Why isn’t there more discomfort, or at least the asking of some awkward questions, about the arrest of Golden Dawn MPs in Greece? Yes, Golden Dawn is a profoundly unpleasant organisation. Virulently racist, anti-Semitic, allergic to the ideals of free speech and free movement, and supported by people who are quite happy to use violence against those they hate, especially immigrants, it makes our own British National Party look like a chapter of the Women’s Institute in comparison. Yet that doesn’t mean we should give a nod to, far less cheer, the Greek state’s incarceration of GD’s leaders and members of parliament, who were democratically elected. Any police sweep on elected politicians should make those of us who call ourselves democrats anxious; that Greece’s military-style assault on GD hasn’t is very worrying.
In total, 22 of Golden Dawn’s politicians have been arrested, including its leader, deputy leader and four sitting MPs. The party has 18 MPs in total, in a parliament with 300 seats, having won just under seven per cent of the vote in last year’s national elections. The GD leaders were arrested in the wake of the murder of the radical anti-racist rapper Pavlos Fyssas, which caused uproar in Greece. The suspect in the killing of Fyssas claims to be a GD supporter, though GD denies having any connection with him. The charges against GD’s arrested leaders are all criminal in nature, ranging from running a ‘criminal organisation’ to overseeing assaults to possessing illegal weaponry.
Far from asking critical questions about what is motivating the Greek state’s clampdown on Golden Dawn, sections of the Greek left and vast swathes of the European left are celebrating it as a victory for democracy. They echo Greece’s public order minister, Nikos Dendias, who described the sweeping-up of GD’s leaders as ‘a historic day for Greece and Europe’. Greek newspapers are competing to see who can be the most effusive in their support for the clampdown. The brilliant arrests are ‘Golden Dawn’s Holocaust’, said one, rather tastelessly. Another claimed that ‘democracy is knocking out the neo-Nazis’. A left-wing British magazine described the arrests as ‘a victory for democracy in Greece’ and demanded to know why the Greek state isn’t doing more to shut down GD. SYRIZA, the left-wing opposition party in Greece which numerous European leftists have excitably hailed as a radical voice against austerity, has stood shoulder-by-shoulder with the state against Golden Dawn, claiming the arrests show ‘that our democracy is standing firm and is healthy’.
These radical cheerleaders of a state clampdown on democratically elected politicians urgently need to look up the word democracy in a dictionary. To describe the arrest of politicians who were elected by the public, by masked, armed police who were not elected by the public, as a ‘victory for democracy’ is the most profound contradiction in terms. Some leftists are claiming that the militaristic clampdown on GD has nothing to do with its political beliefs and is just a straightforward investigation of some men involved in alleged criminal activity. It’s hard to know whether such naivety is touching or disturbing. If this is just a criminal case rather than a political war waged by agents of the state against ideological undesirables, then why are so many describing it as a ‘victory for democracy’, as opposed to a potential victory for justice, and why are so many hailing the ‘knocking out [of] neo-Nazi ideas’? No number of lists of the alleged weapons found in GD members’ homes (apparently the party’s leader owns three guns) can disguise the fact that what we are witnessing here is a state war on a party supported by a significant number of Greeks.
There are precedents in Greece for this kind of state behaviour. As a BBC news report on the arrest of GD’s politicians said in passing, this is ‘the first time since 1974 that a party leader and MPs have been arrested’. What happened in 1974? That was the tailend of the military dictatorship in Greece. Lasting from 1967 to 1974, The Regime of the Colonels, as the Greek military’s assumption of power was known, launched severe clampdowns on left-wing parties, especially communist ones. Communist organisations were described by the military dictatorship as a ‘threat to the social order’, and even as ‘bandits’. One wonders if the naive leftists currently swallowing the Greek state’s propaganda about the clampdown on GD being a straightforward criminal investigation would have so readily accepted the military’s not dissimilar claims that communists were a destabilising force and therefore had to be banned. For leftists to demand the banning of a political party in Greece, where previously such stringent action was taken against left parties, suggests they haven’t learned one of the most basic lessons of history – that if you empower the state to dictate which political creeds are acceptable and which are not, you might one day find such power wielded against you as well as your opponents.