Last week this blog discussed how Switzerland is preparing for the possibility that Europe’s current economic-cum-political crisis might get very ugly. The Swiss military, long known for its thorough preparedness, is readying for serious instability reaching the country’s borders. What might such “instability” – a catch-all phrase encompassing everything from rioting and refugee flows up to low-intensity war – look like?
Now we know. The other day a representative of Golden Dawn, Greece’s surging far-right party, gave an interview with the BBC in which he said that his country is already in “a new type of civil war.” Golden Dawn MP Ilias Panagiotaros pulled no punches, explaining that Greece is being overwhelmed by the financial crisis but, more importantly, by waves of illegal immigrants who, he asserts, are being used by leftists and anarchists as a sledgehammer against the Greek state, which is paralyzed by a lack of funds and the political will to deal with rampant crime and disorder, caused – Panagiotaros claims – by illegals.
Since its sudden rise this year, Golden Dawn has become the bete noire of all decent people in the EU and beyond, accused of racism, anti-Semitism, hatred of gays, in short everything the progressive classes fear and loathe. The New York Times is sufficiently concerned about this Hellenic contagion that it yesterday reported that Golden Dawn supporters have been sighted in Queens; apparently there have been incidents between the imported far-rightists and – I’m not making this up – “Occupy Astoria.”
To be fair to the MSM, which customarily presents any European conservatives to the right of Angela Merkel as basically Nazis, Golden Dawn really are the radicals of liberal nightmares. They are unapologetic ultra-nationalists of the old, pre-1945 school. One need not be a Mother Jones subscriber to detect more than a whiff of fascist chic in the group, which likes black attire and gleefully participates in beat-downs of illegal immigrants. As recently as 2009, Golden Dawn were a small fringe group, tracking well under one percent in Greek polling; they were hardly more than skinheads, notorious for stunts like sending volunteers to fight with the Bosnian Serbs, their “Orthodox brothers,” during the 1992-95 war.
Then Greece fell apart. June elections gave Golden Dawn 18 seats in parliament, and the country’s slide into the Weimarian abyss continues: economic collapse, strikes and protests, real poverty, crime and disorder, paralyzed politics, and ineffectual law and order. Unsurprisingly, the latest polls show Golden Dawn rising still, now in third place with 14 percent support – double the figure in June – among the angry public. Importantly, the ruling New Democracy (center-right) has fallen to second place, behind the far-left SYRIZA, while the center-left PASOK, which ruled Greece for decades, has evaporated, down to 5.5 percent, in last place among the top six parties. None of this bodes well for the fragile coalition government, nor for Greek politics generally. Anger at the EU and austerity is rising, as is frustration at crime and police impotence. Small wonder that MP Panagiotaros told the BBC he expects a full transformation of Greek politics over the next two to three years.
The issue of illegal immigration is a hot button across the EU, but nowhere more than in Greece. Some 80 percent of the migrants who enter the EU illegally come through Greece. The illegals amount to ten percent (some say even more) of the country’s population. Even in prosperous times this would be an irritant; in the current climate of impoverished crisis it is causing panic and outrage. Here Golden Dawn sees its opportunity, bringing food to hungry pensioners and providing security against street crime where, they say, the police will not.
The ineffectiveness of the police is a big issue in Greece, and recent reports indicate that thousands of policemen are secret Golden Dawn supporters. A recent expose in the newsmagazine Ependytis claimed that pro-Golden Dawn sentiments are widespread among cops, who are disgusted by the state’s corruption and unwillingness to enforce the law, which is buckling under unprecedented levels of street crime perpetrated by migrants from the Middle East, Africa, and Asia. Like all public employees, the police have seen their wages cut by the current government and many fear layoffs. As one cop explained: “Fascism is to cut wages and not the actions of a party that has the support of half a million Greeks. We should stop being hypocritical about Golden Dawn. When you keep cutting my wages, you say one thing before the elections but do otherwise once you become the government, why should I feel offended by those who have exposed the filth of the system?”
In such a climate, where stability is vanishing and society itself appears to be collapsing, it is no surprise that Golden Dawn has sympathizers, even among the police. Their assessment of “a new type of civil war” happening when the state refuses to police its borders or enforce its laws, when leftists and anarchists employ migrants as a political tool, sounds extreme, yet a milder version of this can be ascertained in many EU states. Golden Dawn is taking advantage of the systemic crisis which has hit Greece and which is slowly enveloping Europe. If this party can reap the whirlwind caused by the EU’s failures, as its leaders confidently predict, the European ship is headed into dark waters which have not been charted in many decades. And the Swiss will have been proved right, as they were the last time, in the 1930s, when European politics failed to respond effectively to a systemic crisis.