Now you’re alarmed with the far-right. Where were you in 2012?
The German foreign minister, Michael Roth, was right. Brexit is a shitshow – and you probably know it. Brexit has monopolised our public life, our social interactions, our political debates and our media homepages. I’m fascinated by the Brexit mess mainly because I’m a vampire feeding on news and politics and partially, because I’m a European living in the UK. So, if all you read and talk about is Brexit, well, I feel you.
The problem is, however, that while we are getting obsessed over this, there other things happening. One of these things that drew my attention is Matteo Salvini’s, Italy’s deputy prime minister, efforts “to forge far-right alliance ahead of European Elections” – which means good news for the alt-right parties already in power in Italy, Hungary, Austria and Poland and the ones that work their way to the top (aka France, Netherlands with Thierry Baudet and his Forum for Democracy and Spain – yes, Vox will most likely be the first far-right political party to enter the national parliament since the defeat of Franco’s military dictatorship in 1975.) We have systematically bred a monster and we let it sleep under our bed for years before it gets strong enough to leave the house and play with the other monsters. Now the monster is out and the question is: can it be contained?
While Tories in the UK fear that they will be contaminated with Marxist ideas , dreading the overthrow of capitalism (Westminster, I love you), European leaders are “alarmed” by the rise of far-right, bewildered journalists wonder whether alt-right politics will triumph and they investigate in astonishment the reasons behind such unforeseen phenomenon. However, nothing in what is happening right now is unforeseen. It started seven years ago in Greece but many, many people, including the European establishment, the International Monetary Fund and media outlets around the world decided that it wasn’t important enough to care. Understanding what happened between 2010 and 2015 in the small southern European country, can offer a preview of what lays ahead for Europe if we don’t act.
Due to decades of mismanagement of public money, corruption, political elitism and poor administration, the country owed much, much more money than the overall monetary value of all the final goods and services produced (i.e. Gross Domestic Product). On 23rd April 2010, in Kastelorizo, a small island on the Turkish border, George Papandreou, whose family has been involved in Greek politics since 1923, after successfully completing his how-to-become-Obama- in-10-simple-steps intensive course, he announced that the benevolent market forces have lost their faith in Greek economy. He had “rolled up his sleeves” and he had the support of the European Union, but that was just not enough for them. So, he signed a loan agreement with the IMF, the European Commission and the European Central Bank, which was tied to strict terms and conditions. On 12th February 2012, the second ‘Memorandum’ was signed and a far-right parliamentary party with the edgy name “Popular Orthodox Rally” has been swept away due to its association with the mainstream political parties and the austerity policies they implemented. From February to May 2012, a neo-nazi political party from no electoral presence managed to win 21 parliamentary seats. In the elections of June 2012, Golden Dawn became the fifth most powerful political party in the Greek parliament and in the snap national elections of January and September 2015, they gained 17 and 18 seats respectively, which made them the third most popular party.
In 2009, Golden Dawn moved their ‘headquarters’ to an area popular among migrants, Agios Panteleimonas. As we all know, all Greeks are descendants of Pericles, Thycydides, and Sophocles and our bloodline has never been bastardised with anything less that Zeus’ ambrosia. That is probably why many Golden Dawn members presented themselves as ‘outraged residents’ , who wanted to clean their neighobourhood from these filthy migrants. In 2010, Golden Dawn Leader, Nikos Michaloliakos, managed to get a seat in Athens City Council and in 2011-12 the party intensified their efforts to differentiate themselves from mainstream political parties, being proud of their militia that were in charge of patrolling areas in the city centre of Athens aiming to intimidation and closure of businesses owned be migrants. With the murder of Pavlos Fyssas and Shehzad Luqman in 2013, the militia, which has awfully lot in common with Hitler’s Sturmabteilung (aka Brownshirts), showed the world that they can work with military precision and discipline. Pavlos Fyssas, a musician and anti-fascist, was seen by a Golden Dawn member, Ioanis Aggos, watching a footlball game with a couple of friends, on 17th September 2013. Aggos called the member of local Golden Dawn group, I. Kazantzoglou to inform him about Pavlos’ whereabouts and in around 15 minutes 40 Golden Dawn members arrived in the area, intimidating and physically assaulting Pavlos and his friends. At the same time, GiorgosRoupakias, Golden Dawn member, parked his car in the middle of the street and stabbed Pavlos to death. Police officers that were present at the moment of the attack adopted a passive role, something which is confirmed by the transcripts of that night.
On 17th January 2013, at around 3am, Shehzad Luqman was cycling to one of the open-air food markets in Athens to work. It was then when he was seen by two Golden Dawn members, who were patrolling the area; they stabbed him to death. Witnesses at the crime scene reported the incident to the police and the two men were led to custody. Access to phone records was not granted and therefore we will never learn who authorised this armed militia. The media never showed photographs of the defendants, which could allow victims to identify them in other potential attacks. In 2013, Hannes Swoboda, the leader of the socio-democratic group in the European Parliament, expressed his concerns over Greece’s European presidency, urging the country to take measures to tackle Golden Dawn. For many, the measures had to start by rethinking Greece’s economic salvation plan, which fundamentally required a public debt restructuring and policies focused on growth rather than austerity. The recipe prescribed by neo-liberal institutions had systematically failed; it was the time to change the way Europe thinks, they said. That was the mandate given to Alexis Tsipras, when he first won the national elections in January 2015. But, Europe didn’t want to change and economic stagnation continued in Greece despite the opposing result of a referendum.
On 20th April 2015, one of the most important trials in Greek history begun: a trial that will determine whether Golden Dawn is a criminal organization and as such having no right to parliamentary representation, with 69 defendants, including 18 MPs. They are, also accused of the murder of Pavlos Fyssas and of attempts with intent to kill Aboudjid Embarak and members of the Greek Communist Party. At the same time, the court examines more than sixty cases that are linked to Golden Dawn in order to form a decision.
What happened in Greece then, it is happening in the rest of Europe now. And it is spreading fast. In the UK, fears have been expressed that a long Brexit delay may lead to a far-right, nationalist backlash – as if far-right elements haven’t been accommodated in the Brexit ranks since the beginning of the Leave campaign.The rise of the far-right and the human cost of austerity can be only faced with unity and solidarity. Dear Jeremy, by refusing the freedom of movement in order to please the Leave voters among your constituents, instead of publicly challenging stereotypes on migration, based on evidence and common sense, you are becoming part of the problem. In your manifesto, you say that you have “always stood up for a country that delivers for the many not the few” but you forgot to mention that terms and conditions apply: a valid UK passport is required. Dear hardcore Brexiteers, your British patriotism is dangerous. It risks normalizing a xenophobic, racist and ignorant discourse in times when the person that compared women wearing burqas to letter boxes in his Telegraph column, for which he gets paid £275,000, may become the leader of the Conservative party. And finally, dear Remainers, ask yourselves what kind of club you really want to be a member of.