Golden Dawn made headlines yet again on July 24, when it organised another food handout outside their Athens headquarters “for Greeks only”. However, this was no ordinary event; the date marks the anniversary of the restoration of democracy, back in 1974, after seven years of authoritarian rule under a military junta.
During those troubled years, thousands of democrats were jailed, and the country suffered from the regime’s incompetence to deal with the national tragedy of the Turkish army’s invasion in northern Cyprus. The message of the neo-Nazis was as simple as it was outrageous and insolent: Democracy failed; back to dictatorship.
Choosing July 24 to convey their racist message was yet another step in a consistent campaign to establish their presence in Greek society. While giving away bags filled with potatoes, the Nazi anthem “Horst Wessel”, translated in Greek, was playing on loudspeakers, revealing Golden Dawn’s true Nazi affiliation, which it has denied so many times in public.
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The not-so-long-ago marginal political formation with the extreme agenda succeeded not only to grow in opinion polls and influence the political discussion in crisis-hit Greece, but even to dominate the discussion on certain topics like migration. And it’s now taking advantage of every occasion in order to expand its influence.
Many argue that the return to reactionary politics is a normal tendency during social turbulence. In the same vein, the Greek governments throughout the crisis have not only strengthened anti-migration laws, but they have changed their overall philosophy from social welfare to policing, when it comes to curing social problems.
There are a few strong illustrations of that shift in attitude: Instead of funding anti-drug services, the state preferred to detain drug users in camps outside Athens during the winter; instead of providing protection to immigrants and refugees, the police arrest and deport anyone without papers – even refugees from Syria; and while treating the homeless on the streets or providing shelter to HIV patients was the standard practice before the crisis, authorities are now pursuing these people in a witch hunt that results in jail and exclusion.
By adopting some of the far right extremist views with the purpose of incorporating them into mainstream political discourse and then dismantling them, what they have really achieved is to promote and legitimise those ideals.
However, the promotion of hate speech, xenophobia, fascism and racism are not the product of political miscalculation, but rather are by-products of neoliberal reform that shapes the crisis; they have an objective basis and they correspond to certain changes in the economy during the crisis.
Manolada: How Greek apartheid was built
A solid example of this argument comes from Manolada, a rural area in the west of the Peloponnese, where 28 Pakistani and Bangladeshi immigrants working in strawberry fields were shot a couple of months ago after they asked payment for six months of labour.
Agriculture is of the few sectors in the Greek economy that has been able to curb the effects of the crisis. Its contribution to the GDP – estimated at 3.5 percent in 2009 and 4.1 percent in 2012 – show a significant improvement in exports. These figures of growth should inspire hope in a country that has lost a quarter of its GDP in six years – but they don’t, and the reason is because they’re the product of an inhumane system of production.
According to professors Apostolos Papadopoulos and Charalambos Kasimis, farming was largely a family activity that involved nearly half of the population until the 1980s – when the agricultural sector started modernising. The intensive usage of machines, a turn to massive production of seasonal agriculture and a change in its social structure, turning from the family to paid immigrant labour, were its core characteristics.
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Industrialisation and the service economy led to urban flight, leaving much of Greece’s agricultural sector barren. It was eastern European immigrants who revived Greece’s agricultural economy during the 90s, and not only did they not steal Greek jobs, but they livened the rural areas that were largely abandoned.
As of now, Greece’s agricultural labour force is divided into three classes: the land-owning farmers, permanent employees, and an impoverished proletariat of immigrant workers.
Immigrants who arrived in the country up until 2005 have become permanent labourers, and were able to attain a legal status allowing them to live and work in Greece with full benefits. But in 2005, all legalisation processes for immigrants froze indefinitely. Immigrants of Asian origin who followed since then had no chance to legally stay in the country and integrate themselves in Greek society.
Thus, they developed different labour patterns, preferring to work in areas of seasonal intensive cultivation, make money fast and move to the west. In these areas, Bangladeshi and Pakistani immigrants are placed in the bottom of the pyramid, earning incomes of more or less 5,000 euro per year, for which they’re being heavily exploited by the mafia.
Strawberry producers have come under heavy pressure during the economic crisis with new taxes, higher electricity bills, transport and raw material costs. As a result, they are transferring this pressure to the weaker link in the production chain: the unregistered illegal immigrants.
Cheap undeclared labour keeps production costs low, contributing to the competitiveness of Greek agriculture in the international market. Manolada is not an isolated phenomenon; it is a typical example of the structure of agricultural production in some parts of the country.
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And it’s not just farming. According to a paper by the Research Institute of the Confederation of Labour Unions (INE-GSEE), 38.4 percent of undeclared labour in all sectors work in undefined conditions. There have been complaints of terrible labour conditions similar to those of Manolada both in the industrial and tourist sectors.
It should not come then as a surprise that when a certain part of the population condones practically slave-like conditions of another segment of the population, an inhumane ideology arises – like that of Golden Dawn.
Parties like the Golden Dawn (and many others around Europe) are only investing in the conditions the capitalist crisis is producing. As the economic crisis in Greece deepens and as the bailout agreement gives credence to Golden Dawn activities, the racist groups will keep spreading their poisonous ideas with impunity.
Even in certain Golden Dawn-controlled areas, members of their organisation have imposed a curfew for immigrants, who cannot step out safely after dark. In parliament, Golden Dawn MPs are continuously trying to drive attention away from the failure of the bailout programme and to redirect frustration towards certain groups, whether these are immigrants, gays or the Left.
As autumn approaches and the means to salvation for the Greek economy continue to fail, a burgeoning Golden Dawn portends to create a vicious political landscape where tensions will continue to rise more than ever. This should be a wake-up call not just for the Greek government or even the Left, but for all of Europe who suffer under the hubris of these fascist groups. Worringly, these regressive groups are on the March in Europe, whether they be persecuting Muslim migrants, the Roma, or gays in Russia. And the best way to halt fascism is to stop the economic policies that generate them.
Matthaios Tsimitakis is a journalist based in Athens.