Unemployment and financial turmoil has seen a rise in popularity of the far-right, ultra-nationalist Golden Dawn movement in Greece. Although founded in 1985, it has struggled to achieve any political significance until the economic crisis brought a European Union-mandated and deeply unpopular series of austerity packages to Greece; winning them 7% of the votes and 18 parliamentary seats in the 2012 Greek national election. Recent polling suggests their support is at 11.5%.
Running on an alternative platform of opposition to austerity, national renewal and anti-immigration, it is widely considered to be a neo-nazi organisation while high-ranking members within it have been convicted of violent attacks, accessory to robbery, bodily harm and illegal gun possession. It is also openly racist, and blames much of Greece’s current economic situation on immigrants, which account for some 8% of Greek residents – similar to levels in the UK. Many of these immigrants end up in Greece because of its location as an entry point to the EU for people fleeing from conflict zones in the Middle East, Asia and Africa, while its largest group of immigrants come from neighbouring Albania.
During an international football match between Albania and Greece in Athens in 1999, Albanian fans burned a Greek flag in their stand. Incensed by the incident and eager to capitalize on it, Golden Dawn supporters formed the Galazia Stratia, or the Blue Army, with the stated aim of protecting Greek national pride inside stadiums. The Galazia Stratia soon proved to be a convenient outlet for many young supporters of the Golden Dawn movement as well as a reliable recruiting source for it. The violence that has characterised the group reached a particular low point in 2004 – the year of the Athens Olympics and Greece’s victory in the European Football Championship – when Albania beat Greece in another football match. Galazia Stratia were blamed for much of the post-match violence and widespread attacks experienced by Albanians across Greece, which in one instance led to the death of Gramoz Palushi, an Albanian living on the Greek island of Zakynthos.
While this may be an example of how football can be utilized as an outlet for divisiveness and violence, another group of football fans in Greece are showing how it can also be used as a unifying force. AEK Athens are today one of Greece’s biggest and most successful clubs, while its supporters remain working class in identity and outlook by virtue of the fact that were founded by Greek refugees fleeing Turkey during the 1919-1922 Greco-Turkish War. In 2012, one of its support groups, Original 21, started a collection of food and clothing to be distributed to vulnerable groups – Greek and immigrant alike. Incensed by their refusal to discriminate against immigrants, Golden Dawn supporters even attacked one group of distributors.
Reclaiming civic solidarity in Greece from nationalist-based agendas in the current climate is challenging, but having one of its most popular institutions publicly challenge Golden Dawn’s ascendancy shows how it can be done effectively through sports.
Golden Dawn shutting down food handout: http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/video/2013/may/02/greek-food-handout-shut-down-video