Melbourne has long been known as one of the biggest cities for Greek diaspora in the world, and the “world’s most liveable city” is fast becoming the latest battleground for the swelling fascist movement sweeping Greece.
Golden Dawn, the nascent political party capitalising on deep resentment to the European Union’s austerity measures, recently secured 18 seats in the national parliament. In further concerning developments, it is now looking beyond Greece to countries with a large Greek populations like Australia, England and Canada to broaden its political reach.
Typically described as fascist or a neo-Nazi movement, Golden Dawn is currently led by Nikolaos Michaloliakos, a Holocaust denier who has spent time in prison for attacking journalists and carrying illegal guns and explosives. Golden Dawn has been accused of sparking xenophobic violence by promoting anti-immigration policies, and its political symbol bears a striking resemblance to the swastika.
The group now plans to “create cells in every corner of the globe”, and as part of this plan has established a group in Australia to “fight and defend both of our countries with pride and honour“.
Reports suggest the group has more than 200 members and 3000 followers in Melbourne, and plans for Golden Dawn MPs to visit later this year have sparked a firestorm of protest from Greek communities and civil activists. Many prominent Greeks are attempting to prevent them from entering the country, but early indications suggest the government won’t deny them visas.
The rise of Golden Dawn is alarming. There is widespread anger in Greece at the austerity measures imposed by the government and the EU, and by tapping into this fury, movements such as Golden Dawn can draw a level of support previously unattainable.
Expanding the base beyond Greece is the obvious next step when you consider the Greek diaspora is estimated at over seven million, compared to the 11 million people living in Greece. Of the diaspora, 300,000 live in Melbourne alone, making it the world’s third largest Greek city. Many of these expats would now be relatively wealthy compared to those still living in Greece, and their support would go a long way to prop up the organisation financially and give it a sense of international legitimacy.
In saying that, many within the Greek community I have spoken to are both concerned and adamant that the Golden Dawn has no place in contemporary politics. It was reported the Golden Dawn did turn up at the annual Greek festival in Melbourne in mid-March.
This was a sore point with many in the Greek community who were quite angry at their attendance, while simultaneously emphasising that in democracy, all voices emerge. The organising committee, whose members recently invited me to speak at the Antipodes lecture series, made it clear in conversations that the Golden Dawn were neither invited nor welcomed.
This group of progressive, liberal-minded cultural and even political activists, also raised the irony of migrants taking an anti-migrant position.
The rise of far-right extremists in Europe, however, is not just limited to Greece, as many new parties in countries from the United Kingdom to Finland are seeking to capitalise on growing unemployment and rising immigration to help spread their nationalist sentiments. Most of these groups target young adults, pointing to the depressed economic conditions and entrenched youth unemployment to promote strident anti-immigration rhetoric.
Like Golden Dawn, these groups typically espouse extreme right-wing positions of blaming migrants, detecting Jewish conspiracies in any successful business and communist sedition in anyone wearing a red t-shirt, it has no other discernable features.
This is not to make light of an organisation like Golden Dawn that seems to be comfortable promoting violence, racism and take advantage of genuine frustrations. Rather like any other fascist movement, it is based on a brittle and somewhat absurd foundation that would be comedic if not so concerning.
These are the unintended consequences of the austerity package placed on nations such as Greece: and it is time to recognise that forcing a nation into ever deeper recession sows the seeds for such movements.
Golden Dawn is not alone in looking beyond national borders to further the cause. In February this year, the Dutch far-right nationalist Geert Wilders visited Australia on a speaking tour organised by the anti-Islamic Q society – who even hate halal food – sparking protests and renewed discussions about immigration. It appears as though Australia might have to get used to MPs from these far-right movements visiting our country.
I am not a fan of withholding visas from visitors I do not agree with. But perhaps the government should prepare a series of behaviour protocols for those who do come – explaining to them the history of migration, the thousands of years of peaceful co-existence of cultures and as Paul Keating still reminds us, the many risks of letting the racial genie out of the bottle.