One July morning I found myself on a beach in Lakonia, Greece. We sat in a quiet café, I fed my six-month-old baby and put him in the stroller next to us. That peaceful scenery was shattered a short time later when a rowdy group of middle-aged men turned up. They splayed themselves out on some nearby chairs, thus forcing the rest of the cafe’s customers to huddle and started talking unnecessarily loudly – this was not the main issue but semantics have their own significance, often foreshadowing the content to follow and most importantly they show which individuals feel they have the right to impose their voice and physical presence in a public space.
So we inevitably got to hear parts of their conversations, which included the rhetoric of the “organised foreign interest plot” behind the wildfires, a broad range of insults against various nationalities and against Tsipras (former leader of SYRIZA) “who gave away Macedonia”, a nostalgia for the dictator Papadopoulos, and impatience for the release of “Elias” (Kasidiaris – convicted leader of the neonazi criminal organisation Golden Dawn), while chuckling that “if you say such things, some will call you a fascist”.
Among them was a teenage boy, his eyes fixed on the table, who was silent, as if he felt embarrassed and silently resentful. When they ordered beers, the boy initially muttered that he didn’t want any. He was prodded repeatedly “go on/ don’t be silly/ what’s wrong with having a drink”, he raised his glass sulkily and drank without the slightest indication that he was having any fun. What shocked me the most in this short story is both the implicit compulsion of initiation into toxic masculinity and the fact that I found myself in such close physical proximity to a fraction of the human geography of the far-right electorate. Both in the flesh, linked and intertwined.
The increased presence of the far-right in the Parliament is the most depressing aspect of the disheartening results of the parliamentary elections. It is a fact that within Greek society there is a firm core of voters who are ideologically aligned with the far right. They are neither misguided nor naive. It is a neuron of its government and the interests it defends, and sees itself as a continuation of the most grim historical memory, that of Metaxas’ fascist regime, of collaborationism, anti-Semitism, and the Colonels’ junta. This element isn’t just found in basements or in the shadows; it lies at the heart of the State apparatus, in high office, in positions of authority. The way I see it, we have little to do or discuss with such people, except to assert our non-negotiable opposition in the streets, in our neighbourhoods, in institutions, the Parliament, in courts and wherever else necessary.
However, this is not the full extent of the issue. The real issue is why nearly one in ten voters aged 17-34 (9.2%) voted for a party dictated by a convicted Nazi criminal? Why are people who grew up in a crisis spiral and have the tragedy of fascist violence fresh in their memory not using those life experiences to process politics? Why in the working class districts of Western Attica and Piraeus B did Spartiates (the Spartans) get more votes than their national average percentage? Why, respectively, did all three far-right parties get high percentages in the underprivileged district of Thessaloniki B? In other words, why do the oppressed strata, who are struggling to survive on all sorts of government handouts (food pass, fuel pass etc) and are crushed by poverty, not choose to transform their anger into the positive goal of redistribution and social justice, but instead channel it into parties that forge the grimmer aspects of governance?
We do not have the answers to those questions so we need to look for them in the intersection of many parameters and in a context of historicising the phenomenon of fascism. In his influential book “Returning to Reims”, Didier Eribon tries to explain, among other things, how his working-class family that used to vote for the French Communist Party ended up voting for the National Rally (former National Front), and how his mother, a woman who have had abortions in France when they were illegal, voted for a party that advocates the de-legalisation of abortion.
“These two ways of constituting one’s self as a political subject are based on different ways of perceiving and dividing the social world, which can even coexist in the same individual, in different temporalities of course, and in different places, in connection with the different everyday life structures in which they may be involved: it depends on whether it is active solidarity in the factory or antagonism to keep one’s job that prevails, whether one feels that they belong to an informal parents’ network that picks up their children from school, or whether they feel despair with the difficulties they face in their neighbourhood”.
In this sense, elections are a crystallisation of earlier processes that have taken place within the social context. We have to ask ourselves whether, in the past four years, which have been very tough because of the health crisis, social distancing and confinement, death, the energy crisis, the housing crisis and the inflation crisis, sufficient community solidarity networks have been established that would effectively alleviate that harsh feeling of loneliness and abandonment that thousands of less well-off individuals must have had. If we’re being honest, probably not on the scale that was required. And this always carries the risk that people who are left to fend for themselves, alone and neglected, with barely anything, will not feel that they are accountable to any collective idea or social interest, and will ιinstead redefine themselves through hostility towards those who have nothing at all, such as refugees or the Romani people.
After all, the oppressed live in a world nurtured within the mutually reinforcing systems of the patriarchy, capitalism, ethnic tribalism and heteronormativity, and therefore have latent reflexes of racism, sexism, homotransphobia and antigypsyism as an unprocessed automatism. This, under certain conditions, boosted by the influence of organised far-right rhetoric, may evolve into the dominant way with which these people will perceive reality.
In order for it to absorb the social tensions caused by the exacerbation of class inequalities, the disintegration of what remains of the welfare state, the collapse of the public health system, the shrinking of public spaces, they constructed the threat of the Others and those who refused to embrace their phobic agenda were declared to be “internal enemies”, and a reactionary turn to the triptych of “homeland – religion – family” was attempted as a false palliative to the savagery of lived experience. This situation gave the far right a wonderful opportunity. It grasped it and sold conspiracy, irrationality, belligerent nationalism, machismo and traditionalism, stirring up people’s basest instincts, redirecting their anger not upwards but downwards, turning them into the darker version of themselves. The central government has a responsibility for this phenomenon, since it has encouraged the rise of the far right as it actually recognises it, although not openly, as a part of its own body. Hence why it ungrudgingly elevates its cadres to government posts and embraces its arguments. It is not for reasons of incompetence or ignorance that the far right has been allowed to return not only to the Parliament but also to the streets. The true reasons highlight a selective affinity.
We are going through a prolonged period of inertia, filled with destruction, death and anguish. And in the swamp, the beasts are the ones that are more at ease. It is not at all certain that the current situation will inevitably be reversed in any promising way. We have to lift our sleeves and do a lot of manual work for this to happen. Society is not rigid.
It is pulsating. It is transforming.
We need another social model that collectivises discontent, reacts with compassion and solidarity against the frustrations of everyday life, and makes the vision of social justice possible. An essential tool for contemporary progressive politics, drawn from feminism, is intersectionality, that is, a perspective that in its analysis and proposal, addresses the totality of the systemic oppressions as an interconnected sum and not in degrees of hierarchy. For we suffer as class, gendered, racialised beings and as such, we can resist and become agents of history. This means that we should aim for a class, anti-fascist, anti-sexist, anti-homophobic and anti-racist mass intervention, with new linguistic aesthetic. As Ken Loach put it, “We strive to find a radical and progressive way of living together.”