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Does the Greek Golden Dawn party threaten European unity?

Public anger over austerity in Greece @flickr by how will I ever

Public anger over austerity in Greece @flickr by how will I ever

“Who cares if six million Jews were exterminated? What I care about is the salary I have lost [and] the criminals who rule this country,” casually retorts a businessman sitting in a cafe in central Athens. Statements such as these clearly illustrate the ongoing frustration of the Greek population with their country’s shattered economy, and why the position of the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn party holds strong.

Golden Dawn, currently the third most popular party in a country that continues to suffer from the harsh consequences of austerity, has time and time again let its true anti-Semitic colors come to the surface. What is most worrying is that today, in a country where 69 percent of the population harbors anti-Semitic views, people feel that Golden Dawn is the only party that can offer solutions to rampant corruption and limit immigration, the two main issues perceived to be plaguing their country. Moreover, in the words of one supporter, the party is also “the best response yet to the great Jewish conspiracy of an interconnected banking system that has come with globalization.”

In post-crisis Europe in general, the Jewish community is feeling increasingly threatened by physical attacks, such as the one on a Jewish Museum in Brussels on May 24, which killed four. Assaults such as these, as well as verbal abuses and discrimination, are becoming all the more common in European countries, which are increasingly blaming the Jews for their economic woes. The geopolitical context isn’t helping much, as anti-Semitic feeling is bound to go even higher as Israel cements its military hold over Gaza.

In a signal of concern over these growing fascist trends, Russia’s President Putin met with chief rabbis from Europe in Moscow in an effort to come up with a common approach in halting the “revival of Nazi ideas.” During the meeting, which took place on the eve of the Holocaust memorial day in Sevastopol, where hundreds gathered to remember the victims of the ‘Crimean Holocaust’, both sides expressed the need to work together to fight any manifestations of Nazi ideology, anti-Semitism and xenophobia. According to Putin, one key goal for the future should be to ensure that the memory of the Holocaust lives on and that history does not repeat itself.

Fascism on the Greek horizon

Having won three seats and 9.4 percent of the vote in the May 2014 European elections, Greece’s Golden Dawn best illustrates these nationalist trends, and should strike fear in the minds of Europeans and their leaders. The future of the EU project and its motto ‘united in diversity’ may very well come to an end if these forces are left unchecked.

Golden Dawn did not always boast the same level of support it does today. Back in 2009, the party polled a measly 0.29 percent in the national elections. In 2012, as the devastating effects of the 2008 financial crisis were beginning to take their toll and anger at the harsh austerity measures imposed by the Troika (EU, ECB and IMF) exploded, Golden Dawn began to break ground.

By this point, unemployment had sky-rocketed, becoming the highest in Europe at 25 percent and 54 percent for the youth, public services evaporated, industry collapsed while a corrupt and inefficient government continued to push for job and wage cuts in hopes of more bailout funds. Greeks took to the streets to protest the injustices of their government and their swiftly deteriorating standard of living.

As many began to assign blame indiscriminately to all — mainstream parties, the EU, and foreigners — for their hardships, Golden Dawn gathered support from the disenfranchised and the disenchanted.  In 2012 the party won 18 seats in the 300-member Greek parliament. This number should be cause for concern, considering the neo-Nazi nature, rhetoric and the violent actions of the party.

Today, with Greek unemployment holding steady at a whopping 27 percent, the popularity of the Golden Dawn as an alternative to Europe and all its values continues to rise. While some may not fully approve of the party’s Hitler salutes and swastika look alike flag, they feel they have nowhere else to turn and little more to loose.

The Politics of Hate

At local elections in May 2014, Golden Dawn mayoral candidate Ilias Kasidiaris won 16 percent of the Athenian vote. The fact that he sports a swastika tattoo on his upper arm and has assaulted two female left-wing politicians on live TV didn’t seem to scare the Greeks, as one in six cast a vote in his favor. Speaking on their success in the European Parliament elections, Kasidiaris congratulated supporters, claiming that they “are the only political power that stands up against our state being run by foreign powers.”

While many political pundits have tried to insist that the continued rise to stardom of Golden Dawn should still be attributed to a protest vote, their victory appears to be more than a population’s mere disenchantment with the country’s economic woes. The general view in Greece is that most of the party firmly ascribes to neo-Nazi views.

Although the party denies outright its neo-Nazi tendencies, insisting that they are merely Greek nationalists, reports of their violence toward immigrants points to the contrary. There continue to be accusations that Golden Dawn members violently beat, tortured and mutilated members of the immigrant community as well as Greeks of color. Such accusations were confirmed when six Golden Dawn MPs and the party’s leader, Nikos Michaloliakos, were jailed. The members are currently awaiting trial for the alleged acts of abuse, assault and murder.

Europe under attack

The increasing popularity of the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn as well as other extreme right parties in Europe, such as Hungary’s Jobbik and France’s Front National, poses a serious threat to the future of the EU and its ability to move toward its common goals of protecting human rights.

If Europe as a whole is to hold true to its cause and prove that it is indeed a defender of human rights, we need to begin to address the problem of anti-Semitism in European countries and listen to the needs and concerns of those who are increasingly steering to the far right of the political spectrum. As this is a systemic issue plaguing the entire European continent, European leaders should work together to root out the buds of illiberalism while it is still possible.

With acts of anti-Semitism widespread and on the rise, it’s high time for Europe to shake off its stupor and remember the lessons of the Second World War. If Europe fails to fight this fearsome foe, there may soon no longer be a EU to unite.



Mark Varga
Mark Varga

Mark Varga is a Hungarian-American European Affairs Consultant residing in Budapest.