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July 23, 2015

Golden Dawn and the Greek Debt Crisis

By Christina Miliou

The Greek debt crisis is, by and large, averted for now. On July 13, Greece and European officials agreed to the terms of a new bailout, one that will prevent collapse of the Greek economy and allow the country to remain in the Eurozone in return for strict austerity measures. But while Greece seems to be out of immediate danger, there are a number of political costs that have yet to come to light.

The austerity agreement is unpopular in Greece. When the country defaulted on its International Monetary Fund (IMF) debt on June 30, the Greek Prime Minister Alex Tspiras of the leftist Syriza party called for a public vote on the default, urging Greek citizens to vote against continued austerity measures. They did, with a resounding 61 percent of the vote. Now that Tsipras has essentially agreed to the terms he so ardently opposed, there are bound to be political winners and losers.

The group that perhaps has the most to gain is Golden Dawn, Greece’s violent, neo-Nazi party. Although many of its leading members are on trial for their alleged roles in running a violent criminal organization, Golden Dawn remains the second most-powerful opposition party and has been the strongest advocate against austerity measures, the E.U., and the negotiations with international leaders.

Golden Dawn Member of Parliament Ilias Kasidiaris said, “The Members of Parliament of Syriza have every right to be afraid that the approval of this bailout will conclude with a rise of Golden Dawn… Golden Dawn will rise because Golden Dawn expresses the proud ‘no’ that the Greek citizens voted for.”

Other politicians have noted that the Syriza-led government’s about-face on austerity may be a boon to Golden Dawn. “I cannot see any other possible outcome than the further strengthening of Golden Dawn,” said former Minister of Economics Yanis Varoufakis. “They will inherit the mantle of the anti-austerity drive, tragically.”

Dimitris Psarras, Greece’s foremost expert on Golden Dawn, laments that the “Nazis” are unfortunately well-positioned to take advantage of this situation, despite the fact that Golden Dawn’s anti-austerity efforts are in his words “a fairy tale.” He notes, “There is nothing else that Golden Dawn would want: to be nominated the successor of the "anti-memorandum [i.e. austerity] front" by Syriza.

The prospect of Golden Dawn’s rise should be concerning to all. Golden Dawn is no ordinary ultra-nationalist party. Among extreme right parties in Europe that have gotten significant political traction, no other is as unapologetically racist, nativist, violent, and antisemitic.

Golden Dawn seeks to impose its vision of Greek racial superiority across society and has used intimidation and violence to achieve those ends. It has attacked migrants, political opponents, doctors and medical facilities, artists, bloggers, teachers, human rights workers, playwrights, and priests.

The Greek government is prosecuting some 70 Golden Dawn leaders and supporters for committing more than a dozen racist and other violent attacks, in what is the most important criminal trial in Greece in decades.

The government should ensure a fair trial not only so that Golden Dawn members are held accountable according to the rule of law, but also so that the Greek public has the opportunity to fully see their true nature. An unjust trial would enable Golden Dawn members to portray themselves as victims of a political witch-hunt.

The United States and international observers should closely monitor the trial. Opponents of Golden Dawn's racist and violent approach to the economic crisis, in Greece and elsewhere, should work to prevent them from further benefiting from the turmoil in Greece. But the solution isn’t censorship or legal shortcuts, but rather strong leadership and a credible trial.