Whenever I hear of Chrysi Avgi, Golden Dawn, the late Ronald Reagan's 1984 re-election campaign slogan comes to mind: “It’s morning again in America!” A new dawn that denotes a new beginning. Optimism that has its origins in nostalgia. The wish to return to a better day, when America kicked arse worldwide and fought the ideological enemy wherever he was found.
The Greek fascist party Golden Dawn is playing a similar card in austerity Greece. Like Reagan, Golden Dawn sugarcoat the past to fit the golden future they want to usher in. Their appeal is obvious: in 2013, the future is looking dark indeed. Austerity has bitten hard: new taxes labeled haratsi have been levied, with electricity cuts for their non-payment. Diminished wages, slashed pensions and rampant unemployment (a staggering 60-70 per cent for youths under 24) have led to social and psychological breakdown.
Regrettably, Golden Dawn is taken seriously by many Greeks as the answer to the crisis. In 2012 it won 18 seats in Parliament. Of the six million eligible Greek voters, 426,000 votes were cast for Golden Dawn. This has given this neo-Nazi party the legitimacy it craves. Golden Dawn's strategy and rhetoric obsessively hinges on the ideas of cleanliness and purity — ethnically, politically and doctrinally. In Syntagma they declare at the dispatch box of their “clean hands”, unlike the soiled coalition parties of the establishment, New Democracy, PASOK and Independent Greeks. They cast themselves as a new Hercules cleansing the Augean stables of the skata — the shit — dumped in the Greek parliament by the IMF and EU.
Like all Herculean labours, this is an arduous but necessary task that appeals to strength and discipline of mind and body. Golden Dawn's aggressive recruitment of body builders is not a random choice. Tough males in black T-shirts revel in the menace they can cause in the name of Golden Dawn. As has been noted of muscle guys, when one has no real political power, the only agency of power is the body: to build, shape, tone and fetishise. Females are thus taught karate, useful to combat any Golden Dawn politician slapping you on TV.
These Hercules wannabes are battling giants and monsters, whether it is the troika’s enforcement of brutal economic policies or the stream of undocumented migrants from the porous north-eastern borders. They are outright thugs; but they're getting smarter, and so is their political and economic machine. They are funding media training, maintaining an effective hierarchy from branch to central headquarters, and strike a balance between a softly-softly approach to wavering Greek citizens and occasional shows of force. Indeed Golden Dawn MP (and ex-commando) Ilias Kasidiaris, who punched a female parliamentarian on live TV, was applauded by many for his show of “manly” strength. A shake up of parliament is what many Greeks want, even if Golden Dawn is doing the shaking. They perform stunts to win community appeal, such as assisting the elderly retrieve money from ATMs, or running soup kitchens -— for Greek citizens only. The media ridicules them, but Golden Dawn play to the increasing fears and insecurities of the middle class, who have seen their savings ambitions for their children evaporate into thin air.
Many Greeks profess admiration for the Colonel’s Junta during 1967-74, "When the Treasury was full!” and Golden Dawn leader Nikos Mikalokalos is unrepentant in encouraging such admiration. He is canny enough to acknowledge a creeping nostalgia by ordinary Greeks for tough guys who act, rather than talk. He knows they want a Greek “Dirty Haralambos”, not another politician. The underdog Greek outsmarting the Goliaths is a popular theme in Greek film; effective where the establishment has facilitated the entire “bahalo” mess. Such an appeal to strength and purity has led to a bill tabled in parliament to permit only “blood Greeks” of at least one parent of Greek heritage to serve in the army, garnering 85 conservative MPs to support it. In March this year at the chic President Hotel in Vouliagmeni, Kasidiaris reiterated his party’s contempt for “liberal internationalists” who have broken the continuous “pure Greek” racial line from classical Greece to the modern day, “as genetics and anthropology has proven”. This “true” history is being infiltrated into school curriculums.
The European far Right is consolidating its inroads. Marine Le Pen in France, Jorg Haider’s Freedom Party in Austria, and Hungary’s Jobbik are sharing resources and tactics. Golden Dawn is seeking power bases beyond Europe with Chicago and Melbourne in their sights, targeting Greek communities abroad (which have been resisted by the very Greeks who felt the purist ideology a mere two generations ago).
But Golden Dawn is not as powerful as the media has made them appear to be. It should be remembered that Reagan’s Secretary of State, George Schultz, hated hearing that his arch foe the Soviet Union was a diminished power, less threatening with each passing year. “Come back to me with an enemy 10 foot tall!” he told his aides.
Despite their muscle, Golden Dawn aren't giants, but complacency has made them seem that way. They recruit more easily amongst disaffected youth because their campaigners are bold and full of energy. They are a nasty alternative, but to embattled Greeks they are still an alternative.
This is the first part of a two-part report on Golden Dawn by Jorge Sotirios. Read the next installment on New Matilda tomorrow.
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