by Aristides N. Hatzis
November 7, 2013
Since the 2012 summer elections, Greece has rumbled with echoes of the Weimar Republic. There was no doubt that the composition of the Greek legislature was the worst in modern history. Parliament now contains the full spectrum of authoritarians: neo-Nazis, Stalinists and Maoists together with radical leftwingers, populist rightwingers and numerous defenders of paranoid conspiracy theories.
Nevertheless, for more than a year the situation looked superficially bearable. Greece has a strong coalition government trying to implement reforms, cut government spending and restore our economy. But to keener observers, failures outweigh the successes.
First, the major reforms have failed or were never really attempted. The few that were successful are fragile. Most government members are afraid of the political cost and reluctant of clashes with vested interests. Many crucial government positions are occupied by inadequate party apparatchiks.
At the same time, the opposition has broken every record in demagogy and populism. A strong combination of economic illiteracy, parochialism, ideological fixation and opportunism rules out any viable alternative to the mediocre current government. So in this context of depression and pessimism, extremism is flourishing. Political violence is not new to Greece. Terrorism, riots, violent clashes between members of different political parties, or between protesters and police, have been part of the country’s history since 1974.
However this time Greece surpassed its worst self. Greek voters not only trusted a neo-Nazi party – Golden Dawn – with a sizeable presence in the Greek parliament. They elected a party whose members (leaders included) did not even try to disguise themselves as peaceful ultra-rightwingers. On the contrary, Golden Dawn started bullying their political opponents, revealing their true colours. And this did not hurt them at all. Their poll numbers surged, approaching 15 per cent.
This success was the result of many factors. The party presented itself as the anti-system party. Media exposure made members’ faces familiar, normalising their views. The authorities were extremely lenient to them: some of the officials felt bewildered as to how to treat rogue members of parliament; others felt kinship…