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. 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.