They say behind every great man is a great woman. But what about evil men? Who are the women who love and work with them? Norwegian documentarian Håvard Bustnes takes on this question in his doc, Golden Dawn Girls, a contender at this year’s Hot Docs Film Festival. The film tells the story of the women who led Greece’s ultranationalist Golden Dawn party to unprecedented victories.
If you watch the nightly news, you’ve probably seen stories about Golden Dawn. It can be easy, as we sit here in Toronto or Vancouver, to take on an air of superiority–to act as if the existence of such extreme right-wing politics is a problem to which we are immune. But Golden Dawn Girls doesn’t allow viewers to comfort themselves with such naïve attitudes. By introducing you to the women behind this movement, the doc refuses to let you say, “Those people are not like me.” Because the women of Golden Dawn Girls look like your neighbour, dress like your sister, and love their pets as much as your cousin. But they’re also your (sometimes) friendly neighbourhood fascists.
The film’s inciting force is the imprisonment of the party’s top male leaders. In the run up to Greece’s 2015 federal election, prosecutors charged several of the Golden Dawn male party’s leaders with organizing criminal activity and sent them to jail to await trial. The men’s wives, mothers and daughters were the only ones left to keep their hateful cause alive. And keep it alive they did.
Bustnes’ film goes behind the headlines to examine the psychology of the women devoted to this party. It combines disturbing footage of violent protests with interviews with the women behind the Golden Dawn party who flatly deny such violence occurred. Like Donald Trump or Kellyanne Conway, the women believe they are the targets of “fake news” and a bias media.
Most notably, the doc introduces us to Ourania Michaloliakos, daughter of Golden Dawn founder Nikolaos Michaloliakos. When we meet her, Ourania presents as a mild-mannered twenty-something who looks younger than her years. A fan of Freud, she’s working towards a graduate degree in psychology. Constantly pictured petting or walking her dog, Ourania could pass for a humanitarian if you met her briefly. What could be less threatening than a graduate student who loves puppies? Simply put, Ourania resembles someone you’d follow on Pinterest. Except, as Golden Dawn Girls proves, looks can be deceiving: Ourania is a member of a fascist movement that proclaims immigrants have no place in modern Greece, a movement where politicians assault their political opponents on television!
When her father is jailed, twenty-six-year-old Ourania transforms into the Golden Dawn’s top advocate. Raised by a father who openly poses with swastikas, Ourania thrives when forced to run his world of racist politics. Hateful xenophobia is her “normal.” With the help of other female Golden Dawn members, Ourania increases the party’s presence in parliament. By the end of the 2015 election, they have achieved their goal of becoming the third largest party in Greece.
Bustnes’ documentary brings to mind the work of philosopher Hannah Arendt. Arendt spent her career studying the so-called banality of evil: how evil becomes normalized. All that is required to turn the tide is for enough people to start believing the most unconscionable beliefs are, in fact, good. This is why the innocuous-looking, conventionally dressed women of the Golden Dawn are such good ambassadors for evil, because at first glance, they could blend in with your favourite teachers from middle school. As Bustnes demonstrates, it can be difficult to identify a fascist.
With their disapproval of interracial marriage and a penchant for white supremacy, Golden Dawn is working to normalize the oppression of minorities in its native Greece. Party members openly chant, “Fuck the Jews” at allies, joke about deporting their political enemies, and kick people of colour as they walk down the street. Officially, Golden Dawn rejects the label of “Nazi,” but one wonders where they derive the moral authority to do so.
As the film illustrates, the greatest tragedy of the rise of Golden Dawn is how Greek voters ought to know better. This is the same country that was occupied and oppressed by Nazis during World War II, yet Golden Dawn supporters have no empathy for the people they persecute. They insist Greece should be for the Greeks, suggesting Jews and people of colour are somehow anathema to that community.
Of course, the conflation of citizenship with race is not unique to Golden Dawn. Donald Trump was elected to the American presidency whilst spewing hate against Mexicans and Muslims. And xenophobia has taken such a hold of Great Britain that they voted to leave the European Union. It is upsetting how banal evil has become in countries that are meant to value freedom and democracy.
Golden Dawn Girls is a cautionary tale about the fragility of democracy. It warns us, the Canadian electorate, of the evils that happen when bigotry goes mainstream. It is a call to action that reminds anti-racist feminists that we cannot afford to be politically disengaged. We cannot afford to pretend we in Canada are morally superior, to sit back and believe our community is somehow immune to fascism. Fascists won’t take a break from politics, and feminists cannot afford to either.
Please take the time to see this documentary and remind yourself how important it is to preserve democracy. Golden Dawn Girls is nothing if not an important movie.
Get your tickets here.