On the night of Greece’s first parliamentary elections in May, Greek President Karolis Papoulias’ neighbours heard a frightful ruckus.
The police that guard Papoulias’ house in a middle class Athens suburb were celebrating. Their candidates had made it into parliament.
But when they found out who the police were backing, those Athens residents were horrified. The men charged with guarding Greece’s head of state were supporters of neo-fascist party Golden Dawn, locals told NM.
Golden Dawn made it into parliament for the first time in that vote. And the party held onto most of its new supporters during Greece’s second trip to the polls in June. That election came after Golden Dawn parliamentarian Ilias Kasidiaris attacked two communist rivals on live television.
Now, several months later, opinion polls show that Golden Dawn is still on the rise. Not even further public attacks by Golden Dawn lawmakers have damaged the party’s standings. And with the party’s support again hitting new record highs, Greek leaders have admitted they are worried about the party’s hold in the electorate.
In an interview with German business daily Handelsblatt before Angela Merkel’s visit to Athens, prime minister Antonis Samaras admitted he shares many the concerns of many Greeks over Golden Dawn. Samaras compared the situation in Greece with that in Germany at the end of the Weimar Republic when Adolf Hitler took power.
Greece’s unemployment problems have now "put social cohesion in jeopardy", he said, adding that Leftists and Golden Dawn are a menace to Greek democracy. Samaras conceded that the "fascist" party was now "Greece’s third-strongest political force — and [it]is trending upwards".
There is little sign that Greece’s unemployment problems will go away soon. The number of Greeks seeking work peaked again last week. 25.1 per cent were looking for a job in July, said Greece’s national statistical service. Even though that’s the month when thousands of Northern Europeans head south for summer sun.
"The number of unemployed people in Greece has more than doubled since the sovereign debt crisis began in 2010," wrote French daily Le Monde last week. That, lest we forget, was when international lenders first bailed out Greece.
Ever since then, disenchantment with the failure of Greece’s political class has grown and grown. Greeks think venal politicians from the old major parties have taken everything that Greece once had. They blame pollies for failing to solve Greece’s problems — and for causing the country’s woes.
Two recent scandals show why many Greeks are turning to anyone who is untainted by scandal — even the blackshirts.
George Papandreou inherited PASOK, the social democratic party that once dominated Greek politics, from his father Andreas. His announcement that Greek finances were in a mess in 2009 was the first harbinger of Greece’s collapse. His fall from power nearly a year ago triggered Greece’s current political chaos.
Back in 2009, Papandreou promised that the corruption and vote-buying of the old two-party system was over. He accused his predecessors of hiding the mess.
But some of Papandreou’s political foes have alleged that the former PM’s clan profited from insider trading on Greek debt at the time when he was in the top job.
Greek Francophone blog Okeanews reports that an opposition leader is accusing Papandreou’s brother, Andreas (Jr), of making 26 billion euros by betting on whether Greece would default on its loans or not.
Panos Kammenos leads a small right-wing anti-austerity party, Independent Greeks. "Several months ago", says Okeanews, Kammenos "accused Andreas of profiting from the crisis by gambling on credit default swaps using his Swiss investment fund".
In September, Kammenos added a further accusation to those original claims. Reproducing an image of the Kammenos’ Facebook page, Okea translates the conservative MP’s statement:
"I would ask for your presence and your support this 27 September … outside the building where Andreas Papandreou offered me a million euros in exchange for trying to buy my silence over the theft of 26 billion euros of the [Hellenic] Post Bank’s CDSes."
The part state-owned bank bought a billion dollars worth of insurance against Greek defaulting after Papandreou came to power. It then allegedly sold them on to Swiss private investors.
Kammenos has claimed that, because the probability of a Greek default is now so high, those swaps ended up valued at many billions of dollars. Investigations into the case are still ongoing. And some doubt the reliability of Kammenos, a political opponent of the Papandreous.
But even if prosecutors drop the case, then the bad odour surrounding Greek politicians will likely linger. Greek media is reporting that at least 60 politicians are under investigation for money laundering, illegal enrichment and tax evasion, wrote the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung earlier this month. Three government "decision makers" are among those under investigation, the conservative German daily added.
Those political scandals have multiplied the effects of high unemployment and massive immigration. The equation has resulted in unprecedented popularity for Golden Dawn.
Still, unlike many other far right European parties, there seems little sign that the far right party is toning it down to win new supporters.
Along with Greek orthodox priests, party troopers demonstrated violently outside an Athens theatre late last week, reports Italian news agency ANSA’s Latin American service.
Athen’s Hytirio Theatre is staging Terence McNally’s Corpus Christi. The play depicts Jesus as a homosexual. That didn’t please Greek priests, who demonstrated outside the theatre.
They were joined by Golden Dawn, who "blocked the exits to the theatre" on Friday evening. That "unleashed tension and fights", says ANSA’s correspondent. Amid claims that police stood by as neo-Nazis beat people, left-wing parties accused Golden Dawn of intimating theatregoers.
"It was a night of terror," said Syriza parliamentarian Petros Tatsopoulos.
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