Friday, May 10, 2013

Enemies of Democracy

This article by Angelos Stangos in the Ekathimerini on the potential dangers of Golden Dawn concluded with the following statement:

"Much thanks to Greeks’ lack of self-knowledge, Golden Dawn has so far been treated as a fringe phenomenon, a by-product of the financial crisis that has hit the country. Much like soccer hooliganism, far-right violence has been treated as the work of a small bunch of idiotic thugs. This could not be further from the truth. The ideology of Golden Dawn, the vocabulary, the aggression, the body language, the actions are all in tune with the whims of a far larger chunk of society that have in the past been manifested in an isolated, disorderly fashion. The ground is fertile for Golden Dawn to grow even stronger. If it is to survive, our democracy must keep its guard up".

Sounds ok, I thought. And then I began reading the comments to the article.

Almost every comment demands tolerance as far as GD is concerned and quite a few are openly supportive. I have no first-hand knowledge of GD but I have seen enough videos about them on Youtube to have the clear impression that love & peace are not their top priority. In fact, I remember one GD candidate running for election being asked what he would do with 'all those foreigners'. He rambled about 'sending them home' or 'sending them away' and, sort of as the last option, he said 'burn them!' And the people around him had a good laugh.

Well, well, well. This does not sound good!


  1. GD are vile misanthropes. However, they are feeding off a very legitimate grievance- that of unchecked illegal immigration. This in itself is a symptom of the failure of the state in performing its functions, and the obvious lack of the rule of law. The state must come down hard on both illegal immigration as well as the wretched people who exploit them for profit. The alternative will be GD, coming to a neighborhood near you.

    We Greeks have been through tough times before, and we managed to survive because we were a homogeneous nation with a belief (right or wrong) in our own destiny. This is now starting to fray..

  2. If I may add to the previous comment, I am 35 years old and I never got the impression that Greece is a homogeneous nation. In my eyes, Greece is only superficially a homogeneous nation. Beneath the surface it's always been a nation of cut-throats, riding on the back of others. Obviously the crisis is amplifying that phenomenon. It would be a mistake to view Golden Dawn as the disease. It's only a symptom. Like the previous commenter implies, once the rule of law is established (not only when it comes to immigration), symptoms like these will recede. However, I don't think that the rule of law will be established, for the simple reason that it never really existed so far.

  3. Golden Dawn is a complex political phenomenon that requires careful analysis. Let me start this by saying that I agree with the statement above that Greeks are cut-throats. I have myself described Greece as a mafia family. This description explains many aspects of Greece, that are relevant to both the current crises and GD. So: a)crews of cutthroats are often boastful, intractable and prone to self destructive behaviour (obvious) b) they are prone to burst of violence that often lasts for short periods (like the occasional appearance of assault rifles in Greek crime)c) if loot is better somewhere else they simply move (hence the difficulty of catching some of the tax evasion in Greece. A Greek will physically move to a tax heaven far more easily than other nationalities) d) they have their own internal rules, often vastly different from outsiders (again obvious)e) the crew may disintegrate quickly in the right circumstances but it is often very homogeneous in dealing with external threats (think Greek civil service and its reaction to reform)
    GD represents a strain of the Greek right that holds delusional political opinions. Conspiracy theories, often of the antisemitic variety, are rife. These opinions are widespread in Greek society, mainly in the Church, police,army and judiciary.Up to now they were represented by the right wing party of the day-New Democracy since 1974. What held the various parts of the right together was the dream of being a civil servant or being part of state sanctioned monopoly. More generally, the belief that the state is all powerful and all encompassing, God like. That's why taxi drivers are right wing to a man This belief is fraying seriously because of the financial crises and the crazy part of the right is moving to GD, leaving all the other kinds of right wingers to ND.
    However GD presents itself as the most cut throat of all cut throats. This is a very high standard if used among experienced cut throats. Already people in treh proverbial taverna discussions are pointing out that failing to beat up difficult targets (whether communist deputies, journalists or lately the Athens mayor) makes you a loud mouth hypocrite. I don't think that they will ever resolve this conundrum, so I expect them to peak at the next elections and then slowly wither away. SYRIZA (and the extreme left) has a similar problem and they are stuck as well. I don't believe SYRIZA will recover either. From this point of view Anexartiti Ellines are more dangerous as they hold the same fascist views without having being trapped (yet anyway) in an obvious conundrum.
    The real risk to Greek democracy and European stability will appear if GD or some other group mutates into an EOKA like organization. The ruthless, well targeted and politically sophisticated violence of the EOKA can easily overthrow the present government and plunge the country to chaos. Events that indicate such an undercurrent exists are plenty. Think of the military style assault to the Ag.Paraskevi police station a couple of years ago or the recent fire bomb attacks to the house of the ND spokesman's brother.

    1. Yes, I am referring to the organization that carried out the guerrilla war against the British in the 1950's in Cyprus. Many things about it are still mysterious (like its finances)but its influence is still around in the UK and Greece. For example during my times in England there were efforts by the Conservatives of M. Thatcher to bring back the death penalty. Officially that was for serious crimes but everybody knew that they were referring to the IRA. The British Army was and is hostile, with the leaks talking about the "Cyprus death penalty defense" ie the taking of photogenic 19 yr members of the Armed forces hostages in case of death penalty convictions. This technique was perfected to devastating political effect by the Nicosia cell under later Cyprus President T. Papadopoulos. Once it becomes obvious that the Army will never bring IRA members to the gallows the idea was quietly buried. Similarly EOKA had multifaceted influence on Greece and Cyprus until at least 1975. There were even claims that T. Papadopoulos presidency and the Anan plan referendum for Cyprus reunification was EOKA rebooted (T. Papadopoulos went on to lead the political arm of the EOKA)

  4. Lets not kid ourselves that right wing extremism is peculiar to Greece & GD

    The Sweden Democrats have 20 seats in its Parliament, the views of SD and their fellow travellers are not so different from GD, Brehvik was influenced by the Swedish far right. Until recently the far right were in the ruling coalition in the Netherlands - until they shot themselves in the foot and triggered elections.

    And then there's Fidez in Hungary who's founder recently said Most Gypsies are not suitable for cohabitation. They are not suitable for being among people. Most are animals, and behave like animals. They shouldn't be tolerated or understood, but stamped out. Animals should not exist. In no way." Zsolt Bayer, Magyar Hirlap I believe Fidez are the ruling party in Hungary.

    Right wing extremism exists throughout Europe, it always has and always will, I suspect its attraction in Greece is because of 30% general unemployment and 60% youth unemployment - with no end in sight.


    Stiglitz has written a column for the IMF Blog - The Lessons of the North Atlantic Crisis for Economic Theory and Policy

    Felix Salmon thinks its a wonky post - if I can understand most of it that can't be true.

    Stiglitz refers to Banks Too Big To Fail, Banks Too Intertwined To Fail and Banks Too Correlated Too Fail. I think understand the first, I have an inkling of the second but 'Too Correlated' has be stumped any one care to enlighten me.

    I enjoyed the following, its been said a hundred times elsewhere, nevertheless...

    So too, the responses to the crisis have not brought our economies anywhere near back to full employment. The loss in GDP between our potential and our actual output is in the trillions of dollars.

    Of course, some will say that it could have been done worse, and that’s true. Considering that the people in charge of fixing the crisis included some of the same ones who created it in the first place, it is perhaps remarkable it hasn’t been a bigger catastrophe.


    1. Canutely King, the point is not about right-wing extremism.

      The point is that the rule of law is loose in Greece. That is why there is corruption, that is why there is tax evasion, that is why there is bribery, that is why Greeks drive dangerously etc etc etc.

      The rule of law is the basis of any society. Once it dissolves, society dissolves.

      The Golden Dawn party is just a symptom of the above. Focusing on it as an anomaly ignores the larger anomaly: the way Greek society is structured.

      Unfortunately, bar a dictatorship, societies evolve in a slow manner.

    2. @Jim Slip - No arguments with you on what you say above or in your earlier post.

      But I was responding to the Angelos Stangos article and the comments to it - which are about GD. In particular, I was responding the notion that Greeks have of themselves and their circumstances as being globally and utterly unique, and in this case the view that GD is a phenomena peculiar to Greece.

      Most would regard Germany as a country in which the rule of law prevails, including strict laws regarding the formation of right wing extremist political movements. Yet, it took many years (I think about 10) for the German security agencies to determine that a series of murders of immigrants (including a Greek), bombings, and bank robberies were conducted by a cell of the Nationalist Socialist Underground. For years, German security services, politicians and media had repeatedly pointed the finger at the "Turkish Mafia" with not one scrap of evidence. The trial of Beate Zschaepe, who is believed to be the sole surviving member of the NSU cell, started last week in Munich. You could say that the trial shows that the rule of law prevailed, eventually. But Zschaepe's arrest resulted from a failed bank robbery, not from painstaking forensic investigation by the security services of the evidence they already had from prior crimes.

      I'm also not convinced that dictators change societies much. Argentina has had several, but it continues to have most of the same characteristics (good and bad) that it had 60 years ago, and maybe longer than that. Each of Pakistan's dictators has only served to foster the extremist elements in its society and drive it away from the rule of law towards the rule of the bomb and gun. Iraq has had a string of dictators, royal, military and secular. Reading Gertrude Bell's letters I don't find much difference in the Iraq at the beginning of the 21st century to what she described at the beginning of the 20th century - arguably it's got worse. Did Mussolini make many underlying and lasting changes to Italian society - probably not.

      The only dictator that comes to mind, of whom it _might_ be said, left his society in better shape than he found it was Suharto. But what a cost... over a million people slaughtered! And that's a big _might_ too.

      The best thing for Greece would be an elected benevolent dictator such as Lee Kuan Yew. Does Greece have such a person in its political landscape, probably not? Also, Lee had the huge advantage of starting from scratch as he didn't have 3 millennia of Singaporean history to climb over; so even if Greece had such a person the chances of them transforming Greek society would be pretty slim. And the Singapore ethnicities retain their cultural, religious and language differences.

      Tax evasion requires three actors, the evader, the haven, and the facilitators - lawyers, accountants etc. The biggest conglomeration of the latter is to be found in that bastion of the 'rule of law' — the United Kingdom. It also governs some of the better-known tax havens — the British Virgin Islands, the Channel Islands, the Isle of Man, and when St. Helena gets its airport that may well be another one.

      If Greece had 5% unemployment, 3% inflation, a healthy balance of trade and a respected currency then Greeks could still evade paying taxes, drive like maniacs, drink like fish and have crooked mainstream politicians, and parties like GD & KKE would get little traction. So I agree that GD is a symptom, but as much as of a failed economy, and a failed political system as it is of a failed society. An economy and a political system can be transformed over a couple of decades - but I would have thought societal and cultural changes take a lot longer. Is Russian society today so very different to the Russia of a 100 years ago. I'd argue not, despite 70 years of intensive social re-engineering by the so-called 'dictatorship of the proletariat'.


    3. Banks Too Correlated to Fail - I think they are banks with similar profiles, where the failure of one can lead to the failure of another via 'contagion'. How would one regulate against that, i.e. prevent banks copying one one another.

      It's a core theme in Suzanne McGee's Chasing Goldman Sachs although I don't recall her suggesting any specific preventive measures.


    4. Banks Too Correlated to Fail: Yes it is a mathematical term meaning, in common English, moving in tandem. It does not imply a mechanism of connection between correlated events (correlation does not imply causation) and does not imply copying. It could be for example that external shocks are so powerful that force an identical trajectory. The article is good but understanding the specialist language is very difficult. Economists must do something about it.