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Feeding fascism in Greece: the memorandum, the state of exception and the police

The factors that contribute to the inexorable rise of fascism in societies, described here, have to be identified, understood and undermined by critical theory as soon as they occur, so that political action can confront them.

Golden Dawn rally outside of the Greek Parliament in Athens. Demotix/Nicolas Koutsokostas. Some rights reserved.

On 18 September 2013 the 34-year-old antifascist rapper Pavlos Fyssas is killed by a knife-wielding Golden Dawn member. In the hours immediately following, many people gather at the location of the killing, and in the following days, vast demonstrations are held in all Greek cities, resulting not infrequently in clashes with the police, who guard the headquarters of the Nazi organization.

These reactions contribute to some dramatic political developments, among which is the arrest of the leader and MPs of Golden Dawn. What caused a sensation on the political scene is that the popularity of Golden Dawn, which suffered a temporary setback together with the murder of two of its members outside its headquarters, nevertheless remains significantly high. Notably, its percentages in the opinion polls are higher than those it received when it entered Parliament.

In an attempt to provide some answers concerning the emergence and evolution of this phenomenon, we will describe the course of Golden Dawn’s rise and stabilization in the political scene throughout the important events of the last five years.

Afterwards, we will try to highlight the relationship of the state to this fascist movement, and the example of the police in particular, approaching this phenomenon as one that reflects the interests of the dominant political and financial forces, which, as it will become evident, have definitely tolerated Nazi activity, if not promoted it.

This interaction between the political establishment and Nazism has been intensified throughout the crisis years, among other reasons, due to the state of exception that has been imposed by successive Greek governments in order to carry on implementing the directives of the memoranda despite popular reaction.

Golden Dawn surfaces

First stop  - the area of Aghios Panteleimonas just a few months after the December 2008 riots. The fascists are mainly a reserve army that is mobilized whenever the ruling class realizes that it is losing or is in danger of losing control. This was observed in post-dictatorship Greece for the first time that December. During December 2008, the state, the ruling class, and their organic intellectuals realized in a state of panic that they had really lost control. The dominant power bloc no longer possessed apparatuses of political repression at the neighbourhood level. The state responded by attempting to erect from point zero and experimentally new mechanisms, and the starting point was a problematic neighbourhood. The area gradually transformed into a ghetto and Golden Dawn gained huge control and influence.

While this process was under way, the country was heading for elections on 4 October 2009. The new government of Giorgos Papandreou soon proved to be moving in a direction contrary to its pre-electoral promises, and in May 2010, signed a loan agreement with the International Monetary Fund, the European Union, and the European Central Bank. Since then, a violent assault has been unleashed upon the country’s lower and middle socio-economic strata.

In December 2010 local elections were held, where in general, administrative tasks were shared out between PASOK and ND; the picture seemed normal enough throughout the country, except for the Municipality of Athens. There, Golden Dawn, having received a percentage of 5.29%, gained a seat for the first time in the Municipal Council and elected its leader, Nikos Michaloliakos, as an alderman of Athens. The sixth electoral district including Aghios Panteleimonas, had a lot to do with this success, where Golden Dawn gained a percentage of approximately 14%.

The Greek ‘Indignados’

After a year of memoranda policies popular rage increased and the movement of the Indignant broke out in June 2011. This was the first indication that the country’s political system would not hold for long in its present form. It is worth noting that there was no evidence for the widespread idea that the Indignant movement helped Golden Dawn rise in popularity. On the contrary, it seems that its electoral influence during that period, as well as the following one, fluctuated stably between 1 and 1.5%.1 At the end of the summer of 2011, political developments dramatically accelerated. The parades of October 28 were transformed into anti-government marches; on October 31 Giorgos Papandreou announced his intention of holding a referendum on the question of the new loan agreement, while on November 3 he announced his resignation after participating in the G20 conferences in Cannes and the strong international pressure he came under there. This is the end of Giorgos Papandreou’s political career, as in November 6 he effectively gives up his Prime Minister position and five days later the Papademos government is formed. After this point the political map will be completely reconstructed.

The Papademos government and the ratification of Memorandum II in January 2012 constitute a landmark for Golden Dawn’s rise and consolidation in the central political scene. The far-right has already been legimitized with the participation of LAOS in the Papademos government, while its collapse left a large space for Golden Dawn to expand into.1 Two more purely political factors have contributed to Golden Dawn’s ascendancy: first, the centrality of the migrant issue as a central matter of controversy during the pre-electoral period and the continuous operations against immigrants initiated by the Ministry of Citizen Protection, and, second, a widespread senses of loss of national sovereignty created by the fact that a lot of political decisions have been made outside the country.

In May-June 2012, the country was led to double elections where the collapse of the post-dictatorship two-party political system became completely evident. New Democracy achieved a Pyrrhic victory with a percentage of 2.7% ahead of SYRIZA; the old two-party establishment gained 42% and Golden Dawn entered parliament with 6.9%. According to the analysis of fascism in five stages suggested by Robert O.Paxton in his Anatomy of Fascism, Golden Dawn could now be said to enter its second stage, that of the fascist movement’s consolidation in the political system.2

A new political environment

After the elections we are in a new political environment. Immediately following the elections, Golden Dawn’s percentages in the opinion polls increase, and its candidate for Greece’s larger municipality is the preferred candidate. Golden Dawn uses a portion of state funding for humanitarian activities “only for Greeks,” while intensifying violent attacks in the streets of the country.

In June 2013, just a year after the elections, the secretary general of the Ministerial Council, Panaghiotis Baltakos, while talking to journalists, described the scenario for cooperation between New Democracy and Golden Dawn as ‘undesirable but not impossible’, while similarly positive statements about Golden Dawn were made by other well-known members of the government. Then a well-known journalist stated during a TV show that the governing party should ally with a more serious Golden Dawn in the face of the country’s potential exit from the Eurozone.

Even the street violence of these fascist gangs seemed to serve the state rather well at this juncture, since no-one could confuse it with police repression. A few days before Fyssas’s murder, Golden Dawn attacked some KKE rank and file members in Perama. One of the reasons why businessmen were claiming they had to leave the country at this time was the high cost of labour, maintained by workers through their democratic demands. A core source of these demands was the Left in Perama, largely rallying around the KKE. At the same time, the creation of a fascist trade union in the Perama Docking Zone was being widely promoted. It is worth mentioning that violence, in combination with ideological manipulation and parallel labour unions, has historically been one of the main successful tactics of fascist movements. This has also succeeded in neutralizing working class activities in Italy and Germany.3

The ruling class was equally willing to accept the services provided by fascists in relation to immigrants. The assaults of Golden Dawn created a hostile climate for immigrants and enabled government – and European – policy to force immigrants to use repatriation programmes. This is essentially the incitement “to make life hard for the immigrants” made by Health Minister Adonis Georgiades put into effect, while the Captain of Greek Police encouraged police officers in one of his speeches to make “life unbearable” for immigrants.

The leaking of the latter sound recording in the Greek press saw some reaction from  Amnesty International, among others, who demanded an investigation into the case.4 But it is clear that assaults on immigrants can also be ‘useful’ if they render migrant workers weaker so that they are able to claim next to nothing from their bosses, not even accrued wages, due to the fear engendered.

This particular course of convergence was violently disrupted after the murder of Pavlos Fyssas, as the government started to suffer an increasing political cost. It was widely held by popular opinion that the police had been present at the incident and did nothing to prevent the killing.

The police’s attitude as a symptom

The government’s good will towards Golden Dawn at a rhetorical level is translated in practice into tolerance or even protection shown by the police to the Nazi organization’s activities. This phenomenon is not something new, as Golden Dawn’s leader Nikos Michaloliakos corroborated when he said: “The fratricidal quarrel of the 1940s brought nationalists inevitably close to security forces. This tactic continued in the 1960s and 1970s. . . . Also, in the logic of the far right, it has always been a fact that security forces are close to national ideals.”5

The examples of collaboration between Golden Dawn and the police are numerous; here we will only mention the most important and recent events. A few hours after the murder of Pavlos Fyssas, members of Golden Dawn were captured on camera attacking demonstrators with rocks side by side with riot police;6 the director for the National Intelligence Service’s surveillance programme on Golden Dawn was revealed to be the cousin of a Golden Dawn MP candidate, while two policemen were arrested among others on September 28 on charges of forming a criminal organization called “Golden Dawn.” Notably, it is estimated that only 1-2% of attacks perpetrated by far rightists seems to have been examined in court.

In short, it is no wonder that Golden Dawn gain high voter turnout in electoral districts where policemen vote. The national average for Golden Dawn was 7%, but in these districts it reached 23.7%, suggesting that the percentage of policemen voting for Golden Dawn is between 45% and 59%.7 Certainly, this is a two-way love affair, as the issues of security forces are highly prioritized by Golden Dawn’s leadership in their agenda.

There are also several reasons historically which place the police alongside the fascists. These include the familiarization with and exaltation of violence on the part of those in power, the criminalization of the weak and the cultural subordination to hierarchy.

However, what needs to be investigated is the overall relationship between the status quo and the fascists, in which relations with the police should be regarded as only one symptom: “The symptom arises where the world failed. . . . [The symptom] is already formed with an eye to its interpretation,” as noted by Slavoj Žižek.8 The hidden meaning, it is argued here, lies in the choice of the authoritarian turn made the government. Authoritarianism has become a foundation stone for the exercise of power.

The dangerous path of the Memorandum

In the fiscal and financial crisis of recent years, we could say that a regime has been imposed in Greece that resembles what Agamben has defined as the “state of exception,” where necessity, either real or fabricated, has transformed the exception into the rule.9

The government now operates through decrees, so-called “acts of legislative content.” It is explicitly stated in Article 44, paragraph 1 of the Constitution that “[u]nder extraordinary circumstances of an urgent and unforeseeable need, the President of the Republic may, upon the proposal of the Cabinet, issue acts of legislative content.” The acts of legislative content issued in 2012 were as many as those of the previous decade combined. Crucial issues of state investments, labour reserve, the reduction of the minimum wage, capital aid for credit institutions, the shutdown of the Hellenic Broadcasting Corporation (ERT), and the privatization of Hellenic Petroleum (ELPE), Public Power Corporation (DEI), Greek Organization of Football Prognostics (OPAP), Hellenic Horse-race Betting Organisation (ODIE), Athens Water Supply and Sewerage Company (EYDAP), Thessaloniki Water Supply and Sewerage Company (EYATh), Hellenic Post (ELTA), as well as the country’s most important ports have all been arranged by acts of legislative content. 

The government is a political force that has set itself the task of undoing the Constitution and attempting to establish this state of emergency. When the state of exception tends to become the rule, the institutions and balances of democratic constitutions cannot function and the line between democracy and authoritarianism is blurred. Agamben describes the state of exception “as a threshold of indeterminacy between democracy and absolutism.”10 As also stated by Slavoj Žižek, the relationship between capitalism and democracy has now been disrupted,11

and the only certainty is that the system if unobstructed will proceed towards the creation of a new absolutist society along the lines that Agamben describes:

We have reached a later evolution of this paradigm, meaning that the state of exception has been disseminated at planet level; therefore it is no use being declared as such. It is a normal state that changes every meaning of politics, because, as the state of exception is the rule, international law and domestic law change completely. . . . This is why today it is not so much the law, but urgent measures, decrees, police. . . . The parliament ratifies urgent decrees issued by the government, which are turned into laws. We can clearly observe it here; the executive power is the one that creates laws.”12

The linking of the state of exception with the right of those in power to be authoritarian in cases they deem necessary was most notably identified by the extremely conservative German jurist Carl Schmitt during the period when the Weimar Republic was being undermined. The state suspends the power of law in accordance with its right to self-preservation: decision-making ceases to depend on any regulatory restriction.13 Carl Schmitt wrote that “no constitution on earth had so easily legalized a coup d'état as did the Weimar Constitution.”14

Conclusion

The fascist movement in its second stage, having already consolidated its position in the political system, can now aim at the next stage of reaching power. Paxton states with some relevance:

[t]hough each stage is a prerequisite for the next, nothing requires a fascist movement to complete all of them, or even to move in only one direction. Most fascisms stopped short, some slipped back, and sometimes features of several stages remained operative at once. Whereas most modern societies spawned fascist movements in the twentieth century, only a few had fascist regimes.15

The murder of Pavlos Fyssas was evidence that fascism will inevitably show at some moment its real, repulsive face, causing a strong social reaction. During the weeks after Fyssas’s murder, the popular movement seemed powerful enough to force the fascist threat of violence into recoiling and the government into retreating on this front, almost completely eliminating their potential collaboration in the immediate future. But this was not however powerful enough to undermine some of the conditions that favour the emergence of the phenomenon. The factors that contribute to the inexorable rise of fascism in societies, described here, have to be identified, understood and undermined by critical theory as soon as they occur, so that political action can confront them.

Notes

1 Mavris (2013: online).

2 Paxton (2004: 23) proposes the examination of fascism in five stages: “(1) the creation of movements; (2) their rooting in the political system; (3) their seizure of power; (4) the exercise of power; (5) and, finally, the long duration, during which the fascist regime chooses either radicalization or entropy.”

3  Poulantzas (2006: 186-189, 219).

4 Amnesty International (2013: online).

5 Psarras (2012: 177).

6 “Police” (2013: online).

7 “Half of Greek cops” (2012: online).

8 Žižek (2008: 110).

9 Spourdalakis (2011: online).

10 Agamben (2003: 3).

11 Žižek, Giamali and Tserezole (2012: online).

12 Agamben (2012: online).

13 Angelides (2012: 69).

14  Qtd. in ibid. 10, 15.

15 Ibid. 2.

 

Works cited

Agamben, Giorgio. (2003). State of Exception. Chicago: U of Chicago P.

---. (2012). “Αγκάμπεν – βιοπολιτική: η συνέντευξη στην ΕΤ3 (πλήρες κείμενο)” [“Agamben

– biopolitics: the interview to ET3 (full text”)]. nomadicuniversality.wordpress.com. Web.

Amnesty International. (2013). “Greece: Investigate police chief's alleged call targeting

migrants.” Amnesty International. Web.

Angelides, Manolis. (2012). “Βαϊμάρη: Σύνταγμα και έκτακτη ανάγκη” [“Weimar:

Constitution and Emergency”], in Η Δημοκρατία της Βαϊμάρης και οι Σημερινές «Αναβιώσεις» της [The Weimar Republic and its “Revivals” Today], pp. 64-70. Athens: Nisos and Nicos Poulantzas Institute.

“Half of Greek cops go ultra-nationalist at elections.” (2012).  Russia Today. Web.

Mavris, Yiannis. (2013). “Snapshot of Golden Dawn: Emergence and stabilization of the far-

right phenomenon.” mavris.gr. Web.

Paxton, Robert O. (2004). The Anatomy of Fascism. New York: Alfred A. Knopf.

“Police and plainclothes thugs attack antifascists in Athens.” (2013). [Video file]. YouTube.

Web.

Poulantzas, Nicos. (2006). Φασισμός και Δικτατορία [Fascism and Dictatorship]. Athens:

Themelio.

Psarras, Dimitris. (2012). Η Μαύρη Βίβλος της Χρυσής Αυγής [The Black Bible of Golden

Dawn]. Athens: Polis.

Spourdalakis, Michalis. (2011). “Η χώρα σε ‘κατάσταση εξαίρεσης’” [“The Country in a

State of Exception”]. enet.gr. Web.

Žižek, Slavoj. (2008). The Sublime Object of Ideology. London: Verso.

Žižek, Slavoj, Anastasia Giamali and Eleni Tserezole. (2012). “Χρειαζόμαστε σε όλη την

Ευρώπη κόμματα σαν τον ΣΥΡΙΖΑ” [“We need parties such as SYRIZA throughout Europe”]. avgi.gr. Web.

About the authors

Antonis Galanopoulos holds a master’s degree in Political Theory and Philosophy and a bachelor's degree in Psychology (Aristotle University of Thessaloniki). His main research interests are discourse analysis, populism, biopolitics, Lacanian theory and political psychology. He has translated articles by Chantal Mouffe, Ernesto Laclau, Slavoj Žižek and others into Greek. He tweets @antonisgal.

Chris Avramidis is a journalist and political scientist. His research interests are: Marxism, critical theory, dialectics, politico-philosophical poetry and communication. Find him on twitter @Chris_Avramidis


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