Austerity may prove the saviour of Greece’s far right




A DESCRIPTION in a local website of the murder of hip hop artist and well-known anti-fascist Pavlos Fyssas, 34, known as Killah P in a working class area of Piraeus outside Athens.

“Around 24:00 a group of around 20 fascists, wearing black t-shirts and military pants and boots, was deployed on P. Tsaldari street. During that time, Killah P was walking with his girlfriend and another couple when he was spotted by the fascists shouting “what are you looking for here, you know there is no place for you in this hood”.

The fascists hunted the couples down P. Tsaldari street towards Gr. Lampraki avenue, where from another street, a new group of around 10 fascists came out and surrounded the guys. A car drove opposite in an one-way street, stopped, the driver came out and stabbed Killah P once in the heart and once in the abdomen (the stabbing on his abdomen had an upside-down “L” shape).

The whole scene took place in the presence of DIAS motorbike police, that only afterwards, and only as soon as most of the fascists had already dispersed, arrested the murderer — a 45-year-old holding a knife, described by other eyewitnesses as a known Golden Down associate.

According to some witnesses Killah P while still in shock kept pointing at the murderer and this led to the arrest. The ambulance took 35 minutes and Pavlos was pronounced dead at Nikaia general hospital.

It reads like a scene from a Hollywood movie, when law and order break down and anarchy prevails. But this is modern day Europe, in the capital city of a European Union member, a democratic state, where the organised murder of a rapper and attacks on foreigners, appear to be the tip of the iceberg.

Golden Dawn — the political party with the most optimistic name on the planet — began life almost 30 years ago, a decade after the overthrow of the military junta in Greece, a small group with beliefs similar to the Nazis.

They adopted the same attitude to the human race dividing it into superior Aryans — which for them were Greeks, and the rest were classified as subhumans, including Greeks who did not agree with their view of the world.

Foreigners, Roma, mentally and physically handicapped, were all destined for death as far as the organisation was concerned — adopting the list from the Nazis that occupied the country victimising Greeks just a generation previously.

While they deny being neo-Nazi, they adopt much the same insignia, the colour of their ‘uniform’ is black, their slogan is “Blood, Honour”.

But according to a report prepared by a number of magistrates investigating various charges including murder against leading members of Golden Dawn, including nine members of parliament, their ambitions were not just to clean up who lived in Greece, but to overthrow democracy and take over the state.

They had successfully influenced some of the essential components of the state, with close ties to some of the top echelons of the police who were turning a blind eye to their violent tactics and appeared to have been passing them on sensitive information.

In the last election, just over a year ago, one out of two police was estimated to have voted for Golden Dawn. According to Anastassia Tsoukala, a Greek criminologist and professor working in Paris, the sympathisers had probably increased as other police ignored the violence — even attacks against foreigners or left-wing demonstrations against the economic policy of austerity.

Even the military has been sucked in, with some former military staff signing up amid reports Golden Dawn had a 3,000-strong paramilitary force at the ready. There were rumours in recent weeks that some were planning a coup, which in a country that suffered at the hands of a military junta for decades could not be taken lightly. Certainly some members of Golden Dawn are ex-army and the organisation has access to weapons and uses military-style training for their younger recruits.

They target young people, working in schools and poor areas where they distributed food to people in very public demonstrations of support, but refusing anybody that looked different.

In the last election they became a political force to be reckoned with garnering 400,000 votes and 7% share in the parliament. Their 18 seats in a parliament of 300 makes them the third largest party. With so many parties and so many needed to form a governing coalition, there was even talk of them teaming up to form a government.

With their anti-migrant stance winning populist support among a population, feeling frustrated and powerless in the face of the austerity measures, the established parties also began to adopt some of their attitudes in an effort to win votes.

Even as the government, and especially the prime minister Antonis Samaras party New Democracy, fought to get bills through parliament they appeared to turn a blind eye to the exploits of Golden Dawn and for 18 months while their MPs caused uproar, including fistfights in the parliament, there was little sign of action.

However, Golden Dawn is a group with a well organised protection racket, Mafia style, threatening to destroy any foreigner business refusing to pay.

Like the Mafia, there are indications that Golden Dawn groups are organised around families. Two men arrested in a town near Corinth were the fathers of four young men who police believe were involved in a vicious attack on two Greeks during the summer. The gang wore Golden Dawn tee-shirts and used brass knuckles and metal chains seriously injuring their victims, according to local reports.

Police said they found shotguns and ammunition as well as Golden Dawn material in the home of one of the arrested men who was father to three of the alleged perpetrators.

Golden Dawn was founded by the man who is still their leader, Nikos Michaloliakos, around 1987 when their most public profile was their magazine. They existed under the radar for more than 20 years, gathering members in some of the main Greek cities.

Typically they form small closed groups and early on the organisation was split into two — the political body Golden Dawn, and the ‘business” section whose job was to deal with those considered enemies of the organisation.

According to evidence collected mainly from three former members, by the two magistrates building a case against members of the organisation, both parts are managed and run by the same leadership team, modelled they say along the line of the German National Socialist party, with one chief at the top of the hierarchy who has absolute, unlimited power. The organisation’s special features as identified by the magistrates were its military structure and absolute hierarchy. Their rules demand total obedience to the commands of their superiors and absolute secrecy.

They have specially trained strike forces, referred to as battalions, with their members chosen for their robust physique and trained under very harsh conditions — similar to that of national armed forces special units — including in the martial arts.

The organisation, which apparently refers to itself as “The Movement”, includes teams with first aid experience and equipment, mechanised units that favour a particular type of motorbike, and a wing for ‘guiding’ young members.

Local organisations have regular meetings concentrating on “ideological orientation” where about twice a week they discuss issues, the views to be taken and their goals. They are addressed by people chosen for their expertise on the subject who also act as mentors to the younger or newer members.

Local groups are governed by a small committee but, according to the evidence amassed by the magistrates, the final approval for every action rests with the overall leader, who is the party leader and has been a member of the Greek parliament since May 2012.

The evidence amassed by the magistrates is focussed on linking the actions of Golden Dawn of three accused MPs, Giorgos Germenis, Stathis Boukouras and Panagiotis Iliopoulos, and to have parliament remove their immunity so they can be prosecuted.

Quoting various witnesses, they say their evidence shows their direct involvement not just in military training but in the violent operations against foreigners, in having illegal weapons, in the indoctrination of new recruits, in tax evasion and in money laundering.

Ultimately, their report said, they have evidence to charge different Golden Dawn MPs with attempted murder, robbery, explosions, inciting violence and causing serious bodily harm. Government sources are also talking about charges of membership of a criminal organisation as they now wish to classify Golden Dawn and perhaps even treason.

Golden Dawn and their leader, Nikos Michaloliakos, never hid their intentions and never hid their iron fist in a velvet glove.

That fist was used at one of their first press conferences after the election when journalists were sent hurtling as the party’s brawny security people demanded the assembled media stand to show proper respect for the newly-elected deputies as they entered the room for the press conference. Any who didn’t were thrown out.

Michaloliakos denies his organisation is a criminal one and that he has anything to do with the killing of Pavlos Fyssas as lies, claiming he is under attack from a rotten system — getting his message out via a live webcast on the party’s internet site.

He asks: “I am supposed to prove that I am not a criminal, not the mafia. But my question is: ‘is there any bigger criminal gang than those in power, who led the country to bankruptcy and handed over our national sovereignty?’

Now that the tide has turned on Golden Dawn, many of the most senior police have been replaced and some, mainly from lower and middle ranks, have been arrested, and investigations are on-going at a number of levels. A investigation into whether any members of the Greek army’s special forces were still involved with Golden Dawn drew a blank. Whether special forces gave military training to party members in the past was not answered and the investigation continues.

People too are looking for who might be to blame for the wave of fascism. Some reports suggested that their funding has come from wealthy Greeks — a theory supported by Anastassia Tsoukala, a criminologist and associate professor at the University of Paris XI, who told the Council of Europe that she knew this from private sources, including police.

However, Greek MP Maria Giannakaki disagrees, insisting that their funding came from their criminal activities. She is a founding member of the Democratic Left party.

Those who voted for Golden Dawn gave as the main reason their fury at a corrupt political system. The party’s anti-immigrant message came second. The party was helped by the underlying corruption in a country where the mega rich did not share in the cost of running the state and politicians created a mafia, using state largesse from grants to jobs to favour family and friends.

The extent of the corruption was revealed when the country went into meltdown as the pyramid scheme the state had become collapsed, helped by the implosion of the financial system in the US and Europe, and the ensuing recession.

The extent of the clientist state that included tax collectors splitting the proceeds of tax due three ways between themselves, the taxpayer and the state, was laid bare as the troika took over the department of finance as part of the deal to lend Greece the funds it needed. What the troika found validated the German dogma that blamed the Greeks alone for their plight and meted out pain as the only path towards a solution.

The disease and the prescribed remedy together conspired to bring down the entire euro currency, feeding into a cycle of measures that saw the wealthy and speculators gaining and the burden placed squarely on the shoulders of taxpayers and small employers.

The result was a 20% drop in GDP in just four years — the largest seen in a modern economy and while Greece will balance its books, and even have a surplus this year before huge interest rate repayments, unemployment is running at close to 30% — 60% among the youth.

The socialist government bore the wrath of the EU creditor states when its prime minister suggested putting the cutback to a referendum and he was decried as not being a fit person for the troika to do business with. His government fell and in the election the centre right party emerged the biggest party but well short of a majority.

Their leader, Antonis Samaras, despite having overseen much of the excesses of the previous decade, won the popular vote largely thanks to his very public holding out against pressure from his fellow christian democrat party leaders in the EU — among them Angela Merkel — to sign up to the troika deal.

However, once in government he quickly succumbed to the pressures of the market and his creditors and put together a government with two other parties to form a majority.

Over the previous five years Golden Dawn was gaining in the arena it had long hoped — the centre of power, the Hellenic Parliament on the famous Syntagma Square. They won 21 seats, getting 7% of the votes in May 2012, up from 0.24% in the previous election. In new national elections in Jun 2012, their support dropped slightly giving them 18 seats.

They were helped by the immigrant situation since Greece, like Ireland, traditionally a country where people left, became a receiving country in the late 1990s and early 2000s. A huge percentage of the irregular migrants into Europe came across the virtually open border with Turkey.

They were absorbed as cheap labour in the black economy and exploited by employers. But when the labour market collapsed, “they became a burden Greece could not get rid of”, said Professor Tsoukala.

With the help of Golden Dawn, and with the government playing the game of scapegoating migrants, foreigners were blamed for the problems the public was experiencing.

The authorities suggest that Golden Dawn members have been responsible for at least three deaths apart from Pavlos Fyssas, and unknown numbers of attacks and destruction of migrants homes and businesses. The party leader, Mr Mihaloliakos, insisted he was asleep on the night the rapper was murdered, although reports say the police have transcripts of telephone calls between party members linking him to the killing.

There is some unease X over the investigations into Golden Dawn and the increasing arrests and charges preferred against their members.

The director general of the Greek National Intelligence Service, Theodoros Dravillas, gave assurances that political parties and MPs were not being monitored. But in a statement he added that there have been “waivers of confidentiality and investigations by the counter terrorism agency into the illegal activities of Golden Dawn members following the murder of Pavlos Fyssas”.

The government said that investigations were underway long before the September murder with ‘phone taps and surveillance.

“We were being faced with an attempt to overthrow the existing system of government and this couldn’t be documented based on a single action. The investigation was underway and Fyssas’ murder was the catalyst that accelerated procedures,” government spokesman Simos Kedikoglou told Skai TV.

The Council of Europe’s commissioner for Human Rights, Nils Muiznieks, believes the government could ban Golden Dawn, despite them being a democratically elected party. Professor Tsoukala disagrees. “They are being weakened as a criminal gang which is the perfect way to deal with them. You can ban parties, but can you uproot fascist mentalities — and this is where we should focus — we must work on the mentalities to uproot fascism”.

However, Mr Muiznieks believes the problem is much deeper than just Golden Dawn. “Rhetoric stigmatising migrants is widely used in Greek politics. The authorities must firmly condemn all instances of hate speech and hate crime and lead by example in public, migration-related debates,” he said. Domestic and international anti-racism law have been little used if at all, especially in relation to Golden Dawn. Systematic and on-going training for police, coast guard, prosecutors and judges was also needed.

He was equally critical of what he described as chronic shortcomings in the Greek justice system with excessively long proceedings, lack of an effective remedy and costly court fees. “Victims of hate crimes should be exempt from criminal complaint fees and should receive adequate legal aid and assistance”, he said after his visit to Athens.

He was particularly critical of the Greek police force, saying that there were persistent reports of ill-treatment, including torture committed by law enforcement officials notably against migrants and Roma. “The authorities must eliminate the institutional culture of impunity and address effectively all suspicions of collusion of a part of the police with “Golden Dawn”, which have dealt an extremely damaging blow to public confidence not only in the police, but in the Greek state as a whole. An independent, effective police complaints mechanism is long overdue.”

A handful of senior police have been replaced and 70 anti-racist police units have been established — Mr Muiznieks said that their remit must be extended to include all forms of hate crime while at the same time urging that they be properly resourced and trained.

However, the last thing Greece needs with its already unstable government, is the threat by Golden Dawn to resign parliament and so force elections.

Ironically their claims that the arrest of their MPs and action to dismantle its organisation and funding sources is politically motivated, together with the on-going effects of austerity, might well help them recoup the support they lost following the murder of Pavlos Fyssas.

GOLDEN DAWN: FROM INSIGNIFICANT BIT-PLAYERS TO POWERFUL FORCE

WHAT IS GOLDEN DAWN?

Golden Dawn is an extreme nationalist party in Greece that has risen to prominence in the last two years. The party, with its anti-immigration rhetoric, provision of parallel social services, propensity for street violence, and Nazi-like logo has attracted attention the world over. The organisation has frequently been linked to attacks on immigrants and leftists, and its politics are not only nationalistic and anti-immigrant, but markedly racist, anti-Muslim, anti-Turk, and anti-Semitic.

While it is very much a minority group, Golden Dawn’s rise indicates a hardening of attitudes in Greece.

Founded in 1987, but with a prehistory dating back to 1980, Golden Dawn was an insignificant party until well after the economic crisis hit, polling just 1% of the vote in 2009.

But in 2012, it tapped into Greek resentment over the austerity demanded by Europe in exchange for two bailouts and boosted its support to 7%, earning it 21 seats in Greece’s 300-seat parliament. (A subsequent election reduced its seats to 18.)

A recent opinion poll, taken prior to the arrests, put the party’s support at 15%, though most Greek sources say that has dropped to around 7% since the crackdown.

WHAT IS DRIVING GOLDEN DAWN’S POPULARITY?

Economic misery, primarily. Greece’s economy has collapsed since the 2008 financial crisis, and the two EU-IMF bailouts have come with hefty strings attached in the form of austerity measures, ranging from job losses to the sale of public assets. Unemployment is extremely high. The Labour Institute of the General Confederation of Greek Workers, a labour union research body, has predicted it could rise to 34% by 2016.

Golden Dawn’s rise has been as the result of a three-pronged strategy: exploiting anger at the EU, Germany in particular; blaming immigrants for Greece’s troubles; and running its own social services including food banks.

In addition, widespread anger at former governing party — the centre-left Pasok, which is widely perceived as corrupt — has benefitted left- and right-wing parties alike.

The proximate cause, however, was the murder of a 44-year-old man in Athens. In May 2011, Manolis Kantaris was walking his pregnant wife to their car en route to a maternity hospital when he was attacked and killed by two men — both Afghan immigrants. The incident fuelled violent clashes between immigrants and Greeks, particularly members of Golden Dawn. The party’s vote increased sevenfold the following year.

WHY IS THE GOVERNMENT CRACKING DOWN ON GOLDEN DAWN NOW?

The rise of the far-right party has long been a thorn in the side of the government, damaging Greece’s reputation internationally. But the crackdown’s trigger was the Sept 18 murder of Pavlos Fyssas, an anti-racist, anti-fascist rapper who used the stage name of Killah P. He was stabbed in Athens by a man alleged to have ties to Golden Dawn.

The government response was immediate, with senior members of the party arrested, though several have now been released on bail. Members have been arrested for homicide, attempted homicide, money laundering, blackmail, grievous bodily harm, and other crimes, while leader Nikolaos Mihaloliakos has been charged with founding and participating in a criminal organisation.

Though Golden Dawn has inspired horror among both the left and the mainstream right, the crackdown against the group has raised some concerns about democracy and freedom of speech. Nikos Konstandaras, journalist with centre-right Greek newspaper I Kathimerini, wrote that the move “went a long way toward restoring faith in the country’s institutions and the state”, but warned Golden Dawn members must be prosecuted for actual crimes, not subjected to a “political pogrom”.

WHAT DOES GOLDEN DAWN SAY FOR ITSELF?

The party vehemently denies being neo-Nazi, writing on its website: “The only reason they call us ‘neo-Nazi’ is because we are a country in Europe, the Occident, and they know if they use that term, they can get other Europeans to think we are crazed lunatics rather than normal people with families and a culture we want to protect.”

It says it is a Greek nationalist party with ideals “based primarily on that of ancient Sparta”, the ancient Greek city-state known for its military prowess. The party pours scorn on the idea of Greece being the cradle of democracy, noting only ancient Athens was a democracy and citing Plato’s opposition to democracy.


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