/ 5 April 2013

Greek neo-Nazi party goes global

Golden Dawn's campaign to build a presence abroad has been met with derision by many members of the diaspora. Photo: Angelos Tzortzinis/AFP
Golden Dawn's campaign to build a presence abroad has been met with derision by many members of the diaspora. Photo: Angelos Tzortzinis/AFP

Emboldened by its meteoric rise in Greece, the far-right Golden Dawn party is spreading its tentacles abroad, amid fears it is acting on its pledge to "create cells in every corner of the world". The extremist group has begun opening offices in Germany, Australia, ­Canada and the United States.

The international push follows successive polls that show Golden Dawn entrenching its position as Greece's third, and fastest growing, political force. First catapulted into Parliament with 18 MPs last year, the ultra-nationalists captured 11.5% support in a recent survey conducted by the ­polling company Public Issue.

The group – whose logo resembles the swastika and whose members are prone to giving Nazi salutes – has gone from strength to strength, promoting itself as the only force willing to take on the "rotten establishment". Amid rumours of backing from wealthy shipowners, it has succeeded in opening party offices across Greece.

It is also concentrating on spreading internationally, with news last month that it had opened an office in Germany and planned to set up branches in Australia. The party's spokesperson, Ilias Kasidiaris, said it had decided to establish cells "wherever there are Greeks".

"People have understood that Chrysi Avgi [Golden Dawn] tells the truth," he told a Greek-language paper in Melbourne. "In our immediate sights and aims is the creation of an office and local organisation in Melbourne. In fact, very soon a visit of MPs to Australia is planned."

But the campaign has been met with disgust and derision by many prominent members of the Greek diaspora who represent communities in both the northern and southern hemispheres. "We don't see any gold in Golden Dawn," said Father Alex Karloutsos, one of America's leading Greek community figures. "Nationalism, fascism, xenophobia are not part of our spiritual or ­cultural heritage."

But Golden Dawn is hoping to tap into the deep well of disappointment and fury felt by Greeks living abroad in the three years since the debt-stricken nation plunged into crisis.

"Golden Dawn is not like other parties in Greece. From its beginnings, in the early 1980s, it always had one eye abroad," said Dimitris Psarras, whose book, Golden Dawn's Black Bible, chronicles the organisation since its creation by Nikos Michaloliakos, a supporter of the colonels who oversaw seven years of brutal anti-leftist dictatorship until the collapse of military rule in 1974.

Importing nazism
"Like-minded groups in Europe and Russia have given the party ideological, and sometimes financial, support to print books and magazines. After years of importing nazism, it now wants to export nazism," said Psarras.

By infiltrating communities abroad, the far-rightists were attempting not only to shore up their credibility but also to find extra funding and perhaps even potential votes if Greeks abroad ever win the right to cast ballots in elections.

"It [Golden Dawn] wants to become the central pole of a pan-Euro­pean alliance of neo-Nazis, even if in public it will deny that," said Psarras. He said party members regularly meet neo-Nazis from Germany, Italy and Romania. "It wants to spread its influence worldwide."

With its 300000-strong community, Melbourne has pride of place in the constellation of Greek-populated metropolises that dot a diaspora officially estimated at about seven million. As part of its international push, Golden Dawn has also focused on the US, a magnet for migrants for generations, and Canada, which attracted tens of thousands of Greeks after Greece's 1946-1949 civil war.

"It's a well-studied campaign," said Anastasios Tamis, Australia's pre-eminent ethnic Greek historian. "There is a large stock of very conservative people here – former royalists, former loyalists to the junta, that sort of thing – who are very disappointed at what has been happening in Greece and are trying to find a means to express it. They are nationalists who feel betrayed by Greece over issues like Macedonia, Cyprus and [the Greek minority] in Voreio Epirus, who cannot see the fascistic part of this party. Golden Dawn is trying to exploit them."

The younger generation were also being targeted, he said. "They're the generation who were born here and grew up here and know next to nothing about Greece, its history and social and economic background. They're easy prey and Golden Dawn will capitalise on their ignorance."

Tamis, who admits that some of his students support the organisation, does not think the group will gain traction even if Australia's far-right party has been quick to embrace it. But the prospect of Golden Dawn descending on the country has clearly sent tremors through the Greek community.

A black mark
"This is a multicultural society. They are not wanted or welcome here," said one prominent member, who requested anonymity.

Greek Australian leftists have begun collecting protest signatures to bring pressure on Australia's Immigration and Citizenship Minister Brendan O'Connor to prohibit Golden Dawn MPs from entering the country. In a statement urging the government not to give the deputies visas, they said the extremists had to be stopped "from spreading their influence within the Greek community and threatening the multicultural society that Greek Australians and other migrants have fought to defend".

The neo-Nazis have been given a similar reception in Canada, where the party opened a chapter in October. Despite getting the father of champion sprinter Nicolas Macrozonaris to front it, the group was quickly denounced by Greek Canadians as "a black mark".

The culture of intolerance that has allowed racially motivated violence to flourish in Greece – with Golden Dawn members being blamed for a rise in attacks on immigrants – had, they said, no place in a country that prides itself on liberal values.

"Their philosophy and ideology does not appeal to Greeks living here," said Father Lambros Kamperidis, a Greek Orthodox priest in Montreal. "We all got scared when we saw they were giving a press conference. But it was a deplorable event and as soon as we heard their deplorable views they were condemned by community leaders and the church.

"We are all immigrants in Canada," said Kamperidis, referring to Golden Dawn's tactic of tapping into anti-immigrant resentment. "The conditions that apply in Greece do not apply here, so there is no justification for the party to flourish. It has hurt Greece, the Greek cause and the Greeks' reputation more than anything else."

True affiliation
The biggest push so far has been in the US which, as home to close to three million citizens of Greek heritage, has the diaspora's largest community. At first, cadres worked undercover, organising clothes sales and other events without stating their true affiliation. Stickers and posters then began to appear around the New York suburb of Astoria before Golden Dawn opened a branch there.

But, although Greek Americans have some of the strongest ties to their homeland of any community, senior figures have vehemently denounced the organisation for not only being incongruous with Greece's struggle against fascism, during one of Europe's most brutal Nazi occupations but also being utterly alien to their own experience as immigrants.

"These people and their principles will never be accepted. Their beliefs are alien to our beliefs and way of life," said Nikos Mouyiaris, cofounder of the Chicago-based Hellenic American Leadership Council, whose mission is to promote human rights and ­democratic values.

The victims of often violent persecution at the hands of the Ku Klux Klan as well as wider discrimination (in Florida in the 1920s restaurant noticeboards declared "no dogs or Greeks allowed"), Greek Americans proudly recount how, almost alone among ethnic minorities, they participated actively in the civil rights movement, their spiritual leader Archbishop Iakovos daring to march alongside Martin Luther King.

"Our history as a diaspora in the US has been marked by our fight against racism," said Mouyiaris.Many in the diaspora believe that Golden Dawn has deluded itself into believing it is a permanent force because of its soaring popularity after the economic crisis. "The reality is that it is a fleeting by-product of failed austerity measures and the social disruption this austerity has caused," said Endy Zemenides, who heads the Hellenic council. – © Guardian News & Media 2013