Saturday, May 24, 2014

A Challenge for All That is Greece

I hate the blame game.  It’s a favorite of the ideologue, demagogue, and bigot, used to convert into political power the natural instinct of so many to fault anyone but themselves for what’s gone wrong in their lives.  For some it’s a means of gaining power, for others of maintaining what they no longer rightly deserve.  

Which brings me to Greece and tomorrow’s elections. It’s the runoff round of municipal elections and the first chance in five years for Greeks to choose their representatives to the European Union Parliament.  Yes, I have views on what’s happening, but in light of my buddy’s very tight runoff election for mayor of Mykonos tomorrow, I think I’d best hold off on getting into any of that. Besides, from the way things have played out so far, there is such a terrific book in it—a crime for sure, but no mystery to any local—I might just leave it to Chief Inspector Andreas Kaldis to work out.  To be honest…whoops, wrong word in this context…he may be the only cop in Greece even willing to try.

So, let me instead turn to what the Greek newspapers are saying about Greece’s European Parliamentary elections.  Most are perplexed as to whether the left or right will win, perhaps because all of the media’s elaborate pre-election and exit polling for last Sunday’s round proved very wrong.  It’s as if the Greek people didn’t want to tell the press what’s really on their minds.

But that’s not stopped the Greek press from telling it like they think it is.  Right or wrong, they have an opinion.  And in this case a very scary one.  

Four years ago I gave an interview to America’s largest circulation Greek-American Newspaper, The National Herald (ΕΘΝΙΚΟΣ ΚΗΡΥΞ), and said, “Perhaps its time for Greeks around the world to come to the defense of their cultural homeland…Fiscal blame fades, cultural stigmas persist.”  In Target: Tinos (published in 2012) the warning came from the lips of a fictional Greek government minister:

“But our adversaries would love to switch the focus of the debate from our country’s financial problems to our national character.  Paint us as indifferent to the plight of non-Greeks, an intolerant place where only Greeks are treated as deserving of protection, and all others be damned.  It’s a volatile, irrational, and emotional argument but one that could turn world opinion against us if it found traction in the press.  And then it would no longer be just a question of denying us further bailout funds, but whether or not to drum us out of the E.U.”

Eight days ago, the respected publisher of The National Herald wrote an editorial titled “Greek Election Forecasts” in which he referred to a “recently-published survey of the Pew Research Center” on views held by the Greek people.  He noted the survey found Greeks to be the most “negative” in the EU about the future, and in his final paragraph wrote:

The survey also revealed Greece to be the most anti-Semitic country in Western Europe, with an unacceptably high rate of 69 percent. Somewhere in all these figures a person can discern the “logic” that will drive the upcoming elections.

That paragraph stopped me cold. I personally have never had an anti-Semitic experience in Greece, something I can’t say for other places I’ve known.

But there’s no denying Nazis are here, in force, and violent.  Chrysi Avgi (Golden Dawn) barely masks its veneration of Hitler and his blame-spewing hatred that brought such horror to the world. 

They seem to have forgotten, or choose to ignore in their rush for power, that Mein Kampf’s ethnic prejudices led to the utter devastation of Greece at Hitler’s hands.   

Yet despite all of that, and the serious criminal charges lodged against virtually every one of the party’s eighteen members of Greece’s parliament following the murder of a Greek by Golden Dawn supporters, its popularity continues to rise.  It drew 16% of the vote in Athens last week…enough to swing tomorrow’s runoff election.

And the concerns expressed over the rise of Nazism in Greece are not confined to Diaspora journalists.  The following unsettling editorial appeared this week in Ekathimerini, Greece’s equivalent of The New York Times; it’s title, “Serpent Alibi Doesn’t Hold Water”:

The excuse that “the serpent deceived me, and I ate” has been a part of the human narrative since the dawn of time, according to the Bible. Our homegrown Nazis would certainly throw the good book in the fire and not because they ostensibly get their learning from the ancient Greeks (and display it by holding up torches and attacking the helots), but because according to their “Mein Kampf” beliefs, anything remotely Jewish should be destroyed.

The ploy of consigning responsibility to the proverbial serpent neither explains nor justifies anything. If you don’t have the will power to stand up to temptation, if you succumb and sit on the serpent’s egg, it is not the reptile’s fault for trying to bite you. And just like that, after three electoral contests in which Golden Dawn scored high percentages, we can no longer talk about innocents who have been deceived. The first time, maybe; the second, not so much; but definitely not the third. And each time they were “deceived” was worse than the last because they knew more and had a better understanding of their decision. So the longer we hide behind the alibi that the Golden Dawn voters have been deceived by the serpent, the longer we shy away from the problem, not daring to look it in the face and call it what it is.

The possibility that some of Golden Dawn’s voters cast their ballots as they did to lash out against the system (blind to the fact that the party is itself an offshoot of the system) and not because they embrace the party’s ideas does nothing to acquit them. Those who vote for Golden Dawn but do not, for example, revere Hitler, are not free of political culpability, because by casting their vote they are legitimizing those who do indeed do. And anyway, it’s not as though they can write “Yes, but I have some reservations” at the top of the ballot before they put it into the box.

What has Golden Dawn’s record been so far? Dark and criminal, as ongoing judicial investigations are revealing and our experience as a society has shown. The party has succeeded in bringing together an element that already existed in Greek society and which embraced tyranny, chauvinism, racism, intolerance and anti-Semitism. It has never been small, just preferred to hide behind bigger parties. The junta was not that long ago and we can still vividly remember who served it voluntarily and who (albeit a small number) resisted it. The Nazi occupation is not so deep in the distant past either for us to have forgotten GD’s forefathers.

Voting for Golden Dawn is not an emotional overreaction, but an expression of ideological allegiance. It is clear that this is something we are ashamed to admit. We cannot confess that a large part our society embraces, openly and consciously, Golden Dawn’s prejudice. But if we keep refusing to talk about it, we will do nothing and have nothing left but our shame – which will just get bigger.

Extremist right views are gaining traction across Europe, yet many of Golden Dawn’s natural European allies shun any public association with them.  Or so it seems.  As reported this week in EuroObserver:

None of Europe's popular far-right parties has backed or sought to make an alliance with Greece's extremists, who are often labelled "neo-fascists" – something the party denies….

While many radical right-wing parties across Europe, led by France's National Front, have indicated they will club together in the next European Parliament, they are steering clear of Golden Dawn.
Late last year National Front leader Marine Le Pen said Golden Dawn had a "filthy image". In February she told a Greek journalist that far-right parties "have been very clear about not including" Golden Dawn in their alliance.

But some experts say the gap between them is not that wide.

Vasiliki Georgiadou, a political science professor at Athens Panteion university, believes the continent's leading far-right parties, including France's Front National, are not teaming up with Golden Dawn merely for strategic reasons rather than outright objection to their policies.

Jackboots are on the march again in Europe and Golden Dawn’s performance in tomorrow’s European Parliament elections is expected to shake up the EU.

The question is, will it shake up the Greek people?

I certainly hope so. 



  1. Jeff, an excellent but very worrying post. Interestingly at the moment I am reading Fascist Voices by Christopher Duggan. It won the Paddy Power Political History Book of the year in 2013, this year's prize went to a biography of D'Annunzio!
    Thinking that I didn't much like this trend I went into our polling booth on Thursday to be faced with a ballot paper with eight candidates. Counting from the left Green, Liberal Democrat, Labour, Conservative, UKIP [United Kingdom Independence Party], anti-Europe A-1, English Democrats and BNP British National Party. Four parties to the right of the supposedly right wing Conservatives.

    1. I'm afraid, Uriah, that as you point out this is not a confined, isolated phenomenon to any one part of the Western world. And it's gaining momentum as more mainstream parties slyly seek to ally with the growing influence of the extreme right. The question is, will sanity prevail before these fascists achieve critical mass and the world once again learns, "Yes, it can happen here."

      D'Annunzio, huh. At least he was a poet.

  2. Jeff, reading this, I feel the despair I felt watching a plane crash into a building. I want to feel something other than hopeless. So much. I don't want to cry "havoc," because after that come the dogs of war. But I am grateful to you for telling it like it is.

    1. Thanks, Annamaria. That's what I swore to myself when I gave up the practice of law to write my books: Tell it like it is. But they're fiction, and this is real I can't make up the ending, just watch and pray that those who can do something, will.

  3. You're one depressing fellow, Jeff. Unfortunately, I can't offer any less depressing vision, other than to take the longer view: this, too, shall pass. Perhaps not in our lifetimes (or not SOME of our lifetimes), but someday. But right now, it's the cycle of society and history that we're in, much like the 1930s, and I fear uglier times ahead before society is ready to move back the other way. That's not to say that we should stop fighting it, as the fight must be fought. Sigh.

    1. Somehow, my friend, I don't think it's me who's the "depressing fellow." :). Yes, circumstances like this have been around since the dawn of creation and will no doubt continue. Especially during times of economic crisis where opportunistic politicians toss scapegoats to the crowds, rather than accept blame for what's befallen their society.

      But, I still think there are more than enough good people out there to overcome the bigots and hate-mongers...if they get out and vote.

  4. As unhappy as I am with right wing/Neonazi developments across the western world, I'm equally unhappy with the left wing surge in, for example, South Africa with Julius Malema's merry men. Of course they are just two sides of the same coin. Fascists don't come with political doctrines.
    I think Jeff hit the nail on the head - it's people's dissatisfaction with where their leaders have taken them. With who has become richer and who has become poorer.
    And - right again, Jeff - to let it all happen, all we have to do is nothing

  5. You're absolutely right (or rather left) on all points, Michael. At times I think the tags are chosen just because it gives politicians a better angle on their electorate. They couldn't care less (if they even understand) what label they wear as long as it gets them the power to do what they want.

  6. Let's not forget that the hisssss in Nazi, stands for socialist. There have been fascist socialists before--in Germany, in Italy, in Argentina. And most were elected. Until they could do away with elections. Or rig them.

  7. It is depressing. Hope the neo-fascists are set back in the elections, in the Legislature, courts, on the streets. Agree that in bad economic times, politicians point blame at scapegoats, like Jews and immigrants, and gay people, too.

    I'm surprised to see that Greece is supposedly more anti-Semitic than anywhere else. I find that hard to believe. The National Front in France, which claimed a few years to have switched to being anti-immigrant rather than anti-Jewish, is still pretty anti-Semitic.

    I hear little about this in our press now, but the Right Sector and Swoboda in Ukraine are anti-Semitic and the Right Sector has a lot of weapons. A leading rabbi in Kiev told Jewish people to leave the city a few months ago, and photos of Kiev City Hall showed people with swastikas, Nazi iron crosses, lightning bolts and Confederate flags. Frankly, that scares me, too.

    I've never agreed with the right/left comparison, but won't develop that here. Hitler, with the aid of much of Western Europe, and allies in Asia were responsible for the deaths of up to 60 million people, military and civilian, the scapegoating of Jews, Roma, Poles, ill and disabled children and adults, gay people, etc., etc. And entire countries' economies, infrastructure, art, books, were destroyed.

    And fascists, whether in Greece, France, Germany, Ukraine, Britain, do what they do: destroy life.

  8. And what is equally frightening is the ultra-right National Front electoral gains in France, ahead of the other parties.

  9. All good points, Kathy D, but the problem I see is there's no leader in Western Europe with the determination or skill to take on the demagogues of the right or the left. What I fear is in their overwhelming common thirst to achieve or maintain power they'll rationalize making deals with the devil...and we know that never ends well.

  10. There are two strands of European integration, one is the people-to-people integration that has thrived since I was a kid, with increasing numbers of Europeans studying and/or working in other EU members.

    The other strand is the official integration. That experiment has never been about popular representation and democracy. The basic bargain of that strand since 1952/56 was to embed German industrialization into a solid western context while protecting as much as possible French and Italian farmers. That's what got the European project started.

    Since then, that project has been about pushing through free market policies across the continent and building the structures to prevent their reversal. Fortunately, the first strand has been a strong countervailing force, creating an unstable balance.

    The crisis of 2008/09 tipped that balance in favor of the central banks that punished the poorer member states and, under the guise of debt restructuring, eliminated their last remnants of social policies, thus eliminating millions of jobs

    No wonder people react against an entity that appears alien and yet controls an ever increasing part of their lives, by voting for fringe parties.

    The Fascists of various stripes can temporarily exploit that discontent. But their incompetence, combined with their greed will soon create enough scandals that will make reelection an unlikely proposition.

    The British, as always, are a different case. They, to quote Helmut Schmidt, have always thought the Atlantic to be narrower than the Channel, if only because it allowed them to be nearer to the kind of power they once had and the loss of which they have never. They joined the EU grudgingly, never wanted to be part of it, and still live with the illusion they could go it alone. UKIP is the current manifestation of imperial hangover.

  11. Well put, Michael, though I wish I were as sanguine as you about the fate of the Fascists. After all, the incompetence, greed, and scandals of oh so many mainstream parties in power in far too many places have not proven a stumbling block to their re-election.

    What concerns me is how successful these "fascists" are at practicing Marshal McLuhan's observation (paraphrased) that it's the marketing not the message that matters, and how ineffective the "mainstream" has been at countering their ever growing influence.

    1. For me, the biggest irony is that the Greek fascists stand there with the Hitler salute while it was Germany that was most insistent on the conditionality that made life in Greece to miserable. Somehow that just doesn't compute.

  12. The Greek people have to remember what the Nazis did and do something, but a group has to organize the opposition to the Golden Dawn. It needs to be big and strong.

    But how many people are actually in Golden Dawn? I know they have MPs and people have been arrested. But is it a small group that is just violent and bellicose and intimidating people so it seems bigger?

    I'm not worried about the left. In fact, where is the left in France? People looked to the Socialist Party to solve the economic crisis and unemployment, but Hollande et al., haven't done this. They've invoked austerity to please the EU and bankers, but that's made people angrier.

    There is still economic stagnation and high unemployment, thus inflaming many people even more, which the National Front knows how to manipulate and turn against immigrants and others, while blaming the government and Socialist Party.

    The New York Times of May 28 says that many voted for the National Front as a protest vote to the Hollande government's policies, with no gains for the economy and continuing high unemployment.

    This isn't good news. Hollande and his cronies better get cracking and provide some jobs, benefits and social programs to the population to stop the growing right-wing mobilization. Of course, the neo-fascists blaming immigrants and probably Jews, Roma and other people, is what they do -- scapegoat people, especially during an economic crisis.

    The government has to address this. And progressive groups have to mobilize strongly against the right-wing's attacks on various communities, and that means in a broad coalition of all opposed to the National Front; this is crucial.

    That means the left, unions, religious groups, immigrants and immigrant rights and civil and human rights organizations, etc.

    1. The trouble is, Kathy, as it's always been, is in finding someone willing to "mobilize" whom the people will follow. Truth tellers are not as welcome as promise-makers and blame-throwers.

  13. Thanks for the post Jeff. (I'm a newcomer having followed your link from Anne Zouroudi's blog). It is terrifying to see the rise of intolerance, xenophobia and hatred around the world. I live in a spec called Northern Ireland that has had it's fair share of bigotry over the years.

    I am also in the UK so have watched with horror the rise of UKIP in recent elections. The sad fact is that one third of voters bothered to vote, and of those that did, one third voted UKIP. That's c.11% of the population, hardly a ringing endorsement when seen in that context.

    In Northern Ireland a local Pastor with a very large congregation said at the pulpit that Islam was "heathen", "evil" and from "Hell". Instead of condemning it, our First Minister (equivalent of Prime Minister in this wee province) said he agreed with him and didn't trust muslims. That's ALL muslims, not just evil muslims! But that he would trust them to "run to the shops for me". Unbelievably depressing to hear this hatred in this day and age.

  14. Welcome, Darryl, any follower of my good friend Anne is welcome here! Unlike, apparently, followers of another sort in parts of your glorious Northern Ireland. :) Thanks for getting me to put on my thinking cap.

    Frankly, I fear these election results are being dismissed too offhandedly (at least publicly) by many who should be concerned as either "not all that meaningful" because the vote was for the EU Parliament rather than for our "own folk," or that the "relatively" low turnout made the voting somehow irrelevant as a barometer of the current political reality.

    But for the fanatics, the results have gone a long way toward legitimizing their views of themselves and rallying them into believing there are hordes of brethren across Europe just waiting to unite in common insanity. Those who believe that Greece's Golden Dawn will not find friends across the EU are believing their own press releases. If Marine Le Pen can say we're "done" being anti-Semitic (for now) and have "moved on" to being just anti-Immigrant, I have no doubt she'll embrace Greece's Nazis when it serves her purposes to do so. And can UKip's anti-immigrant agenda be far behind?

    1. The emoticon in the first paragraph was meant to be a :(.

    2. We live in interesting times.

      I remember past socialist, leftist, liberal campaigns in the UK against nuclear weapons, Thatcherism, and the like, and don't see their equivalent these days - kids are more interested in their Xboxes and narcissistic Facebook posts! (I'm starting to sound like my dad :)

      (BTW here's the reference to my comment It has just caused a local moderate politician to quit politics and consider moving to England after 40 years here - she is Chinese from "British" Hong Kong and fed up with the racism and lack of will to do something about it).

    3. Darryl, I see you're a student of Chinese curses :) --emoticon intended as written.

      Having grown up as I did through Vietnam War demonstrations, I share your wonder at just what does--or will--it take to drive those with a conscience to action. The article is, well, precisely as you described.

  15. Good points from Darryl and Jeff.

    Yes, what will cause people and politicians to wake up and realize what Le Pen is doing, a bit more subtly than Golden Dawn is doing, but the xenophobic, bigoted intentions are the same, I'm sure.

    What will cause people of conscience to organize against the ultra-right? For starters, they need to get rid of elected officials who espouse the same hatred.

    And they need to organize against the right wing with everyone who'll join in.

    I also grew up and attended my share of protests during the Vietnam War, against it and the draft. So many people of all communities, ages, professions, regions, etc., joining together in strength; it was great.

    But then I think of the 1.5 million-strong protests throughout France in 2002 against the National Front. They included people from every walk of life, community, religion, campus, etc. That was inspiring and did set back Le Pen then.

    Who can do it now in France, Greece and the other countries where the NY Times says the ultra-right showed gains in the recent European elections? It's crucial.

    1. Sadly, Kathy, both the the ultra-right and ultra-left have a propensity for creating special hells for those who simply want to live their lives in peace.

  16. Well, people living in the countries where the ultra-right is gaining support have to do something major to counter them.
    It's too important.

    There were protests against the National Front and other rightist parties in Brussels. A good start.