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Identity Politics Thu Dec 13 2012
In the wake of Greece's economic meltdown, several factions have jockeyed for power amid social unrest, soaring debts and austerity measures both complicated and controversial. Perhaps the most notorious of these groups is the increasingly popular far-right, anti-immigrant Chrysi Avgi (Golden Dawn) Party, which won 18 seats in the country's Parliament back in June 2012, despite (or because of) their neo-Nazi imagery, hardline nationalism, and links to attacks on Asian and African migrants.
Not content to proselytizing in their homeland, Golden Dawn has started to expand worldwide.
Barely a month after their electoral victories, Golden Dawn launched a widely-criticized branch in Melbourne, Australia, home to one of the largest Greek populations outside of Athens. In October, several groups protested the opening of a Golden Dawn office in New York City, which had opened for the explicit purpose of building support for the party among Greek expatriate communities and collecting food and medicine to distribute in Greece -- but only for Greeks. And in Montreal, Golden Dawn is holding a Christmas food drive. The catch? They're only giving food out to Greek Christians.
But this quote near the bottom of the last story is what really caught my eye:
"Golden Dawn members in the United States have told CBC News they plan to open chapters shortly in Chicago, in Connecticut and in Toronto."
Chicago has a sizable Greek community with a popular Greektown neighborhood. But Chicago also has sizable non-Greek communities, including the very same Asian, African and Jewish communities that Golden Dawn is dedicated to kicking out of Greece. Although Golden Dawn North America seems to have an official blog confirming the upcoming expansion into the aforementioned locations, I couldn't find any indication that the Chicago branch has "officially" launched.
In an amusing twist, most searches on Google for "Golden Dawn Chicago" point to something very different -- the local branch of a spinoff of Western Occultism/New Age spiritual mish-mashing pioneers, the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn.
Whether support for a party dedicated to a "state that constantly serves the eternal revolutionary principles of the nationalist worldview, with the ultimate goal of forming a new society and a new type of man" takes off in the Chicagoland Greek community remains to be seen. Just in the past few days, the party has seen its Athens office bombed by an anti-fascist group, and two of its members turned away from Greek Parliament for attempting to bring in guns. It's not uncommon for expatriate communities to feel strong ties to the homeland, but it'll be difficult for Golden Dawn to avoid scrutiny from Greek patriots and would-be donors the longer it stays cloaked with the specter of violence.
But the group is not likely to apologize for its public stances or actions any time soon. In response to the Montreal food drive controversy, the Golden Dawn North America blog lashed out against the Jewish groups behind the protests for engaging in "racist hypocrisy" for not distributing aid to non-Jewish groups in Greece.
Meanwhile, some outlets are reporting that Golden Dawn plans to launch an organization in Greece called "Doctors Within Borders" -- a group that would only medically treat Greeks. The irony here is that a group claiming to preserve the Greek people and their historical identity is getting ready to throw away the very basis of medical ethics established in the Hippocratic Oath -- a Greek doctrine dating back to the 5th century B.C.
Greece is not the only European country facing a surge in right-wing nationalist fervor, nor is the only part of the world plagued with increasingly widespread ethnic and religious xenophobia and violence. Likewise, there are no easy answers to Greece's economic problems, nor the economic problems leading people to leave their countries in favor of Greece and the rest of Europe.
But there's a certain tragic symbolism to seeing Greek civil society deteriorate alongside other parts of the world. As Human Rights Watch's Europe Director Jan Egelund put it to TIME, "If we give up on Greece, this cradle of civilization, philosophy and humanism, how can we make progress in the Congo, or Afghanistan or Syria?"