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Monday, 13 January 2014

Q&A with Tryfon Bampilis: The far right in Greece: Dawn or Dusk?

Tryfon Bampilis (A.G. Leventis Visiting Fellow, St Antony's College, Oxford)

What are the facts about the Golden Dawn party in Greece? Is it a neo-Nazi party? What can we expect in the future? These and other very interesting questions were discussed during a seminar organized by SEESOX[1] at St Antony’s College, Oxford that took place on the 22nd of October where A.G Leventis/SEESOX visiting fellow Dr. Tryfon Bampilis presented the preliminary findings of his research. Below is an account of the presentation and discussion in the form of questions and answers.

1. What facts are known about the Golden Dawn party of Greece?

At the Greek legislative elections of Sunday 17th of June 2012, a spine chilling result caught everyone’s attention. For the first time ever in post-1974 Greece, an extreme right wing party secured 6.92% or 425.990 of the votes, which gave it 18 Members of Parliament. In a country torn apart by a post-WWII civil war and with the 1967-74 memory of a military dictatorship, this electoral result looked like an irony of history, one of the darkest hours of Greek democracy. These electoral results were especially surprising as the party had received a mere 0.29% in the 2009 elections and in the meantime had intensified its racist attacks against immigrants in various areas of Athens. The notorious violence of the members of Golden Dawn became even more visible just a week before the general elections when Ilias Kasidiaris, the spokesman of the party, physically attacked two female Members of Parliament during a live morning television show.

A year after the electoral success of Golden Dawn, the leadership of the party is now being held in detention, as part of the prosecution of the assassination of Petros Fyssas, a Greek antifascist campaigner, and further allegations and revelations that the party is a criminal organization. While this is the first time in Greek history that such an accusation is put forward by the Justice system against a political party, it is not the first time that the leader and founder of Golden Dawn, Nikos Mihaloliakos is imprisoned.

2. Is Golden Dawn a neo-Nazi party?

Golden Dawn has many admirers of Nazism. Since its foundation in the 1980s the magazine Golden Dawn (Chrysi Avgi) published hundreds of articles and special issues on Nazism, which leave little doubt about the party’s admiration of Nazi ideology. The ideology of Golden Dawn follows the militaristic and hierarchical values of “national socialism” and promotes what they see as the “ancient Greek” salute that was adopted by German Nazism. According to various informants and ex-members of Golden Dawn, “Mein Kampf” and the biography of Goering are regular readings of the hard-core members of the organization. Another aspect of the party’s strategy is the control of public space and the use of violence. Violence, according to them, is as a rightful act of empowerment and punishment that begins in the streets and goes all the way up to parliamentary politics. In some ways the ideology of Golden Dawn could be described as national socialist, as the party members identify themselves as “nationalists” (ethnikistes) with their “own socialism” (o dikos mas sosialismos). The idea of a homogenous Hellenic nation state is the ultimate target. The idea of “Hellenism”, according to the Golden dawn view, has its roots in Greek classical ancient culture, and contemporary Hellenes are seen as the legitimate heirs and gatekeepers of this historical legacy.

3. How do you see the future of far right politics in Greece? Is it affected by the recent events?

The murder of Fyssas and the investigations that followed resulted in the parliamentary request for waiver of the parliamentary immunity of 6 of the 18 parliamentary members of Golden Dawn[2]. The request was granted, following a vote in the parliament, on 16 October 2013. In the same line of argument, the parliamentary bill of the party has been ceased.

Indeed this turn of events redefines the social and political landscape for the first time in Greek history, as the justice system has a direct involvement in the politics of a party in the parliament. In addition, it is for the first time that we see a challenge of the existing immunity system and its application, which has dominated post authoritarian politics. It is a major achievement that the justice system has been able to act in this way and to detain the leadership of Golden Dawn.

While these are changes should not be taken lightly, the polls show that support for Golden Dawn has not waned dramatically after this series of events. This is affected partly due to the “anti-systemic” arguments that have been put forward by Golden Dawn such as: “why is supposedly only Golden Dawn hunted down?” or “why other cases such as Vatopedi or the Lagarde list are not under investigation?”.

In any case the recent events taking place in Greece provide an opportunity to the political system and to society at large, to investigate critically the current and future position of the far right in the country. However this historical moment of prosecution and imprisonment of the leaders of the political party, is at the same time challenging and risky. It is challenging, because a “broken justice system” that has not been able to be independent from the political life of the country is called upon to complete a catharsis and it is risky because if justice or politics do not succeed in isolating Golden Dawn it will rise victorious in martyrdom.


[2] Golden Dawn has 18 members of parliament out of the 300 members assembly.

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