Bishops say “OXI” to neofascist Golden Dawn movement
In 1940 the Fascist dictator of Italy, Benito Mussolini, sent an ultimatum to Greece, demanding that they allow Italian troops to occupy Greece. The Greek response was a single word, OXI (“NO”).
The Greek resistance to Mussolini was the first Allied victory of the Second World War, and though Greece was eventually occupied by the Axis powers, the Italians required the assistance of German troops to do it, and it may be argued that this resistance delayed the German invasion of Russia, and meant that their invasion got bogged down in the autumn rains, and was halted by the Russian winter, and thus the Greek OXI changed the course of the war.
This post is not intended to be a lesson in military history , however. I am more concerned about the present, when Greeks are again needing to say NO to fascism. As one newspaper headline puts it: A Fascist party in full cry. Black-shirts smashing migrants’ homes. Swastikas on the streets. No, not Germany in the Thirties: Greece 2012.
Or, as another newspaper reports, “Fascist gangs are turning Athens into a city of shifting front lines, seizing on crimes and local protests to promote their own movement, by claiming to be the defenders of recession ravaged Greece.”
The “recession-ravaged” epithet also recalls parallels with the rise of Nazism in Germany, which was struggling against austerity measures imposed by the victors in the First World War through the Treaty of Versailles. And other commentators have also pointed this out:
When German Chancellor Angela Merkel visited Athens last month, a few Greek Army reservists in fatigues greeted her with chants of “Get out, Nazis!” Like other Greeks, they are furious over the drastic budget cuts Germany and other eurozone countries are demanding in exchange for billions in bailout loans. The protesters compared the situation to Nazi Germany’s brutal occupation of Greece during World War II, when more than 400,000 Greeks died. But investigative journalist Dimitris Psarras hears other echoes of the past. “The economic crisis that Greece is facing today is similar to the one faced by Weimar Germany,” he says. “Just as Germany struggled to pay reparations imposed by the victors of World War I, Greece is now struggling to pay off giant debt racked up by its own corrupt political system.” Even Prime Minister Antonis Samaras has used the reference. In Weimar Germany, paramilitaries from the far right and far left fought in the streets. Germans struggled through head-spinning economic and political crises. Then, in 1933, after parliamentary elections that gave the Nazi Party the biggest share of the vote, Adolf Hitler came to power. Now Greece may have its own version of the Nazis, Psarras says, the Golden Dawn Party. He has researched the movement for more than two decades and just released a book, The Black Bible of Golden Dawn.
And what is the Church doing about all this?
Some might say that this is “politics” and that the Church should stay aloof from politics, but I can see distinct parallels with apartheid in South Africa, where after a lot of vaccilating and arguments about “religion and politics don’t mix” a number of Christian leaders did say publicly (in 1968, 20 years after the National Party came to power to promote apartheid) that the apartheid ideology was worse than a heresy; it was a false gospel, a pseudogospel of salvation by race rather than grace. Extreme nationalism, and the exaltation of race or ethnicity against all other values, is a form of idolatry.
There have been disturbing reports that some priests are supporting Golden Dawn, and thus leading their flock astray, but many bishops have been true to the faith. That is why we pray at every Divine Liturgy that God will “grant them for Thy Holy Churches in peace, safety, honour, health and length of days, rightly to define the Word of Thy Truth.”
The fullest and most comprehensive statement that I have seen so far is from The Holy Eparchial Synod of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America, which issued a communiqué which included the following resounding OXI:
Statement of the Holy Eparchial Synod
of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America
The Holy Eparchial Synod of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America in its Fall 2012 session expresses once again its deep concern over extremist language used in all spheres of public and private life. We exhort all the people with the admonition of the Holy Apostle Paul: Let your speech always be with grace, seasoned with salt, that you may know how you ought to answer each one (Colossians 4:6). We deplore the use of any racist, xenophobic, fascistic, hateful speech, imagery and behavior. Noting that the one of the great gifts of living in a democracy is the right to free speech, we nevertheless commend responsibility, civility, and indeed love in choosing our words and modes of expression. The people of Greece said “NO” to fascism in World War II and consequently suffered tremendously under the Nazi occupation. We call upon all people to say “NO” to the hatefulness of all forms of totalitarianism and embrace the true philanthropy and philoxenia (love of the stranger) that is the message of the Gospel. As a leader in Interfaith and Inter-Cultural Dialogue, the Greek Orthodox Church, by the grace of God, prays and works for peace, respect, and reconciliation among all people.
It’s time for Orthodox Greeks to remember OXI Day and say