“Chaos” is a Greek word meaning “gaping void,” which seems an apt description for the current state of many public institutions in Greece as the government imposes drastic austerity measures amid a deepening debt crisis.
With one in four Greeks out of work and economic activity contracting nearly 7 percent in 2011, thousands of people feel abandoned by the state, which has exacerbated their hardships with further cuts in government spending in exchange for bailouts from euro zone countries to keep the government solvent.
In this void, thousands of anti-austerity protesters have taken to the streets with left-anarchist groups frequently clashing with police -- as during German Chancellor Angela Merkel's visit Tuesday -- but another faction within Greek society is responding to the state of chaos through different means, to present its own vision of order, and that vision is fascism.
The Golden Dawn Party, a fringe group when it was established in the 1990s, has been gaining wider support as the economic situation in Greece continues to devolve, campaigning on message of ultra-nationalism and hostility to immigrants.
But it is not merely the political message that has been drawing in support. The extremist movement has begun filling roles of collapsing institutions.
Members of the Golden Dawn have been distributing free groceries in public places, but only to people who provide identification proving Greek citizenship.
More controversial than selective charity, however, is the group’s alleged connection to attacks on immigrants and ethnic minorities and increasing involvement in vigilante law enforcement, often with the complicity of Greek police.
Reports of Greek police openly referring crime victims to the Golden Dawn have been surfacing. In a recent article, the Guardian reported that a Greek civil servant was told by police to seek help from the Golden Dawn after reporting an incident involving Albanian immigrants.
“They immediately said if it's an issue with immigrants go to Golden Dawn," said the government worker, who spoke only on condition of anonymity.
"We don't condone Golden Dawn, but there is an acute social problem that has come with the breakdown of feeling of security among lower and middle class people in the urban center,” she added. “If the police and official mechanism can't deliver and there is no recourse to justice, then you have to turn to other maverick solutions."
Golden Dawn thugs are also marching through night markets, targeting dark-skinned merchants and demanding to see permits, and destroying their stalls if they don’t have any documentation, the New York Times reported.
“We saw a few illegal immigrants selling their wares,” Giorgos Germenis, leader of a Golden Dawn vigilante group said in a video, according to a translation by the Times. “We did what Golden Dawn has to do.”
The Golden Dawn has tapped into growing frustration over rising illegal immigration, which it has pinned as the source of much of Greece’s deep economic woes.
“We have a major socioeconomic crisis in which several hundred thousand Greeks are losing ground,” Nikos Demertzis, a professor of political sociology at the University of Athens, told the Times.
“And you have a rising number of immigrants in Greece, many illegal. This is creating a volcanic situation where all the classic parameters for the flourishing of a far-right force like Golden Dawn are present.”
The Golden Dawn unexpectedly took 18 seats out of 300 in the parliamentary elections in June, while the conservative government has initiated stricter immigration policies and increased deportations, responding to increasing radicalization of the far right in Greece.
"I never imagined that something like Golden Dawn would happen here, that Greeks could vote for such people," Anna Diamantopoulou, a former European Union commissioner, told the Guardian.
"This policy they have of giving food only to the Greeks and blood only to the Greeks. The whole package is terrifying. This is a party based on hate of 'the other'. Now 'the other' is immigrants, but who will 'the other' be tomorrow?"
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