Defeating the Lernaean Hydra that is fascism

Listen To Europe Analysis

Last week’s court decision that Golden Dawn, the Greek far-right party, is a criminal organisation and its leadership are guilty of running a criminal organisation is a major blow to a fascist outfit that up until recently had 18 MPs in the Greek Parliament and won 7% of the vote in the 2012 elections. It is fitting that such a blow on a fascist movement is struck in Greece, the cradle of democracy and the theatre of economic, political and social strife for the past 10 years.

But before celebrating too hard, we need to confront an uncomfortable truth. The underlining reason that led to the rise of Golden Damn remains strong in Greece. Greeks feel battered by the economic crisis that has engulfed the country for the past decade and the migration crisis that has brought thousands of asylum seekers and refugees to Greece’s borders.

Nationalist, xenophobic and resist messages, with a strong anti-establishment and anti-democracy rhetoric, has been central to Golden Dawn’s campaigns. They attacked politicians and the judiciary alike and blamed Greece’s economic predicament to refugees, foreigners and globalisation.

Golden Dawn was successful because they took advantage of (and fuelled) the alienation and economic desperation felt by many in the country.

In an opinion poll we conducted ahead of the European elections in 2019, we found that very few (just 11%) of Greeks strongly believe that they can make a difference in how their government works.

59% of Greeks strongly agree that Greek politicians do not listen to the people they are supposed to represent.

79% strongly agree that corruption and bribery are widespread.

39% strongly agree that the justice system in Greece is broken, with a further 35% somewhat agreeing with that statement.

As a result, Greeks feel alienated, with 63% of those asked strongly agreeing that they are left behind in a country where inequality is growing. 53% of Greeks agree that globalisation is a threat.

In fact, just 37% of Greeks gave consistently pro-democracy answers to questions about democratic governance and democratic institutions. A sense that provides fertile background for those with fascist and authoritarian inclinations, who wish to assault democracy itself.

It is easy to see how a fascist movement took advantage of this mood to attack mainstream parties and institutions, and rise to prominence as a “viable” alternative.

In addition to that, they exploited the fear and anxiety caused by the migration crisis.

In the same poll, we found that 49% of Greeks agreed that their country would be stronger if immigration was stopped. 66% believe that immigrants pose a threat to social services, in a cash-strapped country where the provision of health and social care is already under huge strain after years of austerity.

Whereas only 16% of Greeks hold negative stereotypes about immigrants, 60% of Greeks believe that the gap between Greek values and Islam is too big to be bridged.

Golden Dawn was able to contribute to and gain from that anti-immigrant sentiment. They presented their violent attacks on refugees and immigrants as a means to defend Greece, to disguise their xenophobic and racists beliefs. The fact that other, mainstream, parties also played the anti-immigration card only amplified their legitimacy in the debate on migration.

Despite Golden Dawn’s demise and the jailing of its leaders, the underlying reasons that fuelled their public support are still there. Fascism is like the Lernaean Hydra, it’s not enough to cut its head. To defeat it we must confront and cauterise the root causes of its ascendancy. Politicians must address the economic inequality and injustice ingrained in a society marred by corruption and nepotism. The institutions that underpin democracy, like the judiciary and legislature, must be strengthened and their independence must be ringfenced. Civil society must be empowered and the most vulnerable in society must be protected against those that prey on those vulnerabilities. The EU must put in place effective policies to address mass population movements in a common way, built on solidarity and the sharing of responsibility.

The defence of democracy and the fight against fascism is a battle that needs to take place on many levels, individual and collective, national and European. It is our common responsibility to stand up and build societies based on equality, fairness and solidarity, where democracy and transparency nurture civic participation, where opportunity is available to all. Such a society will be hard to succumb to fascism.

By Petros Fassoulas – Secretary General, European Movement International