It might be the best known story from 20th century history – the rise of a small fringe group of nationalists to power over one of history’s most terrifying totalitarian states which seemed poised briefly to actually conquer the world. From Bavarian beer-halls in Weimar Germany, economically devastated after the First World War, Hitler used a mix of vitriolic racism, co-opted socialist rhetoric and “Blackshirt” paramilitary violence to become the most powerful political force in Germany. Shortly thereafter, he was appointed Chancellor of the failing state and in a matter of years built one of history’s most frightening regimes. The war that ensued claimed tens of millions abroad and millions more in a genocidal campaign of forced extermination at home. When the dust settled, everybody swore two words, “never again”.

That wasn’t so long ago. I’ve known people who fought in that war, who sheltered Jewish children in their basements and who came to Canada fleeing the Holocaust. And yet, right now in Europe, we are watching this process start all over again. It’s no secret – the New York Times and the Guardian cover it often, yet everyone seems paralyzed with horror as the fascists acquire power at a frightening rate.

Golden Dawn leader Nikolaos Mihaloliakos

I’m talking, of course, about Greece, and the parallels are stunning. Not only one of the hardest-hit nations by the recent global economic meltdown, but also thoroughly punished by the rest of Europe with harsh bailout terms which have had effects much like the Treaty of Versailles, both by destroying the economy and generating incredible amounts of popular resentment. With the economy in ruin, they’ve seen some of the most intense political turmoil in Europe, with governments falling and huge fire-breathing riots regularly laying siege to the parliament. At the same time, they’ve witnessed a huge flood of immigrants as the rest of Europe closed their doors, stranding nearly all newcomers in Greece. Into this chaos stepped an explicitly Neo-Nazi political party with ties to the old dictorship – the Golden Dawn.

A year ago, the Golden Dawn had barely 1% support at the polls, they reached around 7% by elections over the next spring and summer, and are now rumoured to hold roughly 22%. After winning seats in parliament during the last round of elections, they’ve been effectively “legitimised”. With widely-publicized support from Greek police, they’ve been given a free hand to operate as they wish on the streets. Large gangs of fascist paramilitaries, often explicitly associated with the Golden Dawn have started campaigns of public terror, clearing public areas (video) and even neighbourhoods of “non-Greeks” and attacking immigrants, queers and political opponents. In many areas these “vigilante” squads have taken over much of local law enforcement, with police reportedly referring victims to them to ‘solve the problem’.  They’ve begun “Greeks-only” social services like blood drives and food banks, and even offer blackshirt escorts to walk elderly ladies home from the bank, “protecting them from immigrants”. Given the breakdown of the Greek state and society, this has been welcomed in many areas, garnering considerable public support. Lines are now blurring in frightening ways between the party and what’s left of the Greek state, leaving entire areas under de-facto fascist rule.

This wouldn’t be the first movement to openly emulate Hitler, and even take power. Pinochet idolized Hitler and Mussolini, and countless other dictators (Suharto, for instance) have embarked on genocidal campaigns with horrific death tolls. Even Greece was ruled for the better part of a decade by a Junta with Neo-Nazi associations (they later met Golden Dawn founder Nikos Michalolikos in prison). The name itself is taken from Alistair Crowley’s old occult group, and like the Nazis they reject Christianity (too Jewish) in favour of occult and pagan symbols, even supporting a return to old Olympian gods like Pan (as the Nazis did with Norse mythology).  They “sieg heil” often and their party’s symbol bears a stunning resemblance to a Swastika. They’ve even got a signature metal band – “Pogrom”.  This isn’t just another far-right European party with an anti-immigrant platform, these guys are operating directly from Hitler’s playbook and it’s working.

There are, of course, those who are opposed. Beyond the heroic efforts of a few journalists to get in and tell the whole story, there are also those organizing at street level to oppose the Golden Dawn. Antifascist groups have been extremely active, connecting immigrant groups, radicals and the notorious Greek Black Bloc to defend what areas they can. Marches, patrols and brawls have taken place, though individuals involved face horrific personal consequences if singled out. A group of arrestees from a recent demonstrations were reportedly subjected to “Abu Ghraib-style humiliation” by Athens police in custody, being stripped, burned and beaten by police. Countless reports exist of Golden Dawn thugs fighting alongside riot police, and even receiving clubs and radios for the purpose (possibly even guns). Many are using the term “civil war” to describe the situation, and that’s starting to sound frighteningly accurate.

So what, in this dreadful re-enactment, comes next? Hitler didn’t win power in an election, he was awarded with it as the last of the old German state began to break down. The ongoing European debt crisis does not bode well here, nor does the precedent set when Europe’s elites replaced Greece’s Prime Minister late last year. Should desperate elites decide to throw their full support behind these fascists, this situation could escalate into a full-scale nightmare.

The spread of this movement is hardly limited to Greece, either. Golden Dawn has connections with nationalists in Germany and Italy, and has begun to organize within Greek communities elsewhere. Donation drives have now started up in New York, Montreal and even Toronto, seeking to reach out to the “Greek Diaspora”. Groups ranging from old-time antifascists to Greek community associations are organizing locally to oppose them (perhaps having a different view on immigration?). International connections like this only show how desperate the need for opponents to do the same – Greece needs our solidarity, now more than ever.

Greece is the crucible for many of the forces which have come to define our new, chaotic world. The IMF, central bankers, popular movments, a crumbling state, anarchists and fascists are all competing for the country’s future, and it’s far from certain who’ll win. Some cynically suspect that it was all a planned experiment from the start. Regardless, it’s only the tip of a far larger iceberg. As economic and climactic instabilities tear nations apart, the first world is already seeing a growing flood of refugees. Facing energy shortages and many bleak economic projections, many in power are beginning to worry. From France’s Socialists to our own Conservatives, governments have already begun restricting migration, cutting benefits and closing borders. As the pressures increase, the temptation for our governments to adopt authoritarian solutions is only going to get stronger.

We should all watch Greece very closely in the coming months, because if this strategy “works” in Greece, it will be tried elsewhere soon enough. No matter how much we might want it to stay buried in the past, fascism will always haunt us. Though almost universally detested, Hitler’s story is still one of the best known from recent history, and so there will always be some drawn to it. The Golden Dawn shows that even today, this type of movement can still easily take root. Groups like them exist in every country, including our own, just waiting for a similar chance. If antifascism means anything, it’s eternal vigilance. This can happen here and it is happening there. It’s high time we all started taking it seriously.

Fear and loathing in Athens: the rise of Golden Dawn and the far right – The Guardian
Amid the Echoes of an Economic Crash, the Sounds of Greek Society Being Torn – New York Times
Golden Dawn glows amid Greece gloom – Al Jazeera