Cyprus Mail

How the neo-Nazis woo the young

It is the young who are most vulnerable to the schemes of the ultra-nationalists

On an imaginary island which sounds awfully like Cyprus, an ultra-rightwing party ensnares a teenage boy with lies and hate

By Alex Spyrou

The rise of right-wing populism, nationalism and, if we are to stop sugarcoating it, neo-Nazism has been plaguing societies in the western hemisphere for at least the past ten years. Not that it ever really disappeared with the downfall of the Nazis, but rather that the public was just not paying attention because they were so few in number, socially outcast and their despicable agendas were of no interest to anyone.

Now, I am not going to try and flesh out the reasons behind their growing popularity, like the financial crisis of 2008, or the austerity that has crippled welfare programmes and public education. I will leave that to the experts. Instead, I am going to tell you a short story about an ultra-nationalist party that took place almost a decade ago on a small, imaginary island, where the party for the first time recently managed to elect a few of its members to the legislative body.

A decade ago, an underage teenager was out having a pint when he met this man who, let’s assume for the purposes of this story, currently occupies one of the high positions in this neo-Nazi party. Even though the young teenager knew of the party’s ideological inclinations, he decided to have a conversation with him anyway. At some point, the man told the teenager that he should drop by the party’s offices. When the teenager reluctantly said: ‘I don’t know, I am not into this whole far-right, nationalist thing’, the man replied that these were the lies spread by the mainstream media (sounds familiar, doesn’t it?). And so the teenager decided to go.

The young man was in for a ride…

A couple of days later he visited the party’s headquarters. There was a small session honouring some hero who died during the anti-colonial struggle, no extremist language or a ritual, just a short speech. After the session, he accepted an invitation from some of the guys high in the party hierarchy to go for a meal. During dinner, they started asking him questions about his interests, his family, his friends. At the end of the night the teenager felt welcomed by these people, they seemed pleasant and agreeable. Almost everyone tried to talk to him and pretend to actually care about him personally. ‘These guys are not Nazis,’ he thought. So, he went back the following week and the week after that and the week after that until he became a member of what was then still a small organisation. Little did he know that he had entered their brainwashing recruitment process.

So, step 1 was completed. We have discredited traditional media.

Step 2: Let’s rewrite history.

During one of the sessions, the young teenager saw a member doing the Nazi salute. Confused, he asked the man who had first invited him to join the group: ‘I thought you said we are not Nazis.’ It was not a Nazi salute was the swift response. Hitler had stolen it from the ancient Greeks, who saluted the sun in times of peace to generate strength to work and in times of war to give them strength to fight. You are probably thinking that the boy sounds stupid, but that is the whole point of propaganda: to make even the most profound lies seem convincing. He, therefore, chose to blindly believe him, even though the man could not back his assertion with any evidence. But if you’re curious, just Google it. You will find only one website supporting this historical ‘feel-fact’, and that website belongs to the Greek neo-fascist party known as Golden Dawn.

The party seems to think it can defeat Turkey’s $13.2 billion army by throwing Greek flags at them

Another question that naturally pops into your mind would be if it’s not a tribute to the fürher, even if it did originate from ancient Greece (which it did not), why use that particular salute and not something else? So, rewriting the history of the Nazi salute is but one example of their ‘feel-facts’.  I am not suggesting that all the members of this imaginary political party casually salute the ‘sun’, but neither do they seem to be bothered by it.

Step 3: Selective history.

If you are not aware, Greek nationalists love ancient Greece and particularly Sparta, maybe because it was the last time that the Greek civilisation was actually relevant. They claim to be admirers of the ancient Greek civilisation, not because of democracy or philosophy, since Sparta was not a particularly intellectually gifted city-state. I would assume therefore that the admiration for Sparta stems from its bellicose nature and its brave 300 men (who were not really 300) who fought off Xerxes’ hordes and preserved the sovereignty of the nation. These are the ancestors we like, not those Athenians with their democracy and their philosophy! Of course, the nationalists will not tell you that writing and thinking were discouraged in that city-state, but I don’t see why not though. After all their members are not encouraged to think for themselves so that particular Spartan characteristic could suit them perfectly.

They will certainly never mention the homosexual tendencies of the Spartans, as neo-Nazi movements are not, let’s say, particularly fond of homosexuality. We all know homosexuals are vermin and our children should not be exposed to their degenerate nature. Meanwhile, embracing the man who burnt millions of men, women and children alive, will by no means damage our children’s upbringing.

Another example of their selective historical understanding is the treatment of the Turkish Cypriots, or the Turkish ‘Cypriots’ as they call them as if those quotation marks magically erase their legitimacy and existence – problem solved. The Turkish Cypriots are to be blamed for everything bad that ever happened in this imaginary place. We, the poor Greeks, do not share any part of the blame and even if we really did butcher them, we had every right to, they were on our land. But relax, this party says, we will eventually liberate ourselves from those savages, we will throw them in the sea, right after we defeat Turkey’s $13.2 billion army by throwing Greek flags at them. Or, even better, maybe they will just run scared when they see us marching in formation with torches and banners.

Greek nationalists have a particular fondness for ancient Sparta

Jokes aside, the party will always say that the ‘only true solution is liberation’ but they never really say what that means or how that will be achieved. Vagueness is a key characteristic of their propaganda machine. Consequently, their voters say they like them because they are straight talkers, but just because someone is saying something that is easy to comprehend, does not necessarily imply that they are straight talkers.

Step 4: Immigration.

‘I’m not a racist but…’ said every racist who ever walked on the face of this planet (sounds familiar, doesn’t it?). The young teenager never really understood what the party’s official line was on immigration but, being with them all the way, he could not question anything about it: he had to toe the party line. If you ask them, I’m sure some will say they want controlled immigration, as if millions of immigrants are lining up to enter this magical imaginary island. Others will say they want an outright ban on immigration because we should always remember that we have an obligation to preserve our untainted Greek blood which has not been diluted by centuries of being under the Turks, the British, the Italians and so many others. We can’t allow those cowardly refugees who fled for their lives ruin our 3000-year old heroic Greek origins, but at some point, we have to understand that maybe we have more in common with those people we look down upon, given our imaginary island’s colonial and wider historical experience.

The problem with the anti-immigration rhetoric is a global one that needs to be addressed since we are not competent enough to realise that the current state of the labour market is not the fault of foreigners but the result of the wider structure of the economy. An immigrant from the Middle East who struggles to make a living is to be blamed for our hardships, but someone like Donald Trump, the son of a billionaire, and a billionaire himself is to be praised. He and his kind played no part in the deterioration of working conditions and wages. It is widely known that the global economy came crashing down on our heads, not because of the stockjobbers, the speculators and the bankers, but because of Mohammed from Syria who is stealing our jobs. But anyway, scapegoating minorities in Europe… what could go wrong, right?

So, what does this party propagate? Vilifies anyone who disagrees with them: check. Attacks the media: check. Conjures up a mythical past: check. Propaganda: check. Finds a scapegoat for all our hardships: check.

If this is not neo-Nazism, I don’t know what is.

After spending a couple of years in this crooked ideological vortex of fear, bigotry, racism, and misplaced faith, the young teenager came to his senses and started thinking for himself, developed his own critical analysis and saw right through the lies, the propaganda and collection of ‘feel-facts’, and realised that sending your brain into a loop of hate is not how any functioning member of society should live his life.

He thought the state should finally do something to prevent the radicalisation of our youth who are the ones most vulnerable to their schemes. Such organisations prey on fear and cultivate hate to funnel it into the wrong directions, crippling our political and social progress. Fascist organisations should not be viewed as desirable alternatives, or even as a means for the public to manifest their disillusionment with the status quo. They should be ostracised from our communities. Why should we extend our liberties and provide a political platform to those who would subvert those very liberties given half a chance?

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