I have a comment to make about the Greek elections, which I have trouble communicating within twitter’s 140 character limit.
It is about the entrance of the Nazist party, called Golden Dawn, into the Greek parliament. The elections brought to our notice something that we already knew; namely, that roughly one in every ten Greeks is a racist. Nothing new here. What is new, is that the racists managed to organise themselves into a political party. Is this necessarily bad? If we consider that Hitler came to power in a likewise manner through a small and irrelevant party it surely seems worrying.
There is another interpretation though, which challenges the dominant narrative that wants the phenomenon of racism to be something new. What is new, is that these people, the racists, abandoned the existing political parties in favour of Golden Dawn; an organisation which became a formal political party only three years ago. Where were these racists before? Golden Dawn is roughly thirty years old, yet it was never as popular as it is now, and it is not the only political party that supports and promotes racism. Before the rise of the Golden Dawn, the main advocates of racism in Greek politics were the Popular Orthodox Rally (LAOS), who lost most of its supporters after they joined the last coalition government of Lucas Papademos, accepting and supporting the austerity measures of the troika (EU, IMF, ECB). Most of LAOS supporters, were former New Democracy (ND) voters and active members. The close ties between the two were evident in the parliament, were they supported each other’s policies, especially on hot matters like immigration and border control.
Racism in Greece is not something that existed in void prior to yesterday. All recent governments institutionally enforced racism through the use of the police, a phenomenon that unfortunately is not exclusive to the right-wing parties. The Panhellenic Socialist Party (PASOK), under the former Prime Minister George Papandreou has either orchestrated, or to say the least tolerated, various incidents of police violence against immigrants. Moreover, outside the parliament, in the mainstream media, racism is as prevalent as ever. Newspapers and TV stations are eager to stress the problems arising by the increase of immigration, even at periods were immigration is actually declining. Moreover, there is a tendency to overemphasise the ethnicity of an individual only if he or she committed a wrong-doing, and only if that person is not Greek.
Another source of racism is the educational curriculum, which promotes a static version of Greekness, one that derives directly from the Ancient Greeks and is based on notions of superiority and authenticity, promoting exclusion and suspicion against anyone that is not Greek in this narrow and restrictive sense. The Greek Orthodox Church has played a leading role in this process, since they frequently support racist views, or advocate for racist policies, both at the civil and at the institutional level. One example off the top of my head is the case of non-Greek students that score the highest marks in Greek high schools. These students are denied (by some schools) the right to hold the Greek flag (a customary right for the top students of each Greek-speaking high school). What is ironic that in some cases, the children who were denied this right, are Greek nationals born and raised in Greece, who are denied the right to hold the flag because their parents have a dual nationality and are hence not Greek in the ‘proper’ sense of the word.
Therefore to say that racism is a recent phenomenon in Greece, or that it is merely a response to the austerity measures is plainly wrong. Racism is an integral part of the Greek society. The question that remains is whether the concentration of the racist votes to the Golden Dawn means that other parties will have the chance to promote less nationalist policies. Does the rise of the Golden Dawn mean that the traditional conservative party, New Democracy, will become less racist in the absence of these extreme members, or that it will become more racist in order to get them back. In short, are the mainstream parties (whatever that means anymore), cleaner now that they lost the racist vote?
I don’t have an answer but something that is often discussed in twitter worries me: there is a debate about a possible coalition of non-extreme parties. In this coalition, LAOS, is considered a non-extreme party, and the Golden Dawn, is considered extreme, exactly like the Greek Communist Party (KKE). The KKE is anachronistic and archaic in many respects, yet it is most definitely not an extreme party. In fact, it would not be far fetched to call it conservative. This worries me because it demonstrates a potential of legitimisation of the Golden Dawn. As I said, I don’t have answers to these pressing matters, as it would require quite a bit of guess work. My prediction would be that if (and this is a big if) a government is formed, especially a coalition headed by ND, everything will return to business as usual.