06/14/2012 12:06 pm ET Updated Aug 14, 2012

The Greek Slap and Resurgent Nazism in Europe

The ongoing meltdown of Greek politics and economics is again exposing the outbreaks of Nazi-type movements across Europe. Greek voters have given small but important support to a political party known as Golden Dawn. Depending on who you believe, Golden Dawn is a far-far right wing party behind violence against immigrants and political opponents with a swastika-like emblem, or an ultra-nationalist pro-Greek opponent of both capitalism and communism. Recently, a Golden Dawn Deputy slapped a female debate opponent on national TV, saying she provoked him and is now suing her. The slap has reverberated throughout the ongoing Greek election campaign.

It comes on the heels of soccer violence with echoes of racial and political outbursts and Nazi salutes. There have been parades in the Baltic states in support of attempts to pay pensions to former members of the Waffen-SS. In Belgium there's an organization called Blood, Land, Honour and Faithfulness. In Bosnia-Herzegovina the Bosanski Pokret Nacionalnog Ponosa (Bosnian Movement of National Pride) rail against "Jews, Gypsies, Chetniks, the Croatian separatists, Josip Broz Tito, Communists, homosexuals and blacks".

Fringe groups are just that and often are best ignored. On the other hand, European history of the 20th century gives us plenty of examples of fringe groups that became the leaders of governments. Are these nascent Nazi movements led by the next Hitler or by Fritz Kuhn or Oswald Mosley?

That's not a question easily answered. But Europe is facing a kind of economic crisis that breeds anger and violence. What is happening in Greece may happen across Europe, and soon. The prudent step: take it seriously, now.

There have been efforts. Russian insiders have created an organization called "World Without Nazism" which has systematically called attention to these new realities. The Kremlin has its' own national interest, to be sure. Their bilateral relationships with the Baltic states are not friendly and the focus on the growth of Nazi movements there is in Russia's own self-interest. But the Russian experience in WWII (27 million dead and a destroyed country) still hangs heavy on its' soul and politics. Kremlin self-interest aside, there's a genuine fear of an unexpected return to right-wing extremism. They ought not be alone.

The Greek Slap is a peek into what's actually possible if a financial crisis rolls over Europe. The generation that lived through the growth and consequences of Nazism is dying out. Flickering gray images on a TV screen don't have the power of living through Krystalnacht or Vichy France. The first step in preventing the unthinkable is acknowledging we have a problem. We have a problem.