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Bloody nasty people

British journalist Daniel Trilling explains the Golden Dawn conundrum in the context of the European far right

Daniel Trilling, journalist and author of Bloody Nasty People: The Rise of Britain's Far Right, tells Eleftherotypia's Epsilon magazine how Golden Dawn differs from any other far-right party in Europe

British National Party (BNP) supporters hold signs and wave the Union flag outside the High Court in London, November 2010. Officials of the BNP appeared in court in relation to an order requiring the party to remove a clause from its constitution banning non-white members British National Party (BNP) supporters hold signs and wave the Union flag outside the High Court in London, November 2010. Officials of the BNP appeared in court in relation to an order requiring the party to remove a clause from its constitution banning non-white members After many years of reporting on issues related to the far-right in the UK and across Europe, Daniel Trilling in 2012 published his first book, entitled Blood Nasty People: The Rise of Britain's Far Right, where he explains the rise and fall of the British National Party (BNP) from its founding in 1983 until now.

Reporting from Athens for the New Statesman magazine a few months ago, the British journalist had written that Golden Dawn's naziesque imagery and openly violent conduct of its members set it apart from any other European far-right party.

In an exclusive interview with Dimitris Tomaras published recently in Eleftherotypia's Epsilon magazine, Trilling talks about his book and how it relates to the Golden Dawn conundrum.

Bloody Nasty People was published in 2012 Bloody Nasty People was published in 2012 Let’s start with the subject of your book. Could you briefly describe the rise and fall of the BNP?

The BNP was founded in the early 1980s by a group of neo-Nazis who had broken away from the far-right National Front. It concentrated on largely on street marches, disseminating racist propaganda and encouraging violent attacks on ethnic minorities, until Nick Griffin became leader in the late 1990s.

Griffin attempted to copy the electoral success of the French Front National, pursuing a “community politics” strategy and hiding the more extreme parts of its ideology from public view.

As a result, the BNP began to win seats in local government throughout the 2000s, profiting from racism in the mainstream media, the long-term effects of neoliberalism and economic inequality, and discontent at Britain’s New Labour government. It peaked by winning two seats in the European Parliament in 2009, but collapsed at the 2010 general election, in part thanks to a large antifascist campaign.

In electoral terms, the BNP is Britain’s most successful ever far-right party, although its progress was far smaller than some of its European contemporaries: France’s Front National, the Sweden Democrats, or Hungary’s Jobbik, for example.

Hundreds of supporters of Hungary's far-right Jobbik party attend a rally against the World Jewish Congress plenary assembly in Budapest, 4 May 2013 (Photo: Reuters) Hundreds of supporters of Hungary's far-right Jobbik party attend a rally against the World Jewish Congress plenary assembly in Budapest, 4 May 2013 (Photo: Reuters) After the “fall” of the BNP we see the emergence of the UK Independence Party (Ukip), a party which combines neoliberal politics with a nationalistic discourse.

Ukip employ a similar discourse to the BNP, but their underlying ideas are different. They’re not fascists, but a break-away section of the centre-right Conservative Party who think Britain should leave the EU and are exploiting anti-immigration sentiment to achieve this goal.

Ukip’s appeal comes from posing as an alternative to the current, “corrupt” political elite. Many people vote for them to send a message to the mainstream – that they’re not happy – but would never realistically expect Ukip to be a party of government.

But their real effect lies in pushing the whole of mainstream political discourse to the right. We saw this with the BNP, where government ministers would make increasingly reactionary statements about immigration the more success the BNP had. And it’s happening now with Ukip – all three main party leaders (Cameron, Miliband, Clegg) have recently made speeches where they promise even tougher restrictions on the rights of migrants than Britain already has. But it’s a vicious circle: far from neutralising public concerns over immigration, this merely antagonises them.

A UK Independence Party (Ukip) supporter sells t-shirts during the party's spring conference in Milton Keynes, central England, March 2010 (Photo: Reuters) A UK Independence Party (Ukip) supporter sells t-shirts during the party's spring conference in Milton Keynes, central England, March 2010 (Photo: Reuters) How is racist violence expressed in the UK today?

There is perhaps less open racist violence than there was in, say, the 1970s and 1980s, but it persists. Muslims – and above all, Muslim women who wear hijab – are now the focus of street attacks, verbal or physical. The police still stop and search nonwhite members of the public far more than they stop white people, and many people from ethnic minorities still do not trust the police to protect them. There is a perception that racism is something only indulged by uneducated working-class people and I strongly reject this. It’s a system of thought and of collective behaviour that runs right from the top to the bottom of the hierarchy, and open violence is merely one expression of this system.

There is a perception that racism is something only indulged by uneducated working-class people and I strongly reject this. It’s a system of thought and of collective behaviour that runs right from the top to the bottom of the hierarchy, and open violence is merely one expression of this system.

The UK has this long-standing tradition of multiculturalism. Is it in danger at the moment?

Multiculturalism has never been fully accepted by the right, even as it has become a fact of everyday life for millions of people. In the past decade there’s been a renewed attack on multiculturalism under cover of “criticism” of religion, or the supposed excesses of “political correctness” (ie, things like antiracism laws). These attacks have come from sections of the liberal intelligentsia, as well as from the right.

However, the fact that opponents are constantly having to change the focus of their attack, and are forced to accept that previous waves of immigration have been a benefit to Britain, is testament to the strength of living, breathing multiculturalism and the way ordinary people choose to build relationships with one another.

How is Greece portrayed in the British press?

Greece is generally portrayed as a sympathy case, or held up as a warning by supporters of austerity – “if you don’t go along with our policies, we’ll end up like Greece”. There has been some excellent coverage of the abuses of the Greek state (such as the torture of anarchists by police last year), and some excellent exposure of Golden Dawn’s true beliefs, but in general there is a lack of context which would bring out the international trends that affect Britain and Greece alike.

Does the British legal system have tools appropriate and effective enough to deal and confront neofascism? What’s your opinion for Greece when it comes to that matter?

Golden Dawn members stand around a stage during a rally in Athens, 2 February 2013 (Reuters) Golden Dawn members stand around a stage during a rally in Athens, 2 February 2013 (Reuters) The difference between the UK and Greece is in Golden Dawn’s relationship with the state. Greece has a history of rightwing militias collaborating with the police and there have been documented incidents in which Golden Dawn members have appeared to work in tandem with officers in attacking leftwing protesters.

What’s more, there has been a culture of impunity around crimes allegedly committed by Golden Dawn members and supporters (for example, Kasidiaris’ attack on MP Liana Kanelli, the attack on market stalls belonging to immigrant vendors, etc).

The difference between the UK and Greece is in Golden Dawn’s relationship with the state. Greece has a history of rightwing militias collaborating with the police and there have been documented incidents in which Golden Dawn members have appeared to work in tandem with officers in attacking leftwing protesters. What’s more, there has been a culture of impunity around crimes allegedly committed by Golden Dawn members and supporters

With the exception of Northern Ireland, Britain does not have such a recent history of links between the state and rightwing militias. It’s never needed to, to maintain order, or to repress dissident groups. This does not mean that state bodies are free of racism - a judicial inquiry in 1999 found a widespread culture of “institutional racism” in the London Metropolitan police, for instance – but there are certain legal bans on far-right organising. It is forbidden for a serving police officer to be a member of the BNP.

How is the rise of the far right and all the racist violence in Greek society today viewed by a distant observer? 

It’s extremely worrying. While Golden Dawn’s electoral success is no more than what we’ve seen from the far right in other countries (eg France, Hungary, Austria), what distinguishes it is the speed with which it has happened, and the open violence and neo-Nazism.

This is, above all, a problem for the immigrants and ethnic minorities in Greece who are subject to the most vicious attacks – but it also opens a door in European politics that had been closed for 60 years. Far-right parties have until now had to hide their innermost beliefs, and limit their ambitions. This may not be the case in the years to come.

While Golden Dawn’s electoral success is no more than what we’ve seen from the far right in other countries, what distinguishes it is the speed with which it has happened, and the open violence and neo-Nazism

In the meantime, the European left seems very weak in inspiring and expressing people...

The European left destroyed its own credibility among voters by accepting the neoliberal ideology introduced from the late 1970s onwards. It’s an attitude sometimes referred to as Tina – “there is no alternative”, which is what Margaret Thatcher once told her opponents on the left. As a result, the left has been spectacularly ill-equipped to formulate a response to the financial crisis.

The old, established centre-left parties have been hollowed out by 30 years of acquiescence, and it’s only in countries where their structures have started to break down that we are seeing the emergence of radical parliamentary alternatives

The old, established centre-left parties have been hollowed out by 30 years of acquiescence, and it’s only in countries where their structures have started to break down that we are seeing the emergence of radical parliamentary alternatives. Not only Syriza, but the Front de Gauche in France too. More broadly, the energy has come from the street, with the 15M movement, Occupy etc.

This is as it should be: leftwing politics should always stem from grassroots social movements, but we are still waiting to see whether such movements can either overturn the present state of affairs, or form themselves into parties that can enter and change the system.

Do you have fears that the far-right ideology will become even more well-established in Europe? 

I do, but the point is this ideology does not come from the far right itself. What far right parties do is parasitical on mainstream ideology. They exploit the resentments, and the racism, and the political disillusion that circulates among the rest of society. And they do not need to be in power to have an effect: what far-right parties can do is provoke our liberal elites into taking ever-more authoritarian positions. That’s the situation we find in many countries, from Britain, which detains more refugees than any other country but Australia, to Greece, where the Samaras government is pursuing a crackdown on leftists and on independent media and telling people “you have to trust in us otherwise extremists will come to power”. We should oppose fascists, but we should also fight against the pressure to let technocrats take control of our lives.

There may be people out there who actively want to dismantle democracy – the Griffins and Le Pens and Michaloliakoses of this world – but what worries me just as much is that people may be willing to surrender their democratic rights voluntarily.

What far right parties do is parasitical on mainstream ideology. They exploit the resentments, and the racism, and the political disillusion that circulates among the rest of society. And they do not need to be in power to have an effect: what far-right parties can do is provoke our liberal elites into taking ever-more authoritarian positions

 

Daniel Trilling Daniel Trilling Daniel Trilling is assistant editor of the New Statesman magazine and a regular contributor to the Guardian. He has written numerous articles on the rise of neofascism. His book Bloody Nasty People made the list of 12 nominated for the Orwell Prize 2013 and was a finalist for Debut Political Book of the year at the Political Book Awards 2013

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