Recently in Greece, the far-right political party “Golden Dawn” (Chrysi Avgi in Greek) declared that if given the power it would implement drastic measures to keep immigrants from flowing into the country, including distributing landmines on the border of Greece and Turkey.
The announcement is troubling, not because a border-line neo-Nazi–or, at the very least neo-Fascist party–made such statements (extreme right wing groups do exist and make far worse suggestion in countries across the western world) but because the party has actually made significant political progress earning 21 seats in the Greek parliament. Economic turmoil has plagued Greece in recent years, and the shift in voters sympathy towards right-wing parties may be in response to disillusionment and frustration at the more moderate political parties failures to solve the economic woes of the country. Other possible reasons for the party’s gain may be that a significant minority of the Greek population really do favour the far right ideology and the hard-times have led some members of the population to identify and target scapegoats such as immigrants. Such questions are beyond my knowledge and expertise. My real interest with this story lies in the proposal to use landmines for immigrant border control.
In my last post I outlined the historical precedents of antipersonnel landmines: traps, spikes, and caltrops. Their initial purpose was strategic; slow down enemy attacks, eat up their resources and concentrate their advance in a direction that is beneficial to one’s defences. Golden Dawn’s proposal to use AP mines to keep out immigrants is certainly very different than the above motives, but not surprisingly a constant can be found: using the land to control your enemies advances. In an age of decreasing interstate warfare, a decline of production of AP mines by a significant number of the world’s states, and a growing taboo in Western society against their use, landmines may in the future continue to become the domain of extreme groups such as Golden Dawn. I think therefore that this bizarre story requires some explanation. Why would the party go to such extremes and what would they hope to achieve?
An examination of Golden Dawn’s proposal reveals that the party shares characteristics with the fascist groups of the early 20th century and neo-Nazi extremists in the United States. These characteristics include finding scapegoats for economic and social problems, using geography to control history, and a dangerous ideological worldview that targets ethnic minorities.
The Far-Right and Scapegoats
As Harvard Psychologist Steven Pinker explains in his excellent book The Better Angels Of Our Nature, people naturally categorize other groups of people based on identifiable patterns such as shared beliefs, customs, affiliations and superficial appearances. And while this categorizing can lead to discrimination, stereotyping and racism, it is not necessarily a negative feature of humanity. If people did not have features in common, Pinker notes “there would be no cultural diversity to celebrate and no ethnic qualities to be proud of. Groups of people cohere because they really do share traits, albeit statistically.” This natural feature of the human brain becomes dangerous when groups of people come into conflict, or as in the case of Greece and Turkey, share a border with one another. As a recent article in the New York Times explains:
With what critics say is a poorly policed border with Turkey, Greece is seen as an entry point for illegal immigrants, some of them asylum seekers but most intent on moving to more promising economic terrain in Northern and Western Europe. But many of the immigrants remain in Greece or are returned there after being deported from other countries in Europe. This has stoked fears here of an onslaught of illegal immigrants, who economists say bear little or no responsibility for Greece’s economic troubles but who make easy scapegoats for politicians across the spectrum.
An inability to control the complex systems of economics leads certain individuals to find scapegoats, and there is no easier scapegoat than the outsider, such as immigrants from Turkey who really do statistically share a culture alien to some Greeks. The Nazis blamed the economic situation of Germany, and the loss the First World War on internal enemies, specifically the Jews and Bolsheviks. Communists and Socialists within Italy were the targets of Mussolini’s Black Shirts. More recently, in the post-Vietnam era, disenfranchised young-men found scapegoats in Jews, African Americans and other minorities in response to the sweeping rights movements in the United States. As Historian Evelyn A. Schlatter explains “Some white American men,” in response to shifting gender roles, progressiveness along racial lines, and the defeat of the United States by a militarily inferior force “perhaps began to dream about the powers and features of another kind of man who could retake and reorder the world. The hero in all of these victorious fantasies was the paramilitary warrior….He returns the America to an imaginary golden age, a time before Vietnam, before feminism, and before civil rights.” A paramilitary culture became expressed in films, magazines, and books, including the widely successful Rambo series. Some of these young men formed white-supremacist and neo-Fascist movements such as “the Order” and “Aryan Nations” which found their “golden age” not coincidentally, in the 1980s as the young men of the post-Vietnam era came to age.
A paramilitary culture seems to have taken hold within Golden Dawn, where bands of young men resembling vigilante squads have been known to clash with immigrant communities and left-wing parties, often violently. Not unlike the pogroms that accompanied Europe centuries ago, or the lynching in the southern American states, Golden Dawn recently participated in “anti-immigrant rampage” for several days after a Greek man was killed in Athens while walking to his car with his pregnant wife.
The vigilantism resulting in racist violence may be due to an increase in disillusionment with traditional Greek police forces and politicians. Criminologists and legal scholars have argued that only a minority of homicides are committed “as a means to a practical end,” such as killing someone to claim their property or money, or silencing a victim after a robbery or rape. Instead, the vast majority of homicides (around 90 percent) are so-called moralistic–at least from the vantage point of the perpetrator. These are homicides where the perpetrator feels violated morally and seeks out their own brand of self justice independent of the state such as retaliation, punishment, jealousy, revenge and self-defence. (The recent murder of Trayvon Martin by a community watch dog may be a recent example of this mentality gone horribly wrong). The proposal to use landmines is ironically and disturbingly moralistic at it’s core; Golden Dawn perceives immigrants as the greatest threat to economic security in Greece and the party would be administering it’s own brand of justice to prevent further economic depravity.
Geography and White Supremacy
Golden Dawn has denied that it is “neo-Nazi.” Such labels can get bogged down into semantics but the claim does seem to have some legitimacy. As the New York Times has pointed out the party’s flag boasts a symbol similar to the swastika, and it’s color patterns are identical to that of the Nazi flag. Copies of Mein Kampf and “books on the racial superiority of the Greeks” are reportedly prominently displayed in its headquarters. Its leader Nikos Michaloliakos has called the group “national socialist” and leading official Ilias Kasidiaris denied the Holocaust, stating: “The main view in Europe is that six million Jews were killed. History has shown that this is a lie.”
The party certainly has shared characteristics with neo-Nazi or white supremacist groups in the United States. For example, according to it’s Wikipedia article (English articles/sources on the party are difficult to find), it organizes white power concerts, has a magazine which is a sister publication of the American white-supremacist magazine Resistance, and has apparently even been associated with William Luther Pierce, author of the white-supremacist manifesto The Turner Diaries, a book where a group known as “the Organization,” start a race war in the United States, overthrow the government, and proceed to launch nuclear weapons at Israel, New York City, and regions of the U.S.S.R.
The fictional “Organization” was the inspiration for the 1980s neo-Nazi group “the Order” who, as part of their quest to establish an all-white American homeland in the Pacific Northwest carried out armed robberies, stealing over $3.5 million, to fund their war against the American government. The Order’s motives are worth noting due to their fondness for geographical control and their similarity to the worldview of Hitler. Hitler’s foreign policy was one of “race and space,” meaning expanding Germany’s territorial empire into the U.S.S.R. and cleansing the Reich of so-called racial inferiors. Likewise, the Order wanted to take control of America’s mountain and forest regions in the Northwest and expel any minorities who they viewed as responsible for the moral and economic depravity of America. Such territory offered a haven away from urban centres and the borders of Mexico, where the influx of migration occurred. In the north, mountain ranges and vast forest regions offered natural borders, making the Pacific Northwest a desirable area of land to create their racial utopia. White supremacist and former member of the Aryan Nations and the Order, David Lane once commented that the Marine’s Hymn which sings “From the Halls of Montezuma, To the shores of Tripoli; We fight our country’s battles In air, on land, and sea; First to fight for right and freedom And to keep our honor clean…” should instead “sing of enforcing immigration laws from the shores of Florida to the borders of Texas and California.” In both of these examples, geography serves as a catalyst to controlling and even “ending” history. Once the all-white or “Aryan” homeland is established and protected, there would theoretically be no more conflict among the population, since according to fascist utopia ideologies, history is the result of the clash of races.
Golden Dawn’s proposal of using landmines as border control is troubling, but it is even more concerning if their ideology is as racial as other white supremacy groups in the United States that it has allegedly been associated with. The landmines concept is not in principle about killing immigrants (as the party has emphasized), but it may be far worse, as it could be symptomatic of a group who wishes to racially control its population. The landmines seem to be about containment not violence, but with such ideologies violence is inevitable. If the group is willing to use explosives too keep immigrants out, it seems likely that they are capable of extending force to realize an insane goal. Genocides, ethnic cleansings and mass atrocities against ethnic populations begin with such Utopian world-views. It must be emphasized that I am not claiming such an outcome will happen, it seems unlikely, and much would have to occur to escalate Golden Dawn or other far right parties into the realms of genocidal activity, but it is not impossible given Golden Dawn’s ideology.
This leads me to one final similarity between Golden Dawn and other national socialist ideologies that make the landmine proposal extremely disturbing; the use of biological metaphors and language. In referring to their program against immigrants, members of the party have been quoted as making such statements as “cleaning up the city…removing the dirt,” and “This is our party’s program, for a clean Greece, only for Greeks, a safe Greece” (my emphasis added).
Such use of words may seem innocuous but there are many historical precedents to make one concerned, especially when placed within the context of a group who shares similarities and characteristics with violent racist organizations. Biological metaphors can be found in nearly all genocides and ethnic conflicts. Two examples among countless others include the use of the word “cockroach” during the Rwandan genocide and Adolf Hitler’s fondness for the words “viruses” and “parasites” when describing the “Jewish problem.” Why such metaphors are so common is not entirely certain, but several reasons are possible. For starters, it is a way to devalue and dehumanize an enemy, making it easier to justify hatreds and murder. The concentration camp system under the Nazis is a perfect example. If Jews were not immediately killed in the extermination centres in the East, they were contained in brutal prisons where they were malnourished, beaten, overworked and forced to defecate in their living quarters. The Allies liberating camps across Europe towards the end of the war witnessed the aggregate of this depravity in horrible detail. Soldiers came home with stories of emaciated prisoners (or “walking skeletons”) reduced to lying in their own filth and sharing the camp ground with stacks of corpses (video of the Dachau camp liberation below). These were the conditions not because the Jewish prisoners were any less sanitary than other inmates by nature, but because the Nazis enforced a system of dehumanization that reinforced racial stereotypes. The camps became a breeding ground for diseases and the Jews the carriers due to their malnutrition and living conditions. Thus, the Nazis created among a group of people conditions that conformed to a biological ideology: the Jews were filthy because as the Nazis’ mortal enemy, they did not deserve proper treatment; according to an SS guard however, the Jews were filthy because Jews were subhuman. The horrendous depravity in the camp inevitably led to heightened frustration towards inmates, making cooperation, friendship and solidarity all the more difficult. Only in the inverted world of the Nazi camps is it difficult to judge someone for being relieved when their bunk partner–who cannot control or clean up their excrement–is sent to the crematorium. Not only because the frustration passed but because your own life was now less susceptible to disease or mental illness. Jews were reduced to the level of animalistic behaviour because that was how the Nazis viewed them. For instance Primo Levi described the concentration camp system as “a great machine [designed] to reduce us to beasts.”
Biological metaphors play off human nature. Societies thrive in a clean environment, where disease is contained and cooperation brings mutual benefit. Above, I called life in a Nazi camp as an “inverted world” because the environment is the exact opposite of clean and cooperative society, it is a world designed to transform ordinary people into the literal filth that was once only metaphorical language. As Steven Pinker explains:
The human mind has evolved a defense against contamination by biological animal parts, parasitic insects and worms, and vectors of disease, disgust impels people to eject the polluting substance and anything that looks like it or has been in contact with it. Disgust is easily moralized, defining a continuum in which one pole is identified with spirituality, purity, chastity, and cleansing and the other with animality, defilement, carnality, and contamination. And so we see disgusting agents as not just physically repellent but treacherous person use a disease vector as their vehicle–a rat, a louse, a worm, a cockroach. The infamous 1990s term for forced displacement and genocide was ethnic cleansing.
Biological metaphors serve another function, they make it possible that the problem can be solved, that the contamination is treatable and more importantly necessary and desirable. Reducing Greek’s economic situation to immigrants is easier when one views the outsiders as somehow unsanitary or as purely “dirt.” Again one can see that the perpetrators moralize their violence. Landmines will keep the “dirt” out of the country and allow for a clean, trusting, and homogeneous society that will be free of economic problems and poverty. This of course is a ridiculous worldview but rather than brushing it off as purely lunatic, it is important to note that very sane and otherwise rational people can become champions for extreme and ludicrous ideas. We should take their claims seriously and try to understand and explain their views, rather than ignore them. What would it look like if Golden Dawn was given the opportunity to enforce its anti-immigration measures? How much force would be used and how far would they go? I do not claim to be an expert on the party, but history tells me that nothing good can come from a party who wants to use geography, force and explosives to target minority populations and force them out of their country.