Dr. Vasiliki Tsagkroni, Lecturer in Comparative Politics at Leiden University
Was the rise of the semi-fascist Golden Dawn movement in Greece really a thunderbolt — or was it something that was always there and managed to come to the surface?
The story of Greek extreme-Right dates back to 1920s, when first fascist organizations started to emerge in various forms, operating mostly at the local level, without managing to have a national breakthrough. In 1936, the dictatorship of Ioannis Metaxas was imposed, followed by censorship, repression, and arrests; many of these organizations were banned.
During the occupation by the Axis powers during the Second World War, the security battalions’ initiative appeared. Founded in 1943 by the occupation government, they cooperated with the occupation army against the resistance.
After the war, some new groups emerged in 1960s, like the National Student Social Organization or the Sacred Tie of Greek Officers, preparing the ground for the imposition of the military dictatorship of Georgios Papadopoulos in 1967. The colonels’ regime lasted for seven years and ended after the Turkish counter-invasion of Cyprus in the summer of 1974, which did not leave much room for extreme-Right organisations to act.
The end of dictatorship left some nostalgia for the junta, but for many years it did not gain significant support. As pointed out extensively by researchers focusing on the Greek case, relatively recent experience of military dictatorship and the memories that are a living legacy for a numerically significant part of the electorate created a shield against such extreme choices. However, over the years these memories fade, and in the 1990s, Macedonian, immigration and the issue of identity provoked by demographic change provided space for the re-emergence and consolidation of extreme-Right ideas.
The rise of the extreme-Right over the last decade was first signalled by the strengthening of LAOS (Popular Orthodox Rally) of G. Karatzaferis, and his involvement in Papadimos’ government in late 2011. The party took advantage of the fact that some democratic parties did not isolate it in a timely manner, but instead decided to cooperate with it for reasons of interest. The party of LAOS was the first of these movements to successfully embed in the political establishment, but Karatzaferis’ decision to support Papadimos’ government proved to be fateful for the future of the party. Support drained away towards Golden Dawn.
Golden Dawn first emerged in the 1980s, and has been associated with violence and persecution of minority groups, notably gypsies, while being wedded to the “leader’s principle” and openly admiring the autocratic regimes of Greece’s recent past. With the entrance of Golden Dawn into the Greek parliament, a sense of risk about the quality of the country’s democracy started to appear, reflecting not just on the established political system but also to the countries core democratic framework.
Golden Dawn is neither an unexpected nor a new phenomenon, but it is part of a historical continuum of extreme-Right manifestations in Greece. In order to comprehend the main reasons for the rise of Golden Dawn we need to look closer to the socio-economic context, the turndowns and changes that created a window of opportunity for the party — namely the economic crisis, the political crisis that saw the European Union push out an elected government, the burgeoning ideological initiatives, and the refugee crisis.
Golden Dawn managed reflect the frustration against the settled rulers of the political establishment and protested the E.U. Troika’s imposed austerity measures, as well as capitalizing on the building fear and rage about the chaos inflicted on Greece by the refugee waves. Even now, while the party itself has lost support for various reasons, the underlying conditions that nourished the extreme-Right scene in the country remain. A party like Greek Solution stands strong in the parliament, able to carry the banner for the extreme-Right going forward.
The lesson of the Greek case is that despite being a pariah for decades, despite the conflicts within the movement (structural, ideological, and in terms of expression), the extreme-Right maintained the power to enter the national parliament and shows no signs of leaving. The narratives that propelled Golden Dawn have appeal within the electorate. Counternarratives seem to be failing to tackle this matter because the extreme-Right is tapping into core concerns of the society and framing itself as a defense against them. With the constant changes inherent in a liberal society, a vicious circle of dislocation and the extreme-Right proffering itself as a savior is likely to ensure that the extreme-Right remains a factor in Greek politics for the foreseeable future.
The only certainty is that there is still much to do to understand this evolving phenomenon.
European Eye on Radicalization aims to publish a diversity of perspectives and as such does not endorse the opinions expressed by contributors. The views expressed in this article represent the author alone.