Tuesday, 27 November 2012

Spot the obnoxious fascist… and other reflections on Greek politics

Above is a discussion between Syriza’s Petros Tatsopoulos and Golden Dawn’s Ilias Panagiotaros, regarding Golden Dawn’s recent picketing of the play, Corpus Christi, which apparently depicts Jesus and his disciples as homosexual swingers. If you can follow Greek, then I’ll leave it to you to decide who is the obnoxious fascist here.

More generally, there is still not much hope for Greece, as it slides inexorably towards the political abyss. Latest opinion polls still show Syriza in front, at 26 percent, four percent or so ahead of centre-right New Democracy, which is currently the lead party in the governing coalition. Syriza, an agglomeration of romantic but worryingly sincere anarchists and Marxists, has been boosted by ex-supporters and stalwarts of the almost-defunct socialist party Pasok, many of whom are still hankering for the good old days of clientelism and trade union/public sector tyranny.

Nationalist, anti-immigrant Golden Dawn is third in the polls, on 13.5 percent; although this probably underestimates its real support as some Greeks no doubt feel it somewhat taboo to express sympathy for a party still, by and large, ostracised and demonised by the mainstream media.

At the elections in June, opinion polls showed Golden Dawn’s support at around four percent, but it eventually got around seven percent of the vote. This suggests that Golden Dawn’s current electoral support may be nearer 20 percent. Nevertheless, it still remains unlikely that such a radical and shunned party will get close to government any time soon, although it says itself that its primary aim is not to take power in Greece, but to change the nature of the debate in the country, to bring the issues that matter to it most – immigration, national identity, national sovereignty – to the top of the political agenda. Golden Dawn’s politics will remain grassroots and street level, eschewing the niceties or complexities of the bureaucratic or parliamentary game.

Immediately above is a video of Shiites celebrating Ashura in Piraeus. It’s a grotesque spectacle, so grotesque that the video appears on youtube with this caution: ‘The following content has been identified… as being potentially offensive or inappropriate. Viewer discretion is advised’, while the Chicago Tribune advises: ’WARNING: Graphic Video.’

In London, Shiites commemorate the day with a peaceful march, with the occasional beating of chests to express mourning for the death of Hussein, a founding father of their branch of Islam. There is no way UK police or authorities, normally so indulgent of these things, would have allowed the shocking display that took place in Greece to have occurred here. Greece, it seems, has no idea of how to deal with immigrants. It doesn’t know whether to beat them up, round them up and send them home or let them do what they want, without restriction or limits.

The video was produced by Euronews and the title it gives to the video is: ‘Greek Shiites Mark the Day of Ashura’. Greek Shiites? I don’t think so.

As you can see, I’ve had a couple of exchanges with Yanis Varoufakis on twitter. I like Varoufakis. He’s charismatic, has a nice turn of phrase, his Global Minotaur thesis is compelling and, so far, his gloomy predictions and scathing criticisms of the way the Eurozone crisis has been handled and affected Greece have proved accurate. (And there is no reason to doubt his withering assessment, in the second exchange, of last night’s attempt by Greece’s creditors to definitively deal with the crisis).

My problem with Varoufakis is that he is part of that nihilistic, permissive intellectual elite that, after 1974, took over Greek mass media, education and culture and significantly contributed to the breakdown Greece is currently enduring.

In many ways, Golden Dawn (and LAOS before it) is challenging the hegemony of this intellectual elite and the bitterness and ferocity of the debate between Tatsopoulos and Panagiotaros reflect this cultural war. It is no coincidence that a lot of Golden Dawn’s senior members (and no doubt many of its supporters) are people whose experiences and views were shaped by service in the armed forces, where the values of Greek nationalism (and Greek machismo [λεβεντιά and παλικαρισμός] – a key component of Golden Dawn’s makeup and attraction) remain entrenched.

Regarding my first tweet, Varoufakis takes my provocation with politeness and good humour, even if his response is unsatisfactory, inasmuch as, even though, of course, he has a perfect right to have a Swiss bank account, the fact that he has one (and appears to think nothing of it) points to a massive gap in lifestyle and experiences between Greece’s elite and the rest of the population.

Of course, such a gap exists everywhere, not just in Greece, but in Greece it takes the particular form of a cosmopolitan class that feels Greece is too small and suffocating for its talents and looks elsewhere for its influences and inspiration. I doubt many of this cosmopolitan class knows Greece or Greeks that well. Indeed, based on my own experiences of Greece and Greeks – which have been, essentially, that of an outsider – it was obvious to me from ages ago that attempts to turn Greece into a ‘multicultural’ society, hosting mass immigration, would be resisted by many Greeks, who would not meekly surrender their homogeneity and way of life. The notion that Greeks, because of their experience as immigrants and foreign oppression, would or should welcome with open arms hundreds of thousands of refugees and economic migrants, was utterly fanciful, disdainful and ignorant of Greek history and national self-perception.


Hermes said...

John, I think your views of Varoufakis are very problematic. He is charismatic and he has a nice turn of phrase. But therein lies the problem. The charisma and rhetorical skills camouflage a willfully irresponsible interpretation of the Greek crisis. And the Global Minotaur thesis is emblematic of this irresponsibility and really does not differ from any traditional and reflexive radical Leftist interpretation. It is populist garbage wrapped up in pseudo-economic thinking and high flown rhetorical hot air. Nothing more.

The problem with the so called Greek resistance to the “multi-cultural society” is that this resistance becomes too closely identified with Golden Dawn. In Greece, I do not think it has reached that point yet, as Greek patriotism has deep roots across the moderate parts of the political spectrum and other decent sectors of society; however, in the West and particularly the Anglo-American West, any suggestion of Greeks trying to protect their culture is seen as being synonymous with Golden Dawn. This will only mean that any robust response to Turkey’s shenanigans in Thrace will be seen as the Greek state pandering to far Right forces and will make Greece meek in confronting this emerging problem.

John Akritas said...

On whether XA will end up giving nationalism a bad name, you could argue that the 'tolerance' shown to the Shiites is an example of what you say, i.e. that in order to appear 'anti-racist' or 'inclusive' or whatever, all sorts of unacceptable tendencies are legitimised. However, it can also work in another way, which is that forces of the traditional right, in order to capture the votes of the extreme right, take on board their issues and deal with them in a more legitimate way. For example, I find it interesting the way people like Adonis Georgiadis and Makis Voridis, both dismissed less than a year ago as being fascists, Nazis, etc, with Voridis even being accused of being a junta-supporting thug, are now fairly mainstream politicians, or treated as such. Another interesting aspect in the emergence of XA is how they remorselessly attack the left and say things that haven't been said for 40 years and, perhaps, needed to be said. Again, this exposing of the left may benefit the traditional right, give it the courage to stop apologising for itself and do what it is supposed to do, which is be nationalist, authoritarian, conservative and all the rest.

Hermes said...

John, you are also spot on there. It can go both ways, either nationalism is discredited by its association with XA or it is legitimized by the bourgeoisie and the bourgeois parties. You are also right that certain things needed to be said about the Left which are now being openly discussed. This is healthy. Even amongst my own relatives and milieu, it is amazing how the old PASOK Leftists now openly want immigrants to be rounded up and sent away, admit that the State is a monstrosity and that certain union interests have irrationally blocked any sensible reforms. The collapse of PASOK and the rise of the radical Right espousing traditional Right values has given them the air to voice views which would have been an anathema a few years ago.

By the way, there are XA members down here. I am not sure how serious they are. I suspect they are just kids playacting.