The Corner

Golden Dusk?

One of the more unsettling examples of the threat that the ruin brought by the euro has posed to Europe’s political stability has been the way that economic collapse has helped fuel the rise of Greece’s neo-Nazi Golden Dawn, a party that won 7 percent of the votes in the last election. Golden Dawn is a deeply unpleasant organization with a stink of the paramilitary about it, and it appeared to have the Greek government running more than a little scared. The killing of an anti-fascist rapper by a self-professed member of Golden Dawn may have changed that. The Guardian’s Helena Smith takes up the story:

Overnight, Fyssas [the rapper] had become a martyr – with the far-rightists deemed to have crossed a red line, despite Golden Dawn’s vehement protestations that it had no connection with the crime. Thousands took to the streets. After months of tolerating a group that had brutalised society – spawning a climate of fear among immigrants, attacking gays, holding “Greek only” food handouts and coarsening political exchange with rants about “subhuman foreigners” in the Athens parliament – Antonis Samaras’s fragile coalition finally took action….

And, when it did, it acted with an alacrity and determination that few might have envisaged. In the space of 10 days, Golden Dawn branches across the nation were raided and searched, members were arrested, weapons confiscated and sympathetic police officers removed from posts. In the early hours of Saturday came the next step: the arrest of five of the organisation’s senior members, including its rabble-rousing leader, Nikos Michaloliakos, and 14 prominent cadres. All 19 were due to appear late on Saturday before a public magistrate on charges of forming a criminal gang.

Not since the return of democracy after the collapse of military rule in 1974 has a party been so publicly hounded. The arrests will undoubtedly unleash new tensions on to a political scene already poisoned by profound disillusionment with an establishment widely blamed for the financial mess that has lead to the nation’s economic and social meltdown.

Adding to the crippling sense of uncertainty hanging over Greeks, Michaloliakos himself pledged that the campaign against his party would “open the gates of hell” before his arrest at his home early on Saturday. As Golden Dawn supporters gathered outside the gargantuan central police headquarters in Athens – blue and white Greek flags in hand underscoring their ultranationalist views – it remained unclear how the extremist organisation would react….

The government, which had come under increasing pressure to clamp down on an organisation now viewed as the continent’s most violent political force, has won plaudits for the decisiveness with which it has ultimately cracked down on the group. Polls have shown a sudden drop in support for Golden Dawn, with conservatives who had migrated to the far right in disgust with Samaras’s own centre-right New Democracy party returning to the fold. But the far-rightists have also managed to retain their core support with successive polls this week showing that the party still remained Greece’s third biggest political force. If need be, Michaloliakos and his cadres have vowed to fight their corner from inside prison cells.

Many have voiced concerns that the crackdown could backfire. The government is wading into uncharted waters, constitutionally, with experts emphasising the impossibility of outlawing a party catapulted into parliament by democratic means…

“It may have been more correct constitutionally to have sought parliament’s approval to lift their political immunity first,” said the constitutional law professor Kostas Chrysogonos.

Dangerous territory.

Meanwhile Der Spiegel is running an interview with the German finance minister, Wolfgang Schäuble, a eurofundamentalist, but one who has not entirely lost sight of economic reality. The whole piece is well worth reading, not least for the mention of Tim Geithner’s role in the decision to keep Greece within the euro, but this, in particular, caught my eye:

Nevertheless, have there been situations in his last three years as finance minister when Schäuble feared that he was barking up the wrong tree? “It would certainly be strange,” he says, “if you hadn’t wondered at some point during the euro crisis: My God, are we on the right path?” Of course, says Schäuble, there were times when he and others wondered whether the European Union would survive or the grand project would indeed fail. “What would have happened if a revolution had erupted in one of the countries?” Schäuble says.

Oh no, there was nothing irresponsible about the way that the euro was set up, nothing at all.