Governments carry out political assassinations invariably for reasons they justify as “national security”, linking those reasons to ‘war conditions”, therefore it somehow appears legitimate that the CIA, or the secret services of Israel, China, or Russia killed certain people. At the same time, guerrilla-style groups carry out assassinations of political officials or rich and famous private citizens to send a political message. The question is what happens when a paramilitary organization operating under the umbrella of an elected political party enjoying constitutional protection carries out political assassinations? How can citizens possibly cast a vote and elect in parliament neo-Nazi politicians with well-known criminal records that include running prostitution rings and money laundering, "selling protection" to night clubs and other stores, extorting money from illegal immigrant street sellers and beating those that refused to pay, destroying property, and other similar crimes. Just as significant, how could the police, government, and the media help such Neo-Nazi operatives to gain legitimacy in the eyes of the voters?
We saw such events unfold in Fascist Italy in the 1920s and in Nazi Germany in the 1930s, and in 2013 in Greece. This is not to equate Greece, a semi-developed country, with the industrialized nations of interwar Europe that came out of WWI at the losing end and a segment of their voters chose ultra-nationalist racist political parties to represent them. However, the economy of Greece has been so devastated by the IMF-EU imposed austerity measures that its social structure has collapsed just as those of Fascist Italy in the 1920s and Nazi Germany in the 1930s amid the Great Depression.
On 18 September 2013, a member of the Greek neo-Nazi party Golden Dawn assassinated a rap singer whose songs were well-known for their anti-fascist messages. Immediately, there was an outcry by the EU, especially by Germany, that the right-wing-led Greek government must do something about the neo-Nazi movement whose popularity has risen from under one percent before the IMF-EU austerity to double-digit in 2013. In January 2013, Golden Dawn members had assassinated a Pakistani, but not one word by the authorities, from police and courts to the ruling coalition that has been in many respects fueling the neo-Nazi movement with its policy of tolerance and equating any legitimate labor strike and mass demonstration by leftists with the acts of violence by Golden Dawn.
The activities of the paramilitary wing of Golden Dawn include blackmail and racketeering, using their charity organization to embezzle money from donations, shakedowns of small businesses in return for "protection", and illegal movement and possession of weapons. All of these activities were well known to the government, as was the fact that the neo-Nazis were engaged in hundreds of acts of violence. However, the government not only refused to act, but members of the ruling conservative party had gone as far as suggesting collaborating with the neo-Nazis.
It was not until several EU elected officials, mostly Germans who feel that their push of IMF-EU austerity has driven Greece into socioeconomic catastrophe and political polarization, have called for wiping out neo-Nazism otherwise Greece will not be able to assume the rotating presidency of the EU in January 2014. Immediately, the Greek minister of Justice announced that legal measures will be adopted to bring harsh penalties for any neo-Nazi activities, whether against foreigners, gypsies, leftists, trade unionists, or entertainers like the recently-assassinated young man.
Both the Greek right-wing government that cultivated the climate giving rise to neo-Nazism and the IMF-EU supporters in Europe and the US are scrambling to distance themselves from the political conditions for neo-Nazism. However, there is a direct correlation between the pluralism that prevailed before austerity and the polarizing political climate that exists today where a substantial segment of the voters sympathizes with the neo-Nazis. That the Minister of Defense has ordered an investigation into allegations that segments from within the armed forces were training neo-Nazi storm troopers has alarme many ordinary people as well as EU officials. Equally alarming is the fact that there has been widespread cooperation between the police force throughout the country and the neo-Nazi party and storm troopers who have been involved in hundreds of documented violent acts, mostly against immigrants.
In an article entitled NEO-NAZISM IN GREECE, (19 September 2012), I argued that Golden Dawn was a full-fledged political movement gaining strength from the weakening of democracy that neo-liberal policies and austerity had created. I also argued that the political organization had deep roots in the country's authoritarian past (1930s under pro-Nazi regime of John Metaxas as well as the more recent military Junta of 1967-1974). Golden Dawn is committed to ridding Greece of foreigners, by violence if necessary, and it is just as committed to ridding Greece of leftists, also by violence. This brings up the question of the nature of the recent political assassination as well as the one in January 2013.
There is a sense of fear prevailing among all European leaders, as well as intellectuals, journalists and business people that neoliberalism in the name of austerity are not only weakening the middle class that is the social base of democracy, but creating sociopolitical polarization with neo-Nazi elements gaining strength not just in Greece, but throughout Europe. Banning the neo-Nazi party, even if that were possible in a constitutional democracy, as many EU and Greek mainstream leaders suggest is indicative of the bankruptcy of the mainstream political parties operating under the neoliberal mindset.
To sustain itself in power, the coalition government made up of conservatives and PASOK (Socialists in name but neoliberal in practice), has tried to argue that the enemy of the nation is the center-left SYRIZA party that has been the arch enemy of the neo-Nazis. Prime Minister Samaras and his circle of defenders in government and the press has intentionally tried to portray the left with the neo-Nazis, arguing that there is no difference between anti-austerity popular demonstrations and neo-Nazi violence. This line has given legitimacy and strength to the neo-Nazis who see themselves as patriots, defenders the “pure Hellenism” against the decadence of non-white immigrants and their leftist defenders.
Moreover, the police force has a long history of sympathizing with neo-Nazis. In clashes between neo-Nazis and other groups, immigrants or leftists, the police simply turn the other way. Preliminary reports based on several eyewitness accounts indicate that four police officers simply stood by and watched the altercation between neo-Nazis and the rapper who was killed. Even worse, the government had information in its possession that the neo-Nazis train and pay certain members for combat conditions. That they have available at their disposal enormous amounts of money ought to be disturbing, but even more so that the source of the money comes from wealthy individual, including shipping tycoons. That government has in its possession all such information, but it has allowed neo-Nazism to thrive is a matter for future historians to investigate. For now, the question is whether the government will try to contain the neo-Nazi party’s activities, while all along pursue austerity and neoliberal policies that accounts for the expansion of the neo-Nazi popular base.
Unless the root causes of the problem are addressed, namely double-digit (currently 28% and expected to rise above 30% in 2014) unemployment, youth unemployment that is above 60%, rapidly falling wages and skyrocketing indirect (consumption) taxes, accompanied by stripping all labor laws intended to provide workers with some job security, neo-Nazism will continue to rise and pluralism will continue to erode. In the absence of providing some sense of hope for the youth and some sense of a social safety net (medical care and social security) for the elderly, as well as some sense to the middle class that they can hope for upward social mobility for their children, neo-Nazism will be on the rise. This is not necessarily because workers gravitate to neo-Nazism, but because those who in their own mind believe they belong or ought to belong to the middle class but are forced to live working class lives blame the mainstream “democratic” (in essence neoliberal) regime for the calamities that befall society.
We return to the question of motives and goals for political violence. Who exactly benefits from neo-Nazi activities in Greece? One answer is that the wealthy who use them to bring divisions among the masses suffering under austerity. Beneficiaries are also the neoliberal and austerity supporters inside and ouside of government. As long as the neo-Nazis are a convenient distraction that the mass media and pro-austerity politicians can use, then they have served their purpose for capitalism and its political apologists. Another purpose that neo-Nazis serve is to act as the ultimate movement of sociopolitical repression of the left that tends to rise amid hard economic times. Mainstream neoliberal and pro-austerity political parties can argue as they have that the extreme right is no different than the anti-austerity center-left and leftist movement.
Therefore, people really have to support the status quo as the only alternative to the neoliberal and austerity policies that account for chronic high unemployment and chronic drop in living standards. Just as Fascism and Nazism in the interwar era served capitalism, which supported Mussolini and Hitler, similarly the neoliberal supporters of today are using neo-Nazism to make sure that their policies of greater capital concentration remains a way of life, no matter the social and political consequences for the larger society, for the weakened middle class and even weaker working class.