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Golden Dawn, Brexit and populism: weekly comments roundup

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A look at this week's best reader comments on our Can Europe make it? debate.


Alex Sakalis
6 June 2013

This last week on Can Europe Make it? focused on the seemingly endless saga of Greece's political and social meltdown. Eleftheria Lekakis' impassioned article, Greece, fascism and beyond, offered a personal perspective on the rise of Golden Dawn and the Greek public's ostensible ambivalence towards it. 

Stergios Mavrikis took exception to the author's lack of any mention of perceived left-wing extremism in the alternative media she championed:

She fails deliberately to mention that the producers and reporters behind these products are openly members/followers of the Greek Communist party or the Left Radical Opposition party (SYRIZA) or sometimes try to hide their true political identity disguised behind the mask of “objective journalism”.

However Danae Kokorikou responded:

She deliberately fails to mention the political orientation of the reporters and producers of the alternative media because they are exactly that, alternative. Alternative to the (dominant) hate discourse of mainstream media whose owners are known corrupt businessmen who reproduce the government's press releases. Your comment (knowingly or unknowingly) supports the myth of the equal distances and the theory of the two extremes (SYRIZA and Golden Dawn). That is, in my opinion, what is most dangerous and polarising, let alone conservative.

Patrícia Matos offered his own articulate response:

This is a sensible and well-thought piece of writing. In my view, the most engaging section of the text is in the fourth paragraph, where the author shares with us her efforts in confronting segments of the population, who despite not being fascists, become apolitical accomplices in the spread of fear and violence. And they do so mainly by taking for granted that which should be interrogated.

 

What Hannah Arendt once called the ‘banality of evil’, ranging from the bureaucrat who denies responsibilities for his actions because he was only taking orders, to the guy chatting in a coffee shop in a late sunny afternoon saying ‘oh let golden dawn talk, they should because this is a democracy’. This is the unresolved issue for both the right and left; it is not often that people confront it in an open and unpretentious manner. In my opinion this is what deserves serious discussion rather than engaging in sterile debates trying to assert if the author is biased or not.

 

After all, I guess this is what the ‘beyond’ in the title is meant to allude to. (But if anyone is interested in discovering if the author is biased or not I would recommend that they should: 1) read the author’s scholarly work – thesis, book, articles, chapters, etc; 2) read some (not all) of the available critical literature on the limits of objectivism in social sciences, and, 3) email the author and propose a place/day/time for a serious discussion on methods, positivism and reflexivity).

Responding to the debate, Othon Anastasakis' expounded upon the "theory of two extremes" in his article on the Greek far right. It produced a long and heated debate in our comments section, especially regarding whether Syriza contained extremist elements, and whether these merited as much concern as Golden Dawn.

Anobserver broke down many of the criticisms:

Your reasoning is a perfect example of what the article denounces.

 

1) The extreme left and the extreme right are equivalent.


Wrong: left-wing extremists comparable in aggressiveness to Golden Dawn are few, do not have a major parliamentary representation, and do not have goon squads running around with impunity and political heads assaulting opponents live on TV. Actually, Othon Anastasakis makes it clear that the dangerous extreme left-wing groups were pretty much destroyed several years ago.

 

2) Golden Dawn and Syriza have extremists in their ranks, and are therefore equivalent.

 

Wrong. Whereas the Golden Dawn party overwhelmingly comprises what can be called fascist elements, Syriza has at best a tiny minority of "Maoist and other rather nasty anti-democratic elements", and it neither touts nor follows a blatantly anti-democratic programme.

 

"Both extremes need to be combated, and it's not obvious which is the greater danger in Greece."

 

It is pretty clear, actually; the facts speak for themselves. It is also clear that the sophism "Syriza contains some extremists elements, therefore it is as dangerous as the through and through extremist Golden Dawn" works remarkably well with you.

Dimitrios Alexakis offered his own analysis of the situation in Greece:

A well written article providing good scope of analysis from historical perspective.

 

The lessons of history are that when circumstances bring about misery and disdain, and when a collective are placed at the margins, civility and rule of law take a back seat. It is really an attribute of the human condition to seek to find solace with like minded people whose fear and collective instinct seeks to identify the source of their ills.

 

Regretfully, in such a climate, it is the minorities who become the convenient scapegoat for a system in a state of disrepair. Of course, this is not to underscore the legitimate fears and concerns of such a population which seeks vengeance (or justice).

 

Exogenous factors aside, the Greeks at large have brought this situation to themselves and are chiefly responsible for finding a sustainable path forward.

while Damian Hockney opined that:

When the old parties appear to be completely out of touch with those who vote for them and openly contemptuous of them, it is hardly surprising that voters drift elsewhere (often to 'extremes' depending upon your own views). The Greek elite has so thrown itself in with the standard slavish support for the EU and euro at all costs that it now cannot in many ways adopt policies to help the people.

 

Surely, the key here is what Syriza does. If it sells out (in the way that people fear M5S in Italy will sell out) and appears to go along with all the imposed policies and starts using the usual weasel words ("we need to work with our partners to ensure that...policies that are sustainable for the future..." - ie full on austerity imposed from on high) then the drift to Golden Dawn could turn to an avalanche. They will have nowhere left to go. When democracy subverts itself so completely that people cannot easily vote for what they want, they will turn to extremes or abandon the system.

On another subject, an article by Aonghus Ó Ceallaigh laid out some of the difficulties that would arise between the UK and Ireland if the UK were to leave the European Union. Most commenters interpreted Ó Ceallaigh's article as a call for Britain to remain in the EU.

Former MP and Minister for Europe Denis MacShane commented:

First rate and important. UK leaving EU would pose very serious problems for Ireland which would either have to subordinate its interests (EU travel, residence, free movement to and from UK) to London or try and integrate more fully with EU. Britain would have to legislate a BAP (British Agricultural Policy) while Ireland would stay within the CAP but as British meat exports would be exposed to EU phyto-sanitary sanctions in case of diseases the relative integration of the British and Irish (especially Northern Irish) livestock industries would come under great strain. Predictably in the stifling provincialism of the Brexit debate in London none of this is discussed.

while Jeremy R added:

The article highlights how damaging a UK exit from the EU would be, and typical of the narrow minded and selfish the Eurosceptic militant tendency in the UK really are. A betrayal of our close friends in Ireland exceeded only by the betrayal of all those former Commuist countries of central Europe that the UK did so much to champion as they moved towards democracy and market economies. 


How it would work in practice, however,depends on the behaviour of the UK outside of the EU. Norway and Switzerland are both Schengen members and essentially enjoy free trade and free movement of people so border controls do not exist. If a non EU UK embraced the European Economic Area, and the principles of free movement of people, goods, services and capital, then the worst case scenarios described here would not take place. The danger is that the more militant anti-Europeans (essentially 19th Century nation-statists),see leaving the EU as a way to impose customs restrictions, and controls on people, requiring residence and work permits, maybe even visas, totally at odds with the Europe wide trend towards a single market in employment. That would jepoardise not only the rights of millions of Continenental Europeans who have made the UK their home, but also the rights of up to 800,000 Irish citizens who live here, as well of course as the rights of UK citizens to live in Ireland and across the rest of Europe. These are the hidden issues that the Daily Express and Nigel Farage and their cronies do not like to talk about.

However a guest cautioned:

I do think that there will be some unwelcome effects in the RoI from the UK's exit. However one remembers the RoI's lack of enthusiasm to endorse the Lisbon Treaty (vote until you get the right answer) and the ensuing mess that the cheap Eurozone credit has made of the RoI's banking system.


As Brexit comes closer one may hope that the RoI might consider whether its best interests might be served by leaving too and building on the much happier relations of recent years across the Irish Sea. Otherwise there maybe a worry that Brexit without Eirexit will place some stress on the cross border gains of recent years. Nobody wants the return of socialist nationalism.

Finally, and proving, if there ever was any need, that some recent trends are not exclusively European, commenter Patrick Sunter offered the following perspective on Philippe Marlière's exploration of "the demophobes and the great fear of populism":

Thanks for publishing this article that is both insightful and clearly written. Expanding the focus beyond Europe, the "People's Party" in the USA of the late 19th century and early 20th is an interesting example of organised populist challenge to established parties. And this discussion also reminds me of one strain of criticism of US President Obama, arguing that he should have harnessed the populist anger at Wall St and pushed through real changes to the economy - and that the failure to do so left a vacuum for the Tea Party to claim.

This is compared to Franlin D Roosevelt, who seemed to periodically embrace a more populist approach, i.e. in supporting the work of the Pecora Commission as well as all the New Deal reforms.

I realise there are a lot of complexities in the modern world that didn't exist in the 1930s, but maybe social democrats and the center-left could look back at those skilled populists of yesteryear.

In Australia we're having this debate of a sort too, as the incumbent Labor Party seems to be heading to inevitable defeat, and some ministers are publicly calling for less 'focus group' oriented behaviour. We're also seeing one of the country's richest mining magnates set up a party which as usual tries to tap into disillusionment with the major parties in order to get an opening.

Thank you all for your insightful comments, and see you next week!

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