The Greek elections on Sunday were notable for the rejection of the two political parties which had controlled government, and the ascendency of two groups that had been merely sideshow performers in Greece until then. One of these is the Greek Communist Party, which secured 8% of the vote; the other is the Golden Dawn, which won 7%. It is hard to imagine a new government forming without either one or both of these nascent organizations being part of it. What is the Golden Dawn? What can we learn from this election result?
The Golden Dawn describes itself as a people’s nationalist movement. It takes on a number of policy positions that have led many observers in Europe, who are clearly nervous about the Greek election results, to become fearful. Some of these positions include planting land mines along the border to keep immigrants out of the country and forcing immigrants into work camps. In the previous election, the party received .3% of the vote. Now, with the economic upheaval in the country, their power has vastly increased.
Greek voters, as are those throughout Europe, are angry at the measures that their nation has taken following the economic crisis of 2008-09. In the minds of the voters there, the measures taken are austere, including salary and pension cuts, as well as tax hikes. The nation has seen a huge increase in the unemployment rate; as well, over 10,000 businesses have closed. The two centrist political parties that had advocated the concessions that the government had taken so that it could receive a massive bailout lost much of their support; in order to retain power, they will be required to form a coalition with either Golden Dawn or the Communists.
Now, let’s look at a previous time in history. After World War I, Germany signed the Treaty of Versailles, in which it took full responsibility for the war, and agreed to pay all damages that the war had caused to some of the conquering nations, especially France. The Weimar Republic, which was the first democracy established in Germany, had a difficult time maintaining its power because of this, since many in the nation felt that the government had betrayed them at the behest of foreign interests. By the time of the German elections in 1932, the government had lost the ability to stay in power alone; at the same election, the Communist Party and the National Socialist Party both threatened to take control of the government.
The Soviet Union’s leaders told the rest of the world that its economy was unaffected by the Great Depression; however, it was incredibly secretive about it. So, the rest of the world was afraid that the Communists would take over in Germany. So, the German leaders entered into a coalition with the National Socialists. We all know the rest of the story.
The point of this little story is that when economic times deteriorate, people lose confidence in typical democratic channels. They’re then willing to try any possible solution, so they are more likely to elect far right or far left politicians. If Greece decides to mitigate its position on repayment of its debt, or changes its austerity plans, we can expect most of the primarily southern European nations to follow suit. This will likely cause a collapse of the European economy, and a deterioration in ours, as well.