What Is the Price of Freedom? A debate. Thursday, October 3rd 2013, 7.00pm, Free Thinking Zone, Athens.


A debate on “tolerance” at an interesting juncture: The leadership of Golden Dawn, Greece’s neonazi party that holds 18 seats in Parliament, has been arrested and charged with forming and participating in a criminal organization. This debate, set up before these recent developments, aims to address the issue of “tolerance”, framed within a liberal-democratic discourse. It will be challenging to see where recent events take us.

The speakers are: Nicos C. Alivizatos, professor of law; author, What Kind of Democracy After the Crisis? | Geoff Kidder, director, membership and events, Institute of Ideas; convenor, IoI Book Club; IoI’s resident expert in all sporting matters | Dr Theodoros Skylakakis, MEP; member, Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe; president, Drasi | Nikos Sotirakopoulos, PhD student; assistant lecturer in environmental sociology, University of Kent, Canterbury | Dr George Sotiropoulos, lecturer, Department of Political Science, Democritean University of Thrace | Augustine Zenakos, head of editorial team, UNFOLLOW magazine. The debate will be chaired by Claire Fox, director, Institute of Ideas; panelist, BBC Radio 4’s Moral Maze.

The debate will be in English, streamed live on the Free Thinking Zone channel. Twitter hashtag is #battleofideas.

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Among the many narratives that seek to regulate public discourse on the Greek crisis, a particularly persistent one is that which posits that there are two “extremes”, one on either side of the political spectrum, a “Far-Right” and a “Far-Left” one, both equally detrimental to democracy, which can only therefore be safeguarded by those currently in power. This narrative is not only false, but it  conceals a sinister operation…

Among the many narratives that seek to regulate public discourse on the Greek crisis, one is particularly persistent, tirelessly propagated by the Greek mainstream Media: this narrative posits that there are two “extremes”, one on either side of the political spectrum, a “Far-Right” and a “Far-Left” one. What is implied, but also quite often spelt out, is that these two “extremes” are alike, meaning that their tactics –which are after all what “really matters”– are identical, even though they profess to employ them with differing aims. Furthermore, the narrative goes, these tactics involve the use of violence for the achievement of political ends, a fact that not only makes them both equally detrimental to democracy, but also betrays a fundamental kinship: since both these “extremes” use violence for political ends, they cannot be as different as they proclaim.


The “two extremes” narrative conveniently leaves the totalitarian expressions of capitalism such as Pinochet’s Chile, Pahlavi’s Iran or Suharto’s Indonesia outside the scheme, simple accidents of history. The obvious beneficiary is Western liberal democracy, which remains, to paraphrase Hardt and Negri’s charming formulation, always dedicated to peace, although continually bathed in blood.

Of course, this narrative was by no means discovered in Greece in the last three crisis-ridden years. On the contrary, it has a history within liberal-democratic discourse. Not to stretch too far back, the two “extremes” were equally condemned in the European Parliament resolution of 2 April 2009 on “European conscience and totalitarianism”. Reading the resolution, it is not too hard to discern that communism is a little more of a target than nazism –the European Parliament obviously considering nazism to have been sufficiently condemned in the past. Here, however, one should take account of the specificities: these are particular geopolitical circumstances, in which the current political and historical expression of Europe identifies itself –as a “united” political entity– with the winning side of World War 2 and draws on the outcome of the Cold War, thus incorporating in its European Union identity-building the countries of the former Soviet sphere of influence. Further support for this reading is provided by the fact that the precursor of the resolution on European conscience and totalitarianism is the Prague Declaration for European Conscience and Communism of June 2008.

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