Economic collapse, mass joblessness, uniformed paramilitaries, street violence, political assassinations and, now, a round-up of opposition MPs. Euro-wracked Greece is beginning to feel eerily like Weimar Germany. The beleaguered Athens government has arrested five deputies and 15 other activists from the fascist party Golden Dawn, including the leader, Nikolaos Michaloliakos.
The Greek Constitution prohibits the outright banning of political parties, but the authorities have got around that by classing Golden Dawn as a criminal organisation and linking it to the murder 11 days ago of a Leftist musician. We use the word “fascist” so loosely these days that it has almost lost its meaning. If you oppose immigration, you are called a fascist. If you criticise the European Union (EU), you are called a fascist. If you are winning an argument with a Leftie online then, sooner or later, you are called a fascist. The tendency is not a new one, though it has perhaps been accelerated by the internet. George Orwell, writing at a time when there were actual fascist regimes in power, observed that “the word Fascism now has no meaning except in so far as it signifies ‘something not desirable’”.
In consequence, we struggle to find adequate vocabulary to describe an unapologetic, bona fide neo-Nazi party such as Golden Dawn, the Greek political movement that took seven per cent of the vote in the two general elections last year. Golden Dawn is a textbook fascist party, in its structure, its ideology and its behaviour. It is anti-democratic, favouring an authoritarian state led by a strong man. It looks back fondly at the Thirties dictatorship of General Metaxas, who banned political parties, outlawed strikes and censored the press. It blames Greece’s poverty on immigration — somewhat eccentrically, since the country is now a major net exporter of people. Several of its supporters engage in crude anti-Semitism: One of its MPs, wanted by the police after assaulting a female parliamentarian, defended himself by quoting from the Protocols of the Elders of Zion and alleging that he was the victim of a Jewish conspiracy. Like all properly fascist parties, Golden Dawn loathes free markets and private enterprise. It flirted with paganism, dismissing Christianity as a debased and Judaic belief-system before switching tack and embracing the Orthodox Church belligerently. Its members have been involved in numerous acts of political violence and, like the Nazis in the Twenties, it seems to have established links with elements of the police and the armed forces. The party’s emblem looks suspiciously like a swastika.
Golden Dawn insists that the device is a “meander”: One of those geometric motifs that you see around the border of classical mosaics and friezes. But ordinary party members are not so careful, frequently waving actual swastikas and Iron Crosses and making straight-arm salutes. For more than 30 years, Golden Dawn crawled along as one of Europe’s negligible Nazi movements, supported by a few hundred shaven-headed losers in their mothers’ basements. It barely registered in elections, typically winning around 0.1 per cent of the popular vote.
Then, in 2012, under the uncompromising slogan “We can rid this land of filth!”, it secured nearly half a million ballots and became the third-largest party. What happened? In short, the euro. For once, the metaphor of a Greek tragedy is precisely apt. Hellenes went through the hubris of easy credit years, when the markets treated Greek and German debt as interchangeable.
Now they are suffering the nemesis: Gross domestic product down by an almost unbelievable 23 per cent from its peak; 28 per cent unemployment; middle-class Athenians rummaging in bins for food; farmers bringing supplies to urban cousins. The catharsis, though, has been artificially stayed. Greece will not recover until it defaults, decouples and devalues, minting its own currency and pricing its way back into the market. A political class seen as closed and semi-hereditary has put the interests of the EU before everything else. The Brussels system has been very good, personally, for Greek politicians and officials who, even now, are shielded from the effects of the downturn. One should not be surprised if the rest of the country reacts by losing faith in the system. Such alienation is precisely what opponents of the euro warned against when the single currency was proposed. The ‘arrest of the five members’, as I cannot resist calling it, addresses an unsightly symptom, but leaves the malady untreated.
Closing down Golden Dawn will not reduce the appeal of its message, any more than closing down the Nazis in 1924 arrested their rise. Some Greeks will cheer, but others will see a remote political caste protecting its own interests. Asked for a comment on the arrests, the prime minister, a harassed-looking Antonis Samaras, replied: “Justice, stability, no elections.” Those words may serve as the perfect Euro-slogan; they explain why so many Greeks were pushed into supporting the extremes in the first place. The other day, Greeks were discussing the rumour that the arrests were an attempt to prevent the Golden Dawn MPs from resigning their seats and triggering a series of by-elections. The economic crisis has become a crisis of democracy. Do you remember why the euro was launched? Its supporters made two claims. First, that it would make its users wealthier; and second, that it would make participating countries get on better. In the event, it has inflicted unnecessary poverty and emigration across southern Europe and is now degrading democracy. How much more has to happen before the Brussels elites accept that they have got it wrong?
— The Telegraph Group Limited, London, 2013
Daniel Hannan is a Conservative Member of European Parliament.