The Golden Dawn and the Demand for Security

Ilias Kasidiaris, Golden Dawn MP, leaves court in Athens 4/3/13Manuel Mireanu and Maria Gkresta

May 2013

We want to argue here that the success of the extreme right discourses and practices in the current capitalist crisis has to be seen also as a function of the need for security. That is, we cannot explain this success merely in terms of identity politics, state and media propaganda or as an effect of the retreat of redistribution policies. These and other factors may very well make us understand certain aspects of the right-radicalization of certain segments of the population. However, we argue that a strategic analysis must incorporate and comprehend the implications of security as a mechanism of the extreme right. We use the example of the Golden Dawn group in Greece to underline the importance of security demands. We argue that there are two possible tactics that the non-liberal antifascist resistance[1] can use to tackle this: on the one hand, it can provide alternative security projects that are not based on ethnic, race, gender, class or other forms of exclusions, and that deal with the need for safe spaces and body integrity; and on the other hand, it can deconstruct the discourse of security altogether, and point out to the mechanisms through which the need for security is induced by capitalist narratives that emphasize property, merit and hierarchies.

 

The Golden Dawn and its security practices

 

The Greeks seem to be indifferent to the militarization of everyday life. In a country where the notion of security is associated to the insecurities that derive from poverty and a constant shrinking of social provisions, and where the media are the source of the spectacle of fear, the popularity of the Golden Dawn and the racism upsurge is unsurprising.  In this environment, the government recently decided to put on hold an antiracist bill of law, originally planned to be put up for public consultation on Friday, the 10th of May.[2] According to the prime minister’s office, certain provisions that may potentially create problems needed to be reassessed.[3] One of the main points of contestation seems to be that the bill, instead of acting as a deterrent for the Golden Dawn, could lead to the far-right party being perceived as persecuted.

Despite some of the Golden Dawn’s attempts to conceal its neo-Nazi face, its members have been involved in racial violence and various assaults, although only few of them have been convicted. The action of the Golden Dawn as a whole has never been the object of prosecution. Nikos Michaloliakos, the party’s general secretary, to whom the members of Golden Dawn refer as the ‘Leader of the Movement,’ had close ties to the Greek military junta. He founded the Golden Dawn in 1985, but the party became prominent after 1993, with its participation to protests related to the Macedonia naming issue. Members of the organization are alleged to have participated with the Greek Volunteer Guard in the Srebrenica massacre. However, electoral success came only in November 2010, when N. Michaloliakos got elected to the municipal council of Athens. Mr. Michaloliakos got percentages as high as 20% in neighbourhoods of Athens with high concentration of immigrants, such as Agios Panteleimonas.

At that time the issue of illegal immigration in Greece was gaining international media attention.[4] The anti-immigrant feelings had already been present among the population. Gradually, a causal relationship was manufactured between Greece’s financial troubles and its immigrants. The Golden Dawn captured this issue started to capitalise on it. There was common knowledge among the inhabitants of Ag. Panteleimonas that the Golden Dawn was having patrols in the area, and members of the organization appeared to be responsible for racist attacks against immigrants.[5]

Partly, the success of the Golden Dawn at the 2012 national elections in crisis-ridden Greece can be attributed to the citizens’ dissatisfaction with public institutions.[6] It is not by chance that soon before the latest elections and ever since, both PASOK and Nea Dimokratia have put particular emphasis on issues of public order and hygiene, in a discourse with nationalist, racist overtones.[7] Increasingly, the Golden Dawn kept extending its ‘disciplinary’ security practices, with the police encouraging citizens to seek its assistance in issues related to immigrants.[8] The organization is alleged to have been behind attacks to immigrants that are legal residents in Greece, notably in the case of the assault in the house of Egyptian fishermen in June 2012.[9] Prior to the incident, at a local Golden Dawn meeting, Ioannis Lagos talked about complains related to the action of Egyptian fishermen and said that they would be held accountable.[10] In the same spirit, of holding immigrant vendors accountable,[11] the Golden Dawn patrols markets and smashes their stalls, with the excuse that they don’t have the necessary licence.[12] In some cases, their acts enjoy the support of Greek vendors, who resent the government’s perceived inability to crack down on illegal commerce.[13]

But aggressive law enforcement in the streets of the city is only one of the Golden Dawn’s security practices. Its promise of national security is articulated in a myriad of other ways that claim to offer an alternative to the state’s social provisions. The party organizes food and clothes distributions, as well as blood donations only for Greeks (an ID card as a proof of Greek nationality is necessary).[14] They set up a program called ‘Doctors with Borders’ with the intention of treating only Greek citizens and groups of its members visit hospitals to ‘check’ for undocumented immigrants that might be engaged as private nurses.[15] The party recently organized the first in a series of ‘Greek History Lessons’ in a central hotel in Athens[16], but also classes of Greek history and mythology where children 6-10 years old learn about ‘the ancient Greek Pantheon and the Christian Faith.’[17] The Golden Dawn also intends to establish nurseries only for the children of the Greeks.[18] Cases of racist violence that have been documented at schools are attributed to the spread and appeal of the Golden Dawn’s ideological positions among students.[19]

In November 2012, three Golden Dawn PMs protested alongside with priests and citizens in front of a theatre where the play Corpus Christi would be staged. Not only was the play depicting Jesus Christ and the Apostles as homosexuals, but the director was an Albanian national. The deputies were filmed shouting vulgar insults to the play’s participants and boarding on a riot police vehicle to release one of the detainees of the protest, while the police officer did nothing.[20] The Golden Dawn explicitly targets homosexuals, as well as other categories of citizens, such as people with disabilities or mental disorders, since they are deemed to be responsible for the degeneration of modern society.[21] Recently it was posted on the Golden Dawn site an announcement against the Pride Festival, using vulgar characterizations for gay people.[22]

The abovementioned incident is indicative of the uneasy relationship between the Golden Dawn and the police and government. The Golden Dawn MPs, like all members of the parliament, enjoy immunity, which means that the police cannot arrest or detain them.[23] At the same time, according to surveys, one out of two police officers voted for the Golden Dawn,[24] confirming the persistence of a historical relationship between the police and the far right in Greece. The hot-tempered Golden Dawn deputies have been also involved in assaults against rival politicians. Ilias Kasidiaris faces charges after slapping several times on air Liana Kanelli, a KKE PM, last June.[25] The Greek Parliament lifted his immunity over the case to allow his prosecution. However, not so long ago, Kasidiaris was acquitted of charges in relation to a 2007 incident of assault and robbery when a student was stabbed and beaten. According to the court, there was ‘insufficient evidence.’[26] Giorgos Germenis, another Golden Dawn MP, attempted to attack the mayor of Athens, Giorgos Kaminis, a few days before the Orthodox Easter. The incident happened after the police, following the mayor’s orders, prevented a Greek-only food distribution in Syntagma square.[27]  Using his status as a parliamentarian, Germenis managed to get in a municipal food distribution centre where Kaminis was handing out gifts to children of unemployed parents. On a video that appeared online, the mayor’s bodyguards are telling him to put down his gun.[28]

 

The Far-Right in times of capitalist crisis

 

It is clear that the Golden Dawn is a hyper-nationalist group with far-right views. Exalting the Nation and the Church as the supreme values of the society, and at the same time vilifying ‘the other’ on the basis of race or sexual orientation, the Golden Dawn’s ideology is as close as it can be to any European extreme right party. And unlike Hungary’s Jobbik, the Greek group is not that good at hiding it: through its uniforms, logo and extended-arm salute, the Golden Dawn is openly proclaiming its Nazi affinity. It is also clear that the current economic and social crisis in Greece has provided a fertile ground for their activities. The group has been highly successful at exploiting the social discontent with immigrants and generally ‘non-Greek’ elements and has articulated a discourse whereby certain categories are blamed for the current disaster. Such a mechanism of scapegoating have been analysed by authors like Rene Girard, who see it as a constantly occurring function of coagulating communities and strengthening the social links between people.[29] Carl Schmitt went even further and proclaimed the antithesis between ‘friends’ and ‘enemies’ to be the fundamental conflict of the political.[30] A community is brought together by a common definition of who the ‘enemy’ is, and a common understanding that this enemy needs to be eliminated before it eliminates ‘us’.[31]

And here comes the crucial question that the ‘left’ has been trying to answer for decades: what makes people turn to the extreme right in situations of crisis? What makes certain social categories who are otherwise not invited to share the power with the elite, who are otherwise exploited and alienated on a daily basis, and who would theoretically be better off by organizing themselves and trying to bring down the oppressive structures – what makes them ally themselves in times of crisis with the oppressive discourses and practices of the State and reinforce ideas of Nation, Church, blood, race – against other social categories? We are of course not suggesting a full answer to such questions, but merely trying to explore one marginalized explanation: apart from identity, indoctrination or economic distress, we suggest that the need for security plays a key role in these processes.

 

Identity, the climate of fear and the economic crisis

 

The idea of the ‘scapegoat’ that needs to be ‘sacrificed’ for the community to revert to its lost prosperity implies that people such as foreigners, immigrants, deviants, criminals etc are the ‘bad apples’ of a rotting society, and that through their elimination, the social group would find its lost ‘ways’. This loss is usually framed in terms of identity – because the ‘true’ Greeks are the legitimate inhabitants of the Greek state, and this state has become corrupt or weak, the ‘outsiders’ are taking advantage and parasite the society, causing its malfunctioning. Much more can be discussed in this direction, but we hope that this much is clear: the need of regaining a lost and pure identity (national, racial, sexual, and religious) plays a crucial role in the far right discourses that are being legitimised by the population in times of crisis. However, we argue that an identity-based explanation does not capture the full thrust of far-right practices such as those performed by the Golden Dawn. As banal as it may sound, what is often overlooked is that material factors play as an important role as ideational ones. We will develop this point below.

Another way to go about this is to claim that it is an ideology that is being served by the state, through mass-media, in order to keep the population in a constant state of paranoia. This strategy would serve the state in that it would divert attention from its own mechanisms of exploitation. The population can thus be seen as being indoctrinated through constant exposure to immigrant-caused crime for example, or to how immigrants have more jobs than the ‘natives’. Such an explanation has its strength, and undoubtedly much of the contemporary xenophobia and racism comes from the state and the media. However, we argue that this explanation runs the risk of glossing over any sense of societal agency: the population is seen only as a passive receiver of ready-made ideologies from ‘above’, without it having any capacity to articulate its own positions. Such explanations also gloss over the banal fact that different social groups are exposed to and react differently to the state’s attempts at indoctrination.

A third explanation is related to the concrete material factors brought about by the crisis. Disastrous phenomena like poverty, hunger, insolvency and homelessness are the tangible effects of a society that is experiencing the darkest sides of neoliberal austerity. It is of course not hard to understand that many people can feel that immigrants are just extra mouths to feed, extra bodies to hospitalize, extra workers to pay – in the context of ever diminishing resources. The immigrant becomes an economic impostor – an illegitimate recipient of welfare and demander of work, an unnecessary addition to a population that is already barely helped by ‘its’ state. Yet, as strong as such an explanation for the legitimization of far-right practices in times of crises is, we argue that is not sufficient: in other cases of societies hit by the contemporary crisis, the population did not turn to the far-right to such an extent as Greece did. In cases such as Spain or Italy, despite (or maybe due to) a strong fascist past, far-right ideas have not re-emerged among the population, and there are no signs of anything like the Golden Dawn sprouting anywhere. Therefore, we need to explore a different explanation, one which is of course similarly insufficient, but one that could pave the way for the ‘left’ to address these issues more efficiently.

 

The Demand for Security

 

The key to the Golden Dawn’s electoral success has been its willingness to act, to go beyond rhetoric and provide tangible solutions to what it considered to be the main problems in Greece. And the most important category of these acts is related to security. Starting with the militaristic manner in which they don their uniforms and perform their parades, and continuing with the patrols they organize, everything wrapped in an ever-vigilant attitude of readiness for combat and aggression – the Golden Dawn brands itself as a provider of defence and public protection, as a vigilante group that does for the Greek people what the Greek state cannot or does not want to do anymore. Claiming to fill a gap of public security in an environment where crime seems rampant and violence is an everyday fact, the Golden Dawn’s security discourse resonated with a large part of the population. We argue that this resonance needs to be taken seriously, and not as a manufactured consent. We cannot underline enough the need to understand and acknowledge the population’s desire for safety, protection, certainty and lack of risk.

Of course, the need for security cannot be isolated from any discourse coming from the state, or media, or parties or any other sources. But it has to be granted a distinct ontological status, so to speak. It has to be taken seriously as a social phenomenon, otherwise we risk overlooking a crucial factor of extreme right radicalization.[32] The need for security is expressed in many ways: the need to preserve one’s property, the need to live without fear, the need for body integrity, the need to be spared of assault, rape, violence, the need to have a secure future, the need for a home and so on. The fact of the matter is that many of these needs have been taken over by the capitalist-liberal state and transformed into a response that incorporates the most repressive apparatus that can be thought of. Permanent surveillance, border controls, the criminalization of the poor, the foreigners and the deviant, constant police brutality, the violent repression of protests and dissent, using one’s own private data without consent, creating spaces of exclusion etc. A plethora of security mechanisms are being mobilized on a daily basis in the name of protection and freedom. The security provided by the capitalist state under the umbrella of liberalism is the most atrocious form of extremism ever imagined: it operates based on the exclusion of some people for the sake of freedom for others; it creates spaces that are outside the law, in which people such as asylum seekers or illegal immigrants lose any rights and human dignity; it builds prisons for the poor and the political dissidents; it tortures people in the absence of any trial or sentence; it pits the middle-classes against the poor by constantly feeding it images and discourses of fear, panic and immorality; it brutally silences any forms of dissent in the name of an alleged allegiance of the population to the status quo.

And the far-right groups such as the Golden Dawn tap into exactly this meaning of security, and offer to supply precisely the type of practices that the state is no longer seen capable or willing of. The fact that the Golden Dawn acts sometimes in parallel and sometimes against the state makes no difference – the security that it proposes – the security that any far-right project proposes – is exactly the same as the state’s security. It reinforces the same conservative values, it re-enacts the same exclusions, it purports the same violence.

 

Re-imagining Security

 

We suggest that any non-liberal anti-fascist project coming from the ‘radical’ ‘left’[33] should keep these things in mind. We suggest that it is necessary to find alternatives to the state’s articulations of security. Instead of merely labelling the Golden Dawn as ‘neo-Nazi’ and lamenting over its cooperation with the state and the demise of democracy, we should see it as a set of practices that aim to satisfy a need for security that the population formulates in different ways. We should ask first of all ‘how come there is so much support for the far-right?’, and see how this support can be curbed. And if security is a crucial element of this support, then we must develop strategies for security, and not dismiss this need as a ‘predisposition for fascism’.

We suggest two possible complementary ways to do this. Our suggestions are not meant to be exhaustive, but merely to serve as a starting point for a discussion about security among the radical left. The first strategy is to deconstruct the ideas behind the current practices of security. We need to develop a political imaginary that goes beyond equating security with exclusion and violence. Our security should not come at the expense of others’. More concretely, we need to develop ways in which immigrants, Roma people, poor and homeless people or people from different territories or cultures are not seen as threats to our identity and property. This implies of course getting rid of deeply ingrained discriminatory ideas such as racism, nationalism, sexism, ableism, homophobia and so on. The exclusionary mechanisms of capitalist and fascist security work by creating hierarchies – between those who need protection and those who are the threat. We need to go beyond these hierarchies and fight continuously against the discourses and practices that enforce permanent authorities. Stability and comfort do not need to be reinforcing the status quo.

Moreover, the discourse of private property also needs to be deconstructed. Private property implies a boundary and a hierarchical relationship between those who have and those who do not. We could at least re-think the terms in which these relationship work. They imply on the one hand, a violent exclusion of those who do not ‘possess’ and on the other hand, a constant fear for the integrity of the property. This fear is exactly what the capitalist state exploits when it develops its repressive apparatuses that allegedly work for ‘our own state of mind’. There is much to say about private property and security, so we will limit ourselves to suggesting that these terms should be discussed and deconstructed.

The second complementary strategy stems from our argument that the need for security should be taken seriously. We have the opportunity to develop a political imaginary and a repertoire of practices that provide an alternative to the state’s and the far right’s response to this need. It is necessary to form structures that offer security – with the non-violent and non-exclusionary meanings that we mentioned earlier. We should recognize the people’s need for safe spaces, for peace and stability, for body integrity and for freedom. Security can be practiced with a sense of solidarity for the less privileged, with an understanding of the background social conditions that lead to violence and fear. Priority should be given not to punishment and reprisal, but to emotions and community support.

There are already many examples of how this could work – examples of communities that take care of their own safety and protection, in the absence of the capitalist state. From restorative ‘native’ justice in Guatemala, to communal protection in Mexico and to affinity groups and the attention to safe spaces in anarchist environments. We need to understand the ways in which these arrangements work, and to learn from their mistakes. We could at least start discussing about these things. The antifascist struggle is not fought just by throwing stones at the skinheads, but it needs constant effort, organization and imagination. Groups like the Golden Dawn will not disappear without people coming together in solidarity and fighting against all forms of alienation that this system is creating.

The Greek word for ‘security’ is ασφάλεια (asphaleia). It means ‘to prevent from falling’. It implies support, backing, reliance and staying by one’s side. It implies solidarity and community in the face of disasters. And it is the exact opposite of the exclusion and violence that the Golden Dawn advocates. Let’s reclaim this meaning of security!

 



[1] By this, we mean any political initiative that goes beyond the liberal babble of ‘tolerance’, towards an active support and struggle on the side of those individuals, groups and communities that are being exploited by the capitalist system; we mean any political project that is aware of the difference between violence against people based on their race, gender orientation, nationality etc, and violence against property and infrastructure that sustains exploitation – and does not lump them together in the category of ‘extremism’ or ‘terrorism’; and we mean any project that claims to descend from the so-called ‘left’, and that is aware that the same authoritarian violence present in the far-right is at the heart of any idea of totality. We mean all this and much more.

[2] Newspaper Imerisia, 08/05/2013, http://www.imerisia.gr/article.asp?catid=26509&subid=2&pubid=113039255 (in Greek). According to E. Venizelos (PASOK), the antiracist bill will be presented to the Parliament at the end of May. Newspaper To Vima, 13/05/2013, http://www.tovima.gr/politics/article/?aid=512450  (in Greek).

[5] Newspaper Eleutherotupia, 04/05/ 2010,

http://www.enet.gr/?i=issue.el.home&date=04/05/2010&id=158395 (in Greek).

[6] A telling example can be seen in this video, entitled “The Golden Dawn cleaned up the square”, published on 19/04/2012, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9zgr-fhHvt0 (in Greek). The Minister for Citizen Protection, Michalis Chrisochoidis, is being confronted by two security guards who state that the Attikis Square has been “cleaned up” (by immigrants) not thanks to his action, but because of the Golden Dawn.

[7] For example, in the case the sex workers accused of spreading HIV to Greek families, in May 2012; see Maria Gkresta, ‘Social Control in Times of Crisis. The case of sex workers in Greece’, paper presented at the Criminal Justice Critical Criminology Common Session Conference, ELTE Budapest, October 2012.

[9] The police arrested six Greek nationals (five men and a woman) that are accused for the attack, but did not reveal their identity. Video: Athens Racist Attack, published on 12/06/2012,

http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=GPprGkVvJ0k

[10] Video from Ioannis Lagos’ speech in Perama (in Greek), published on 11/06/2012,

http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=AP8vIUxJ75k

[11] Giorgos Germenis, a GD MP, explained on camera the reasons for the raids in Rafina (northeast of Athens). He said they reported to the police that some of the vendors were illegal immigrants and they “did what the Golden Dawn must do.” See EURONEWS – Greece’s Golden Dawn attack market vendors, published on 09/0/2012, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4mEJULnQofc A post related to the incident on the Golden Dawn web page states: “The Golden Dawn members did tonight what the inexistent Greek state should have done long ago”,  http://www.xryshaygh.com/index.php/enimerosi/view/chrush-augh-paremporio-telos#.UZKlNMqwDoM published on 08/09/2012 (in Greek, authors’ translation).

[12] However, according to Rafina’s mayor, the immigrant vendors had valid licences. See newspaper To Vima, 10/09/2012, http://www.tovima.gr/society/article/?aid=474074 (in Greek). On the Rafina attack, see http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=dd3XYGHbxZ4 published on 08/09/2013.

Also, a video from another patrol and raid in an open air market of Messolonghi (western Greece), published on 08/09/2012, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8jHvlMtHfAk (in Greek).

[13] Announcement on the website of the Street Vendors’ Union in support of the “spontaneous ‘checkmate delivery’ by members of the Golden Dawn”, 08/09/2012, http://www.sindikatomikropoliton.com/2012/09/blog-post_2561.html (in Greek, quote translated by the authors).

[14] The food distribution only to Greeks comes at a price for the citizens: the Golden Dawn registers their personal data. See, for example, the process in this video, published on 13/11/2012,

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nSLYGZZVxrU

[15] Newspaper Eleutherotupia, 10/04/2013, http://www.enet.gr/?i=news.el.ellada&id=356562 (in Greek).

[16] The announcement/invitation from the Golden Dawn’s webpage, published on 15/03/2013

http://www.xryshaygh.com/index.php/enimerosi/view/jekinoun-ta-mathhmata-ellhnikhs-istorias-apo-thn-chrush-augh#.UZAV7rWG21w (in Greek).

[17] From the Golden Dawn’s webpage, published on 26/02/2013 (in Greek)

http://www.xryshaygh.com/index.php/enimerosi/view/h-chrush-augh-tou-ellhnismou-pou-erchetai#.UZAUmrWG21w

[18] Newspaper To Vima, 03/03/2013, http://www.tovima.gr/society/article/?aid=501136 (in Greek).

[21] Post on the blog of the Green Wing, the green part of the movement, 01/05/2007:

http://oikologiko.blogspot.co.uk/2007_05_01_archive.html (in Greek).

[24] Newspaper To Vima, 19/06/2012, http://www.tovima.gr/society/article/?aid=463063 (in Greek).

[25] Video of the attack, published on 07/06/2012, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yYdZfzZMcBk (in Greek).

[26] Newspaper Eleutherotupia, 14/03/2013, http://www.enet.gr/?i=news.el.article&id=350651

(in Greek).

[27] Newspaper To Vima, 02/05/2013, http://www.tovima.gr/society/article/?aid=510822(in Greek).

[29] Rene Girard, ‘Violence and the Sacred’, Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore, (1993) [1977]. See also Manuel Mireanu, ‘Security, Violence and the Sacred,’ Politikon  18 (December 2012): 89–101, http://www.iapss.org/publications/politikon/archive

[30] Carl Schmitt, ‘The Concept of the Political’, University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 1996

[31] Carl Schmitt was one of the most important intellectuals of the Third Reich; for the link between security, his ideas and the extreme right see Jef Huysmans ‘Know your Schmitt: a godfather of truth and the spectre of Nazism’, Review of International Studies, 25(2), pp. 323–328.

[32] This point is developed further in Manuel Mireanu, ‘Domestic Extremism – a Political Analysis of Security and Violence’, Athena Institute, Budapest, April 2012, available here http://www.athenainstitute.eu/uploaded_docs/4f97bc2cb2e53.pdf

[33] See note 1.

 

 

 

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