Published on Wednesday, 13 February 2013 12:34 Written by Harry van Versendaal
Speaking on Tuesday during a lecture on Greece’s political extremes at Deree – The American College of Greece, Mazower did not hesitate to draw parallels between the Greek far right party and the nationalist socialist (Nazi) party of the 1930s.
“There is commonality of approach,” he said of the two parties stressing their emphasis on biological racism and violent street tactics that sets them apart from other European nationalist movements like Le Pen’s National Front party.
Golden Dawn officials vehemently deny any Nazi affiliation saying they are Greek nationalists and that they have nothing to do with Hitler or Mussolini.
“Any right-wing party worth its salt is keen to stress its nationalist credentials,” said 55-year-old Mazower, an expert on Greece and the Balkans who teaches history at Columbia University.
Greece’s brutal financial crisis has catapulted Golden Dawn, for years at the fringes of domestic politics, into the spotlight. A recent opinion poll put the party’s support at 11.5 percent, compared to the 7 percent that it garnered in June’s election. This puts the party, which currently holds 18 seats in the 300-member House, in third place behind conservative coalition leader New Democracy and leftist opposition SYRIZA.
Reports of deadly attacks against immigrants by alleged supporters of Golden Dawn and its open endorsement of the country’s 1967-1974 military dictatorship have not dented its appeal among voters in a country where national self-understanding has to a significant degree been shaped by the fight against the Nazis and opposition to the junta.
Mazower, who has written a number of books on 20th century Greek and European history, said Greece’s political class has failed to assume culpability or accept even a symbolic share of the burden that the population has had to shoulder as a result of the painful bailout agreements. Nevertheless, he said, Greeks must not turn their back on the democratic legacy of the post-1974 era.
“People need to defend the achievement of the metapolitefsi,” he said of what is widely regarded as the longest period of democratic stability in the country’s modern history.
However, he said, they should try to remedy the system’s failings starting with “the credibility of the political class.”
Mazower was critical of the Greek left “that never made a mental break from the image of revolution.” But in a nod to the ongoing debate among pundits and historians in Greece concerning public toleration of leftist radicalism, the London-born academic drew the line at of equating far right and far left violence.
“Some say all forms of lawlessness are equally dangerous. I disagree,” said Mazower adding that left-wing protests and law-breaking behavior have not put Greek democracy in jeopardy.
He said historical attempts to underline the “fundamental kinship” between fascism and communism – bringing them both under the label of “totalitatarianism” – are flawed.
“The totalitarianism thesis has been abandoned for very good reason,” he said criticizing recent attempts by conservative politicians in Greece to revive the debate in a bid to score political points against SYRIZA.
Instead of going after anarchist-run squats in Athens which are of little political importance, New Democracy should rather direct its energy and attention at the bigger threat that is Golden Dawn, Mazower said referring to recent police raids on several abandoned buildings in Athens.
“Unfortunately the Greek state does not seem to realize the urgency of the situation,” he said.