Writing in the Financial Times, Christopher Caldwell takes a characteristically sharp look at Greece’s crackdown on Golden Dawn.
He’s inclined to give the party (a little more of) the benefit of the doubt than I would:
The party’s manifesto warns that Greeks are “in danger of becoming ethnically cleansed in their native homeland”. But leader Nikos Michaloliakos said this week: “I am not a Nazi.” There is no particular reason to disbelieve him. Alien though most Greeks find his ideology, it appears cobbled together out of elements in their country’s authoritarian past, not Germany’s. His role models are the Spartans, Ioannis Metaxas, the 1930s hardline anti-communist prime minister, and the anti-communist “colonels” who ruled until 1974.
Hmmm, Metaxas was a rather rougher character than the terminology “hardline anti-communist” might suggest. It remains one of history’s ironies that a Greece run by Metaxas — an admirer of Mussolini — was invaded by Italy in 1940, and ancient Sparta (think Lycurgus) is not an entirely comforting precedent either . . .
Caldwell continues (my emphasis added):
Almost every foreign observer notes that not since the colonels has any Greek government moved against opposition parties in this way. Greeks remember that period as an abusive dictatorship.
Thereafter, Greece put into place strong protections for even the most unpopular views. Its constitution does not permit the outlawing of political parties, although it does allow banning criminal organisations. This is the tack the government is following. In going after Golden Dawn, prosecutors must distinguish between criminal violence, which is unacceptable in a democratic system, and ideology, which Greece has promised to respect, in all its occasionally disheartening variety.
The Greek state’s ability to do that is open to question. Certainly it is serious about proving Golden Dawn a criminal organisation. The National Intelligence Service has been tapping party members’ phones for years, and its recordings include several made around the time of last month’s murder. Leaked wiretap evidence is alleged to link prominent members to pimping, protection rackets and money laundering.
Worries about the strength of the case spread this week when judges ordered the release of three of the arrested MPs. One prosecutor said the party used a “Führerprinzip”, as Adolf Hitler’s Nazi party did. But doesn’t every organisation have a leadership principle? He noted that Golden Dawn is divided into a political and an operational wing, and added that Golden Dawn has weapons hidden throughout Greece. Might it have been wiser to wait until those caches were discovered before proceeding? Mr Samaras’s government risks looking opportunistic. It is pursuing legislation to suspend funding for parties charged with – as opposed to convicted of – crimes.
And that may be the point most worth watching in this story. State funding of political parties is a feature of many European nations, and it is, quite clearly, something that can be abused in the interests of a profoundly anti-democratic agenda (take a look at this, posted on the Corner earlier this year for more on this topic).
Give me Citizens United any day.
The one and only.