Thursday, 18 October 2012

The rise of Golden Dawn: it’s not the economy stupid

There are many things to be said about Golden Dawn – and even more about the hysterical reaction to its emergence – but, for now, I just want to make one point, which is that it is a fallacy to connect this radical nationalist, anti-immigrant party to the financial crisis that hit Greece in 2009.

In a certain crude and superficial imaginary, economic crisis is invariably accompanied by a drift towards racism, fascism, Nazism, etc, with the desperate, unemployed and impoverished – i.e. the victims of economic turmoil – falling prey to extremist right-wing ideologies that specialise in the creation of scapegoats, more often than not ethnic minorities. Thus, Greece is another Weimar Republic, its financial crisis the equivalent of the Great Depression and Golden Dawn is a new Nazi party. All of which is nonsense on any number of levels.

In the specific case of Greece, anti-immigrant (and nationalist) discourse asserted itself a long time before the financial crisis, and the evidence for this is the emergence of LAOS (Popular Orthodox Rally) in the period 2000-2009, with the popularity of the party peaking at 7.14 percent in the June 2009 European Parliament elections.

Indeed, LAOS, before crashing and burning as a result of its support for the austerity bailouts, with many of its most prominent MPs (Thanos Plevris, Adonis Georgiadis, Makis Voridis) now in New Democracy, was itself labelled fascist, anti-semitic and Nazi. Now, whether LAOS was precisely these things or otherwise is not significant; but what is significant is that this anti-immigrant, nationalist force’s rise to prominence coincided with a period during which the Greek economy was booming.

It’s also worth remembering that Golden Dawn’s breakthrough was at local elections in November 2010, when they secured 5.3 percent of the votes in Athens. In other words, the party broke on to the political scene before the impact of the financial crisis had overwhelmed Greece and certainly before any political party had time to develop a discourse connecting the issue of immigration with economic collapse.

Thus, Golden Dawn did not emerge out of nowhere or with the economic crisis. Rather, it owes its emergence to growing popular dismay with illegal immigration, with all this has meant for the social fabric of Greece, and this discontent did not surface in 2009, but goes back at least a decade, perhaps even further, to the 1990s when the first waves of Albanian (and other East European) immigrants came to the country following the collapse of communism. And Golden Dawn has found a space and legitimacy for its particularly direct activities because of the ineffectiveness of the Greek state, and that the weakness of this state is not a post-2009 phenomenon but a consequence of the dysfunctional politics and society that characterised Greece post-1974.


Hermes said...

Blaming the economy for Golden Dawn is often a rhetorical ruse of Leftists because they fail to understand that one of the fundamental needs of Man is to be with others of a similar ethnicity, and all that entails. The one common, and often unrecognised, similarity between the extreme Left and the liberal Right is that they believe man is simply homo economicus. However, the rise of Golden Dawn demonstrates, in a very coarse way, that we are more complex than that. The millons of alloethnics is simply intolerable for many Greeks and relatively sensible people are being attracted by the thugs that comprise Golden Dawn.

Anonymous said...

I go some of the way with you but have serious reservations about the long term consequences of your analysis. I rather consider that desperate people resort to desperate ideas for relieving their distress.

Hermes said...

Golden Dawn will give patriotism and nationalism a bad name and will likely usher in a reaction. We will be back to 1974 again.

John Akritas said...

I'm sympathetic to the idea that it's human nature to want to live among people who are, in a variety of ways, similar to you. I've been reading a little (just via google) about evolutionary psychology recently and while I don't buy a lot of it, I think (this is a very preliminary comment) it might be useful in explaining things like man's instinct to exclude the 'other' from his social group.

Desperate people, MP, do all sorts of things to relieve their distress – blame themselves, their parents, their wives, themselves, their dogs, God, the rich and so on and so forth. There's nothing pre-determined that they should blame immigrants, Jews, blacks, etc. And, like I said, I believe this anti-immigrant feeling in Greece predates the economic crisis, i.e. before people were so distressed.