It is a rare occurrence to see an MP and party spokesman slap another MP on morning television. It is also rare to see a third of a party’s parliamentary representation facing charges against directing a criminal organisation. But it happens. Where else, but in Greece; where the parliamentary meetings look more like a bickering family than the law-making institution that’s supposed to be taking care of the country.
And yes, in Greece we like to pride ourselves as the birthplace of democracy, but when looking upon the elected party of Golden Dawn one can’t help but conclude that democracy is making its career abroad. The far-right fascist Greek party has been tied to the instigation of riots that led to the destruction of public and private property, and yet this is only the tip of the iceberg. This September one of its members murdered a left wing rapper. They have led attacks against illegal immigrants countless times, to the point where a mayor had to personally ask the government for further police protection. Their elected MPs have allegedly trained some of the “protesters” responsible for a multitude of crimes.
Remember, this isn’t a small political force we’re talking about, it is the third most popular party in Greece. The aforementioned spokesman, who is awaiting trail on various accounts, is now running for the mayor of Athens, declaring that he will be a candidate even if he has to do it from behind bars, describing running the city whilst incarcerated an “innovation” on a worldwide scale.
As a result of their actions the government has launched a crackdown on the party that’s been going on for a few months. This hasn’t scared them off their game, as they continue to create problems both inside and outside the parliament. If anything, it has made them more militant as they deem it “unconstitutional”. A view that is shared by none other than the BNP leader, Nick Griffin who attended the Golden Dawn press conference to condemn the government’s decision. In fact foreign support for the party hasn’t only increased in terms of celebrities, but in citizens as well; they now have their very own British fan club.
So, if the government can’t do anything about Golden Dawn, and Greek voters are only becoming more endearing towards them, what is to be done? One answer would be to simply let them reign free, allowing them to swear at other MPs and organising criminal activities, in the hope that the whole thing will blow over and voters will come to their senses. This would be “constitutional”; it wouldn’t disallow anyone from being part of the political process.In fact there is a fair point to be made that as long as they are trying to get a hold of power through democratic means and they are prosecuted for whatever crimes they are responsible for, the authoritarianism in their ideology is irrelevant and therefore there is no legal or political precedent on which a crackdown can be justified. Do they, however, fulfil those criteria?
Firstly, they are not entirely prosecuted. This is in part due to the parliamentary immunity laws in place that are seldom lifted and in part because they are rarely proven to be the ones instigating the violence. Those members actually bringing chaos in the streets of Athens do not kiss and tell on the higher ranks and if they don’t talk then there is no legally condemning evidence against the “masterminds”. More importantly though, the democratic nature of their means is a myth. Yes, they do run for elections and no they do not rig them, but elections aren’t the most paramount of pillars of this celebrated political system. The average Greek “Giorgos” isn’t in the clearest mind state when he approaches the voting booth. He is not well informed, and he is taken over by fear. Fear created by the media and the notorious slumber of the government. He gradually becomes more extremist (in both directions) as he fears that the crisis will never end. He starts believing that it is indeed the immigrants who have taken his job (even though they only take the jobs that Greeks think pay too little). And if Giorgos isn’t thinking straight, exactly how much does his vote honour democracy?
At the end of the day, democracy is a system. And like any other system it must be judged on efficacy and performance. So when fascist parties rise to parliament and threaten democracy and society from within something must be done that may seem undemocratic, it might as well be banning them from elections. Even if one values ideologically this system because of its innate merits, then he must admit that in order to protect those merits seemingly unorthodox steps must be taken.