After the recent Washington Post article you may be wondering whether the Greek SOF are preparing a coup d’état. In one word, the answer is no. But let me explain to you what is indeed happening.
One of the casualties of the Greek civil war of the 1940s was the moderate and rational political thinking. From that point on, Greek society has been divided into leftists and rightists, both with absolutist ideas. The civil war was followed by two decades of political instability and, in 1967, the rise of the military junta. Democracy was reinstated in 1974 and the political spectrum shifted to the left. Anti-Americanism, anti-militarism and anti-patriotism became popular. Also, it was the time when the first terrorist organizations appeared, among them the infamous “17th November.”
During the 1990s, the inflow of money from the European Union created a virtual economic growth which made the political differences a little less relevant. At the time, the main conflict was about immigration. In that subject, again, two absolutist opinions dominated: one was “shoot them all at the borders,” the other “we are all brothers, let everybody in.” But even that was not that much of an issue. With the European money, even illegal immigrants could be (relatively) taken care of.
And then the bubble burst. Or, as you may have heard it, the economic crisis reached Greece. And all the differences, the irrationality, the fundamentalism, all resurfaced and reached its peak when the neo-Nazi party Golden Dawn, using populist rhetoric and a small face lift to appear as a patriotic party, managed to enter the parliament.
The Golden Dawn was founded in the 1980s, and had the support of a very small percentage of the Greek population. But the crisis and the habit of many to blame all the problems on foreigners, either immigrants or other states (USA, Germany, Israel, take your pick) boosted the parties that were eager to reassure that everything was the fault of someone else.
You may be wondering how all that lead to the aforementioned incident. For the year and three months that the Golden Dawn has been in the parliament, there have been multiple violent incidents, mainly against immigrants, that could not be linked legally to the organization (not that any serious investigation had been conducted…for reasons I can only speculate). That changed on September 18th, when, after a confrontation, a member of the party murdered a rap singer, Pavlos Fyssas, known locally for his humanitarian and anti-fascist ideology.
The murder caused a general outrage and forced the political world to take action, and investigate further the activities of the Golden Dawn and any possible connection with the armed forces and the police. The investigation turned into a witch hunt, shaming the two forces and those serving in them honorably.
In all that turmoil, an illegal reservist union of 30-40 people (illegal because the reservist unions are to be approved by the Ministry of Defense and are obligated, when the need arises, to disband and each go to their respective draft unit), presenting itself as a unit, with their “CO” being a retired brigadier general, issued a call to protest in front of the Constitution square a month ago.
The claims of the union, the fear of its possible connection with the Golden Dawn that has a large support base (it’s been voted by half a million Greek citizens) and testimonies that the SOF train paramilitaries of the neo-Nazi party (a claim that has not been supported by any evidence) made the reservist nutcases seem more threatening than they are.
It is a sad fact that the demonizing of patriotism and service in the army and police has pushed some of their members (as a reaction, or a defensive mechanism if you may) to extreme ideologies. (To give you a personal insight, once when I’d just met some guy and he asked me what I did for a living, I told him that I was an NCO in the SOF, and his impulsive reaction was to call me a fascist with a big smile on his face.) But those ideologies are private and restricted to the personal life, as the military regulation forbids political involvement. But, even though this minority exists in those professions, I highly doubt that it constitutes a threat to democracy in Greece.
Latest developments: leading members of the Golden Dawn have been arrested for their involvement in the murder of Pavlos Fyssas.