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Tens of thousands of Greek protesters welcomed German Chancellor Angela Merkel to their country Oct. 9 with Nazi uniforms, Hitler salutes and swastika flags, lamenting her new austerity measures amid their floundering economy.
While protesters’ gestures were symbolic, the real threat Nazi ideology poses to Greece comes from within.
Chrysi Avgi (Golden Dawn), the Greek neo-Nazi political party, denies the Holocaust. No one, however, can deny the increasing visibility, strength and political prowess the extreme right-wing movement is gaining as the economic crisis in Greece deepens. The fascist group has secured 18 seats—9 percent of the total—in the Greek parliament and appears to be increasing its presence throughout the country.
Golden Dawn is replete with neo-Nazi signs and symbols, including the swastika banners and black, insignia emblazoned black shirts. Its platform denies the Holocaust and supports a nationalistic “Greece for Greeks” stand. Its voice is strident against both Jews and the approximately 2 million Pakistani, Indian, Albanian, and African immigrants living in Greece.
The party promotes the belief that the immigrants have caused the country’s massive unemployment and that Jews are responsible for the overall economic catastrophe in Europe. It has found favor among the economically bereft Greeks, offering social services and sustenance—in a style similar to Hamas—and providing “protection” the police can no longer offer. The group assists “pure” Greeks.
Dimitris Filippides, program director of the Greek-American “Hellas FM” Internet radio station in Astoria, NY, told JNS.org that the rise of Golden Dawn and other far-right groups “is largely a phenomenon of the European financial crisis.”
“These extreme right groups are traditionally connected with anti-Semitism, and, almost universally, denying the Holocaust is a principle of the far right,” he said. Far-right extremists have carried out attacks against Jewish cemeteries in Greece, and the Golden Dawn is suspected of having defaced the country’s Holocaust Memorial.
“Right now, the main concern is for the immigrants from Pakistan,” Filippides said. “But, in principle, attacks against the Jewish community are possible… Unfortunately, about 19 percent of Greeks are following [Golden Dawn’s] theories of hatred. It can become dangerous—especially because of the economic situation.”
“Whenever I say something against Golden Dawn on my radio program, I get many calls,” he said. “If they are not stopped, I think it is just a matter of time until they get power in the community.”
Filippides said many Greek Americans share the belief that the country’s problems have been caused by foreigners and Jews—albeit not the tiny Jewish community remaining in Greece, but rather perceived Jewish control and financial maneuverings of firms such as Goldman Sachs and other “Jewish firms.”
“They still believe Jews have the power to create economic instability,” he said.
The reality of the financial misfortune is that it came from “mistakes made by the [European Union] and the Greeks themselves,” Filippides said. “Everything is a matter of education and talking to the young people about reality,” he said. “We should know things how they are… It is important to emphasize that the Jewish population is not responsible… We should not look for scapegoats—that’s not the problem. The problem starts from ourselves; we need to reorient our culture.”
Filippides said one influence that can impede the Golden Dawn is the enhanced diplomatic relationship between Greece and Israel. In the last several years, the political position of the Greek government has become more pro-Israel.
“People realized that the pro-Palestinian policy of the previous government did not bring any good result for the Greek people,” he said. “We stood by the PLO and Arafat and nothing was done in favor of the Greeks. Many people are happy to see a strong alliance between Greece and Israel, especially in consideration of the development of the recently discovered—and extensive—natural gas resources.”
“The majority of the population realizes that we have things to gain from friendship with Israel,” he added.
Many Greek officials say it is outrageous that the Golden Dawn has been elected. Nicolos Papakostadanous, head of the press office of the Greek Consulate in New York, noted that they “are like any other party making inroads in Europe.”
“The far right is making inroads in Greece because of the crisis and a social fabric that is terribly tried in a very severe way… These are hard times, similar to when Hitler took advantage to organize the German people in pogroms against the Jewish people—only the beginning,” he told JNS.org. “This Golden Dawn is a backlash, a byproduct of very austere, very severe economic problems.”
Asher Matathias, a Greek-born American Jew, university professor and activist within the Greek-American community, told JNS.org that the Golden Dawn comes complete with a Fuehrer (leader Nikos Michaloliakos), a Heil Hitler salute, a symbol that reflects the swastika, and a paramilitary force, although they are wearing black, rather than brown shirts.
Matathias, however, does not consider Greek anti-Semitism “a hopeless condition.” He noted that Filippides has “mandated that all Hellas FM producers sign a solemn agreement to abjure all racist and anti-Semitic content.”
On Oct. 1, Golden Dawn party member and parliamentarian Eleni Zaroulia was appointed as a member of the Committee on Equality and Non-Discrimination of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe. The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) has “condemned the presence of a representative of the Greek neo-Nazi party Golden Dawn” on the committee, calling it “an affront to concepts of equality and non-discrimination.”
ADL notes that Gold Dawn’s Nazi-like principles demanding that “only men and women of Greek descent and consciousness” have full political rights “stands in the most stark contrast imaginable to the goals of the Committee on Equality and Non-Discrimination.”
Matathias believes that the Golden Dawn hopes to “send the Greek government into paralysis to prove that only it can run a government.” He points to the actions of Golden Dawn Member of Parliament Ilias Kasidiaris, who achieved national notoriety when, on live television, he attacked two other members of the Greek parliament.
“They are the scourge of Greek society,” Matathias said of Golden Dawn members. “Decent people must prevent our native land from reaching the cliff of irrational and immoral lashing out against the vulnerable populations that inhabit it.”