The future of the far right in Greece: Dawn or Dusk?
What are the facts about the Golden Dawn party in Greece? Is it a neo-Nazi party and/or a criminal organization? What can we expect in the future? These and other very interesting questions were discussed during a seminar organized by SEESOX at St.Antony’s College, Oxford which took place on the 22nd of October. Dr. Tryfon Bampilis presented the preliminary findings of his research to a packed conference room, not only from researchers dealing with modern Greek history, but also to a large number of political scientists, anthropologists, sociologists, economists and members of the general public who were interested in causes of the sudden rise of the far right in Greece and its implications.
As chair of the meeting, I had the difficult task of trying to moderate the question and answer session within the time allocated because of the very large number of questions and comments that were raised by the audience. There was so much interest, that the discussion continued after the end of the conference in a separate conference room.
Below is an account both of the presentation of Dr. Bampilis, as well as of the conclusions drawn from the discussion and the participation of other scholars from the audience. The success of the event not only reflects the interest in this new phenomenon and the impressive work that was presented, but the need to do research and increase understanding into what is causing the increase in popularity of far right parties in certain countries in Europe, as well as what are the implications from this for the future of Europe.
Let us now look at each of the questions raised more specifically.
1. What facts are known about the Golden Dawn party of Greece?
Following the Greek legislative elections of Sunday 17th of June 2012 a spine chilling result caught everyone’s attention. For the first time ever in post junta Greece, an extreme right wing party secured 6.92% or 425.990 of the votes, enough to elect 18 Members of Parliament. In a country that country torn apart by civil war and with a recent dictatorship that brought the country to its knees, this electoral result looked certainly like an irony of history. For the majority who knew what Golden Dawn stood for, it was, in their eyes, one of the darkest hours of Greek democracy.
These electoral results were especially surprising as the party had received merely 0.29 % in the 2009 elections and in the meantime had intensified its racist attacks against immigrants in various areas of Athens. The notorious violence of the members of Golden Dawn became even more visible just a week before the general elections when Ilias Kasidiaris, the spokesman of the party, physically attacked two female Members of Parliament during a live morning television show.
Just a year after the electoral success of Golden Dawn, the leadership of the party is now being held in detention, as part of the prosecution of the assassination of Petros Fyssas, a Greek antifascist campaigner under general prosecution that the party is a criminal organization. While this is the first time in Greek history that such an accusation has put forward by the Justice system against a political party, it is not the first time that the leader of Golden Dawn, Nikos Mihaloliakos has been imprisoned.
In 1978, the central Athenian cinema Elli, which was known as a left-wing and Soviet sympathizing venue, was attacked by a gang with bombs and hand grenades. The attack resulted in the injury of tens of people which were in the audience. Nikos Mihaloliakos, the later founder and leader of the Golden Dawn, was arrested among others, for his involvement in this event. The amount of bombs, grenades and explosive material found in his residence was sufficient evidence to convict him to a ten-month imprisonment. It is known that, during his time in prison, Mihaloliakos came into contact with various other prisoners from the junta regime, including Georgios Papadoulos, who would promote Mihaloliakos, a few years later, to be the head of the EPEN (Ethniki Politiki Enosis) youth. EPEN was founded in 1984 by Papadopoulos while he was in prison and it was an organization directly supporting the condemned regime of the imprisoned ex-colonels.
2. Is Golden Dawn a neo Nazi party?
Golden Dawn has many admirers of Nazism. Since its foundation in the 1980s the magazine Golden Dawn (Hrisi Avgi) published hundreds of articles and special issues on Nazism and these including some of the photographs they published, leave little doubt about the party’s admiration of Nazi ideology. The ideology of Golden Dawn follows the militaristic and hierarchical values of “national socialism” and promotes in their view the “ancient Greek” salute that was adopted by German Nazism. The leader of Golden Dawn Nikos Mihaloliakos in a public lecture on 21 October 2012 for example, saluted the crowds with this salute while declaring that “they call us Nazis, but these hands may salute in this way, but they are clean hands”. In this way, he did not deny the accusations of Nazism, on the contrary he has confirmed the ideology of the party. According to various informants and ex members of Golden Dawn that since the murder of Petros Fyssas have been speaking to the media, “Mein Kampf” and the biography of Goering are regular readings of committed members of the organization. It might also be argued that Mihaloliakos identifies with the idea of a total control of public space, which legitimates acts of violence. Violence emerges as a rightful act of empowerment and punishment that begins in the streets and goes all the way up to parliamentary politics.
Golden Dawn is also reproducing a theory of conspiracy that has become more popular in Greece particularly since the economic crisis and the recession, and this not only to Golden Dawn followers. Under this conspiracy theory mentality of theirs, the following are supposed to be happening: “Hellenism is under threat from Zionism and the Jews have been responsible for the misery and destruction of Greece – the economic crisis has a been a well thought plan that is inevitably linked to globalization.”
In the same line of conspiratorial mentality, migration is also another plan of the extinction of the Hellenic nation that has supposedly been clean “blood” since ancient times and “is now under threat from inter-marriage with other nationalities and hybridization”. The African and Asian people are going to affect permanently the racial profile of the Greeks and therefore their culture. “Greek blood” is under threat. It was within this context, that a “Greek blood bank” was established in 2012 intended to be used only by Greeks and specifically members of the party.
Generally speaking, the ideology of Golden Dawn can be described as national socialism, as the party identifies itself as “nationalists” (ethnikistes) with “our socialism” (o dikos mas sosialismos). The idea of a homogenous and Hellenic nation state is their ultimate target. The idea of “Hellenism” here has its roots in classical and ancient culture and contemporary Hellenes are seen as the legitimate heirs and gatekeepers of this culture. Golden Dawn has also as a priority the promotion of the Greek worker/employee, the poor, the unemployed and a proper welfare state that is able to cover the needs of its citizens. It is within this context that the “Medical Doctors with borders” have emerged, as an answer to the Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) who are supporting the immigrants in Greece.
3. Is Golden Dawn a criminal organization and what is know about their actions?
Golden Dawn is assessed to be one of the most extremist political parties in Europe as their violent attacks against communists, anarchists, immigrants or “enemies of the party” have been a regular practice of the organization since its foundation. However all these events and attacks were never considered to be part of the organizational culture, even if there were clear indications that that was the case. The Greek justice system, slow and generally considered to be incapable of dealing with the magnitude of this phenomenon, always isolated the criminal cases under examination and has not been know to have considered asking one of the most obvious questions: Is Golden Dawn a criminal organization?
In 1996 for example, a number of leftists were attacked in Kypseli in the centre of Athens, by a group of Golden Dawn members. As there were various eyewitnesses at the scene, a number of Golden Dawn members were prosecuted and the case reached the courts in September 1998. Despite the fact that the accused were members of the one organization, there appeared to be no effort from the prosecutor to attach any organized intention to their actions. At the court during the hearing, a number of anti-fascists students stood opposite a “Golden Dawn elite unit” with Antonis Andritsopoulos (aka Periandros) the then second in command in the hierarchy of Golden Dawn. Just after the court hearing finished, three anti-fascist students were attacked a few hundred meters away from the court by the Golden Dawn “elite group” under the leadership of Andritsopoulos. Among the students was Dimitris Kousouris who as a result was in a comma and he finally underwent brain surgery from which he barely escaped death.
Antonis Andritsopoulos was arrested seven years later in 2005 and condemned to 21 years imprisonment. That was the first time in the history of the Greek justice system that there was an acknowledgment of an organized crime of a Golden Dawn unit and included the top hierarchy of the organization even if, no other members of the large assault unit were found or convicted. Despite the fact that Andritsopoulos was convicted for 21 years in prison, he was released in 2010, after serving only 5 years in prison.
More recently, in the early morning hours of the 18th September 2013, the 34-year-old anti-fascist rapper Pavlos Fyssas was stabbed to death in the middle of a street in the working class area of Keratsini in the port city of Pireas. The murder took place just a few meters away from a group of police officers that had been called in to save Fyssas from an impeding attack of a neo-Nazi attack unit of about 90 people. As Fyssas was trying to escape from the Golden Dawn mob, he run into a street that seemed more quiet. Unfortunately a few minutes later, Fyssas passed away while pointing to at a man and shouting “he is the one who stabbed me”. From the massive amount of information in the public domain, it is clear that the murderer Giorgos Roupakias did not personally know Fyssas and no argument took place between the two men, before the murder took place. In addition Roupakias, was not among the 90 people of the neo-Nazi assault unit who were hunting down the anti-fascist in the streets of Keratsini. Roupakias however, was known to all of them, as he was part of the elite unit of the local committee of Golden Dawn and he was known as a notorious street fighter who knew “the way of the knife”. The murderer, as he confessed later, showed up with a car, accompanied by a few other men, blocked the way of the victim while he was trying to escape from the mob, came out of the car and stabbed Fyssas in cold blood. Particularly revealing was what happened immediately after the murder as this has been reported in the press. Apparently, a few minutes later, the killer called the head of the local political committee of the Golden Dawn – Giorgos Patelis, who in turn called the locally elected Member of Parliament of the party – Giannis Lagos. In turn, Giannis Lagos immediately informed the head of the party Nikos Mihaloliakos. These consecutive telephone calls give an insight into the pyramid level of communication structures that the organization uses.
Pavlos Fyssas was just another unfortunate victim in a long list of murders and attacks by the far right party Golden Dawn. In mid January 2013 for example two Greek men on a motorcycle stabbed to death the 26-year-old Pakistani Shehzad Luqman in the Athens neighborhood of Petralona. A few hours later the police arrested the two men after a report of an eyewitness and several posters and flyers of Golden Dawn were found in one of the houses of the alleged murderers. The funeral of the victim took place on the 19th of January after the Pakistani community said the last prayer in Kotzia Square in the centre of Athens because there is no mosque in Athens. As the Pakistanis carried the coffin, about 5000 activists, migrants and antifascists joined the procession, the funeral turning into an antifascist demonstration in the centre of Athens.
While the murder of the Pakistani man was reported in the local and international news, it did not bring the same symbolic backlash as the murder of Pavlos Fyssas. There were of course, a number of other major difference, between the two victims, but central to the differences between them that could explain the difference in the reactions that followed was the fact that one was Greek and the other one was not. As various Greek media declared “it took Greek blood to hunt down the Golden Dawn”. This is no doubt the case in a country that has known far right politics for almost a century now and has systematically promoted the idea of a homogenous, “indigenous” Greek population that has deep roots in German romanticism and the right to blood.
Also worth noting, is that exactly 5 days before the assassination of Fyssas, in the early morning hours of Friday the 13th of September 2013, just one kilometer away from the location that the assassination took place, a group of fifty Golden Dawn members holding sticks attacked a small group of left wing billposters who where putting up a program of a KNE festival (Odigitis – youth organization of the Greek Communist Party). The billposters were all KNE & KKE (members of the Communist Party of Greece) and among them seven were so badly injured, that they were sent to the hospital in a very bad condition. Among these people, was Sotiris Poulikogiannis, who is the president of the association of Metal Workers of Pireus (Syndikato Metallou Pirea) who had been targeted for a long time, as he had open conflicts with the local member of parliament (MP) of Golden Dawn over workers rights.
Over the last year the Members of Parliament of Golden Dawn Giannis Lagos and Ilias Panagiotaros have been lobbying various groups of workers to “throw out” of Perama, Kokkinia and Keratsini (traditional working class areas of Pireas), the left wing workers associations who have supposedly kept the salaries of workers high. Another argument by Golden Dawn against these worker associations, has been the large amount of immigrant workers who have taken the jobs of “Greek” workers. Within this context Golden Dawn has been trying to exclude from the labor market the “communists” and the “foreigners”, promising jobs to “Greek” unemployed workers. In their terminology “Greek” means “Golden Dawn friendly”. This is in line with threats by Golden Dawn MP’s and their supporters against various employers and factory owners in Greece, asking them to hire only “Greek” workers (see Golden Dawn friendly) and fire the communists and the foreigners.
It is not considered an accident that on the 12th of June 2012, a group of 20 Golden Dawn members attacked five Egyptian fishermen who were living and working in the area of Perama and Keratsini. The immigrants were beaten up badly and one among them received serious brain injuries. A few hours before this event took place, local MP Giannis Lagos had stated that “from now on, Egyptian fishermen will report to us” (tha mas dinun logariasmo) in this way confirming that the racist attack was linked to Golden Dawn.
How do you see the future of far right politics in Greece? Is it affected by the recent events?
The detention of the political leaders of Golden Dawn came as surprise to the majority of Greeks especially because, in post authoritarian Greece, no Member of Parliament had prior been detained or imprisoned. After the dictatorship this became taboo and all Members of Parliament since 1974, have political immunity while in office. Therefore, the recent history of the dictatorship in Greece has in practice functioned as a major obstacle to political transparency and to the clear separation of the justice and the political system. The only exception to this rule, has been the much publicised court ruling against ex-Minister Akis Tzohatzopoulos.
The murder of Fyssas and the investigations that followed, resulted in the parliamentary request for waiver of the parliamentary immunity of 6 of the 18 parliamentary members of Golden Dawn (Ilias Panagioraros, Ilias Kasidiaris, Panagioris Iliopoulos, Efstathios Boukouras, Hrisovalantis Alexopoulos, and Giorogs Germenis). The request was granted, following a vote in the parliament, on 16 October 2013. In the same line of argument, the parliamentary bill of the party has been ceased.
Indeed this turn of events redefines the social and political landscape for the first time in Greek history, as the justice system has a direct involvement in the politics of a party in the parliament. In addition, it is for the first time that we see a challenge of the existing immunity system and its application, that has dominated post authoritarian politics. It is a major achievement that the justice system has been able to act in this way and to detain the leadership of Golden Dawn.
While these are changes should not be taken lightly, the recent polls show that support for Golden Dawn is at the same level as in June 2012. This is partly due to the arguments that have been put forward by Golden Dawn including that “why is supposedly only Golden Dawn hunted down?”, “what about all the corrupt politicians who were involved in so many scandals, why have they never faced a trial or prosecution?”.
The struggle against far right extremism does not only require a mature justice system to prosecute Golden Dawn that Greece according to the majority of analysts lacks, but more importantly, the struggle begs for a mature political discourse, a proper constitutional and parliamentary reaction and various revised versions and readings of history, citizenship, ethnicity, belonging and democracy. In other words Golden Dawn is not only an issue of the justice system but primarily, it is a problem of the political and social sphere.
The recent events taking place in Greece provide an opportunity to the political system and to society at large, to investigate critically the current and future position of the far right in Greece. However this historical moment of prosecution and imprisonment of the leaders of the political party, is at the same time challenging and risky. It is challenging, because a “broken justice system” that has not been able to be independent from the political life of the country is called upon to complete a catharsis and it is risky because if justice or politics do not succeed in isolating Golden Dawn it will rise victorious in martyrdom.
Following the drafting of this report on the seminar of the 22nd of October, on the 29th of October, two members of Golden Dawn were killed in a drive-by shooting outside the movement’s offices in Athens, raising even further the fear of escalation of political violence in the crisis stricken country. Investigation into the perpetrators of this crime are on-going.
This additional tragic event attests to one of the main conclusions of the seminar of the 22nd of October, that is, that dealing with Golden Dawn, its sympathizers and of course its opponents, will be highly challenging and risky in the current Greek context.
4th of November 2013