More and more Greek Americans are speaking out against the increased influence of the Neo Nazi political party Golden Dawn taking root in Greece. The party, which has denied being affiliated with the Nazi movement, won 9.4% of the total vote in Greece’s European Parliament elections, electing three MEPs who will represent Greece in Brussels.
The party’s anti-European, antisemitic, anti-immigrant and homophobic rhetoric has won increasing appeal among middle class Greeks, with a 25% increase in votes since national elections two years ago. This phenomenon is largely attributed to a large percentage of Greece’s population that has been impacted by the financial crisis.
The party has set up an official outpost in New York City and has appeared at numerous Greek American community functions in their official attire, most recently at the Greek Independence Day Parade in Manhattan.
“This is how Hitler got started,” said Angelo Tsakopoulos, a Sacramento businessman and one of the nation’s most prominent Greek American philanthropists in an interview with the Sacramento Bee. Tsakopoulos told the Sacramento Bee in an interview that as a 6-year-old in Greece he watched his aunt dig her own grave before she was executed by the Nazis during World War II.
Tsakopoulos, whose father served in the Greek resistance, said Greek villagers put up a fierce fight against the Nazi invasion, and often tried to protect their Jewish neighbors.
Greeks paid dearly for their anti-Nazi resistance during the war— per capita more than any other country in Europe— with tens of thousands executed in a brutal series of organized reprisals that included mass executions in places like Kalavryta, Kontomari and Kandanos in Crete, Distomo and throughout Greece.
Tsakopoulos, who was joined by former California State Treasurer Phil Angelides, went public in an interview and video that rang alarm bells to Greeks in Greece about the dangers of this movement he called “brutal thugs.”
Ahepa– the American Hellenic Educational and Progressive Association led the way, all the way back in 2012 with an official statement— long before Golden Dawn had established such a strong foothold in Greek politics. In their statement, they noted that the organization itself was founded almost a century ago to combat the evils of bigotry and discrimination in the United States. The organization denounced the establishment of a branch of Golden Dawn in New York City.
One filmmaker is using his craft to spread the word. Richard Ledes, a New Yorker and director and writer of films like Foreclosure and Fred Won’t Move Out, is releasing a short film called “Golden Dawn, NYC” on June 10th which he hopes will bring more awareness to the group’s efforts in New York City, a city and community that has been built and still thrives on the backs of millions of immigrants from Greece, and throughout the world.
“I am Greek-American,” Ledes noted in his film’s director’s statement, adding that “I also started studying ancient Greek at a young age and continued to do so through obtaining a doctorate in Comparative Literature from NYU. Greece is known as the cradle of democracy, Greeks suffered terribly under Nazi occupation, and yet Greece has become fertile ground for Nazism. This has taken place in the wake of the 2008 global economic crisis and the austerity program that Europe continues to impose as its cure. I wanted to do a documentary on the neo-Nazi party in Greece known as Golden Dawn. It has become the third largest party in the country.”
Ledes consulted historian Dan Georgakas and with his help, was able to get the collaboration of a number of prominent figures in the Greek community who agreed to be interviewed. According to Ledes, they provide a “vivid and engaging set of connections about what is happening in Greece, how some members of the Greek community in New York are confronting this rise and what needs to be done. I further place what is going on in Greece in terms of the price paid by Americans a few generations ago to eradicate Nazism.”
Several elected officials have also voiced their concerns and gone public with press releases and statements. Prominent DC lobbyist and longtime activist Andrew Manatos, who also served as the Assistant Secretary of Commerce in the administration of President Jimmy Carter published an editorial in Greek, in Greece’s top daily newspaper, Kathimerini.
He pointed to Golden Dawn’s outspoken anti-Semitism and reminded readers in Greece that “In combating this problem, it is important that all of our people know about Jewish actions that may have saved thousands of Greek and Cypriot lives and maintained Greece’s territorial integrity.” He also referred to “the Jewish community’s steadfast support of our efforts in Washington, DC to stop continued Turkish aggression following the invasion of Cyprus.”
US Representative Gus Bilirakis (R-FL) issued a statement condemning the group and promising to use his voice to denounce persecution. “I have shared my deep concerns with Prime Minister Samaras of potential destabilizing extremist elements in Greece and throughout Europe. I am confident he is taking the right steps to ensure the rule of law in Greece.”
US Representative Dina Titus (D-NV) added that “Radical extremists parading as political parties like Golden Dawn with their message of hatred and intolerance have no place in our society. We must work together as a global community to root out extremism and instead encourage policies that promote inclusion and equality, in keeping with the ideals of democracy established in Greece thousands of years ago.”
US Representative John Sarbanes (D-MD) also rang the alarm bells in a request for a statement by the World Jewish Congress. “This is an alarming development that demands vigilance on the part of all those who seek to combat anti-Semitism in today’s world. We must continue to educate the public about the dangers of hate speech and the fundamental importance of respecting human rights.”
New York State Senators Michael Giannaris and Dean Skelos and State Assemblywoman Nicole Malliotakis are perhaps the elected officials most closely associated with the rise of Golden Dawn as an official chapter of the party has popped up in their own back yard.
A native of Astoria himself, Giannaris strongly condemned the group. “The painful lessons of history have taught us that extremism and intolerance beget violence, oppression and suffering. Hateful groups like Golden Dawn have no place in modern society, whether in a nation like the United States, which is a beacon of freedom for the world, or in Greece, the birthplace of democracy. Just recently on Holocaust Remembrance Day, the world came together to reaffirm our commitment to rooting out hatred and the violence that comes from it. Let us continue our work by fighting against extreme intolerance wherever it rears its head.”
Skelos added “It is important to stand together in opposition to organizations such as Golden Dawn that perpetuate anti-Semitism, and engage in racist crimes, violence and hatred. I hope the people of Greece reject Golden Dawn candidates in the May elections and send a strong message that their agenda and activities will not be tolerated.”
Malliotakis cited Golden Dawn’s “record of xenophobia, racism and anti-Semitism” in a statement and cautioned that “Sadly, Golden Dawn is but a symptom of the overall rise in Neo-Nazism in modern Europe.”
(Editor’s note: We thank AK for providing the photograph of Golden Dawn members at the Greek Independence Day parade in New York City in April 2014)