Friday, 4 October 2013

Fascism: how does one resist it?

Did you ever see the Costas Gavras classic film, Z?

When it comes to building tension, few films have equalled it. I particularly liked the use of the rat-a-tat-tat of an IBM golfball typewriter as part of the soundtrack: it provides a percussion accompaniment to much of the work of the Examining Magistrate investigating the violent death of a left-wing politician.

Its effect is particularly powerful when it suddenly stops: the magistrate, having previously always corrected anyone who had referred to the death as a ‘murder’ and insisted that they call it an ‘incident’, had in dictating a report used the work ‘murder’ himself. There is a sudden, deathly silence and then the voice of the typist: ‘don’t you mean ‘incident’?’

But by then it was clear that it wasn’t an incident, that the man had been murdered. And that takes us into the final chilling sequence of the film, as the army’s tanks move in and a military government is formed; those who investigated and exposed a crime find they are now the criminals and facing persecution; even witnesses disappear in quick and mysterious succession.

The setting of the film? Thinly disguised Greece as the 
Colonels’ seized power, back in 1967. I was fourteen at the time and beginning to take an interest in politcs. At that age, whatever I discovered seemed immutable, good for all time. A few years later, I felt nothing but sorrow for a fellow student and friend of mine, a Greek who, it seemed to us both, would be condemned to live with that oppressive and vicious regime for a long time to come.

Keeping Z's veil transparent: 'any resemblance to real events,
to people living or dead, is no coincidence. It is DELIBERATE.'
In the end that didn’t happen. The Colonels fell in 1974 and democracy was restored. Like the change in regime in Spain a year later, it seemed like a new spring in the non-Soviet part of Europe; soon we began to feel that these new democracies were here to stay, and it was hard to imagine them ever drifting back towards Fascism.

Today, for Greece at least, there’s less grounds for that casual optimism. A nakedly neo-Nazi movement, Golden Dawn, took 7% in the polls last year and won its first seats in the Greek parliament.

I say ‘nakedly’ but the reality is that they deny their Nazi roots. These movements always do. But their symbols, their beliefs and most tellingly their behaviour (they organise gangs to use violence against immigrants or minorities), all mark them as belonging to that same deplorable tradition.

Golden Dawn: who could possibly mistake them for Nazis?
Most worryingly, it emerged recently some of their thugs were being given training by elements in the security forces. That really awoke memories of Z: Costas Gavras underlined the ugly nexus between the violent right wing and the military-police establishment.

Now though Golden Dawn have perhaps overreached themselves. A left-leaning singer has been murdered, and a Golden Dawn member has admitted responsibility. The reaction of the authorities has been astonishing for its swiftness and effectiveness. Leading members of Golden Dawn, including MPs, have been arrested and charged with serious offences.

It’s a fascinating, if frightening, moment to watch. The great paradox of democracies up against totalitarian violence is to know how far they can go: if they go beyond the rule of law, they may be more effective, but aren’t they themselves then undermining the very democracy they wish to uphold?

But the Greek government has decided that it has to act. And so far it has acted within the law anyway, so one has to wish it well in its aspiration to crush a viper before it strikes.

That’s what makes the spectacle fascinating. What makes it frightening is another historical parallel. In 1923, Hitler launched his ill-fated ‘Beer Hall Putsch’ in Munich. This attempted uprising was crushed in two days. Hitler was tried and imprisoned – but not deported to his native Austria, as he might have been, since he wasn’t a German citizen.

Instead he was held in comfortable conditions in a castle where he wrote Mein Kampf. He was released after eight months; nine years later, he was Chancellor of Germany.

So the question now is, how will the Golden Dawn’s defendants be treated? Will they be convicted of serious or minor offences, will they face sentences that take them off the political scene?

There’s a lot riding on that. What a shame if another 14 year old has to sit through a successor film to Z in a few years time, and feel the same sense of frustration and anger so many of us felt back in 1967
. Or the same sorrow for the fate of Greece.

Even for another outstanding film, that would be too high a price to pay.


Leonard Beeson said...

"Now I will tell you the answer to [your]question. It is this. The Party seeks power entirely for its own sake. We are not interested in the good of others; we are interested solely in power, pure power. What pure power means you will understand presently. We are different from the oligarchies of the past in that we know what we are doing. All the others, even those who resembled ourselves, were cowards and hypocrites. The German Nazis and the Russian Communists came very close to us in their methods, but they never had the courage to recognize their own motives. They pretended, perhaps they even believed, that they had seized power unwillingly and for a limited time, and that just around the corner there lay a paradise where human beings would be free and equal. We are not like that. We know that no one ever seizes power with the intention of relinquishing it. Power is not a means; it is an end. One does not establish a dictatorship in order to safeguard a revolution; one makes the revolution in order to establish the dictatorship. The object of persecution is persecution. The object of torture is torture. The object of power is power. Now you begin to understand me.”

David Beeson said...

Sorry to have responded so late - but thanks for the comment - and Orwell certainly had a way with words, didn't he?