I remember when I went to Greece for the last time. The country was still wealthy, peaceful, overall optimistic. First signs of deterioration were visible. We had to be more careful, hide our wallets to avoid pick-pocketing. But the situation wasn’t too bad. People didn’t know what awaited them. Years of plenty had created a psychological mechanism of protection – one saw a terrible storm looming on the horizon, but one turned one’s back and preferred to ignore it. Poverty and social unrest seemed to be a thing of the past, unimaginable in the 21st century.
But that was an illusion. Since 2008 unemployment has surged, living standards have worsened, taxation and austerity measures have paralysed the economy. I haven’t been to Greece after 2008, but I’ve heard that signs of decay are ubiquitous – closed shops, criminality, destitution. Some of my Greek friends in Berlin and their families back home were themselves affected.
Hopelessness, despair, and anger have spread like a disease. And one of the results has been the resurgence of far-right movements, which exploit emotions, channel frustration and hatred into propaganda. Using desperation and resentment to propagate their ideology, they create the need for action. And mostly, action means violence.
The party that has most profited from economic and political turmoil is “Golden Dawn”, a neo-fascist organisation. Golden Dawn is penetrating the body of society like a deadly virus, and no one seems able to stop it. Their acts of aggression against political opponents and immigrants are notorious. The murder of left-wing singer Pavlos Fyssas a few months ago has been their most high-profile crime so far. Yet their misdeeds are numerous, and they affect more and more people who used to believe they were safe from right-wing extremism. One of the most horrifying cases, which has become known only recently, is that of a young student, disfigured and almost killed by members of the Golden Dawn.
As Athens Voice reported, on January 28, 2013, a 17-year-old student was severely wounded by members of the Golden Dawn. He was assaulted in front of the school doors and stabbed in the face and throat. Thereupon the assailants disfigured him by cutting off his nose. A macabre, mafia-style torture. Apparently, the wounds inflicted on the teenager resemble those of murdered singer Pavlos Fyssas, suggesting a standardised method of vendetta.
The attack was a punishment meted out to the boy because he had written on the school bench of one of his fellow students, who had recently become a member of the Golden Dawn, the word “ANTIFA” (=anti-fascist).
In the meantime, European countries remain indifferent. They demand sacrifices from the Greeks, they ignore the impossible situation that has developed there and that becomes increasingly unbearable. The media talk about human rights in places like China. But what happens at home they ignore, because such news don’t sell. Who cares about Greece? Branded cheaters and loafers by public opinion, the Greeks are deemed unworthy even of compassion.
As I have pointed out several times, I believe that neoliberal orthodoxy with its instinctive and irrational aversion to industrial policy, to the demands of the middle class and workers, with its ideological rejection of tariffs and state regulation and intervention, is responsible for the present plight. Instead of trying out different ways to bring people back to work and improve Greece’s industrial capacity, political leaders, mainstream economists and economic lobbies insist on prescribing the same wrong medicine to a patient whose condition is deteriorating by the day, amid general indifference and cynicism.