Making a Mockery of the World's Oldest Democracy
In the past months, international media and representatives of the European Union have been busy touting Greece’s remarkable progress in its slow crawl back to solvency and democratic respectability. They cite this week’s successful bond placement, the first since the economic meltdown four years ago, last year’s crackdown on Golden Dawn, the notorious far-right party, and the steady deceleration of the country’s GDP contraction. With these developments in mind, Greeks have reason to be hopeful.
Recent events in the social and political realm, however, have shed light on the devastation the crisis has wrought on relations between citizen and state, as well as the deterioration of democratic values within numerous branches of government. Last week, one of the remaining Golden Dawn parliamentarians, Ilias Panagiotaros, appeared on Australian television in an interview for Nine Network, praising Adolf Hitler and Joseph Stalin as “great personalit[ies],” adding that “in every period of time, there must be…people who are willing to do the dirty work.” He articulated the fears that have mobilized ignorant and desperate masses to cast ballots for the neo-Nazi party he represents, stating that Arab refugees and migrants—all “jihadists”—have initiated an “undeclared war” against Greece and its racial purity. “If you talk about nation,” he explained with terrifying frankness, “it’s one race. That’s how God made earth.”
Locating offensive and paranoid rhetoric within the international far-right community is fairly easy. In Greece however, two new reports suggest that these fringe sentiments have permeated many strata of Greek society, from law enforcement all the way to the Judiciary, a branch independent of the executive and the legislative that is the most powerful legal body in Greece, deliberating on major civil and administrative issues. The first, titled “A law unto themselves: A culture of abuse and impunity in the Greek police,” was the culmination of years of research by Amnesty International, and exposed the “long-standing culture of impunity, entrenched racism and endemic violence, including excessive use of force against protestors and ill-treatment of migrants and refugees.” The second, titled “Mapping Ultra-Right Extremism, Xenophobia and Racism within the Greek State Apparatus” was released on Tuesday in Brussels, and concluded, unsurprisingly, that while the extreme right also enjoys strong sympathy within the traditionally conservative military and Orthodox Church, the Judiciary represents “the most problematic” of any arm of the state.
Judges routinely “endorse racist views and pronounce racist judgments,” remaining conspicuously inactive in stemming hate-violence against migrants, members of the LGBQT community, leftists, and other embattled groups in the past years. The confession of an arsonist working on behalf of a Golden Dawn “attack battalion” regarding his destruction of a Cameroonian-owned café in May 2013—grounds for labeling the Golden Dawn a criminal organization under article 187 of the Hellenic Penal Code—was ignored, and the arsonist expediently freed. In another case, self-proclaimed Nazi and racist, Kostas Plevris, was acquitted from anti-racism charges on grounds that his anti-Semitic book, “Jews: The Whole Truth,” was based off of “historical sources and undeniable specific facts concerning the Jews’ trans-historical pursuit of global dominance.” These are not the words of a rogue blogger, rather these are the legal justifications emanating from the highest court in the Greek nation.
Justice may be blind, but it must never devolve into blatant negligence, especially in the face of such glaring affronts to human rights. The killing of working-class activist and hip-hop artist, Pavlos Fyssas, knifed by Golden Dawn supporters in full view of eight motorcyclist police officers, finally forced the Judiciary into action just last year. Many sighed with relief that powerful forces within government challenged the far right’s unprecedented encroachment into the Hellenic democratic system when the group was finally labeled a criminal organization, its MPs imprisoned, and its state funding severed.
Recent revelations resulting from a video leaked on a Russian file-sharing website, however, have indicated that Prime Minster Samaras’s motivations for shutting down the Golden Dawn party machine were anything but noble. In the video, Takis Baltakos, cabinet secretary for the ruling New Democracy (ND) party and perhaps the closest aide to Samaras, is shown in cordial and unguarded conversation with Golden Dawn MP, Ilias Kasidiaris--a thug-turned-politician infamous for striking a female guest during a live television discussion in 2012 and acting as the getaway driver after an armed assault on a university professor in 2007. Baltakos is shown explaining to the leading Golden Dawn MP that last year’s crackdown on the party was crafted to stem the loss of New Democracy votes to the far-right party. With depressing irony, this confirms the Golden Dawn’s arguments that they are the victims of a New Democracy power-play, and not of a moral or legal confrontation as Samaras's rhetoric has indicated. Baltakos, long considered one of the most conservative New Democracy representatives, quickly resigned, but justified his relationship with GD parliamentarians as the result of the “close proximity of the offices of his general secretariat with the Golden Dawn’s offices.” In interviews, however, he has admitted that he wasn’t “the only one in contact with Golden Dawn…everyone played his own part,” a reality that may soon come to light, as “more damaging recordings could emerge in the future.”
Takis Baltakos’s troubling relationship with the Greek far-right did not begin with the leaked video. In December of 2012, Baltakos infamously informed the director of the National Commission for Human Rights that “[he] doesn’t care…about the committee’s work and human rights,” adding that “we are not interested in the human rights of foreigners.” In line with these sentiments, he said last year that cooperation between his party and the Golden Dawn in future elections was “not an unlikely possibility.”
Anxieties that more incriminating footage will make its way onto the Internet have Greek politicians scrambling to survey the damage and prepare for the worst. Coalition leaders, including the Prime Minister and fellow coalition leader, Evangelos Venizelos of PASOK, will meet on Friday morning to discuss the possibility of snap parliamentary elections in May. Alexis Tsipras, head of SYRIZA, the largest opposition party in Greece, has stated, “The Prime Minister cannot continue to hide after all of this. The least he could do is to give an explanation to Parliament and to the people. But he does nothing; he did not even expel Baltakos [from New Democracy].”
The incursion of fascism in the Hellenic parliament, Judiciary, and law enforcement has made a mockery of the world’s oldest democracy for four years. Over a million people have no access to healthcare thanks to a collapsed health services system, and accordingly, infant mortality rates have spiked. Unemployment still hovers around 27 per cent, more than 15 percentage points above the E.U. average. In light of these often forgotten dimensions of the Greek catastrophe, the rosy picture painted by the European Union representatives and members of the media renders a general disservice to the Greek people. Having suffered from punitive austerity measures for far too long, initiated by the very two parties who for 40 years of uninterrupted rule sowed the seeds which would give way to this dreadful mess, it is time for a radical reformation of the entire post-1974 democratic order.