Golden Dawn rise illustrates cracks in Greece's social cohesion
10.10.13 @ 09:09
BRUSSELS - A few days ago the Greek police arrested the leadership of the neo-Nazi party Golden Down. According to the Public Persecutor, Golden Dawn is a criminal organisation of thugs that undermines the rule of law.
The acts of the organisation’s members and the political disposition of the organization itself fit the profile of what psychologists call a psychopathetic aggressor.
Such an actor is characterised by egocentricity, cruelty, lack of remorse and social polarization. In the case of the Golden Dawn, there is a long list of such examples.
These vary from ordering the journalists to stand up when the party leader entered the room for his press conference the night of the 7 May 2012 elections, to the murders of Greeks and immigrants, the human trafficking, the idealisation of Greeks and the belittlement of stigmatised social groups.
Golden Dawn was nothing but a fragment on the political spectrum, but has now become a force to reckon with. So, one has to wonder: How is extreme violence born and what can be done to prevent and reduce it?
Extensive studies at the university of Minnesota found that the simultaneous exposure to multiple risk factors during childhood results to the development of dysfunctional emotional and extremely violent behavioural patterns.
Reducing the exposure to any of these factors also reduces violent behaviour. This also applies to groups.
In times of crisis, the accumulation of social risk factors results in feelings of collective humiliation, which push dispirited populations to fanatical extremist groups.
Naturally, not everyone with a troubled childhood becomes a nazi or a murderer and nor does it constitute an excuse for someone who breaks the law.
However, these studies do show how anti-social behavior is born and hence they bear clear policy implications, which are relevant to Greece.
Since the beginning of the crisis in 2009, Greek people have been under continuous and intense pressure. The country has undergone violent adjustments that have resulted in the fastest fiscal consolidation in the developed world.
Society has paid a high toll for this progress.
It is in this context that the Golden Dawn vote cast rose from 0.29 percent in 2009 to 13 percent in September 2013.
Meanwhile unemployment in Greece has now reached 27 percent while anyone who loses their job is most likely to remain unemployed in the long-term, the household disposable income has shrunk by at least 22 percent and the homeless have increased by 25 percent.
Crime has also risen more than 40 percent since 2008. According to the Greek Centre for Social Research, due to austerity, prostitution in Greece has risen by 150 percent since the beginning of the crisis and domestic violence against women by 47 percent.
The situation for children is equally grim.
Already there have been incidents of students fainting at schools due to malnutrition while the number of minors living in households with severe material deprivation increased by 38.2 percent between 2010-2011.
The psychological distress in families is also expected to affect children and their welfare. According to UNICEF, bullying in Greek schools increased by 74 percent between 2002 and 2010 while the growth rate of juvenile delinquency for perpetrators aged 9-13 is 58 percent.
The societal cost of austerity in Greece is clearly high.
The Greek welfare state has traditionally been anemic. Informal institutions, such as the family and social networks, covered its deficiencies until the beginning of the crisis. With austerity, however, their capacity to do so has been radically reduced while the welfare state is being cut back.
The increase in violence and the rise of the Golden Dawn is a warning about the cracks in Greece’s social cohesion.
The social chaos it creates will inevitably affect the rest of the EU member states. Social investment is an imperative. A small but effective welfare state in Greece can be possible if there is investment in sectors such as tourism, education and energy.
A Marshall-type recovery plan can help revitilise the economy. The call for the reinstitution of social policy in Greece is getting louder. It remains to be seen who will hear it.
The writer is a GR:EEN post-doctoral research fellow at the Université Libre de Bruxelles.