By Meredith Kerr
“I’d rather be governed by a madman than a thief”, commented an angry citizen on an article praising Hitler by the leader of Golden Dawn. On 6th May, the Greek general election gave no party an outright majority, but it has given 21 seats to a far-right group that Sophia Ignatidou, writing in the Guardian, said “a decade ago was widely perceived as an illegal, fascist organisation”.
In its fifth year of recession, the country has been tested by two years of the most severe austerity measures in recent history. These cuts were the price of the 110 billion euro bailout agreement with the EU and International Monetary Fund (IMF), a necessity after the 300 billion dollar debt accrued by past administrations. In particular, it was the actions of the newly elected government in 2009 that created Greece’s economic crisis; sharply revising public deficit figures from 6 percent of GDP to 12.7 percent, they triggered a spectacular loss in market confidence across the globe (France 24).
A tragedy not of their own making, the people have taken a stand against the politicians they trusted and the effects of the ‘memorandum’ (their term for the bailout) by frequent protests, and now by voting for parties that want to reject it. After dominating Greek politics for four decades, pro-bailout parties New Democracy and Pasok have now been matched by the anti-bailout coalition, Syriza. In the last election, the leftist party had just 4.6 percent of votes; this time, it scored 17 percent and came second. The public’s message is clear: the ‘memorandum’ must, at the least, be renegotiated.
However, a more sinister element has emerged in the last week. Golden Dawn, the “virulently anti-immigrant” (according to the BBC’s Mark Lowen) far-right group, has gone from 0.23 percent of the vote in 2009 to 7 percent and a presence in parliament. According to Athens News, the backing for Nikolas Mihaloliakos’ party was simply a “reflex action”. Yota Frangiskou, a 32 year old secretary, dismissed the results as “stupidity” on the part of voters who “didn’t know what they represented”.
Indeed, it seems that those who did vote for them are reluctant to admit it, and analysts say that obscurity has helped the group’s cause in a country that resisted Nazi occupation in World War Two and has experienced rule under a military junta. Images of members smiling next to an Auschwitz oven have shocked and horrified many Greeks and non-Greeks alike; leaving no doubt as to their intentions, election flyers promised “to rid the country of [the] stench” of immigrants. Among some in the poorest areas of Athens, though, they have made a very different impression. Escorting old women to the bank and delivering bags of food to struggling families, they have become the warped ‘Robin Hoods’ of the recession. “I’m ashamed, I’m ashamed”’ may have been the mournful refrain of Nasia, a political science student, to the BBC’s Athens correspondent, but there is no mistaking the fact that Greek democracy has spoken and it is angry.