The far right is a hot topic right now and Chrissi Avgi/Golden Dawn (GD) are increasingly making headlines all over Europe, as this recently small neo-Nazi group suddenly stumbles onto the political stage; rabid and unclean compared to many of its European cousins, punching and threatening and speaking of civil war whilst for a long time no one does anything even though migrants and other undesirables are beaten and killed, and the cops are participating actively or at least not preventing it as the government tries its best to do even better in its own bureaucratic way. The murder of the antifascist Pavlos Fyssas by a GD member has created a sharp u-turn that recently saw surprised members of GD marching on their own as cops busted in on them and the state went antifascist. I have chosen the term ‘far-right’ to act as a massive umbrella term under which fascists, Nazis, xenophobic populists and nationalists can be categorized. I know that this is a simplification, but simplification is necessary if one is to talk about a new political climate which is spreading over Europe, a climate which is created by many groups with differing backgrounds and ideologies but which most significantly is characterized by racism and cultural protectionism. When analyzing Golden Dawn it is relevant to look at Greek history as well as the ideologies of fascism and national socialism, but the international context is also important. If we look at international connections between GD and other far right groups, we can narrow our definitions, because we find the solidarity coming from a very specific political grouping: the neo-Nazis.
A new political Europe is taking shape as political parties of different backgrounds and ideologies, but similar in their nationalist and xenophobic stances, are winning parliamentary victories that would have seemed impossible not long ago.
Neo-Nazis are more complex than one might at first think. Though they do exist in the shape of political parties, these parties are a part or product of a larger movement. I would suggest that part of the ideological and perhaps practical content of GD consists of an ideology which is connected to this movement. The European neo-Nazi scene has its roots in the 1970s but matured in the 1980s and 90s. For many years it has been possible to read about GD on Swedish neo-Nazi websites as they have had contact and even visited GD for a number of years. GD members have in return visited Sweden, and many other European countries such as Germany, to form links with neo-Nazi groups. In fact, much detailed information about the current situation is available on the website of the militant national socialist group (not a political party), the ‘Swedish Resistance Movement’ (SRM), who are in regular phone contact with their ‘comrades’ in Greece. They organized coordinated Scandinavian manifestations against Greek embassies in solidarity with GD, together with their sister organizations in Finland, Denmark and Norway when the GD leadership was arrested. Similarly, the Swedes Party (SP) (formerly National Socialist Front) carried out a solidarity manifestation at the Greek embassy and have eagerly followed the political rise of GD as they have steadily gained popularity and parliamentary success. This is an unlikely path for SP but one that they nevertheless dream of as the most openly national socialist party in Sweden. This party has even hosted members of GD on at least one occasion and receives regular updates.
On the recent 70th anniversary of the Crystal Night, SRM demonstrated through the streets of Stockholm to the Greek Embassy in solidarity with GD and against the assassination of GD members Giorgos Fountoulis and Manolis Kapelonis. The demonstration gathered 93 participants (they counted) and was carried out pretty successfully even though it was met with a sizeable resistance and was protected by police the whole time. Even so, the Nazis did manage to break out of the police lines and carry out some coordinated attacks against counter demonstrators. Considering the lull in neo-Nazi activity in Scandinavia in recent years- since the peak of the annual Salem demonstrations(1) close to Stockholm in the early 2000s that drew neo-Nazis from all over Europe and for some years led to the biggest Nazi demonstrations outside of Germany- it is not surprising to see the current enthusiastic excitement amongst these groups. The Scandinavian Nazis are excited both about what is happening in Greece and the possibility to come out in the streets again where they have not been able to have much presence in recent years due to anti-fascism, state repression and perhaps the fact that other populist right wing groups are currently better at attracting xenophobes. The fact that Nazis in the north of Europe have in the past attacked Greek migrants seems to be a comfortably forgotten memory.
On the same historical day that the Nazis were on the streets in Sweden, a manifestation took place in London as some of the relatively few British neo-Nazis gathered at the Greek embassy and started a new group imaginatively named ‘New Dawn’. The protest was advertised on the neo-Nazi website Stormfront and though some participants were confronted at another location by anti-fascists the manifestation went by peacefully and gathered little attention. Similarly, solidarity protests have been reported from France, Colombia, Argentina, Serbia, Italy, Spain, Russia, Hungary, Germany and the Czech Republic. Those carrying out these protests are neo-Nazis, not some other right wing factions. In fact in France Marine Le Pen has recently complained about her party ‘Front National’ being labelled ‘extreme right’ as that is a term that refers to groups such as GD with whom she does not want to be associated. This takes us to a point of terminology in relation to the far right.
Three Shades of Brown
For the sake of simplification I would categorize the far right in Europe into 3 camps. Firstly, the neo-Nazis, many of whom who are connected to the Blood and Honour, Combat 18, white power music and subculture scene of the 1980s and developments thereof. Though this category contains the stereotypical skinhead Nazi that many people are aware of, ideological developments have created more complex neo-Nazis who organize as parliamentary parties, resistance movements and international networks. Common factors include antisemitism, sexism, homophobia as well as a belief in a connection between blood and land as a geographical cultural identity of a people, and hierarchical divisions between different kinds of people. The original ideology still exists in these groups and some ideas that were around in the early days of national socialism, such as the anti-capitalist and socialist wing known as Strasserism, have played a part in a more complex theoretical foundation. This also creates different characteristics as some reject the legacy of Hitler and others are split between Christianity and paganism as religions of choice. Though mostly a subcultural movement with ideological continuations of national socialism, new ideas and a romanticism of the past, national socialism is increasingly sneaking onto the political stage. Whilst in northern Europe this movement is largely young male dominated and subcultural, recent parliamentary success in Hungary and Slovakia suggest a broader appeal.
The neo-Nazi category differs from the second category which is a more reformed version and more likely to win votes as the antisemitism and Nazi references are swept away and the boots and shaved heads are replaced with suits, since Nazi discourse proved to be a hindrance in many countries. The white power concerts, drunkenness and violent street confrontations that were central to the neo-Nazi movement from the late 1970s to the early 1990s were not only not attracting normal people, increasingly they were being met by strong antifascist resistance and repression from the state. Inspired by political parties like Front National in France, these Nazis put on suits to gain credibility and try to follow the parliamentary path to power. In this transition it has been common for antisemitism to be replaced by Islamophobia and whilst national socialism is, at least officially, abandoned and new members are attracted by a more moderate xenophobia, the old neo-Nazis often criticize the new political party for being too liberal and forgetting their roots (which is exactly what this second category is hoping that everyone else will do). One such political party are the Swedish Democrats who polled as the 4th biggest party in August 2012. In the early nineties they wore Nazi uniforms at meetings, planned attacks and used Nazi symbols; now they wear suits in parliament.
The third category is one which has no apparent historical connection to national socialism and fascism. Born as out of some immaculate conception, there is no parental lineage to speak of and the modern xenophobic populist party neither has to defend their belief in national socialism nor reject any connection to it. Modern populist parties have appeared across Europe with great success in the last 10-15 years and whilst the result of their politics are very similar to the two other categories, they are free from Nazi accusations and can enjoy formulating a kind of innocent unhindered racism. The Dutch politician Pim Fortuyn is perhaps the most obvious character who showed the possibility of a new xenophobic approach. An openly homosexual former Marxist, he considered Islam as a backward culture and his xenophobia was based on the negative effect that he believed that it and other foreign cultures had on the liberal Dutch society. Though against immigration, he distanced himself from far right parties in Europe and on most matters could not be considered conservative. Though he was assassinated just before the general elections in 2002, he changed Dutch politics and paved the way for the populist right wing “Party for Freedom” headed by the Islamophobe Geert Wilders who wants to limit Muslim immigration as part of a defence of liberal western culture. The discourse surrounding this defense against islam is directly connected to the ideas that were behind Anders Breivik’s terrorist attacks in Norway which left 77 people dead just over two years ago. More recently, the populist right wing party, ‘The Progress Party’ (a party which Breivik left some years before his attacks because he considered it too liberal), entered parliament as part of a coalition government, led by a female party leader who has proposed that women have some responsibility when it comes to rape. The party are against migration and for traditional hetero-normative family structures, and now hold several important ministerial posts in government. Though groups within this category are without links to fascist or national socialist movements, they nevertheless tend to attract people from these milieus.
The Hydra That Won’t Die
“What is needed in Greece right now is a military junta, which would not need public approval and could use tanks against strikers and demonstrators.”
— True Finns MP Jussi Halla-aho
Along come the ‘Finns Party’ (previously called the ‘True Finns’) and challenge my simple categorization. They have 38 out of 200 seats in parliament and are currently the biggest opposition party. Their xenophobia even extends to the crisis-ridden south of Europe, as Finland has had to participate in the Greek bailout packages. As a recently formed party they should belong in the third category though they lack the sophistication of many of their counterparts and amongst their incredibly crude homophobic and racist remarks one can also find many that question the extent of the holocaust and appear sympathetic towards Nazi Germany. Even though they have no direct organizational link to neo-Nazis, they certainly do not self-censor themselves in a way to exclude Nazi ideas. Maybe this shows that the days of careful political positioning where a closeness to national socialism and fascism seemed incompatible with parliamentary success are over.
There seems to be some attempts of Golden Dawn to take a leap from the first of these categories to the second, as the appreciation of Nazism has some problematic elements for a populist party who might just have progressed a little too quickly to work on its facade. There is no doubt that GD have roots and inspiration from recent Greek history, but if we look at the sources of current solidarity these come from the neo-Nazi groups and parties of Europe and beyond. A source of inspiration, GD give hope to Nazis who have not yet watered down their politics as a tactic for parliamentary rewards, while years of contacts between GD and foreign neo-Nazi groups also places GD in a larger neo-Nazi context. Even though the broad appeal of open national socialist ideas in Greece is problematic historically, maybe the time for the Nazi is here once again, as the political center is increasingly pulled to the far right. GD will either have to reinvent themselves slightly to become more presentable, or perhaps convincing people that the Greek is the real übermensch will be enough.
A new political Europe is taking shape as political parties of different backgrounds and ideologies, but similar in their nationalist and xenophobic stances, are winning parliamentary victories that would have seemed impossible not long ago. There are hardly any countries in Europe that currently do not have successful anti- immigration parties. Some of these parties are neo-Nazi, some have neo-Nazi roots and some seem free of such a past whilst whipping up strong nationalist feelings as an opposition towards the perceived cultural threat of immigration. It is easy to say that people are drawn to these parties due to a lack of confidence in the mainstream parties, but the inherent racism and hatred towards ‘undesirables’ that goes along with this is harder to explain. Looking at the far right tendencies around Europe might however be an important tool in understanding the appeal of these parties and groups, and discovering effective ways of developing anti-fascist tactics. Even though they are not all friends many are connected and they are growing and making alliances by looking beyond their borders. Antifascism must keep up with these developments in order to confront the fascists in all their forms and wherever they pop up, our internationalism is a weapon.
“The one thing with writing stories about the rise of fascism is that if you wait long enough, you’ll almost certainly be proved right. Fascism is like a hydra- you can cut off its head in the Germany of the ‘30s and ‘40s, but it’ll still turn up on your back doorstep in a slightly altered guise.”
– Alan Moore
1. Salem is a small city close to Stockholm. In the end of 2000 a young skinhead was killed there by a gang of kids, some of which had foreign backgrounds, which sparked yearly Nazi demonstrations against ‘violence towards ethnic swedes’.