Greece grapples with far-right resurgence – POLITICO


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ATHENS – In October 2020, leaders of the Greek neo-Nazi Golden Dawn party were sentenced to lengthy prison terms, helping to quell a rise in radical and violent ultra-nationalism for years.

But barely a year later, brutality – and extremist views – reappeared.

In Thessaloniki, a city in northern Greece, young people dressed in black have orchestrated several attacks in recent weeks against students and activists, leaving two people hospitalized and dozens of students trapped in classrooms as the strikes were taking place. Videos showed several of the attackers making Nazi salutes.

In Athens, members of an anti-fascist group were attacked earlier this month with iron batons and knives, injuring at least three. A suspect has been arrested after being identified with a swastika tattoo.

And across the country, ultra-nationalist and sympathetic religious groups have joined anti-vaccine protesters in growing rallies, often leading to clashes with police.

Street violence, open Nazi support – this is a growing trend that worries authorities and leaves researchers to warn that while the undercurrent of radical far-right views in Greece may have briefly remained dormant , he never left.

Golden Dawn leaders still cultivate a prison audience as new far-right parties are gaining ground. And observers say temperate variations of these extremist views are seeping into the more mainstream discourse, pointing to a recent open letter from legal, academic and military figures lamenting the erosion of Greece’s national identity and blaming, in part, the focus on LGBTQ + equality.

Meanwhile, Greece’s conservative Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis is accused of looking the other way in the hope of keeping right-wing voters in his camp.

“There is a super-conservative right in Greece, and in particular in Central Macedonia, which is ideologically supported and nurtured by the church and is involved in the big issues of the political scene,” said Nikos Marantzidis, science professor policies at the University. of Macedonia in northern Greece, referring to the region of northern Greece.

Marantzidis described these forces as “the brake on any reform towards a modern European liberal democracy in accordance with the values ​​of the Enlightenment”.

Still influential

Golden Dawn was founded in 1993 out of a small sect of Adolf Hitler supporters whose members were known for their violence against minorities, migrants and leftists.

For years, the party barely registered at the polls. Then the 2008 financial crisis hit Greece. By 2012, Golden Dawn had become the third most popular party in the country’s parliament.

However, the peak of the holiday was short-lived. In the 2019 elections, Golden Dawn failed to cross the 3% threshold required to enter parliament. During this time, the party leadership was facing an account. Last October, after a five-year trial, the leaders of Golden Dawn were convicted of leading a criminal organization and sentenced to terms of up to 13 years in prison.

As the party has become relatively silent publicly, some of its leaders have started to find ways to get their message out from prison.

Former MP Ilias Kasidiaris formed a new political party called “Greeks for the Homeland” and successfully organized rallies and demonstrations. He even used a combination of his YouTube channel and what he says was the prison payphone to “be in” at some of the meetings. His efforts eventually caught the attention of Greece’s Secretary General for Anti-Crime Policy Sofia Nikolaou, who told prison administrators that Kasidiaris should not be allowed to use the prison phone to make political statements. “Going so far as to incite hatred”.

This hatred has been observed recently in several parts of the country, particularly in northern Greece, where a mix of ultra-nationalist, religious and far-right groups is traditionally more popular.

After the attacks on students and activists in Thessaloniki, a Golden Dawn youth wing issued a statement congratulating the perpetrators of the attack and expressing their support. Likewise, the attacks in Athens recalled past incidents of Golden Dawn supporters.

Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias said in a recent interview that the government has acknowledged that the country has experienced “a resurgence of illegal activity … and the widespread dissemination of conspiracy theories.

A Supreme Court prosecutor has ordered prosecutors in Athens and Thessaloniki to conduct further investigations into far-right pockets, seeking to suppress nascent organizations with neo-Nazi and racist ideologies.

So, as anti-fascists staged rallies to celebrate the first anniversary of Golden Dawn’s prison terms, they were also protesting against a possible resurgence of the far right.

New far-right personalities

Amid the waning influence of Golden Dawn, a new generation of ambitious far-right leaders has emerged, often using racist, xenophobic, misogynist or homophobic rhetoric.

In the Greek parliament, Greek Solution replaced Golden Dawn as the most widespread far-right party, pushing a coterie of cruel anti-immigrant proposals and overwhelming nationalist rhetoric.

More broadly within Greek society, an eclectic group of semi-public figures have come together to express their anguish over the state of Greek family structure and birth rate, the recent introduction of sex education in schools and the promotion of LGBTQ + equality. The open letter, published in September, bore the signatures of 160 people from academia, the judiciary and the military.

Many analysts saw the statement as a step towards forming a new far-right political party.

“It is a union of extreme ultra-nationalists, ultra-conservatives,” said George Pagoulatos, director of the think tank of the Hellenic Foundation for European and Foreign Policy (Eliamep) in Athens, and professor in Athens. and Bruges.

The group, he added, admires leaders like the Hungarian Viktor Orbán, who promotes Hungary’s “Christian” identity and wrangles with European leaders over allegations of democratic backsliding and measures it is taking. it adopted targeting migrants and LGBTQ + rights.

And, said Pagoulatos, these far-right people “have a clear enemy: liberal Europe”.

So far, however, the group is fragmented, Pagoulatos said, with “many personalities who see themselves as little Führers around whom others can unite.”

Too soft on the far right

Left-wing politicians in Greece point to Mitsotakis, the prime minister, for arguing that he is reluctant to crack down on extremism and risk alienating right-wing voters.

Mitsotakis’ fear, they say, is that a burgeoning far-right force could pull out critical voices from the ruling party, New Democracy.

“We are led by a prime minister who is constantly concerned with how to keep the far-right public, whose votes he is fishing, happy,” Alexis Tsipras, who heads the main opposition party Syriza, told parliament recently.

Mitsotakis, who was also present, replied: “Anyone who crosses the line will know that he has no place in the New Democracy parliamentary group.

On occasion, New Democracy has taken steps to monitor its ranks.

Earlier this month, he ousted MP Konstantinos Bogdanos, a former TV presenter well known for his inflammatory anti-immigrant rhetoric, from the ruling parliamentary group after he lambasted the Communist Party of Greece during a parliamentary debate on a unrelated subject. In another recent example, Bogdanos suggested European Parliament President David Sassoli welcome Afghan refugees to his home after the EU leader called on countries to offer asylum to persecuted Afghans.

But many argued that the punishment came too late or that Bogdanos should not have been included on the party’s voting list to begin with, as his views were well known in the country. And shortly after Bogdanos left, Giorgos Gerapetritis, a close associate of Mitsotakis, clarified that the MP had not been expelled from the party himself, leaving him the possibility of returning to the parliamentary group in the future. .

Other critics point out that three of the top ministers in the current Mitsotakis cabinet are also from the former ultra-nationalist LAOS party, appointments seen as a way to prevent the party’s right-wing faction from rebelling.

“The goal is not to replace a criminal Golden Dawn with a law-abiding Golden Dawn,” said Marantzidis, professor of political science.

“In the name of the integration of the far right into New Democracy, we risk dominating the agenda of the far right,” he argued. “In such a case, we will have eaten up the core values ​​of a modern liberal democracy and we risk opening the back door to all kinds of right-wing populism and extremism.”

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