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 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.