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Echoes of the Past

By Elby Davis, Transatlantic Community Analyst


In the wake of the global economic downturn, Europeans have more than their fair share of issues over which to quarrel. While a heavy weight falls on MEPs and state representatives to pass budget reforms, restructure tax revenue, and reform economies, fear of collapse grows among the citizenry. Two states in particular have given rise to social movements not prevalent in the news media for decades. On both the giving and the receiving end of massive bailouts, Germans and Greeks make the case that multiculturalism is killing Europe.

Unfortunate as it may be, there is nothing new under the sun when it comes to German ethnocentrism. Pre-WWII racist sentiment stemmed from growing inflation and overspending toward the end of the Weimar Republic’s golden days. That an authoritative and influential leader was able to sweep in and pull the country up by its bootstraps (at the cost of minority communities) was no big feat. In the ashes of WWII destruction rose a strong industry-based market that had more jobs than it did people – the ”Gastarbeiter” or “guest workers” from Southern Europe and the Middle East held real power in Germany. By 1975 however, Western Europe had instituted an immigration stop due to a then-stagnating economy with slowed rates of job creation. The “guest worker” concept met immediate and harsh criticism by a frustrated plebiscite looking for someone to blame. Selling the argument that “they’re taking our jobs” was all too easy.

Although you rarely see it covered by the German media, neo-Nazism is on the rise in Europe’s seemingly calm, cool, and collected powerhouse. For extremist groups such as “The Immortals,” democratic multiculturalism is to blame for growing economic disparity and decreasing job availability. That Germany has been so generous with bailouts outside of its borders also does not sit well with nationalist right wing ideology. Targeting youth through propaganda and rhetoric, these movements are regarded by German officials as a serious threat to German national security in the face of targeted attacks on minority neighborhoods. Although larger scale terrorist plots against German democratic institutions have been thwarted, officials state that it is only a matter of time before some of these highly motivated individuals slip through the cracks. Dozens of homes have been raided this year in an effort to stop deadly plots thanks to Germany’s traditionally strict anti-neo-Nazi regulations.

While Greece’s history of multiculturalism has been more positive than the Germans,’ economic hardships have given birth to a neoconservative movement backed by surprisingly high amounts of citizen support. Progress on ECB and IMF bailouts has been slow for Greece as of late, as the country struggles to reconcile the expectations of its creditors with the demands and needs of its people. The state received 110 billion euros in 2010, and is now receiving installments of a 130 billion euro package to accompany a 110 billion euro debt write off. It is clearer to Greeks than any other EU member state that the country is in economic peril.

As was the case with Germany prior to WWII, a radical xenophobic political party called Golden Dawn has formed out of the hardships of Greek economic strife.  The party won almost 7% of the popular vote in two 2012 elections, and currently holds 18 seats in the Greek parliament. The party’s founder and secretary general Nikolaos Michaloliakos has labeled the organization as nationalist and racist. It supports the slogan “Greece for the Greeks – Blood, Honor, Golden Dawn,” and hails a clearly Nazi-reminiscent flag. The party even has its own Youth Front that distributes nationalist propaganda leaflets to schools in Athens. The use of eagles, iron crosses, and militaristic salutes have also been explicitly gestured during heavy periods of international media spotlighting.

Both the growing threat of neo-Nazi organizations in Germany and parties such as Golden Dawn pose a unique threat to political stability in an already volatile EU environment. With that being said, Europe has definitely experienced worse; people are not yet taking wheel barrows full of money to buy a loaf of bread in Greece, nor have any anti-democratic assassination attempts been successful in Germany. What is significant in the sentiment of these two movements, however, is that even after one of history’s bloodiest wars taught the world a lesson in humanity and humility, these ideas can still garner significant support. Regardless of bailouts and efforts to right economies, and the number of institutions that oversee physical security in the EU, the fact of the matter is that Europe remains vulnerable.


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