The Gladiators

Dimitrios Papageorgiou

Two days have passed since Angela Merkel’s visit to Greece, a visit that was viewed by the Greek people as an “imperial visit.” It was treated as such, with a large crowd of about 50,000 people demonstrating in front of the parliament.

The pictures of rock throwing youths and clashes with the police were typical of the footage that usually accompanies stories about Greece in the world media. But what is the real situation in Greece nowadays?

One can best describe it as a resurgence of the “extremes.” Only three months after the July election, which wounded the political establishment but did not kill it, it seems that the political feeling in the country is flowing to the opposite ends of the political spectrum. Both SYRIZA (extreme left) and Golden Dawn (nationalists) are gaining in popularity, and are providing the main theses to the opposition. Both are self-branded anti-establishment parties, and both want to see an end the loaning agreement between the EU-IMF-CEB and Greece.

The rise in Golden Dawn’s popularity in the months after the elections has brought it to third place and seen the mainstreaming of nationalism. This is quite obvious to anyone living in Greece at the moment, as Golden Dawn is one of the favorite topics of discussion in any company, either on a positive or a negative note.

And it is true that even after the successful result in the elections, Golden Dawn has not reduced the activism that first brought it to notice – from distributing food in the central square of Athens to clashes with the police outside immigrant camps in mainland Greece and even inside the parliament.

Its popularity is spreading beyond Greece at the moment to the Greek Diaspora, with chapters being set up in USA, Canada and Australia.

But, even beyond the media spotlight, GD continues to rally the support of Greek nationalists, having absorbed a number of people that used to be in the LAOS party, after its defeat, and using the services of a number of people with previous experience in the parliament, including ex-partners of the ex-minister Makis Voridis (he moved to New Democracy from LAOS) and also prominent lawyers like Ioannis Andriopoulos, who managed to prove that the immigration law of the last government was anti-constitutional.

Causes of popularity 

The main cause of Golden Dawn’s popularity is not its views and solutions for the economic problems that Greece is facing. I would dare to go even further and claim that it is not even its staunch views on immigration. It is exactly what nationalists in the recent years have been afraid of admitting, that is the readiness to use violence. GD has cultivated the image of its members as people who can act violently against those that threaten the Greek populace, be they politicians, immigrants, or thugs. It’s their tendency for action instead of words that has won over a number of people, even if they do not entirely agree with them or vote for them.

As I wrote in Alternative Right before:

“The obvious conclusion is that it was used as a stick to hit the system with by a large number of people who are not ideologically committed but didn’t want to their vote to be used by the extreme left; in other words, it was an aggressive protest vote from people who wanted to see the shocked and sour faces of the TV-reporters and mainstream politicians when the exit polls were announced. In this it more than succeeded.”

What needs to be said is that Golden Dawn successfully adopted the tactic of “Free Spaces,” developed by the NPD in Eastern Germany, and deployed it in the center of Athens. Starting from certain areas in the capital, where the residents were objecting to and organizing against immigrants, Golden Dawn provided them with support and security, and opened businesses in the area, and became part of the community. That meant a lot of manpower was invested. One could say that for a couple of years, all of the movement’s energies and resources were spent there. And it actually managed – along with the residents – to improve the situation. This was an example. And Greeks actually understood that they could take things into their own hands, and not have to wait for the state to do something. That caused a chain reaction.

It of course helped GD in the elections. But it also created a multitude of local organizations, circles, etc. Greece saw the development of a web of locally centered organizations in a large number of Greek towns and cities. From Northernmost Greece down to Crete and of course Cyprus, local organizations are displaying activity in their hometowns. Some of those are friendly to GD, some are not. But they all define themselves as nationalist or patriotic organizations. And more keep springing up. They act according to their local problems, and in some cases manage to have quite a large following. Some of them cooperate and organize actions with other organizations, while others act in isolation.

The Antifascists take on the streets 

In my previous article about Greece, I wrote about the anti-fascist stance of the main media against Golden Dawn. Since then, some of them have become even more “anti-fascist,” but quite an impressive number have been shedding neutral or even positive light on the situation, due to many reasons, none of which are ideological, but rather have to do with petty interests.

The “Antifascist” focus thus has moved to the streets, not only of Athens, but the whole country. Almost everyday there is an antifascist demonstration somewhere in Greece, including many small towns. Some of them end in clashes with either the police or local nationalists, not always members of the Golden Dawn. But the “highlight” of the antifascist action is the Saturday/Sunday moto-tour of antifascists in Athens, the “Anti-fascist Patrol” as they call it.

This usually consists of 100-120 motorbikes, with 2 riders each, that patrol the center of Athens. There have been clashes with residents of immigrant infested areas and attacks on nationalists, displaying symbols. Last week things escalated after continuous attacks in the area of Ag. Panteleimon, and the police intervened. The result was the arrest of 15 militant antifascists.


Golden Dawn: controlled conflagration?

The truth be told, both antifascists and nationalists are going mainstream and things are getting polarized even in schools. Just recently in a school in Crete there was a fight involving 20-30 students from each side, between fascists and antifascists. As much as nationalists gain strength, antifascists do so as well. The big change in the “antifascist” scene is that the hardcore anarchist movement in Greece got involved in it. Some years ago, only leftists posed as antifascists. And with the Greek anarchist movement involved with both terrorist groups and normal crime as well, one can soon expect a dead nationalist, antifascist, or immigrant.Golden Dawn purposefully stays away from the antifascists, and only protects its offices. This has produced both criticism and applause, with some people claiming that Golden Dawn causes trouble and then hides, and with others saying that the party should not engage in a “gang style” fight with antifascists.

This will certainly create energy in Greece. There are people who believe that the establishment is allowing both antifascists and nationalists to roam wild in Greece, waiting for the fight to build up so that the establishment can emerge as the bringer of stability. The masses generally yearn for stability, even in rebellious Greece.

Aside from that, the main problem Golden Dawn is facing at the moment is the occasional incoherency of its newly recruited members. While the leader cadre is centered around its General Secretary Nikos Michaloliakos (some of whom are his relatives), the large number of followers it has managed to enlist, cannot be described as people with a serious and stable worldview. Like infatuated teenage girls, their devotion can be fierce, but if asked to explain the “what, why, and how,” they soon run into difficulties.

Another problem recently surfacing has been the involvement of “veteran politicians” in the party. Some of these are people who used to belong to other parties, but who, because they thought they might grab a spot for themselves in the next parliament, attached themselves to Golden Dawn. They of course bring with them a number of people and so they cannot easily be kept at a distance. This is creating friction with “old timers.”