18 September 2013

Greece—1930s redux

When Europe sank into depression in the 1930s, politics polarized. The far right became more appealing to some, the far left to others. One reassured people by harking back to tribal values, the other by insisting nothing would do but to overthrow the system and start afresh.

In hard times, people become frightened and angry, and look for easy answers. Demagogues are ever ready to prey on their emotions. A simple answer and a ready scapegoat are their stock in trade. We now see them emerging from under their rocks in Greece.

Just as Nazi goons poured into the streets to do battle with Communists in Germany in the 1930s, so black-shirted supporters of the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn Party now assault Communists in the streets of Athens. Last week, 50 men wielding crowbars and bats set upon leftists as they distributed posters in the dock-side district of Perama—a Communist stronghold where Golden Dawn has made considerable inroads as austerity measures bite ever deeper. Dimitris Psarras, a writer who has chronicled Golden Dawn's rise claims their agenda is "to create a climate of civil war, a divide where people have to choose between leftists and rightists."

Whereas the Nazis victimized the Jews to promote their agenda, Golden Dawn is victimizing immigrants with Muslims their favourite target. The Muslim Association of Greece has received a letter from the group implying that its members would be "slaughtered like chickens" unless they leave the country.

Golden Dawn has capitalized on the growing desperation of Greeks like no other political party. Surveys show that they are the nation's fastest growing group and are now its third largest political force. Even prominent clerics have voiced support. The left, on the other hand, has called on authorities to "erase" the group.

There is a sadness in observing the birthplace of Western democracy slip into this condition. We must hope that most Greeks have learned their lessons and will refuse to repeat history's most tragic story.

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