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SYRIZA is not the political opposite of Golden Dawn

05 April 2013 / 20:04:06  GRReporter
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Anastasia Balezdrova

Golden Dawn’s election result shook the Greek political system and society and the party has established itself as the third political force in Greece. Its members have been striving hard to draw the interest of the media in every way they can in order to keep the cameras fixed on themselves.

According to commentators, this is their way to retain the support of the "accidental" voters who had supported them in order to punish the traditional and established players on the Greek political scene.

At the same time, the party is trying to reject the accusations of being a Nazi party by all possible means and does not miss any chance to turn parliament into a circus.

We are speaking about the nature of Golden Dawn, its place in the political spectrum and whether it is a threat to democracy with political scientist Vassiliki Georgiadou. She is an associate professor of political science at Panteion University in Athens and the author of the book "The Far Right and the Consequences of Consensus. Denmark, Norway, Netherlands, Switzerland, Austria and Germany." Since 2009, she has been closely following the development of the extreme political party along with colleagues from Greek and foreign universities.

Mrs. Georgiadou, where do you put Golden Dawn in ideological terms? What does this party have in common with the far right parties in other European countries?

All parties that are on the far right of the traditional right-wing and conservative parties are called far right. The main definition is "far right", but it is very common. It brings together parties that differ from each other.

So, this category involves the so-called populist radical parties of the far right wing and the extremist parties of the far right wing.

In Greek reality, the first subcategory involves LAOS party and the second - Golden Dawn. But even there, things are not equal. There are parties of authoritarian nature and activism, which is expressed through the use of means of political violence, but there are also parties, which bear a national-socialist and Nazi ideology.

Not all extremist parties of the far right in Europe have a pro-Nazi orientation. But all pro-Nazi parties are extremist.

Why has this phenomenon occurred in Greece relatively late, when neo-Nazism in Europe was fading away?

In the three major countries in south Europe, which had experienced dictatorships or fascist regimes that lasted until the late post-war period, such as Greece, Portugal and Spain, no strong right parties in terms of their electoral power emerged after the fall of these regimes. The reason was that the memories of the time of authoritarian rule were so strong that they did not allow the citizens to accept the ideology of far right formations.

The intolerance to the far right in Greece started from the first post-war period, when the so-called national parties appeared. This was how the parties defined themselves, when they were outside the context of traditional right-wing parties. In fact, they were right-wing parties, but the term did not exist then. This political space did not aim at establishing an independent presence in the political system. Its aim was rather to fit under the "umbrella" of a large right-wing party. That is why different formations that existed in the 1950s and 1960s, and their members, were trying to join the currently strong right-wing party.
This pattern continuously repeated itself until the first years after the restoration of democracy in 1974. One would expect that precisely at that time, different pro-monarchist and pro-military formations of anti-communist orientation should be striving for independent participation in the elections. But this did not happen. Their participation was negligible. They somewhat mustered their strength, but only temporarily, during the elections in 1977, when the monarchy had already been abolished.

In general, we could say that until 2001, when George Karatzaferis founded the LAOS party, this kind of New Democracy "umbrella" was covering everything and the majority of ultra-national and ultraconservative forces, and even the followers of military dictatorship, were in its interior.

Recently, there has been a discussion on how the media should cover the activities of Golden Dawn. Some believe they should show everything in order to show the true face of the party whereas according to others, the media are paying too much attention to it. What is your opinion?

I think that the performance of Golden Dawn has passed through several stages. One of the issues that we have been following with colleagues is how the media contribute to the political establishment of the party. At first, and until the local elections in 2010 when the party first appeared on the political scene, the media ignored it. Even during the election race, they did not provide a platform for its leader Nikos Mihaloliakos. He had sent a non-legal letter to one of the TV stations in order to be allowed to participate in a discussion among all candidates.

After his election in the city council of Athens, Golden Dawn attracted the interest of the media, which began paying too much attention to it, not only in terms of the participation of Golden Dawn’s members in broadcasts but mostly by presenting the activities of the party.

The media did not have a coverage criterion as regards Golden Dawn in any of the two cases. For 10 years, they missed the opportunity of creating a tool to show the public the political organizations that bear the specific ideology.

During the two election races in 2012, the media covered anything related to Golden Dawn without any criticism and their only criterion was commercial.

I think the national media have somehow changed their attitude lately. This applies more to television and radio stations, because newspapers have had a different attitude to Golden Dawn from the very beginning. What I mean is that television and radio stations spare less space for covering this organization.

But the question is not simple. Fortunately, we live in a liberal democracy, where a liberal media scene operates. Events should be disclosed to the public and I understand the difficulty of the media in finding a balance, in order to bring qualitative criteria when covering organizations and parties of the extremist right wing.
On the other hand, I would like to emphasize that there are newspapers that paint their actions in bright colours in a not so well disguised manner rather than providing their readers with information about their ideology.

Who were the people who voted for Golden Dawn last year? Do you think that the "acts of heroism" of its members would repel those who had supported them for the sole purpose of punishing traditional parties?

Shading the right or left extremism, or the political spaces that are on the edge or outside the constitutional order would deprive the public of information on the one hand. Very often, people look for ways to express their discontent or anger. From this perspective, covering the right or left extremism can be taken as encouragement to citizens to express these strong feelings. A large number of the people who had voted for these parties stated that they had done so because they wanted to punish the political system in this way. So, showing the activity of these formations will surely show alternative ways of expression of the discontent of part of the electorate.

But citizens and voters do not think in the same way. The information that such extremist spaces that are bearers of extreme ideologies and use violence have already been formed as parties can have the opposite impact on the people who want to make their vote positive.

The citizens who voted for Golden Dawn cannot be taken as a single category. Some voted because they shared its ideology but others supported it for the sole purpose of expressing their discontent because they thought it was the most drastic way to show it. There is also a third category of people, who are hesitant and unable to explain with precision why they preferred to vote for Golden Dawn. This means that potentially, their vote could be quite different.

Surely, there is no "recipe" for the treatment of these formations by the media and in general. Whichever way you choose, there will always be both positive and negative messages to different audiences.

Of course, this does not mean that there should be no rules. They are defined by constitution, political culture, rules for the functioning of the media, rules of parliament and above all, by laws. Democracy is not weak but in many cases, it does not apply the existing legal frameworks. By this, I mean that there is no need to resort to anti-liberal methods to repel extreme phenomena that occur in a democratic society. Let us start by applying the constitution and laws. If they are insufficient, let us think of something else.

Therefore, could we say that you do not share the opinion that Golden Dawn should be outlawed?

This is not possible anyway because the required prerequisites for this are not present.

Let us suppose that they exist, like in Germany, for example.

This is not correct because in Germany, there is an entire institutional and constitutional structure, a comprehensive philosophy of state-building, which is based on the concept of militant democracy. In this sense, Germany is an exception; this concept does not exist anywhere else.

I think the comparison with Germany is wrong because it is not right to set this high standard for Greece, where conditions are very different. Germany has set it, because it had experienced Nazism. This concept prevents democracy from its enemies.

The vast majority of Greek voters voted for parties that are within the constitutional arc, despite the differences between them. The power of the parties that are on the edge or outside these limits is too weak to threaten democracy and drive us to look for alternatives for its reorganization within the context of a militant democracy.

So, that cannot happen in Greece but by continuing the discussion, we are actually legalizing and making stronger the formations that belong to the extremist right. I think that every democracy has its own resources and tools that it could and should use.

There is the possibility of revising the Greek parliament and making changes to the constitution after June 2013. If this happens, the Greek state should consider the introduction of more effective ways to protect itself from party formations of political extremes that may take a more frightening form in the future. In this way, it will be able to protect itself better than now, under the existing constitution.
Do you believe that during the next elections, Greeks will face the dilemma “SYRIZA or Golden Dawn”?

My personal opinion is that this view is exaggerated. This is not a dilemma for me. Since a public discussion about the extremes has been taking place in Greece, I would like to emphasize that there are extremes in any party system. But they are not expressed as implied in the specific comparison.

Party systems are not based on the logic of equivalence. In a party system, there can be a strong left wing and a segmented right wing, or a strong centre and weak extremes. The opposite can be true as well: the extremes may be strong, but it does not necessarily mean that they are equivalent to the other end of the axis. In other words, the fact that there is a strong right wing does not mean that the left wing is equally strong.

I do not think SYRIZA is the opposite of the far right. This is an oversimplification of things and we have to be very careful in this regard although there are trends in SYRIZA that express extreme views. Also, some members of the party express extreme views from time to time but that does not mean that they "correspond" in any way to the extremist right or that one of the political spectrums feeds the other.

I think that the elections in June 2012 showed, and polls too show, that the fight is between SYRIZA and New Democracy. So far, the data show that the radical left wing and the centre-right space have been fighting shoulder to shoulder in the struggle between them. If the next elections are not delayed or if today's situation does not dramatically change, I think that these two parties will be the main opponents.

There will be no confrontation between the left and the right wings or between the far left and the far right wings. The fight will be directed more towards the political centre, if I may say so figuratively.

As far as the power of the other parties is concerned as well as the power of Golden Dawn, I think that it is still early to talk about them.

The next parliament will be very different and this will depend on fragmentation. Let us not forget that during the elections in May 2012, three political parties failed to enter parliament by a very small number of votes. The change will depend on whether the smaller parties will be able to enter parliament.

My opinion is that we should focus on the things that became apparent in May last year. For example, if green environmentalists and liberals will be able to win 3% of the vote to enter parliament? Have others finally absorbed the radical right wing, which is represented by LAOS or would it be able to return? Nothing is final. We consider the elections of last year the beginning of a new situation with respect to the already established political system. In fact, they marked the beginning of some changes. However, we do not yet know how deep they will be and when they will be completed. I would say that we need time at least to answer these questions.

Tags: PoliticsPolitical systemSYRIZAGolden DawnExtremist right wingMedia
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