Reclaiming Xenophobia: The Rise of Ultra-Nationalism in Greece
An alarming consequence of Greece’s economic meltdown has been the rise of the virulently ultra-nationalist political party, Golden Dawn. In this week’s issue of TIME, we report on the group’s tactics and ideology as well as the political climate that feeds Golden Dawn’s anti-immigrant drive.
The group is led by Nikos Michaloliakos, 54, a small, paunchy mathematician with Brezhnev eyebrows and a perpetual scowl, who founded the movement in 1985. During an interview Wednesday with the private TV channel SKAI, Michaloliakos denied that the party was trying to push the country into the left-right divisions of the civil war that ravaged Greece after the end of World War II, declaring that the Greeks had to be united to face the economic crisis. He got angry when the Greek journalist interviewing him asked about the party’s Nazi links, dismissing it as “old mud” from 20 years ago. “We are nationalists, not Nazis,” he said, adding that the Greeks don’t care to rehash Nazi history and instead want to get rid of political corruption and illegal immigrants so the country can recover from the economic crisis. He claimed that support for his party will grow because Golden Dawn is not corrupt and identifies with common Greeks.
And yet, Golden Dawn’s slogans, salutes, symbols and gatherings distinctly echo images and words from the Third Reich, says Dimitris Psarras, an investigative journalist who spent more than 20 years chronicling the party in his new book Golden Dawn’s Black Bible. “The leaders of this group don’t practice an ideology that is simply the loud ultra-nationalism practiced by other European far-right parties,” he said. “It is very clearly a Nazi group.”
Psarras says Golden Dawn has tapped into anti-immigrant resentment that has been slowly building since the 1990s when the first big wave of foreigners—Albanians—came to Greece en masse. As the economic crisis has stripped Greek institutions of trust, that resentment has metastasized into outright fear that is defining mainstream political and social debate, he said.
Indeed, Golden Dawn holds no monopoly on the idea that all undocumented migrants are menaces to society. Many of Greece’s leading politicians, including Prime Minister Antonis Samaras, 61, have said as much. Though Samaras, a patrician , Harvard-trained economist, has also described Golden Dawn as “neo-Nazi,” he has labeled undocumented migrants “the tyrants of Greek society.” He leads the conservative New Democracy party, the main partner in a fragile three-party coalition government that’s been governing Greece since June.