The Greek government has at last acted against a rightist group which is threatening both peace and social harmony in the country. Not only Greeks, all of Europe and the rest of the world have been watching with serious concern the rise of Golden Dawn, dubbed as a neo-fascist group, which has been so intensely anti-immigrant that non-Greeks in the country have been living with fear. The arrest of six Golden Dawn members has sent the right message to the public and those who are using xenophobia and racism to further their agenda. The arrests have been criticised as anti-democratic by some quarters, which argue that it’s an act of abuse of power for political ends and damages the rule of law. Even if this is true, such a measure is advisable in the face of a larger threat to democracy and peace when these forces go unchecked. What the Greek government has done is choose the least bad option.
The arrests came after the stabbing death of a left-wing rapper, Pavlos Fyssas, which was a clear example of the extremist tendencies of Golden Dawn. Such was the fury against the killing that the public support for the neo-fascist group dropped to seven percent from the post-election highs of 11 percent. The violent policies and actions of Golden Dawn, which has 18 members in Greece’s 300-seat Parliament, have been clear for at least two years. Human Rights Watch and others have documented an increasingly organised campaign by Golden Dawn members to terrorize immigrants. They ride on motorcycle hitting “immigrants” with clubs and iron spikes as they pass, attack business establishments owned by immigrants, and openly ask dark-skinned people where they are from before attacking them. What shocked the country was the report that the group enjoyed the support of some sections of the police force, who are alleged to have even trained some Golden Dawn members.
The rise of the right in Greece is an offshoot of the economic crisis it’s going through. With unemployment at unthinkable levels and huge sections of the population pushed into poverty, it’s natural that immigrants will be seen as taking away Greeks’ opportunities. All over Europe, this phenomenon is in display and anti-immigrant sentiments have been on the rise. When economy is booming and everybody enjoys equal opportunities, immigrants are welcomed with open arms, and when economy sputters and jobs are lost, they are hunted.
At the same time, the government in Athens must make sure that the arrested leaders get a fair trial. The government must tread cautiously to make sure that it doesn’t overreact. The rise in support for Golden Dawn is also an anti-establishment feeling and so the public will not tolerate excesses from the government too•