The turn of the racist tide?


The two most significant outcomes of Sunday’s Greek general election are that the new government has an absolute parliamentary majority and no less significantly, that the Islamophobic neo-Nazi Golden Dawn party has been decisively rejected by voters.

Is it too much to hope that this is the turn of the tide against the Europe-wide populism that has played upon fears of migration to encourage racism and bigotry?

In the old legislature, to the horror of many, Golden Dawn was the third largest party. Now with virtually all votes counted, these hate-filled thugs have not managed to pass a three percent threshold which means that all eighteen of their members of parliament are out on their ears. When its humiliating defeat became clear, one of Golden Dawn’s chieftains vowed the party was not finished. There will, of course, always be a deluded minority, as among extremist football hooligans, who seek to claw a little bit of identity for themselves by hating and despising others. That these creatures could ever have found their way into the parliament of a country that boasts that its capital Athens was the original seat of democracy was a scandal. It must be hoped the Greek electorate has now ended its flirtation with these unrelenting bigots.

But the defeat of Golden Dawn is not yet a cause for wider rejoicing in Europe. Greece has long been a special case. Successive governments who fiddled the state’s finances and cashed in on the now-clearly absurd decision by Brussels to admit the country to the eurozone, brought Greece to bankruptcy. When the 2008 global financial crisis hit, Athens had to be bailed out with a succession of loans amounting to over $330 billion. The price for these subventions was tough austerity that saw swingeing welfare and salary cuts, multiple business collapses and soaring unemployment. It will take the Greek economy many decades to pay back its creditors. But last August, Brussels decided to declare that Athens had “exited” the bail out program as growth returned. It has been over two percent for the last two years.

The outgoing Syriza socialist government of Alexis Tsipras oversaw the last four years of austerity. It came to power vowing to demand an end to the European-led bail out. However Brussels played hardball with Tsipras’ left-wing finance minister Yanis Varoufakis, who was outmaneuvered in negotiations. Tsipras accepted a new round of austerity and fired Varoufakis. Surprisingly Syriza went on to win a snap general election but this time round voters remembered its broken promises. The result has been a landslide victory for Kyriakos Mitsotakis and his New Democracy party.

He has promised to kick start the economy. One measure will be to cut both personal and corporate tax rates. This is a delicate point. It was because Greeks and their businesses did not pay taxes that for years successive governments were spending far more than they gathered in taxation. Paying off tax collectors contributed to a rising tide of corruption in which even the Central Bank was lying to its international creditors about the amount of money it actually owed around the world. It was from the resulting financial mess that Golden Dawn racists, just like Hitler’s Nazis, were able to draw strength. This must not happen again.