “[real] winner is the young fighter of the Hitlerjugend, who fell fighting in destroyed Berlin. The soldier of the Wermacht and the Waffen SS, against the forces of nature and the forces of the enemy”. International ties Golden Dawn has paraded its neonazi beliefs in other ways. In May 2005, for instance, it joined the German neonazi party NPD in Berlin in a ceremony paying respect to Hitler, on the anniversary of the defeat of nazism. And in 2010, Nikos Michaloliakos addressed the audience in a gathering of the Italian neofascist party Forza Nuova.
It is curious, of course, how a Greek political party that claims to be “patriotic” can at the same time be nostalgic of Hitler and mingle with Italian neofascists, given that in Greece, Italy’s defeat by the Greek Army in the Albanian front – as well as fierce resistance to the nazis throughout the occupation – remain a major source of national pride. Coupled with the aforementioned views on the Olympian gods, such beliefs might tempt one to dismiss these people as buffoons and turn away laughing; but our laughter would be cut short. ‘We the strong will crush you like worms’ “We want to create”, Nikos Michaloliakos has said, “a fighting guard that will punish traitors at the crucial time”. And Yiorgos Mastoras, a member of Golden Dawn, has put it in even clearer terms: “It is time for you to understand that the streets now belong completely to us, without a hint of retreat.
You can change your mind and walk on our path, on the road of Nature, Power, and Human History. Do it, or else vanish from our sight, because we, the strong, will crush you like worms”. They mean every word. In 1998 Antonis Androutsopoulos, known by the nickname “Periandros” was second in command of Golden Dawn. In June that year, a student -Dimitris Kousouris was set upon with wooden clubs by Androutsopoulos and nine other GD members. The attack took place after Golden Dawn took exception to a demonstration by trades union members and students outside the Athens Courthouse.
The case, which went to trial, found Androutsopoulos and his accomplices guilty of attempted murder. The place of Antonis Androutsopoulos as Michaloliakos’s right-hand man was filled by Ilias Kasidiaris, who serves as the party’s spokesman and has been an MP since June. Kasidiaris achieved worldwide notoriety when he attacked two other members of Parliament – throwing a glass of water on SYRIZA MP Rena Dourou and striking Liana Kanneli (a KKE MP) in the face, while on a panel discussion on live TV. He was not arrested. In what has become a trademark misinformation act by Golden Dawn, Kasidiaris stated in a speech in the Greek Parliament on September 20: “Let everyone know that they should not speak of neonazism. For us, this is hubris. And criminal defamation”. Facts prove him less than truthful. Recently he wrote an article in Golden Dawn’s newspaper, on the occasion of the anniversary of Adolf Hitler’s birthday. Hitler, he wrote, was “a great social reformer and an organizer of a model state”.
The Greek media’s culpability Despite Golden Dawn’s recent electoral success, not that many people read its paper. A great many on the other hand, read the mainstream newspapers, particularly the “yellower” ones and watch the gossipy TV shows. These media’s attitude towards Golden Dawn’s number-two is, to say the least, peculiar. He has become the new “golden boy” of lifestyle shows and populist tabloids, which go on about whether women find him “sexy”: the fact that he still lives with his parents “because they are a close family”; whether he is romantically involved with a triple-jumper (who was disqualified in the Olympics due to a racist joke she made on twitter), whether or not he has paid 800 euros to get rid of his body hair or has used botox on his face, and why he abandoned tango – his first love before politics.
It will suffice to say that this type of “laundering” through media banality does a lot more to blur the public’s perception of Golden Dawn’s criminal actions, than strenuous denials of neonazi beliefs in Parliament. 425,000 people voting for a neonazi party, in a country that suffered greatly under Nazi occupation and boasted some of the fiercest resistance in the world, is shocking. Shocking, however, doesn’t mean incomprehensible. The reasons can be found in the deepening debt crisis and recession, while interesting analyses point to the structural characteristics of traditional Greek society and contemporary popular culture – that in combination explain in part why such a portion of the public seems enthralled with Golden Dawn.
The most important historical parallel to be drawn, though, is that Golden Dawn’s intentions, the same as those of their original source of inspiration, are plain for all to see. “They do not understand”, said Nikos Michaloliakos in a speech in 2011, “that when we become strong, we will be merciless. If need be, we soil our hands. If need be, we are not democrats.” On this, if on nothing else, Golden Dawn should be taken at its word.
This article is an edited version of Augustine Zenakos’ report ‘Golden Dawn 1980-2012, The Neo-Nazis Road to Parliament’, published in the online blog ‘Reports from the edge of borderline democracy’ www.borderlinereports.net