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Venizelos Urges Greeks to Stop the Far Right and Left

PASOK Socialist chief Evangelos Venizelos

ATHENS – Hoping to capture a center ground as many of Greece’s political parties are shifting toward extreme positions in hopes of garnering more popular support for the May 6 general elections, PASOK Socialist leader Evangelos Venizelos told Greeks that if they vote for “goose stepping” parties, then extremists would gain seats in Parliament. While PASOK is a Leftist party, he earlier blasted far left parties for refusing to support harsh austerity measures demanded by international lenders in return for $325 billion in rescue loans to prop up the country’s dead economy.
Venizelos, who took over the Socialist party earlier this year from George Papandreou, who resigned as Prime Minister on Nov. 11, 2011 after incessant protests, riots and strikes against pay cuts, tax hikes and slashed pensions insisted upon by the Troika of the European Union-International Monetary Fund-European Central Bank (EU-IMF-ECB) has seen his party’s support slip to about 14 percent of the vote, lagging behind the front runner New Democracy Conservatives, which has only about 20 percent. Both parties supported the austerity measures and have seen their popularity plummet, raising the likelihood neither will have enough support to win outright and may have to form another coalition. They are currently sharing power in a hybrid government being overseen by interim Prime Minister Lucas Papademos, a former ECB Vice-President.
In an interview with Reuters, Venizelos, who as finance minister doubled income and property taxes and taxed the poor but promised he’d stop taxing people if he wins the Premiership, warned against the rise of the neo-Nazi Fascist Golden Dawn party, which could win as much as 5 percent of the vote and 10 seats in the 300-member Parliament. As mainstream politicians have avoided going out in public and are sticking to safe closed-door rallies and members only party rallies, Golden Dawn has been canvassing support where Greeks gather, filling a political vacuum.
“Golden Dawn is an extreme phenomenon, I believe they are an example of fascism and we radically oppose them. It’s an offense to our history and to Parliament,” he told Reuters, suggesting Greece could be experiencing its version of Germany’s “Weimar,” which led to the rise of the Nazi Party and Adolf Hitler. Golden Dawn wants to expel legal and illegal immigrants and meets under a flag of an ancient Greek symbol similar to the swastika, and has won over many of Greece’s poor by giving away clothes and food parcels. It says it is just a nationalist party and has attracted a large protest vote by attacking the bailouts and what it calls German domination of Europe.
The coalition government, trying to counter the rise of Golden Dawn has, in recent weeks, rounded up thousands of illegal immigrants in central Athens and begun to build detention camps to house them in. Samaras said he would get tough on immigrants too, but Venizelos suggested the only way for Greece to secure its future was to have several pro-European parties ruling in a coalition. “Over 75 percent of our people say they are for Europe and the euro. This must be expressed,” he said, a warning that if Greeks act in anger or a reactionary way that Greece could be forced out of the Eurozone of the 17 countries who use the euro as a currency.
He urged the EU to address the rise of the far right in the region, suggesting the success of National Front leader Marine Le Pen in the first round of France’s presidential election was proof of the lurch right. She won nearly 20 percent of the vote. Besides Golden Dawn, Greece has another far-right party, LAOS, which briefly served in the coalition and whose leader, George Karatzaferis, has said that Samaras is stealing its agenda. PASOK has bled support from one of its main constituencies, trade unions and public sector workers who have taken the brunt of the austerity measures and are furious about slated firings at the same time that Venizelos failed to go after tax evaders costing the country more than $72 billion.
“We will not allow neo-Nazis to goose-step into parliament with Hitler salutes. Greek society will persevere, it will not submit to fascism,” he earlier told supporters in the western port city of Patras, reminding them how Greece had suffered under Nazi occupation in World War II. Patras is a stronghold of PASOK support and only about 2,000 people showed up to see Venizelos, a far cry from the more than 100,000 who turned out several decades ago to see the party’s supporter, Andreas Papandreou, George’s father.
“We are fighting hard to convince the Greek people that the path we follow is difficult but safe,” he told Reuters. “I am honest and self-critical but I try to explain that what we did was to protect, not hurt, the Greek people,” although he didn’t explain how cutting their pay 30 percent helped them. Papandreou attended Venizelos’ speech and they entered the gymnasium together to cheers from fans but also chants of “Thieves, Thieves!” from leftist protesters outside. Papandreou’s aides said he would make no other appearances in Patras, where he is running to be a Member of Parliament, a come down for a former Prime Minister.
(Sources: Kathimerini, Reuters)

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