As Greece is heading for a snap general election on 20 September, political parties set out strategies how to mobilise sympathisers and lure voters away from their political rivals. Apart from going through the usual communication channels, the main party leaders this time also had the opportunity to share their visions in a televised debate broadcasted on September 9. Even though this initiative was initially seen as a positive step in helping people make informed decisions on salient issues such as the ongoing refugee crisis and the recently signed bailout programme, the fact that Golden Dawn, which established itself as the third political power in the previous election, was excluded from the debate, should not be overlooked.
Apparently, an intra-party committee which arranged the details of the public debate is responsible for this decision. Those who are not familiar with the situation in Greece may wonder why this particular party was kept out. To begin with, Golden Dawn constitutes an extremist offspring of the radical right party family with roots in Nazi ideology and rhetoric which propagates theories of racial and cultural purity. On top of that, the attitude of its members has been impudent and provocative over the years and often led to violent behaviour. The murder of Pavlos Fyssas, an anti-fascist rapper, in 2013, stands out among the criminal cases that Golden Dawn appears to have been involved in and is one of the main reasons why the justice system started paying attention to its practices. The trial which began last April is still underway and investigates whether 69 members of the party, some of whom high in the hierarchy, were participants in a criminal organisation.
Still, the Supreme Court of Greece in a recent decision allowed Golden Dawn to take part in the upcoming elections. And since the party is not yet outlawed and there is no final decision regarding its actions, Golden Dawn should not be treated as an outcast. By doing so, mainstream and left-wing parties, which perceive themselves as carriers of democracy and tolerance, run the risk of being accused of discrimination. No wonder that part of Golden Dawn’s narrative is mainly based on the notion that its members are the victims of a corrupt and established elite system that prefers to isolate the only voice of truth trying in this way to cover its weaknesses and deceive the Greek people. Freedom of expression is a universal human right and it should not be compromised, even in cases where harsh statements make us feel uncomfortable. This is emphasised in an excellent article by Jamie Bartlett where he pleads that “we should cherish and defend the right to free expression, and realize that democracies are noisy, chaotic places to live, where good and bad ideas clash.”
To delve into the reasons why radical right parties emerge and endure over time is a daunting task and it comes as no surprise that there are no one-size-fits-all counter-measures; each country has its own peculiarities which have to be taken into account. A report conducted by the policy institute Chatham House points out that exclusion of radical right parties from public debate and public office should not be given the preference as a policy response because it is doubtful whether it will produce the desired results. Evidence has shown that radical right parties forced to remain in the margins of political life are likely to embrace and follow more extreme positions, while at the same time voters can hardly be convinced to switch stance because of their party’s alienation. Because of the latter, supporters of radical right ideas may react firstly, by further adhering to the ideological orientation of their elected representatives and secondly, by creating bonds with each other that are difficult to break (i.e. a sign of political polarisation in society that needs to be addressed right away).
To sum up, my main argument in this blog post is that Golden Dawn has the right to freely express and defend its beliefs even if mainstream and left/wing political parties find them abhorrent, racist or offensive; besides, there are legal processes to protect citizens from opinions or acts that cross the line. Democracy is an open space where opposing views should be heard and challenged, especially before general elections, so that people can compare different perspectives and make better choices for their lives. Exclusion as a response strategy on the contrary helps the radical right to adopt a narrative of victimhood, underestimates the power of dialogue and signals a dysfunctional political system.
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Andreas Dafnos is a Junior Research Scholar at the Greek think tank Strategy International. Holding a double Master’s Degree from the Maastricht Graduate School of Governance and the United Nations University in Public Policy and Human Development, with a specialisation in Risk and Vulnerability, he will, in October, start a PhD in Politics at the University of Sheffield. His main publications are: ‘Narratives as a Means of Countering the Radical Right; Looking into the Trojan T-shirt Project’ and ‘Lone Wolf Terrorism as Category: Learning from the Breivik Case’ published by the Journal EXIT Deutschland. His academic interests cover the fields of radicalisation, extremism and violence and migration.