Analysis: Greece's Golden Dilemma
Arrest of neo-Nazi party's leader could result in the fifth most popular party's withdrawal from parliament
Saturday's arrest of Nikolaos Mihaloliakos, leader of the Golden Dawn, and of three additional members of parliament and nine party members, triggered by the murder of a Greek anti-fascist rapper, could result in the withdrawal of the neo-Nazi party from parliament and another crisis in Greece's fragile democracy.
The People's Association, or "Golden Dawn," which started as a fringe movement as far back as 1980, and later became a political party, first won local elections only in 2007. In the national elections of May 2012 it already got nearly 7% of the national vote and entered the Hellenic Parliament with 21 seats, thus becoming the fifth most popular party. Subsequently, in the repeat elections of June, it was reduced to 17 seats. At the same time, Golden Dawn win representation at all the European institutions.
Even though Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras described Golden Dawn as "a right wing, extremist, one may say fascist, neo-Nazi party," the leaders of that party reject that label, describing themselves as merely "nationalists. Yet, the rise of this party in Greece and its soaring popularity (recent polls indicate that Golden Dawn could double its membership if elections were held now) parallels the rise of similar groups in Europe, which makes it all the more worrisome.
There is, no doubt, a link between the growing strength of such groups and the social-economic crisis in Europe. The near collapse of the Greek state's financial system and economic stability enabled a group, hitherto marginal, to move to center stage on the political scene.
Elected on an anti-immigration platform, Golden Dawn rightly identified the malaise besetting Greek society and organized anti-immigrant actions in Athens. Indeed, for years the Greek government had ignored the issue of illegal immigration, until violent confrontations became inevitable. The more than 1.5 million refugees presently in Greece (to which one should add the more recent wave of Syrian refugees) account today for 10% of the population.
Immigrants are easy scapegoats in Greece
With easily crossable borders, Greece has become a gateway for those populations to Europe. According to economists, immigrants bear little or no responsibility at all for the Greek economic crisis, but they have become easy scapegoats for right-wing politicians.
Golden Dawn has been campaigning on the streets – something that "mainstream" politicians avoid. In addition, Greece's security void has bee filled by this party. There is increasing evidence that a large part of the police force has enlisted in the ranks of Golden Dawn and that victims of crimes are being directed by them to the party for assistance.
Not only is that a sad comment on the collapse of Greece's law-enforcement system, it is ironic in view of Golden Dawn's record of violence.
Is Greece turning into another Weimar Germany?
Coupled with the violence against immigrants, Golden Dawn reminds us in every possible way of the rise of Nazism in Weimar Germany: swastika-like emblems, the Nazi salute, unabashed references to passages in "Mein Kampf," the promotion of the superiority of the Greek race - and last, but not least, the denial by Mihaloliakos of the gas chambers and his endless admiration for Hitler whom he qualifies "a great historical figure of the 20th Century."
Mihaloliakos threatened that if arrested, his party will pull out of parliament, a move that could bring about a wave of by-elections. True, by joining parliament, Golden Dawn has benefited from the advantages afforded them as MP's, including immunity from prosecution, but this was partly lifted a year ago during a limited attempt to investigate the party.
While there is no doubt that Greece must do its utmost today to improve socio-economic conditions, this, by itself will not be enough. Golden Dawn should no longer be treated as a legitimate political party.
The rise of Golden Dawn is a mockery to the great tradition of Greek democracy. A party promoting racial ideology coupled with violence should have no place on the public scene in our day and age and should be outlawed. After all, even a young democracy like Israel, where freedom of speech prevails, has proved that it could outlaw parties running on a racist platform.
Colette Avital is a former Israeli ambassador and former member of Knesset