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Sundown for the Golden Dawn: Criminal Organization or Political Party?

Greece has become a topic of international intrigue since its devastating economic collapse in 2008. The world has watched as protests have sprung up around the country, with agendas and factions as numerous as the economic problems they wish to ameliorate. The county’s political identity crisis has lead to a rise in radicalism, seeing a surge in support of both far right and far left parties. One of the most notable parties to have enjoyed a growth in their ranks, is the Athens-based, far-right Golden Dawn party. The party’s brand is centered on nationalism and conservative protectionist  economic reform. The Golden Dawn party has received significant publicity of late, being cited as promoting violence, Nazi-esque fascism and a militant hatred of minorities thinly masked as tight immigration policy. Despite these accusations, the party has repeatedly defended itself as a legitimate political group functioning within its legal boundaries.

Although counter-protests have been numerous, only recently has outrage over the party reached a pinnacle in a proposed bill to have them cut-off entirely from government funding. The primary reason for this is the suspected connection between the Golden Dawn and the recent murder of 34-year-old hip hop artist Pavlos Fyssas. Although the murder was carried out by a member of the party and 10 party members have been questioned in the investigation, there is no evidence of yet that directly incriminates the party itself. This hasn’t stopped a slew of demonstrations calling for the condemnation of the group as criminal.

It’s not just the people on the streets that are confident of this conclusion, but also notable politicians. Deputy Prime Minister Evangelos Venizelos said that “Golden Dawn has violence as its priority and must be dealt with as a criminal organization”. While a connection is not unlikely, labelling them as a criminal organization would be an unjust restriction of democracy unless it can be proven that Golden Dawn as an organization played a direct part in the violence.

The motives of Venizelos are also somewhat suspect seeing as he is a member of the Panhellenic Socialist Movement. While the majority of Greek politicians have some sort of party affiliation, it’s worth noting that their respective ideologies stand on the polar opposite sides of the political spectrum, and that the Golden Dawn has evolved from a small novelty party to the third largest party in the country. A real threat.

This being said, the Golden Dawn, although fervently opposed to any sort of public connection to neo-naziism, paradoxically rallies supporters with zeig hiel salutes and utilizes imagery eerily similar to what one might expect to see on the streets of 1930’s Berlin. Some may see this as an ideology too dangerous to be kept alive, especially given its recent rise to popularity and the vocal nature of its supporters. An interesting thought no doubt, but one that brings us into a cloudy debate on political morality and seemingly objective reasoning. Is it right to outlaw an ideology in a democracy, or must we look past what is “right” in order to ensure the sustainability of a free and democratic society? It certainly doesn’t seem like this is the entire debate, and one that certainly doesn’t have time to occur in the tense political powder keg that is Greece today.

One thing that Greek legislators have to keep in mind is that the rise of far-right political thinking in Greece is not solely due to the rise of the Golden Dawn. This is a symptom of the economic crisis, one which has manifested itself numerous times in the past. The elimination of the party, just or unjust, will certainly not eliminate the sentiment that forged it. Support for the Golden Dawn has fallen in the polls, but that could be the response of a public that doesn’t want to be connected to a party which abets homicidal activity, and not a fall in the fascist ideas that sound so appealing to the desperate victims of a crumbling economy.

-David Hughes
Image By Pete Williamson: Some Rights Reserved

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