Golden Dawn: Greece and the Cold War

Mar 2014

Issue 6

Since the Greek national elections of May 2012, the electoral rise of the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn party has been portrayed by all strands of western media as a development engendered by the “economic crisis.” It is said that Greeks are turning to more “extreme” alternatives since their liberal democracy has failed them. The fact that this irresponsible reporting has been so widely disseminated is cause for great concern. What is to be said about the half century of Greek history preceding this “crisis”, the involvement of western powers in Greek politics, the policies that cultivated niches in Greek society where paramilitary groups were granted political control to liquidate dissent against foreign powers, the Cold War campaign to eradicate Greek communists? Golden Dawn is never contextualized for western audiences–instead Greece is compared to the Weimar Republic, a very clever tactic western liberals deploy to distance themselves from their own governments’ complicity in fomenting the tragedy that is Greece today.

The rise of this party should no longer come as a surprise to anyone, but should not be conceptualized as some endogenously Greek phenomenon. It is well documented by now, by many Greek activists and academics alike, that the Golden Dawn has roots in the military dictatorship and the para-state forces preceding it that were the culmination of Cold War foreign policy in Greece. Before ‘Golden Dawn’ was officially a party, their predecessors occupied reactionary sections of the military, which the U.S. repeatedly backed in coups after the defeat of the left in the Civil War, and trained these paramilitaries (people who collaborated with the Nazi occupiers, who were then re-armed by the British when they were “saving” Greece from communism) to suppress all dissidents and all leftists, including left-liberals. This resulted in decades worth of exile, torture, assassination, and political persecution, in concentration camps, for any and all known leftists and their families and sympathizers. Neni Panourgia explains how this culminated in the 67 coup in her Dangerous Citizens:

“On April 21, 1967, a group of colonels from the far Right, some of whom had been trained at the War College in the United States, some of whom had participated in the Tágmata Asphaleias, some of whom had been members of “X,” and others of whom had been torturers in Makrónisos and Yáros, seized power from the government, using as an excuse the political instability and tension of the time, and established a dictatorship. The leader of the coup, Georgios Papadopoulos, was a member of the paramilitary organization IDEA (Ierós Desmos Ellênōn Axiōmatikôn, “Sacred Bond of Greek Officers”). He was flanked by Nikolaos Makarezos and Stylianos Pattakos. Many more participated, but the three came to be the public faces of the first months of the dictatorship. James Becket made the connection between the Truman Doctrine and the junta when he wrote at the height of the latter, in 1970, “twenty years [after the Doctrine] America would find itself with an empire and Greece would find itself with a military dictatorship. The Greeks, a free people, would be subjugated by a minority armed by the United States, and the outside pressures would be American” (1970: 12).

Papadopoulos, one of the Colonels, issued an exhortation to Michaloliakos, the president of Golden Dawn, to form the party, when they met in prison in the 80s. Before the electoral rise of Golden Dawn in the past three years, they were a terrorist paramilitary group that bombed theaters that showed Soviet films, killed leftists and Albanian immigrants, and terrorized the left-urban guerrilla sympathizers of 17N, a guerrilla Marxist group which sought restitution for American, British, and Turkish war crimes in Greece since the mid-20th century.


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People on the left tend to know little about 20th century Greece and the injection of a “Western European” imaginary into the Greek national body. From their transition from an occupied ethno-religious minority of the Ottoman Empire to a protectorate of European powers, Greeks faced one of the first immobilizing dilemmas of confronting a “choice” between West versus East, “modern” versus “backward”, when the West demanded the resuscitation of the spirit of their glorious ancestors that necessitated purging their culture of its oriental paraphernalia. The biopolitical regimes and strategies of power adopted after the Civil War of 1946-49 by the state (picking up where the Metaxas regime left off) sought to organize the national narrative into precisely this type of revanchist vista where the purity of Greek civilization and an invented (or imagined) organic and linear heritage had to be preserved and pursued under European and U.S. aegis. In some political discourses this imagery of a resuscitated Greekness translated into long-winded aspirations and justifications for the “emancipation” of Istanbul (a tug-of-war in Greek politics that persisted throughout the 20th century and terminated with an attempt by the Greek junta government to annex Cyprus, which was counteracted by the Turkish government’s occupation of northern Cyprus); in other discourses the need for the protection of Greek civilization from the constant threat of the communist “pest” and its attack on Greek Orthodox values. The history of pre-80s modern Greece is one of ethnic strife and genocide, displacement of Greek communities in Anatolia, the Caucasus, North Africa, Central Asia; the political instability of a post-colonial state marked by periodic coups (both before and after the emphýlios), as well as the ongoing struggle for the better part of the century between the British-imposed royalty, their comprador collaborators, and the Liberals, which played out in the arena of an erratic proxy republic.

In this general climate we can strike at the far-reaching roots of contemporary Golden Dawn. The party stems back to Georgios Papadopoulos’, former military dictator, exhortation for a “revival of patriotic collaboration”, a decree given to Nikolaos Michaloliakos, now president of the party, when they met in prison in 1985; the exchange brought about the establishment of the first issue of the Golden Dawn magazine that same year. The party now regularly and openly commends the aforementioned military dictatorship at their rallies, claiming them to be the true “protectors” and victors of the modern Greek state. In a sense, they are correct. For the seven year junta of Papadopoulos was quite literally a fragmented extension of the Nazi, British, and U.S. collaboration (both ally and axis collaborators joined forces to fight the People’s National Liberation Front that fought the consecutive occupations superseding World War II), and is commonly referred to as the U.S. puppet regime. Former members of both the “X” and Tagmata Aspháleias (Security Battalions) paramilitary groups (the former of which earlier collaborated with the Nazis and was re-armed and funded under British General Scobie’s command) attacked, brutalized, raped, and murdered civilians throughout the period of the White Terror that provoked the Civil War, in order to isolate the communist and popular insurgency from the rest of the civilian topography. Any aid to partisans was met with violent contravention on the part of the National Army and its various paramilitary wings, of which the “X” and Tagmata were only two vertebrae. This instilled fear that eventually crystallized into decades of perpetual persecution of the left and repression of any dissent through internal exile on the islands of Makrónisos, Yaros, and Ai Stratis, islands where torture and mental “reconstruction” sought to extract communism from the subject via state-sanctioned declarations of repentance. This entire apparatus of control naturally operating under British and U.S. auspices during the Cold War (Truman Doctrine, Marshal Plan, etc.), but deployed since the 20s, was periodically unleashed until the fall of the junta in the mid 70s for the sole purpose of “quarantining the left.” The ataxia of the relation of forces in Greece that came to a head with a final, crazed grab for power by the Papadopoulos 1967 military coup, was to last for a tragicomic seven years (tragicomic because of the widespread resentment towards the absurdity of the regime’s stupidity and its embarrassingly uneducated vernacular). It is now common knowledge, like Neni Panourgiá explains in a parergon of her book, that Dimitrios Ioannides, the general who overthrew the colonels’ junta in 1973 and brought on the most brutal phase of the dictatorship, had been a torturer on Makrónisos. Even more intriguing, the fathers of other actors of the junta had served either in the T[agmata] A[sphaleias] or in “X” during the war.

After the junta fell, most who partook in this regime were reabsorbed into the military, some were granted official positions in the state apparatus, many walked away unscathed without even a public word of reproach. This is the legacy the Greek left and general population have to contend with once again: Torturers, rapists, belligerent nationalists, but also beneficiaries of the foreign boot. Katherine Stefatos extrapolates on the kind of nationalist “atavism” Golden Dawn supporters seek to bring about in her article,[Female] [p]olitical dissidents were not the only targets of [a] sexual and symbolic violence of the oppressive regime during the Greek Civil War.”

The civilian population, especially during the early (1946–1947) and late (1949) stages of the conflict, also bore the brunt of it. In most cases, civilian women had no direct links with either the Democratic Army or the Communist Party, yet they were still massively assaulted and terrorized as a means of preventing their recruitment by the Democratic Army. During the period of “white terror” (1945–1947) and the early stage of the Civil War (1946–1947), women were gang raped, forced into prostitution, mutilated, sexually assaulted in public places or in front of their relatives, had their heads shaved, and were stripped naked. The terror continued and intensified in 1949. As shown by recent scholarship, archival material, and the interviews I have carried out, women, primarily from northern Greece, joined the Democratic Army out of fear of being raped, exiled, imprisoned, and executed, and not only because of their ideological beliefs. In oral testimonies, rape is frequently referred to as a common practice of right wing paramilitaries, especially during the period 1945–1947. However, there is no complete account in official statistics of the actual number of sexual assaults. According to the Memorandum (1987) submitted by the Greek Democratic Army (DSE) to the United Nations in March 1947, 211 rapes were recorded for 16 prefectures within the year 1945–1946. Whole regions, however, are not included, Athens, for example, and the islands, and other parts of mainland Greece. There is no historical breadth either: the reported cases refer to violations that took place until March 1947 (Memorandum 1987:395). Undoubtedly, the actual number is much higher, since the codes of shame and honor were vigorous and most of the cases went unreported.21 As the civil conflict intensified, the incidents of sexual abuse increased. In fact, the archival records indicate the mass rape of 300 young refugee women in a camp at Ioannina in 1945; these women were later forced into prostitution in an effort to prevent their recruitment by the Democratic Army.


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And as Aphrodite Mavroede-Panteleskou, a political exile on Makrónisos and Trikeri, recalls:

“What scared us the most was when they were taking us out [of the tents] in the dark. We didn’t know what the purpose of these night abductions was and we were shivering. We only knew that they were selecting the young women and an undefined fear of something dreadful was upsetting us.”

Now we are hearing echoes of the same 20th century botched, nationalistic rhetoric about the vision of a unified Greece once more. From Michaloliakos’ vow to “take back Istanbul” to the physical, gendered assault against leftist women politicians, to the countless attacks on immigrants, our only hope as Greeks is a complete dis-annexation from the vortex that is the European Union, its pretense at civilization, its neocolonial capitalism. The entire liberal miasma and its insistence on peace and coexistence must be dispelled with finality.

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Evelyn P is a Greek American from Queens, New York who graduated with a BA in Philosophy from CUNY Hunter. She is interested in post-colonial and Marxist accounts of Balkan geopolitics and culture, with an emphasis on Greece and Greek nationalism. Twitter @spittingonhegel;



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3 Responses to Golden Dawn: Greece and the Cold War

  1. Issue 6: Mobs and Movements | Tanqeed on Mar 2014 at 10:33 AM

    […] of the “mob.” Evelyn P maps the history of Golden Dawn, Greece’s emerging neo-Nazi party. Drawing on his political ethnography of the local, everyday workings of the state, Ward Berenschot […]

  2. TQ Chāt | # 5 | Tanqeed on Mar 2014 at 5:54 PM

    […] Washer, and essays on communal riots in India, labor organization in the Gulf, the history of Golden Dawn, liberal narratives about the “irrationality” of “mob violence”, and the legacy of Iftikhar […]

  3. […] when virtually none of the thousands of articles on Golden Dawn note its roots in US-sponsored paramilitary groups, when the colonial causes of Boko Haram and the Rwandan genocide also go virtually unmentioned, […]

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