During the past month, Greece has seen a spate of incidents involving racist violence, as well as terrorist attacks targeting economic institutions. Daphne Halikiopoulou and Sofia Vasilopoulou argue that these incidents reflect not only the rise of the extreme-right in the country, typified by the Golden Dawn party, but the rise of extremism more generally. The extreme-right in Greece provides an avenue of expression for the angry, unemployed, and dispossessed. This, as well as other types of extremism and violence, constitute an outlet encouraged and maintained by the country’s education system, which teaches lawlessness, resistance and defiance of authority as the defining features of Greek national identity.
Last week, while the Greek parliament deliberated a political inquiry into the infamous ‘Lagarde’ list, yet another violent racist incident took place in the streets of central Athens. Shehzad Luqman, a 27 year old of Pakistani origin, was murdered while on his way to work in the early hours of January 16th. The offenders – a 29 year old fireman and his 25 year old unemployed accomplice – stabbed Shehzad, who was on his bicycle, because he was ‘blocking’ their way. Both offenders have been implicated with the law in the past, having been accused of robbery in 2007. The case is still pending trial. This is not an isolated incident. The United Nations Racist violence Recording Network recorded 87 incidents of racist violence in Greece in the past year. The majority of these occurred in public spaces (squares, streets and public transport) and involved physical attacks, beatings and stabbings. There were also incidents of arson and property damage.
This dramatic rise in racially motivated violence reflects the incitement of hatred by the soaring extreme-right, the failure of the Rule of Law, and the effects of rising unemployment. It has coincided with the rise of the extreme right-wing party, Golden Dawn. Following the arrest, the police found a variety of weapons in the lodgings of one of Shezhad’s killers, including knives, an air pistol, brass knuckles, metal bullets and bats. They also found 50 or so Golden Dawn leaflets. This shows that the Golden Dawn is not simply an academic/theoretical problem: a luxury for those who, living outside Greece and unaffected by its economic woes, have the time and financial capacity to worry about philosophical liberal ideals. This is mostly a practical problem with significant social and political implications, illustrative of the legitimisation of violence which is taking place on a large scale in Greece. It is the reflection of deeply embedded sociological, economic and political structures and the extent to which the Golden Dawn has been able to capitalise on these.
Although anti-racist and anti-fascist civil society organisations and activities have grown in Greece recently – an anti-fascist demonstration was held in Athens last Saturday with the attendance of some three thousand people – right-wing extremism has also soared. Polls now place the Golden Dawn in third place, after New Democracy (the centre right), and SYRIZA (the radical left), with its support varying between 7 and 10 per cent depending on the poll. The Golden Dawn provides an avenue of expression for the dispossessed who, within the context of rising unemployment, seek an outlet for their anger and violence. The extent to which this violence goes unchecked reflects the failure of the state to maintain law and order in a society where the police force is at best inefficient and at worst linked with the extreme right. In the past months, the Greek police force has been the recipient of a number of accusations regarding its alleged links with the Golden Dawn. Recently, the BBC reported incidents of tourists being assaulted on racist grounds and held by the police as illegal immigrants.
It is interesting that the Golden Dawn capitalises on the immigration issue. Greece has very high levels of immigration, both legal and illegal – amongst the highest in the EU as a percentage of its population. However levels of immigration have been consistently high since the early 1990s. And while immigrants are not adequately integrated in Greek society, they are fundamental for sustaining many aspects of the Greek economy. This constitutes a paradox and reflects the inadequacy of the state to provide welfare. The health system is a good example of this. Many Greeks are fully aware that health relies largely on a ‘shadow system’ that is sustained by illegal immigrants: cheap healthcare labour offered to and used by those Greeks who cannot afford to employ someone legally and pay for their social security. This is widely known and accepted in Greek society; yet, many Greeks stand firmly against immigration.
These strong anti-immigration sentiments and the rise of the far right reveal a deeply nationalistic society which has been socialised towards violence and defiance from a very young age. The economic crisis may be understood as a catalyst, exacerbated by structural conditions such as the fragmentation of the party system and state failure. Beyond these, an important underlying condition for the rise of the Golden Dawn is the perpetuation of a political culture that is favourable to extremism, maintained and reproduced through the highly centralised education system.
Greeks learn from a very young age that certain traits, such as lawlessness, resistance and defiance of authority, are the defining features of their national identity. For example, state-sponsored primary and secondary school textbooks glorify struggle and violence in their portrayal of certain events in Greek history, such as the Greek struggle for independence, the ‘Asia Minor disaster’ and the ‘epic of the 1940s’. Although some attempts for textbook reform have taken place, they have ultimately resulted in failure following pressures from both the right and the left, as well as the Church – for example the withdrawal of a newly introduced history textbook in 2007.
It is therefore no surprise that extreme right-wing violence is not the only type of violence experienced in Greece, which has a history of polarisation. While racist and anti-immigrant violence is a phenomenon mostly associated with the right, we may also observe the proliferation of violent incidents directed against institutions and individuals seen as representing specific economic interests. Only in the past month, Greece witnessed numerous terrorist attacks targeting bank branches, the homes of five Greek journalists and the headquarters of New Democracy; and most recently, the explosion of a home-made bomb at a suburban Athens shopping mall – an attack which, although pre-warned, targeted a public space in broad daylight.
The rise of violence, whether targeting immigrants or the representatives of specific economic interests, demonstrates that Greece lacks a culture of tolerance: a culture that accepts the rights of groups with whom one disagrees to freely and peacefully express their opinion and compete for power. This is why placing legal constraints on groups such as the Golden Dawn may serve as a temporary remedy, but is not a long term solution to the problem of violence. As the perpetuation of a political culture favourable to extremism is maintained and reproduced through the education system, the most appropriate solution is educational reform.
Please read our comments policy before commenting.
Note: This article gives the views of the author, and not the position of EUROPP – European Politics and Policy, nor of the London School of Economics.
Shortened URL for this post: http://bit.ly/YciKdq
Daphne Halikiopoulou – University of Reading
Dr Halikiopoulou is Lecturer in Politics, specialising in comparative European and British politics at the Politics and International Relations department at the University of Reading. Her work examines contemporary issues related to the study of nationalism and radical politics in Europe, including political mobilisation and violence, religion, the politics and policies of exclusion (immigration and citizenship) and the policies of radical right and radical left wing parties. She is author of Patterns of Secularization: Church, State and Nation in Greece and the Republic of Ireland (Ashgate 2011) and co- editor of Nationalism and globalisation: conflicting or complementary (Routledge 2011 with Sofia Vasilopoulou). Recent articles have examined the role of nationalism in the politics and rhetoric of European radical right and radical left- wing parties. She is currently working on a comparative study of violent right-wing street movements across Europe.
Sofia Vasilopoulou – University of York
Sofia Vasilopoulou is a Lecturer at the University of York. She was previously a Fellow in Comparative Political Analysis in the School of Public Policy, University College London, and a Teaching Associate in Politics at Aston University, UK. She has taught extensively modules on Comparative Politics and Government, European Union politics, Political Parties, Political Economy and Quantitative methods. She is the Editor (with Daphne Halikiopoulou) of Nationalism and Globalisation: Conflicting or Complementary? (Routledge, 2011).
The key point is reform of the education system but not necessarily only in relation to textbooks. Perhaps it could begin with a ban on students closing schools, which is a form of lawlessness, resistance to and defiance of authority. I know of no other country in Europe where a group of teenage students can lock the gates of a high school with impunity, preventing teachers and students from attending classes. This is where the disrespect for the law and authority begins and it should be nipped in the bud here because if not it will continue into university campuses and ultimately, onto the streets.
very poorly written article: not proving the link to education is anything more than the authors opinions
A French-Greek speaking here. The education isn’t the problem. The problem is that in a laps of 10 years, 2 millions illegal (mainly muslims) immigrants arrived in Greece which is a country of 10 millions Orthodox Christians inhabitants.
And 2 millions illegals out of 11 millions local people, that represents 18%¨of the population.
And in top of that, Greece was very recently a very homogenous country (96% Greek Orthodox Christians with Greek culture and lifestyle).
If in an homogenous country (whatever it is), in a laps of 10 years, you add 18% of illegal immigrants who disrespected the law to enter the country and have a different religion, it will end in a disaster and there will be a potential civil war.
There is also the economic crisis which make some people very furious when illegal immigrants get services for free while locals who pay for theses services aren’t serviced 1st.
And let’s not forget that my country is in very bad terms with neighboring islamic countries like Turkey, the stolen province of Kosovo, Bosnia, … so there are many people who wonder what would happen to their families if for example there would be a war with Turkey and Greece still host all theses illegal muslims.
There is a very strong probability that theses illegal muslims who have sneaked into Greece would join Turkey against us like a trojan horse so this is a dangerous situation and when peoples feel they and their children have great chances to face a potential danger in the future, they become violents to prevent it and protect their family and country.
And the paranoia about Turkey goes on, this kind of thing creates racism. I have seen it in Ireland against the English. Poland doesn’t have manned gun turrets at Germany do they? When was the last Greek/Turk war? nearly 100 years ago? Children are taught they should be against Turks. The Turks are also blamed for Greeks having dark hair and eyes!
This is a nice easy way for the Golden Dawn to hop on the band wagon and play up to this. Imagine if we all did this to Germany…? This obsession that the problems are all due to immigrants and foreign people is reminiscent of Nazi Germany. Also to be honest I would choose an Albanian worker over a Greek any day, they offer better service, they are on time, they clean up and they charge a fair price for the amount of work they do.
Maybe the problems lie with the fact there is a price with a receipt and one without, the fact that people don’t pay taxes and haven’t properly for years, early retirement, too many jobs created by government, bureaucracy………. I could go on.
The Greeks need to stop looking for everyone else to blame and sort their country out.
I see illegal immigrants at every traffic light how many times have I seen the police stop them, question and deport and actually do their job…………..? None.
How many times do you get annoyance on the beach because people try selling you something every 2 mins, do the police or government do anything about it? No!
How many shops and flats stay empty because of the landlords refusing to drop rent?
In UK I never thought to be scared because what if the Germans attack, what if the French attack again, what is the Vikings come back,…….. I mean seriously it is all an excuse to not want the blame being on the Greeks.
Are you kidding ? You are really comparing the UK with a Balkan country like Greece ?
Last wars in the Balkans were in Kosovo in 1999 and before that in 1992-1995 in Bosnia and now there are regularly ethnico-religious troubles in Fyrom between Slavs and Albanians.
But you asked when was the last Greek-Turkish war ?
In 1974, there was the Turkish invasion of Cyprus, in 1996, the Imia islands conflict (3 of our soldiers were killed) which nearly ended up in an open war between Greece and Turkey and also there was the assassination of the Greek Cypriot Solomos Solomou in Cyprus this same 1996 year.
Solomos Solomou dolofonia 14 08 1996 2
And actually, there are dogfights over the Aegean Sea between our pilots and the Turks regularly :
Turkish source :
Dogfights over Aegean hit by Greek economic crisis :
Youtube video of some of a dogfight (there are many others on youtube) :
Also there are potential huge gaz reserves under the territorial waters of Cyprus and since the Turks are illegally occupying the north of Cyprus since 1974 (this occupation isn’t recognized by most of other countries), the Turks say some of this potential gaz belongs to them.
And now Greece is in a dispute with Turkey over the determination of our Exclusive Economic zones (because of the islands if all parties follow the international law, Turkish Economic zone in the Mediterranean Sea will be small and I remember you there are ressources in this area).
There is also the problem of our Thrace province where many local inhabitants here are muslims and the turkish governement try to make them Turks while many Turks say that this province belongs to them because it is populated by muslims.
And after that you wonder why many peoples feel concerned about the huge influx of muslims in Greece like for example Pakistanis who openly call the Turks “brothers” ?
Every day we see poverty in Greece because austerity. Even IMF argues that austerity caused more and more pain. Obviously this is related to fascism revival. Nazism was caused, as Keynes rightly previewed, by pain inflicted to Germany after WWI. We are making the same mistake with Greece.