The head of the extreme Right wing Golden Dawn (Chryssi Avgi) party, Nikos Michaloliakos
Why Greece’s successful prosecution of these Neo-fascists is so important
There has been hardly any good news since 2020 dawned. The world is still gripped by novel Coronavirus, with over a million deaths worldwide. Millions are out of work or with drastically reduced incomes and deeply disturbed personal relationships. Over here, Sri Lanka is facing a second wave of the epidemic.
But a news item filed from Athens, the capital of Greece, on October 7 finally cheered me up.
It’s not about the pandemic. In the biggest trial of Neo-Fascists since the Nuremberg trials, where surviving Nazi leaders were tried, seven leaders of Golden Dawn, a neo-fascist political party, which brutally targeted opponents, were convicted.
The charges against the 68 defendants included murder, weapons possession and operating a criminal gang while posing as a political party.
They were accused of targeting immigrants, communist trade unionists, anti-fascist activists, leftists and gay people. It’s the murder of anti-fascist hip-hop artist Pavlos Fyssas in September 2013 which finally forced the Greek authorities to act.
Why does this cheer me up?
It’s because the pandemic gave many governments a carte blanche to introduce repressive, anti-democratic measures. India’s state-built Aarogya Setu app designed to keep track of Coronavirus cases is just one example.
In many countries (including Donald Trump’s the United States), the police and paramilitary units used excessive force in crowd control.
The pandemic came against a backdrop of rising Neo-Fascism in both Western and Eastern Europe. France managed to stem the tide when Emmanuel Macron defeated neo-fascist leader Marine Le Pen in 2017, but the anti-immigrant feeling remains strong there, and Neo-Fascists have a strong presence in the Nordic countries as well as in Austria.
This is why Greece’s successful prosecution of these Neo-Fascists is so important. The country’s economy went bankrupt years ago, precipitating a debt crisis, and the population faced massive unemployment and difficulties. Exploiting this discontent, Golden Dawn managed to become the country’s third-biggest party. But in the July 2019 general election, it lost all its seats in Parliament, creating chaos within the party.
The country’s Leftists, led by ex-Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, are no longer in power. But if the present government had colluded with the neo-fascists, the five-year-old trial would have been derailed.
But it didn’t try to derail the process, and the judiciary remained independent. There are important lessons here for us if anyone is out there willing to learn.
"In those countries people knew what the State called itself when they were arrested by the army, the paramilitaries or the Secret Police. In Sri Lanka, no one knows. If you are unlucky enough to get into some one’s grey list, you won’t even know if what hit you came from the left or the right"
As one prominent Greek-anti-fascist activist has pointed out, the repercussions of this trial will be felt across all Europe. I wish one could say all over the world, including Sri Lanka, but that looks like wishful thinking.
Now, one may be tempted to ask: why am I going on about Neo-Fascism when we don’t officially have a political party which calls itself that?
This is precisely the problem. Our politics function in a grey zone where definitions are very hard to make. The distinction between the left and right began to blur in the 1970s (long before J. R. Jayewardene began painting everything grey).
One could say this is true all over the world. For example, what is the difference between Tony Blair’s New Labour and the Conservative Party? But the Labour Party has evolved beyond Blair. It has veered to the left again under Jeremy Corbyn.
France’s socialists remain discredited but they will bounce back. In India’s Kerala State, there is a Marxist government in office.
In Latin America, the left has made a strong comeback after decades of right-wing dictatorship. In the US, Donald Trump has the stamp of Neo-Fascism written all over him but, unless some fluke in the weird American electoral system dictates otherwise, the moderately left-leaning Joe Biden will become US president in November.
This makes for a balanced political act. In Sri Lanka, there is no such balance. Before the political upheavals of 2019-2020, when both the SLFP and the UNP became politically insignificant, both parties merged into one in the grey zone if one tried to define them politically – Centre Right, advocating Neo Liberal economic policies with strong state interference, both advocating governance based on the wishes (or whims) of the majority’s ethno-religious preferences. Both worked to undermine the independence of the Judiciary and law and order institutions, undermining the democratic structures which got them elected in the first place.
This gave hardly any choice to the voters and you wonder why they bothered to vote in the first place.
In the post upheaval scenario, with the governing party (overwhelmingly ex-SLFP and UNP cadres) pushing the politics even further to the right, the time is ripe for an Opposition with clear cut opposing views.
But there is nothing like that even remotely in sight. Everyone has agendas to please the more extreme elements of the electorate and the clergy.
But one can still ask: Does it still amount to Neo-Fascism? I think it does, except that no one here has the moral courage to openly admit being a fascist (neo or otherwise).
I meet Fascists every day. Some of them are very nice people, very smart, very intelligent, even charming. This isn’t a black and white scenario where Leftists are all nice and those on the Right are all devils. The Left too, is guilty of grotesque crimes against humanity, from Stalinist Russia to Pol Pot’s Cambodia and the Republic of China (both Mao Tse-tung’s and the current, dark suit-and-tie set up) and Nicolas Maduro’s Venezuela.
People have suffered venally from both ideologies. But, compared to us, there is a significant difference.
In Soviet Russia, in Franco’s Spain, in Castro’s Cuba or the Chile of Gen. Augusto Pinochet, people knew what the State called itself when they were arrested by the army, the paramilitaries or the Secret Police.
They were either communist, socialist or fascist, and there was no pretension to any democracy, either. In Sri Lanka, no one knows. If you are unlucky enough to get into some one’s grey list, you won’t even know if what hit you came from the left or the right.