Feeding fascism in Greece: the memorandum, the state of exception and the police

Article in Open Democracy: The factors that contribute to the inexorable rise of fascism in societies, described here, have to be identified, understood and undermined by critical theory as soon as they occur, so that political action can confront them .
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  Feeding fascism in Greece: the memorandum, thestate of exception and the police /can-europe-make-it/antonis-galanopoulos-chris-avramidis/feeding-fascism-in-greece-memorandum-state-o Antonis Galanopoulos and Chris AvramidisThe factors that contribute to the inexorable rise of fascism in societies, described here, have to beidentified, understood and undermined by critical theory as soon as they occur, so that political actioncan confront them.Golden Dawn rally outside of the Greek Parliament in Athens. Demotix/Nicolas Koutsokostas. Somerights reserved.On 18 September 2013 the 34-year-old antifascist rapper Pavlos Fyssas is killed by a knife-wieldingGolden Dawn member. In the hours immediately following, many people gather at the location of thekilling, and in the following days, vast demonstrations are held in all Greek cities, resulting notinfrequently in clashes with the police, who guard the headquarters of the Nazi organization.These reactions contribute to some dramatic political developments, among which is the arrest of theleader and MPs of Golden Dawn. What caused a sensation on the political scene is that the popularityof Golden Dawn, which suffered a temporary setback together with the murder of two of its membersoutside its headquarters, nevertheless remains significantly high. Notably, its percentages in theopinion polls are higher than those it received when it entered Parliament.In an attempt to provide some answers concerning the emergence and evolution of this phenomenon,we will describe the course of Golden Dawn’s rise and stabilization in the political scene throughout theimportant events of the last five years. Afterwards, we will try to highlight the relationship of the state to this fascist movement, and theexample of the police in particular, approaching this phenomenon as one that reflects the interests of the dominant political and financial forces, which, as it will become evident, have definitely toleratedNazi activity, if not promoted it.This interaction between the political establishment and Nazism has been intensified throughout thecrisis years, among other reasons, due to the state of exception that has been imposed by successiveGreek governments in order to carry on implementing the directives of the memoranda despite popular reaction. Golden Dawn surfaces First stop - the area of Aghios Panteleimonas just a few months after the December 2008 riots. Thefascists are mainly a reserve army that is mobilized whenever the ruling class realizes that it is losingor is in danger of losing control. This was observed in post-dictatorship Greece for the first time thatDecember. During December 2008, the state, the ruling class, and their organic intellectuals realized ina state of panic that they had really lost control. The dominant power bloc no longer possessedapparatuses of political repression at the neighbourhood level. The state responded by attempting toerect from point zero and experimentally new mechanisms, and the starting point was a problematicneighbourhood. The area gradually transformed into a ghetto and Golden Dawn gained huge controland influence.While this process was under way, the country was heading for elections on 4 October 2009. The new  government of Giorgos Papandreou soon proved to be moving in a direction contrary to its pre-electoral promises, and in May 2010, signed a loan agreement with the International Monetary Fund,the European Union, and the European Central Bank. Since then, a violent assault has beenunleashed upon the country’s lower and middle socio-economic strata.In December 2010 local elections were held, where in general, administrative tasks were shared outbetween PASOK and ND; the picture seemed normal enough throughout the country, except for theMunicipality of Athens. There, Golden Dawn, having received a percentage of 5.29%, gained a seat for the first time in the Municipal Council and elected its leader, Nikos Michaloliakos, as an alderman of  Athens. The sixth electoral district including Aghios Panteleimonas, had a lot to do with this success,where Golden Dawn gained a percentage of approximately 14%. The Greek ‘Indignados’  After a year of memoranda policies popular rage increased and the movement of the Indignant brokeout in June 2011. This was the first indication that the country’s political system would not hold for longin its present form. It is worth noting that there was no evidence for the widespread idea that theIndignant movement helped Golden Dawn rise in popularity. On the contrary, it seems that its electoralinfluence during that period, as well as the following one, fluctuated stably between 1 and 1.5%.1 Atthe end of the summer of 2011, political developments dramatically accelerated. The parades of October 28 were transformed into anti-government marches; on October 31 Giorgos Papandreouannounced his intention of holding a referendum on the question of the new loan agreement, while onNovember 3 he announced his resignation after participating in the G20 conferences in Cannes andthe strong international pressure he came under there. This is the end of Giorgos Papandreou’spolitical career, as in November 6 he effectively gives up his Prime Minister position and five days later the Papademos government is formed. After this point the political map will be completelyreconstructed.The Papademos government and the ratification of Memorandum II in January 2012 constitute alandmark for Golden Dawn’s rise and consolidation in the central political scene. The far-right hasalready been legimitized with the participation of LAOS in the Papademos government, while itscollapse left a large space for Golden Dawn to expand into.1 Two more purely political factors havecontributed to Golden Dawn’s ascendancy: first, the centrality of the migrant issue as a central matter of controversy during the pre-electoral period and the continuous operations against immigrantsinitiated by the Ministry of Citizen Protection, and, second, a widespread senses of loss of nationalsovereignty created by the fact that a lot of political decisions have been made outside the country.In May-June 2012, the country was led to double elections where the collapse of the post-dictatorshiptwo-party political system became completely evident. New Democracy achieved a Pyrrhic victory witha percentage of 2.7% ahead of SYRIZA; the old two-party establishment gained 42% and GoldenDawn entered parliament with 6.9%. According to the analysis of fascism in five stages suggested byRobert O.Paxton in his  Anatomy of Fascism , Golden Dawn could now be said to enter its secondstage, that of the fascist movement’s consolidation in the political system.2 A new political environment  After the elections we are in a new political environment. Immediately following the elections, GoldenDawn’s percentages in the opinion polls increase, and its candidate for Greece’s larger municipality isthe preferred candidate. Golden Dawn uses a portion of state funding for humanitarian activities “onlyfor Greeks,” while intensifying violent attacks in the streets of the country.In June 2013, just a year after the elections, the secretary general of the Ministerial Council,Panaghiotis Baltakos, while talking to journalists, described the scenario for cooperation between NewDemocracy and Golden Dawn as ‘undesirable but not impossible’, while similarly positive statementsabout Golden Dawn were made by other well-known members of the government. Then a well-known   journalist stated during a TV show that the governing party should ally with a more serious GoldenDawn in the face of the country’s potential exit from the Eurozone.Even the street violence of these fascist gangs seemed to serve the state rather well at this juncture,since no-one could confuse it with police repression. A few days before Fyssas’s murder, Golden Dawnattacked some KKE rank and file members in Perama. One of the reasons why businessmen wereclaiming they had to leave the country at this time was the high cost of labour, maintained by workersthrough their democratic demands. A core source of these demands was the Left in Perama, largelyrallying around the KKE. At the same time, the creation of a fascist trade union in the Perama DockingZone was being widely promoted. It is worth mentioning that violence, in combination with ideologicalmanipulation and parallel labour unions, has historically been one of the main successful tactics of fascist movements. This has also succeeded in neutralizing working class activities in Italy andGermany.3The ruling class was equally willing to accept the services provided by fascists in relation toimmigrants. The assaults of Golden Dawn created a hostile climate for immigrants and enabledgovernment – and European – policy to force immigrants to use repatriation programmes. This isessentially the incitement “to make life hard for the immigrants” made by Health Minister AdonisGeorgiades put into effect, while the Captain of Greek Police encouraged police officers in one of hisspeeches to make “life unbearable” for immigrants.The leaking of the latter sound recording in the Greek press saw some reaction from AmnestyInternational, among others, who demanded an investigation into the case.4 But it is clear that assaultson immigrants can also be ‘useful’ if they render migrant workers weaker so that they are able to claimnext to nothing from their bosses, not even accrued wages, due to the fear engendered.This particular course of convergence was violently disrupted after the murder of Pavlos Fyssas, as thegovernment started to suffer an increasing political cost. It was widely held by popular opinion that thepolice had been present at the incident and did nothing to prevent the killing. The police’s attitude as a symptom The government’s good will towards Golden Dawn at a rhetorical level is translated in practice intotolerance or even protection shown by the police to the Nazi organization’s activities. This phenomenonis not something new, as Golden Dawn’s leader Nikos Michaloliakos corroborated when he said: “Thefratricidal quarrel of the 1940s brought nationalists inevitably close to security forces. This tacticcontinued in the 1960s and 1970s. . . . Also, in the logic of the far right, it has always been a fact thatsecurity forces are close to national ideals.”5The examples of collaboration between Golden Dawn and the police are numerous; here we will onlymention the most important and recent events. A few hours after the murder of Pavlos Fyssas,members of Golden Dawn were captured on camera attacking demonstrators with rocks side by sidewith riot police;6 the director for the National Intelligence Service’s surveillance programme on GoldenDawn was revealed to be the cousin of a Golden Dawn MP candidate, while two policemen werearrested among others on September 28 on charges of forming a criminal organization called “GoldenDawn.” Notably, it is estimated that only 1-2% of attacks perpetrated by far rightists seems to havebeen examined in court.In short, it is no wonder that Golden Dawn gain high voter turnout in electoral districts where policemenvote. The national average for Golden Dawn was 7%, but in these districts it reached 23.7%,suggesting that the percentage of policemen voting for Golden Dawn is between 45% and 59%.7Certainly, this is a two-way love affair, as the issues of security forces are highly prioritized by GoldenDawn’s leadership in their agenda.There are also several reasons historically which place the police alongside the fascists. These include  the familiarization with and exaltation of violence on the part of those in power, the criminalization of theweak and the cultural subordination to hierarchy.However, what needs to be investigated is the overall relationship between the status quo and thefascists, in which relations with the police should be regarded as only one symptom: “The symptomarises where the world failed. . . . [The symptom] is already formed with an eye to its interpretation,” asnoted by Slavoj Žižek.8 The hidden meaning, it is argued here, lies in the choice of the authoritarianturn made the government. Authoritarianism has become a foundation stone for the exercise of power. The dangerous path of the Memorandum In the fiscal and financial crisis of recent years, we could say that a regime has been imposed inGreece that resembles what Agamben has defined as the “state of exception,” where necessity, either real or fabricated, has transformed the exception into the rule.9The government now operates through decrees, so-called “acts of legislative content.” It is explicitlystated in Article 44, paragraph 1 of the Constitution that “[u]nder extraordinary circumstances of anurgent and unforeseeable need, the President of the Republic may, upon the proposal of the Cabinet,issue acts of legislative content.” The acts of legislative content issued in 2012 were as many as thoseof the previous decade combined. Crucial issues of state investments, labour reserve, the reduction of the minimum wage, capital aid for credit institutions, the shutdown of the Hellenic BroadcastingCorporation (ERT), and the privatization of Hellenic Petroleum (ELPE), Public Power Corporation(DEI), Greek Organization of Football Prognostics (OPAP), Hellenic Horse-race Betting Organisation(ODIE), Athens Water Supply and Sewerage Company (EYDAP), Thessaloniki Water Supply andSewerage Company (EYATh), Hellenic Post (ELTA), as well as the country’s most important ports haveall been arranged by acts of legislative content.   The government is a political force that has set itself the task of undoing the Constitution andattempting to establish this state of emergency. When the state of exception tends to become the rule,the institutions and balances of democratic constitutions cannot function and the line betweendemocracy and authoritarianism is blurred. Agamben describes the state of exception “as a thresholdof indeterminacy between democracy and absolutism.”10 As also stated by Slavoj Žižek, therelationship between capitalism and democracy has now been disrupted,11and the only certainty is that the system if unobstructed will proceed towards the creation of a newabsolutist society along the lines that Agamben describes:We have reached a later evolution of this paradigm, meaning that the state of exception has beendisseminated at planet level; therefore it is no use being declared as such. It is a normal state thatchanges every meaning of politics, because, as the state of exception is the rule, international law anddomestic law change completely. . . . This is why today it is not so much the law, but urgent measures,decrees, police. . . . The parliament ratifies urgent decrees issued by the government, which are turnedinto laws. We can clearly observe it here; the executive power is the one that creates laws.”12The linking of the state of exception with the right of those in power to be authoritarian in cases theydeem necessary was most notably identified by the extremely conservative German jurist Carl Schmittduring the period when the Weimar Republic was being undermined. The state suspends the power of law in accordance with its right to self-preservation: decision-making ceases to depend on anyregulatory restriction.13 Carl Schmitt wrote that “no constitution on earth had so easily legalized a coupd'état as did the Weimar Constitution.”14 Conclusion The fascist movement in its second stage, having already consolidated its position in the politicalsystem, can now aim at the next stage of reaching power. Paxton states with some relevance:
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