Gillian Bouras
An Australian
Living in Greece

October 2013

I had planned this month to write about something quite different from the subject matter with which I have become swiftly preoccupied. In my sunset years I have become a Lady Who Lunches, and Saturday’s effort was a Looong Lunch. And while it was happening, things in Athens were changing dramatically.

It is often said that a week is a long time in politics, and a great deal happened in a very short time in Athens on just that one day: I thought yet again that while Greece often seems to be a place where things are changeless, in fact change can happen in a flash. And it happened to Golden Dawn. But it is not clear to me how much a non-Greek, non-European public knows about the political party Golden Dawn, which was founded in Greece in 1987, and had very little influence until the elections of June, 2012, when it managed to secure 18 seats in a 300 seat Parliament.

Golden Dawn is a thoroughly nasty organization: unabashedly neo-Nazi, its members use the Nazi salute, wear black shirts, stout boots, and camouflage trousers, doing their best to affect a quasi-military style. Shaven heads are also their thing, as is a policy of general intimidation. And they love signs and symbols. For example, Greeks have the custom of cutting a New Year cake, and each line of work, organization, and family has its own little ceremony: in January I watched the televised Golden Dawn celebration. To my horror, I saw the cake was decorated with a chocolate-icing swastika.

Predictably, Golden Dawn considers that Greece is for Greeks and Greeks only. (Tourists, one assumes, are acceptable as a source of income, and they go home, anyway.) It has conducted raids on hospitals, demanding to be shown patients’ and foreign nurses’ identity cards. (Every Greek citizen is compelled to carry an ID.) In a nice irony, one group of Golden Dawn ‘hospital inspectors’ was prevented from entering the Kalamata hospital by a band of gypsies, another group the party despises.  

Golden Dawn also makes a big show of distributing free food in these troubled times of hardship, but will give supplies only to those who can produce a Greek ID. The party targets immigrants continually, often in the most brutal fashion, and with total disregard for the law. Very disturbingly, it is alleged that the police often turn a blind eye to members’ frequent bashings of immigrants, in which clubs and long poles are the weapons of choice.

In January a Pakistani died after being attacked by two Athenian men, one of whom was subsequently found to have a large amount of Golden Dawn literature in his flat. There were protest rallies in Athens, but most who attended were Pakistani and other foreign immigrants. Complaints about the government’s apathy have been widespread, but have achieved little.

But on September 18th, things changed. Because of another murder, this time of a Greek citizen, Pavlos Fyssas, a hip-hop musician, who was left-wing and an anti-fascist activist. He was stabbed to death by a Golden Dawn supporter, who later confessed to the crime. A sad waste of a young life: Fyssas was only 34. And it is a troubling thought that it took the death of a Greek citizen to galvanise the authorities.

When I returned from my protracted lunch, I turned on the TV set in my usual effort to procrastinate: I find it quite hard to return to routine and work after a day out. But procrastination was both easy and necessary on Saturday, for the Greek government (at last!) chose that day to crack down on Golden Dawn. The leader of the party, Nikolaos Michaloliakos, and five other MPs were arrested, accused of complicity in the murder of Fyssas, and of many other crimes besides.

There is a German word that has slid into English: schadenfreude. Roughly translated, the word means something like ‘rejoicing in another’s misfortune.’ And this is what I did, I’m rather ashamed to say, but there’s no doubt about the fact that I was pleased to see these people being led away in handcuffs: I felt their chickens had really come home to roost, that they were reaping what they had sown, etc, etc, ad infinitum. And that it very much served them right.

I’ve often wondered what the problem is. The usual argument is that faltering economies encourage extremism. But Spain, for example, has not reacted in the same way, despite the fact that the unemployment level there is much the same as Greece’s. The Greek electorate knew about Golden Dawn’s neoNazi tendencies, but still a proportion of it voted for the party. Another argument is that for many years, and very inexplicably, Greek secondary school curricula have largely ignored the rise of Hitler and the Second World War. This, in a country that suffered long years of German occupation.

Journalist Nikolaos Chrysolaras considers the rise of Golden Dawn something ‘idiosyncratic and deeply Greek.’ It appeals to the darker side of Greek society, the one that is homophobic, xenophobic, anti-Semitic, and generally intolerant. The saga goes on, and the drama continues to unfold. One can only hope that the better angels of the Greek nature will eventually prevail. 

Gillian Bouras


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Gillian Bouras 2018