Greece: Democracy and Fascism need each other

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The stabbing of Greek rapper Pavlos Fyssas in September by a self-confessed member of Golden Dawn has led to a wave of official actions against the neo-nazi party. Members, deputies and its leader have been arrested on charges of belonging to a criminal organisation, following the lifting of its parliamentary immunity. Individuals have been charged with murder, attempted murder, sex trafficking, money laundering, benefit and tax fraud. Its state funding has been suspended. Witnesses have given evidence of the involvement of the party in attacks on immigrants, extortion and arms smuggling.

Political parties have shown themselves united in their support of the measures taken, all agreeing that Golden Dawn (GD) is a serious threat to democracy. Alexis Tsipras, the leader of left wing opposition party Syriza supported the repressive measures: “The intervention shows that our democracy is standing firm and it is healthy”  while suggesting that the ‘intervention’ had not gone far enough as Syriza called for all GD members to be arrested. The Greek Socialist Workers’ Party saw the actions of the coalition government as a “victory” and declared “We celebrate this development”, while demanding that there should also be a “cleansing” of the police.

The divisions in Greek politics have always run deep. Yet, on the economic level, the conservative New Democracy and the social democratic PASOK, after more than 35 years of alternating in government denouncing each other’s every move, joined together in a coalition government in November 2011 in order to impose even tougher austerity measures. Similarly, for all the different views of the economic calamity that Greece has been in over the last six years - whether or not, for example, to leave the EU - the parties have united in their defence of democracy. This is not before time for the Council of Europe’s human rights commissioner Nils Muiznieks who produced a report in April this year which said that Greece had perfectly adequate legal grounds to ban Golden Dawn. In February he had called on Greece to do more against offences committed by GD and its links with the police. He also recommended investigations into police brutality.

Democratic backsliding

The state of democracy in Greece has been a preoccupation of the international bourgeoisie for some time. In a recent report from the Demos think tank Backsliders: Measuring Democracy in the EU,  Greece and Hungary come out as the most serious causes for concern. Greece is seen as “overwhelmed by extremely high unemployment, social unrest, endemic corruption and a severe disillusionment with the political establishment”.

On every count the report sees Greece coming out badly. It’s the most corrupt country in the EU, “… in countries like Greece and Italy corruption has risen in line with sluggish economic fortunes”. The catastrophic state of the economy is linked to widespread discontent – another recent report found Greeks now the most unhappy people in Europe. In the face of discontent “Some have argued that freedom of assembly has been challenged repeatedly by the Greek police, who have been accused of the use of teargas and violence against peaceful protestors and the incitement of riots since 2008”. The emergence of Golden Dawn is seen as pointing to a failing of the whole Greek ‘political class’. The links between GD and the police disturb the report’s authors.

The report is also concerned at the decline in turnout at Greek elections, although that is seen as a general problem: “countries across Western Europe are experiencing a sustained decline in voter turnout over the past 50 years, seemingly driven by increased apathy and a perceived absence of political choice.” In Greece, superficially, there might seem as though there was a tremendous range of choice, with a generous variety of parties from left, right and centre. However, as is seen elsewhere, the perception that in reality all parties stand for much the same has been dawning over a long period.

Although the Demos report is supposedly focussed on democracy, it has a wide-ranging brief. The treatment of immigrants is highlighted. “They can face tough conditions on arrival. Amnesty International has accused Greece of treating migrants like criminals and disregarding its obligations under international law. In January 2011 the European Court of Human Rights found Greece had violated Article 3 of the ECHR, which requires member states to prohibit torture, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, because of its poor asylum procedures”. Here the respectable parties of Greek democracy meet up with the neo-nazi Golden Dawn. Members of GD have physically attacked migrants, while the Greek government has undertaken an official campaign.

In August 2012 the Greek coalition government launched Operation Xenios Zeus. Tens of thousands of people, supposedly illegal undocumented migrants, have been subjected to abusive stops and searches on the streets, and hours-long detention at police stations. Of 85,000 detained about 4200 (about 6%) have been faced with charges of unlawful entry. Many have been sent to the Amygdaleza detention centre in northern Athens (the ‘Greek Guantanamo’). Here, officially, 1600 migrants are held, forced to live in inhuman conditions, subject to police abuse, denied proper health care, with Muslims being attacked while at prayer, until they are deported. The head of the Greek police union said that conditions were inhuman and unacceptable for the guards as well. Xenios Zeus is the Greek patron of hospitality.

Blaming foreigners

While Golden Dawn have attacked migrants on the streets, there are other foreigners who are more generally blamed for the current situation in Greece. The German Chancellor Angela Merkel is widely described as the ‘new Hitler’ because of the role of Germany in the imposition of austerity measures. The Left is only marginally more sophisticated when it attacks the Troika of the EU, IMF and European Central Bank, while calling for withdrawal from the EU. As government repression cracked down on Golden Dawn its spokesmen hinted at ‘foreign influences’ or compared Greek Prime Minister Samaras to Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan. The parties of the bourgeoisie have a similar approach in practice and in rhetoric.

What concerns the bourgeoisie outside Greece is the potential for instability and the unpredictable role of Golden Dawn. In the democratic campaign GD can be portrayed as the force that goes beyond the framework of parliamentary democracy. But what Greek history of the last hundred years shows is that it has not only been under the dictatorship of Metaxas and the rule of the Colonels that the repression has been a central concern for the ruling class. In 1929 the Liberal government of Eleftherios Venizelos, for example, introduced the Idionymon law. This was aimed at “a minority that seeks the violent overthrow of the established social status quo by disseminating its principles and attracting followers, often through essays and underground means, and  has put in danger the security of society”. The penalty for those found guilty of having subversive ideas was imprisonment for six months or more, often on one of the islands of exile. Strikes effectively became illegal affronts to social peace. Venizelos specifically excluded using the law against fascists, and Metaxas used it as part of the legal apparatus of his own regime. Also, in the 1950s and 60s, in the period between the Greek Civil War and the advent of the Colonels, parties of the centre continued to preside over an apparatus that retained the camps and other instruments that had been used by the authoritarian dictatorships.

The rise of Golden Dawn was tolerated by the other parties of the Greek bourgeoisie until the killing of Pavlos Fyssas. GD had killed others before then, but the pressure to reinforce the apparatus of democracy became overwhelming. The new-found unity of the bourgeoisie against Golden Dawn has given an impetus to Greek democracy. However, this is not going to last forever. The early November killing of two members of Golden Dawn provoked much speculation on what would follow. One approach saw it as retaliation for the death of Fyssas and anticipated an escalation of tit-for-tat violence. This would not necessarily lead to greater instability as the Greek state would be in a position to say that further repression was required against other extremists, not just neo-nazis. It is a commonplace in Greek ‘moderate’ politics to see all ‘extremists’ being essentially the same. Not only are Golden Dawn portrayed as a threat to democracy, there are other forces that can be labelled ‘extreme’ in order to be confronted by the state. These will certainly include militant workers and revolutionary groups.

The bourgeoisie in Greece has shown how its major parties can be united to impose harsh economic measures. It has rallied to the democratic capitalist state in the name of anti-fascism. Its biggest enemy is the working class. When the bourgeoisie unites against protests and struggles that are impelled by discontent, the state is prepared for physical repression, while others will pose as the friends of the exploited. In struggle you can expect to be attacked by nazi thugs – the democratic state has a far wider weaponry, both repressive and ideological, and it is sophisticated enough to use the threat of fascism to bolster its own power. 

Car 2/11/13

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