By Tim Marshall.
Greece’s most popular cartoonist has taken down his Facebook page after a deluge of vitriolic bile was poured on him by people with pro Syriza sentiments.
The ‘crime’ of Arkas was to publish a cartoon with a character saying ‘I have trust in the Government. It has its feet planted firmly in the clouds’. A torrent of abuse followed, including threats.
In normal circumstances this could be taken as the usual troll like activity of the inadequate, but these are not normal circumstances in Greece and the level of abuse is symptomatic of the drift to the extremes of left and right wing thought in Greece. They are connected by their shared nationalism and unless the drift is halted, the extremes of thought may become extremes of violent action.
Yannis Ktistakis, a professor of human rights at the University of Rodopi told Reuters, incidents such as the attack on Arkas are uncovering the deep splits in Greek society; “These are not just attacks by frustrated unemployed people, the climate has deteriorated”.
A few days before Sunday’s referendum the Bar Association in Athens was recently debating the legality of Sunday’s referendum stormed by about 50 protestors who believed it was not. They shouted at the members “We are building gallows for you!”
Arkas, a recluse whose true identity is not known, has experienced similar treatment and written that he was ‘painfully surprised’ that the comment directed at him were ‘more appropriate to the age of homo errectus.’
Perhaps this respected satirists thought his country had moved on from the dark days of the post Second World War period, but in many ways it has not and poverty is revealing the dividing lines.
After liberation from the Nazis in 1945 the Greeks turned on each other fighting a civil war between the returned Government in exile, and communist forces, with the government side triumphing. But the divisions remained. In 1967 ‘The Colonels’ seized power and ruled as a junta until 1974.
The governments which followed parcelled out power, favours, and jobs to their supporters, including hiring hundreds of thousands of people into state sector jobs many of which were not required. They oversaw a corrupt inefficient system which failed to raise taxes to pay for a flawed welfare system with self crippling pension payments. Then, after cooking the books to join the Euro, they embarked on a borrowing spree at low rates, spent the lot, and then admitted they couldn’t pay it back.
As austerity fell upon the people, they turned in increasing numbers to the extremes. The rise of the fascist Golden Dawn movement (symbol on left) is one example, the hard line socialist Syriza party is another. Alas, when coming to power Syriza continued the corrupt practice of handing out jobs to supporters and relatives whilst simultaneously refusing to tackle the vested interests which prop them up.
The extremes are watching the meltdown with lascivious interest. History shows us that the poorer the people become, the more they flee the centre.
Unless Europe helps its Greek neighbours to stay on their feet, there is a risk of serious social upheaval. That in turn would boost parties even further to the left than Syriza, and versions of Golden Dawn.
Both will wrap themselves in the flag of the country, as will some of the more extreme elements in the military. It is noticeable that among all the austerity measures, no-one has taken on the military budget which at 4% of GDP is far higher than almost every other country in NATO.
The men and women of violence are already in town. The remnants of 17 November which has carried out multiple terrorist murders is still about, as is ‘Revolutionary Struggle a far left paramilitary group which carried out 13 bomb attacks between 1996 and 2000.
Also watching are the Russians, who have longed for a greater foothold in the Aegean ever since the communists lost the civil war. That Russia is run by right wing authoritarians will not bother the Greek left as they have their own streak of right wing authoritarianism to fall back on so long as they disguise it as being for the good of the noble Greek people.
It often said that Greek is the birthplace of Democracy. Even if that were true, it doesn’t mean that the roots of modern Greek democracy are deep.