Below the surface of the global health crisis, Europe has experienced the disturbing return of far-right fascism. Greece is the first to deem its fascist party a criminal organization.
Rabat – Greek courts have sent an important signal to European politicians in labeling the country’s political party that espouses fascism as a criminal group. The court determined that it deserves nothing but prosecution. Following a five-year trial, Greek courts have found neo-Nazi leaders guilty of running a criminal gang.
The judiciary determined seven out of 18 leadership figures of the Golden Dawn were guilty of leading a criminal organization, and convicted the others of participating in one. Although the verdict does not mean the political party is officially banned, its leadership will soon be sentenced. A group of 20,000 anti-fascist protesters who had gathered outside the courthouse warmly welcomed the news.
Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis called Wednesday a “historic day” and expressed hope it would end a “traumatic cycle” of a crisis-driven rise of the extreme right. The ruling ended the rise of the “Golden Dawn” party, members of which, emboldened by its political victories, had engaged in violent acts against critics and opponents.
Golden Dawn’s evolution from activism to politics while slowly transitioning to organized violence should serve as a stark reminder of the path that fascist parties inevitably follow. Across Europe xenophobic parties, organized around single “strong” leaders like Geert Wilders or Marine Le Pen, are in an earlier stage of this evolution, and face little opposition from mainstream politics.
Rise of Greek fascism
The Greek economic crisis following its stand-off with the EU in 2010 provided a microcosm that should stand as a stark warning to European leaders about the rise of fascism. Amid a devastating national economic crisis, fascists from the Golden Dawn party used public discontent to recruit members and bring their ideology into the mainstream.
Greece’s post-crisis political turmoil resembles the rise of fascism within the European community in the 1930s. Frustrated with conventional politics, disenchanted voters lurched to the right and fell for the fascist promise of a strongmen-led nationalist government. The landmark ruling today should stem the threat of fascism rising to power in Greece, one that other European politicians should recognize in their own countries.
Appeasing European fascism
Europe is facing a crisis of despair among working-class and poor voters. Many have seen economic opportunities dry up just as austerity has superseded social benefits in previous decades. Yet many in Europe’s mainstream politics have done little to combat this despair, and have instead tried to compete for the xenophobic vote.
Anti-immigrant, anti-refugee, and Islamophobic rethoric European “populist” parties employ today eerily mirror the rhetoric employed to demonize the Jewish people in the 1930s. Yet centrist politicians are eagerly competing with the populists to win the vote of xenophobes by incorporating their hateful rhetoric.
The UK’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson moved further right on immigration to compete with the Brexit party and its predecessor Ukip amid Brexit chaos. The normally soft-spoken Dutch PM Mark Rutte said “act normal, or go back to your own country” during the 2017 election season to appease racist voters tempted by Geert Wilders’ openly Islamophobic party.
French President Emmanuel Macron on Friday made the same mistake by imagining “Islam in crisis” to compete for voters with Marine Le Pen’s xenophobic National Rally. No-less than Turkey’s near-fascist leader Erdogan was able to call him out on what was clearly a naked appeal to Islamophobic French voters.
Appeasing European fascism does nothing but grow its adherents. It makes their vile rhetoric mainstream, and it further emboldens aspiring fascists. The scourge of fascism has already resulted in a global war that witnessed the horrific bombing of major cities and the first use of nuclear weapons.
It is the historic responsibility of European politicians to confront fascism and destroy it in its infancy.
If anything, the weight of history demands this response. Never again can Europea see its leaders ignore, appease, or diminish the destructive power of white supremacy-fueled fascism. In reality, Europe is in crisis—a crisis of cowardice among its political class as xenophobia and racism again rear their ugly head within mainstream politics.
The example Greek courts set should be a stark reminder to Europe’s ruling elite. Confront and attack fascim now, before it again grows into a European disease that could draw the world into conflict. Appeasing fascists is not the way to mask the devastation left by misguided economics. It will not work now, just as it did not work in the 1930s.
Repeating the same mistakes now will forever diminish Europe’s standing in the world. Resolving economic angst can only succeed by alleviating the concerns of worried voters instead of scapegoating immigrants or followers of a particular minority religion. Many have tried the latter approach before and the world still lives with the devastating consequences.
The last time European leaders attempted to harness or appease fascism, it resulted in six million casualties of the Jewish diaspora, the hated minority religion in Europe at the time. They perished through unparalleled and industrialized cruelty. This happened because no one stood up as anti-semitism rose across Europe in the years leading up to World War 2.
It took 27 million Russian civilians and soldiers sacrificing themselves to beat back European fascism in the 1940s. Now is the time to make a stand and stop European fascism before it has the chance to reap such a toll. Europe’s elite needs to urgently follow the example set by Greece’s courts and truly say “never again.”