Liana Kanelli / photo by Ari Paul
Adolf is coming, warned Liana Kanelli, Greek communist and Member of Parliament, during our July interview in her office in the parliament building in central Athens.
Were there no video of her being assaulted by a member of the Greek neo-fascist party Golden Dawn on a TV news program in June, Kanelli would have remained unknown in the United States. But the feisty lawmakers tussle showed the world how the Greek economic crisisexacerbated by Northern European demands for more unpopular austerity measuresis opening a Pandoras box of extremism.
Kanelli, a former journalist, is the contradictory face of the Greek Communist Party (KKE), a staunchly Stalinist group that is Greeces oldest active party and survived underground for decades after World War II. She speaks for the party, notorious for its top-down structure and doctrinal obedience, yet is not herself a member. Though an atheist, she wears the symbol of Greek Orthodoxy on her neck.
But her political message is clear: the austerity measures imposed by the Troika (the European Union, the European Central Bank, and the International Monetary Fund) and German Chancellor Angela Merkel amount to colonization. The forced wage and pension cuts, the privatization of public services, and the sale of public assets are letting foreign profiteers gobble up the nations resources at the peoples expense.
And now Kannelli sees the disturbing rise of fascism as furthering the goals of the EUs conquest of Greece. Golden Dawn is a very useful tool for the capitalist crisis, she said. They can be used for the dark part of the job.
Golden Dawn is attempting to gain state funding for private security firms to patrol immigrant neighborhoods, Kanelli claims. The party dispatches motorcycle gangs to harass and intimidate immigrants in the streets of Athens. Kanelli and others accuse the police of protecting Golden Dawn during these hunts. The allegation isnt shocking, since an estimated 50 percent of Greek police officers voted for Golden Dawn in the May and June elections.
The party, whose slogan is Greece for the Greeks, has been able to capitalize on both the widespread anger toward austerity and the need for a scapegoat. Its not Greek business owners but African immigrants selling knock-off items by the Acropolis who are siphoning money away from value-added taxes and bankrupting the treasury. Its not the economic crisis that explains high unemployment, but the South Asians coming to take the limited jobs available.
The group also does grassroots organizing, setting up blood banks and food distribution tables for Greeks only, which simultaneously provides a social service and reinforces nationalistic rhetoric. This is truly neo-Mengelism, Kanelli said, referring to the racial theories of the Nazi doctor Josef Mengele.
Hyperbole aside, theres reason to fear that Golden Dawn extremism will catch on. As one anti-racist organizer explained, people are beginning to casually express their anger at foreigners. She recalled a woman getting into an elevator with her and decrying the number of immigrants there were in Athens, as if she was commenting on the weather. The government detains migrant workers in makeshift camps and in August announced that it would deport 1,600 immigrants after a massive roundup. Public Order Minister Nikos Dendias of the center-right New Democracy party was quoted calling immigration a bomb at the foundations of the society and of the state.
There is a course of action Kanelli and the KKE could take to counter the rise of the neo-fascist right. They could join the once-obscure Coalition of the Radical Left (SYRIZA), an amalgamation of social democratic and anti-capitalist parties that has become the largest opposition party in parliament, in part because of its popularity in working-class neighborhoods and its opposition to Europes austerity measures. Many of Greeces infamous anarchists, who had previously shunned voting, chose instead to hold their noses and support SYRIZA for fear that, absent a credible political counterforce, Golden Dawn would capitalize on anti-austerity sentiment.
However, Kanelli and the KKE have so far spurned SYRIZAs attempts to reach out. Obsessed with party discipline and protective of its footholds in key industrial unions such as the All Workers Military Front (PAME), the KKE has resisted teaming up with a larger anti-austerity movement that doesnt answer to its leadership.
SYRIZA is a melting pot of different small parties with ideological differences, said Kanelli, dismissing the partys motley leftism. Theres a historical impossibility to working with SYRIZA.
The standoff has ironically reduced the KKE to the status of a conservative party more interested in keeping its little fiefdom than fomenting revolution or combating neo-fascism. In fact, in an anti-government demonstration last year, KKE members joined Greek police in attacking left-wing demonstrators.
With 71 of the 300 seats in parliamentsecond only to New DemocracySYRIZA has a shot at control if and when the shaky pro-austerity coalition collapses, but the fragmentation and discontent on the left are all thats propping up austerity politics, to the fascists gain. Golden Dawn may have attacked Kanelli on Greek television, but the party should be thanking the KKE instead.
Ari Paul is a frequent contributor to the Indypendent, and has also written for The Nation, The Guardian, The Forward, Dissent, and other publications.