Monday, September 30, 2013

If Golden Dawn MPs quit Parliament, would Greece go to elections? It's complicated


The government’s clampdown on Golden Dawn after the murder of rapper Pavlos Fyssas by one of its supporters has prompted speculation that the neofascist party might try to get even with the mainstream parties.

It has been suggested that this could lead the party’s 18 MPs to resign en masse, creating confusion in Parliament and possibly trigger national elections.

This version of events has been rejected by Deputy Prime Minister and PASOK leader Evangelos Venizelos. Speaking to the Reuters editors in New York, Venizelos said that Golden Dawn lawmakers quitting would provide the other parties with a “great opportunity”.

According to Venizelos, who is a constitutional expert, if the Golden Dawn deputies do walk out it will not lead to general elections being called. Venizelos said that instead it would require by-elections to be held. He believes it would be almost impossible for Golden Dawn to win back those seats if it took part.

The seats would go to the party or parties that gather the most votes in each constituency, rather than be dependant on the national share of the vote for each group. This means that New Democracy or SYRIZA would likely take these seats. That is why Venizelos believes it would be “political suicide” for Golden Dawn to quit Parliament.

Of course, there is a possibility that if these by-elections were to happen they could form a rallying point for anti-bailout forces and other disgruntled voters. Equally, though, they could be an opportunity for the mainstream parties to unite behind common candidates to show solidarity against Golden Dawn’s threat.

The one problem that could arise is if SYRIZA were to win more seats than New Democracy. At the moment the conservatives have 127 MPs to the leftists’ 72. However, this includes the 50 extra seats ND received for being first past the post in last June’s ballot. If these are taken away, it’s not out of the question that after a series of by-elections SYRIZA comes out with more seats in Parliament. In such a situation, which is unprecedented, it is not clear to which party the 50-seat bonus would go.

If it went to SYRIZA, the coalition government would not be able to continue, raising a whole new series of questions about what would happen next.

There is also doubt about what would happen to the one Golden Dawn lawmaker who is elected from a so-called “state” list and not in a specific constituency. These parliamentary seats are awarded according to the party’s share of the national vote and it is not clear how this could be redistributed among the other parties and according to which criteria this would happen.

It is certain that were the Golden Dawn MPs to resign en masse, the government would use all the legal and constitutional powers available to keep disruption to a minimum. It is less clear if it would be successful, though.

The social and economic conditions that helped Golden Dawn flourish


What causes a party to go from just 0.29 percent of the vote in the October 2009 elections to being able to comfortably enter Parliament in May 2012, with almost 7 percent?

What resilience does that party have to hold on to its votes and consolidate its position in the repeat elections one month later even though its spokesman slaps a female MP and showers another with a glass of water on live morning TV?

How does the same party manage to double its poll ratings within the first twelve months of arriving on Greece’s political centre stage despite engaging in openly abusive and violent behaviour?

Golden Dawn is a mysterious phenomenon. It did not even show up in opinion polls until December 2011. By February 2012 it appeared to be reaching the 3 percent threshold for entering Parliament, according to a Public Issue poll. The next survey found Golden Dawn on 5 percent even though Independent Greeks, a nationalist party fishing for votes in the right wing pool, arrived on the scene at this time and garnered 8.5 percent support.

It is impossible to divorce Golden Dawn’s rise over the last three years from Greece’s deepening economic crisis. Parallels with the trajectory of Adolf Hitler and his Nazi party, from the failed beer hall putsch in 1923 to 2.6 percent of the vote in 1928 and becoming Germany’s second largest party in 1930 are obvious. Hitler also exploited his country’s economic crisis.

According to a Public issue analysis of the June 2012 vote almost one in three (29 percent) Golden Dawn supporters said they backed the party to show their protest and indignation or to punish the political system. Analysts also found that 25 percent of supporters did not have university degrees and 26 percent said they were unemployed. Golden Dawn appealed to those in working class neighbourhoods and others suffering most from the crisis.

The extremist party built its success on fertile ground. Greeks’ disposable income, for instance, collapsed during the crisis. In the first quarter of 2013, it was 23 percent below the same period in 2010. According to the latest data released by the Hellenic Statistical Authority (ELSTAT) for the second quarter of 2013, the wage index is 19 percent below its 2010 levels. At the same time the minimum wage, which is now set by the government, was reduced by 23 percent to 586 Euros in February 2012.

Meanwhile, unemployment in the age groups that Golden Dawn enjoys its strongest support is at staggering levels: close to 60 percent for under 25s, over 44 percent for Greeks from 25 to 29 and 25.5 percent for those between 30 and 44. The overall unemployment in Attica is above 28 percent but even higher in some areas where Golden Dawn had been scoring well.

The deterioration of the labour market, where seven out of ten have been unemployed for more than one year, is reflected in the fact that more than 400,000 households do not have a single bread winner. According to the latest living conditions released by ELSTAT, 277,000 Greeks below the age of 17 live in a jobless household. The figure for the 18-60 age group is a devastating 1.2 million.

The most recent figures available from ELSTAT to measure people living in material deprivation showed the proportion of Greeks in this state went up from 22 percent in 2008 to 28 percent in 2011.

According to the most recent Eurostat figures available, 31 percent of Greeks were at risk of poverty or social exclusion in 2011. This was the fifth highest figure in the European Union and roughly double the rate in euro zone partner The Netherlands. It was also substantially up on the 2010 figure of 27.7 percent.

While there are other reasons, especially in the political sphere, for Golden Dawn’s remarkable rise, the deterioration of Greece’s socioeconomic foundations cannot be ignored. The plummeting quality of life for thousands of Greeks provided ample fodder for the neo-fascist party to spread its populist and hate-filled message.

ACJ executive director asks for tough measures against Golden Dawn, praises arrests

By Tom Ellis

NEW YORK - The American Jewish Committee praised the Greek government for taking bold action against Golden Dawn. It's Executive Director, David Harris, said that as the "very essence of democracy in Greece is at stake, the message is clear from the Greek government that the forces of violent extremism are a threat to society and will not be tolerated.”

In an interview with Kathimerini, David Harris, who will host a meeting with Prime Minister Samaras in New York on Monday, highlighted the need for the law against racism to be adopted as soon as possible, recognized the risks involved in taking on a political party that serves in the Parliament, but noted that Golden Dawn has crossed the line a long time ago, and made clear that as the Greek - Israeli strategic relationship flourishes, the Jewish community will continue to find ways to help Greece.

"The government of Prime Minister [Antonis] Samaras has recognized the absolute necessity of saying 'enough is enough,' and of taking meaningful actions to stop the madness of Golden Dawn" said Harris, adding that "a party cannot be allowed to cynically use the freedom that democracy offers to subvert that very freedom.”

How do people of the Jewish faith and, more broadly, Americans, view the meteoric rise of a party like Golden Dawn? They used to get around 0.2 percent of the vote, and suddenly in 2012 they ended up with 7 percent.

This has been a matter of considerable concern, and not just to Jews but to all who care about the spirit of democratic values and of mutual respect among different groups.

Are you concerned by the latest events in Greece with respect to Golden Dawn?

Of course. Greece is the symbol of democracy for so many, as it is the birthplace of our political values. When a Greek political party, using the tools of democracy to reach parliament, then turns to the tactics of intimidation and violence, while invoking Nazi imagery, it sounds alarm bells.

Could that be the beginning of the end for them? The polls show them dropping from 11 percent down to 5 percent in just a week.

I am not in a position to make any predictions, but, obviously, I hope that more and more Greeks, who may have been attracted to the party because of its simplistic slogans or the promise of a free meal, will understand that Golden Dawn actually offers a dead-end vision for the country.

How do you assess the way the government is now dealing with the issue?

The toughening stance of the government is entirely appropriate. Golden Dawn cannot hide behind the shield of democracy, and, at the same time, abuse the rights of democracy to threaten or silence others. And it is equally important that the government has the legal tools necessary to confront such a menace in the country’s midst. Apropos, legislation has been under discussion to ban the promotion of racism, incitement or Holocaust denial. We believe that such legislation, which has been adopted, in one form or another, in many other European countries, deserves prompt consideration.

Is taking legal action to outlaw a democratically elected party the right answer ?

This is a tricky question. Are there boundaries for a democracy beyond which behavior becomes unacceptable? While deeply committed to the principles of democracy, yes, there are indeed limits. For example, if a party espouses violence or terrorism, should it be permitted to run in an election and sit in parliament? And what about a party that invokes the Third Reich as an inspirational model, despite the terrible horrors inflicted on Greece and other European countries just a few decades ago? More than once, we have seen such parties, from the Nazis to Hamas, run as a “legitimate” political party, only to then undo the very democracy that brought them to power.

Is this phenomenon the result of the dire economic conditions in the country or are there so many racists among the Greek population?

From my many conversations with Greek friends, the driving issues appear to be the immensely difficult economic situation, the fear that Greece is no longer the master of its own destiny, and the changing socio-demographic profile of the country. But the answers to the seismic shocks Greece has endured are not to be found in the sewer of the Golden Dawn platform, but rather in a reaffirmation of Greek unity and resolve to create a new sense of hope, dynamism and faith in the future. Parading around, strutting, swaggering, flexing muscles, and dividing Greeks by background are not the path to better days. That should be abundantly clear.

Greek PM Samaras will be in NY next week and will meet with the American Jewish Community. What will you be telling him?

Yes, AJC (American Jewish Committee) will have the honor of hosting our friend, Prime Minister Samaras, in New York. We have known him for many years, and we wish him well in his daunting and essential task to turn things around. We will tell him that we value our relationship, admire his determination, shall continue to find ways to help Greece and cooperate with the Greek-American community, and know that he shares the concern about extremist forces in Greek society, and those who abet them – they must be confronted, not neglected.

How does Golden Dawn influence, if at all, the strategic cooperation between Greece and Israel?

Not at all. Golden Dawn represents a voice on the margin, far from the halls of decision-makers. Greece and Israel are neighbors. They live in a neighborhood, the eastern Mediterranean, where, apart from Cyprus, democracy as we know it is in short supply. In today’s world, shared values only become still more important as a link between nations. Greece can count on Israel, as Israel can count on Greece. And with the game-changing energy exploration in the region, the chances for trilateral cooperation among Greece, Cyprus, and Israel offer enormous potential for economic growth and development, as well as closer diplomatic and strategic ties. And on the people-to-people level, Greeks and Israelis have much in common, and here again there is much room for expansion in such spheres as tourism, research and development, academic cooperation, and cultural exchanges.

What next for Greek politics after Golden Dawn arrests?


The arrest of Golden Dawn leader Nikos Michaloliakos, a handful of his MPs and several party members on Saturday was a surprise on many levels.

Firstly, no party leader has been arrested in Greece since the collapse of the military dictatorship in 1974. Then there is the issue of key institutions such as the police and judiciary working with great speed and efficiency. These are qualities they have not always displayed.

Also, the clampdown on the neo-fascist party - which has reportedly been linked to 10 murders and attempted murders, blackmail, money laundering and other crimes - overturns the apparent  tolerance the government had shown towards Golden Dawn since its stunning election success last summer and subsequent rise in opinion polls

Finally, the government appears to have displayed a previously absent determination to address the influence and contacts Golden Dawn had within the police. Saturday’s arrests came in the wake of the resignation of two high-ranking police officers and the replacement or suspension of more than 10 others. A senior officer at the National Intelligence Service was also removed from his position.

The swiftness with which authorities have acted after a Golden Dawn member murdered anti-fascist rapper Pavlos Fyssas on September 17 has been impressive. The investigation, led by a Supreme Court prosecutor, has pooled together numerous cases involving Golden Dawn MPs and members. This has allowed him to build a case that they formed a criminal organization led by Michaloliakos. Prosecutors hope that with the help of wiretaps they will be able to prove that the neo-Nazi leader and core group of MPs directed a range of criminal activity.

Politically, much will rest on the judiciary being able to back up its charges. A failure to do so would have devastating consequences for the government and allow Golden Dawn to re-emerge fortified from the experience. If the charges stick, Prime Minister Antonis Samaras will have gone a long way to countering the criticism that he and his advisers allowed the ideological lines between New Democracy and Golden Dawn to become blurred in some areas, such as on the issue of immigration.

Opinion polls earlier this week indicated that New Democracy stands to benefit most from a Golden Dawn collapse, especially as roughly four in 10 of the Greek who voted for the neo-Nazi party last summer had previously backed the conservatives.

Nevertheless, Saturday’s events leave a number of issues open. First of all, Golden Dawn’s collapse is by no means certain. While the judiciary has the ability to dismantle much of the party machinery if it proves its case in court, there is no guarantee that the far right will not continue to have a strong representation in Greek politics. This will always be a possibility as long as Greece’s economy and society remain in the doldrums and its institutions lack transparency.

Furthermore, it is not clear what consequences the arrests will have for the functioning of Parliament. For the time being, Golden Dawn will continue to be represented as its MPs are allowed retain their role until convicted. Even in the case of them resigning en masse, national elections are not a foregone conclusion. A series of by-elections or the Supreme Court awarding the seats to the leading party (New Democracy) are also possibilities.

It is uncertain whether any party would benefit from calling national elections now. SYRIZA appears to be pushing for polls but is probably motivated by the concern that New Democracy might strengthen its position as time passes. PASOK has nothing to gain from elections now. Weakened and unable to establish a clear identity, it knows that the outcome of any vote would leave it playing a feeble second fiddle, if that, to New Democracy or SYRIZA in a coalition government.

For New Democracy and Samaras, though, there is much to ponder. Elections now could allow the conservatives to capitalise on public support for the Golden Dawn clampdown. There is a risk, though, that it could be seen as political opportunism at the expense of the country, whose economic future is still finely balanced. Samaras’s opponents could – once again – accuse him of double talk as he has spent the 15 months since his election preaching for the need to stabilise the country and accusing SYRIZA of undermining his efforts.

One other factor in Samaras’s decision will be the reaction from outside Greece. The successful prosecution of Golden Dawn would help win his government much-needed support within Europe and the USA, where he was due to travel on Saturday. The Europeans were disconcerted by Greece’s lax attitude towards Golden Dawn, especially in the build up to European Parliament elections in May, when far right and nationalist parties are expected to have a strong showing. By acting now, Samaras and his government can turn this negative sentiment around.

It could be the case that Samaras will prefer to cash in his political capital in Brussels and Washington by being the man who brought down Golden Dawn and did not call elections rather than making a short-term gain at home by going to the polls.

Greek Arrest of Far Rightists Bolsters Government, for Now

Greece Moves to Outlaw the Golden Dawn Party


ATHENS—Greece's crackdown on the country's far-right Golden Dawn party, with the weekend arrest of the group's top leadership, is a needed fillip for Prime Minister Antonis Samaras's fragile coalition government.

But the boost may be temporary if the social problems that fueled the group's rise—unemployment, corruption, collapsing public services—aren't soon addressed by a government not many Greeks support, analysts say. And correcting those issues could take some time.


Golden Dawn lawmaker Christos Pappas, center, shouts at journalists as he is escorted by police on Sunday.European Pressphoto Agency

"There will be some political gains for the government and particularly Mr. Samaras, but after that, if the economy continues to stumble, those benefits will evaporate and the Golden Dawn phenomenon will return," said John Dimakis, a political analyst at Athens-based consultancy STR. "The crackdown on Golden Dawn won't bring jobs, or investments, or growth. And Golden Dawn is an expression of social needs that the political system right now can't cover."

Greece's economy is in its sixth year of a grinding recession that has sent bankruptcies soaring and unemployment to a record of around 28%, while almost two-thirds of young people lack a job. Although some green shoots have appeared, the economy is still expected to shrink by roughly 4% this year and stage only an anemic turnaround next year, meaning a jobs-creating recovery is at least a year away or if not longer.

The arrest of Golden Dawn leader Nikos Michaloliakos and almost two dozen others early Saturday is the boldest step yet by the government to effectively outlaw the party, known for its extremist views and tactics, by declaring it a criminal organization. The party is alleged by police to be connected to a series of violent incidents, including the alleged killing this month of a prominent left-wing rap artist, which prompted the government to act and which has turned public opinion away from the group.

Golden Dawn has repeatedly denied any role in the killing and says it doesn't condone violence. The top leadership of the party will be deposed by prosecutors on Tuesday. Mr. Michaloliakos has said a witch hunt has been launched against his party.

Last week, Mr. Michaloliakos threatened to pull the party's 18 lawmakers out of parliament, a move that could force by-elections and perhaps national elections, which the government has ruled out.

Golden Dawn traces its roots to the early 1980s, when it was founded by Mr. Michaloliakos, 55, an ex-special forces officer with alleged Nazi sympathies. Long known for his anti-immigrant and nationalist views, he has acknowledged he had links to the military junta that ruled Greece in the late 1960s and early 1970s.

Few have paid much attention to him in recent decades. In national elections as recently as 2009, his party garnered just 0.3% of the vote, about 20,000 ballots in total.

But as Greece's recession began to bite the following year and the government made waves of budget cutbacks, the group saw its support rise, especially in poorer areas thanks to its grass-roots activities. Particularly popular have been its local community programs, with black tee-shirted party followers handing out food to the needy and providing escorts to the elderly in bad parts of town.

In 2010, Mr. Michaloliakos was elected to the Athens city council, with 5.6% of the vote. The party first entered Greece's Parliament following national elections in June 2012, winning 7% of the vote and more than 400,000 ballots. Until recently, it enjoyed a steady rise in support.

"Golden Dawn is a phenomenon that has roots in Greek society, and it will not just disappear because the leader was arrested," said Constantinos Filis, professor of international relations at Greece's Panteion University.

"They have managed to develop a grass-roots organization, similar to the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, where they provide for a lack of other institutions, like the police or public welfare," Mr. Filis said.

The alleged killing of left-wing rap artist Pavlos Fyssas this month by someone who police say was a self-professed member of Golden Dawn has shifted public opinion away from the party. Polls now show its support down to 6%-7% from about 10% before the killing.

And an overwhelming majority of Greeks say they think the party was behind the Fyssas attack and that it represents a threat to Greece's democracy.

These polls also show some Golden Dawn voters are drifting to Mr. Samaras's center-right New Democracy party. Still, Golden Dawn is the nation's third-most-popular party, behind New Democracy and the left-wing opposition party Syriza.

What comes next is far from clear. The arrests are the first time sitting Greek politicians have been seen in handcuffs en masse since the 1967 coup that brought the military government to power. It is the first time a sitting party has been declared a criminal organization.

"Nothing will bend us, long live Greece," Golden Dawn spokesman Ilias Kasidiaris shouted as he and the other party members were escorted from police headquarters Saturday and transferred to Athens's main court complex. In a similarly defiant gesture, Mr. Michaloliakos held up his handcuffed arms for the television cameras present.

There are fears Golden Dawn supporters not in jail will organize retaliatory attacks or violent demonstrations in coming days. But so far, there is no sign of such action. Analysts say renewed violence could boomerang on the group. Indeed, a party rally on Saturday across from Greece's police headquarters, drew only 200-300 supporters. The party's deputy chief, Christos Pappas, who had evaded arrest Saturday prompting speculation he would organize retaliation for the arrests, turned himself in to police the next day.

Though declared a criminal gang by the government, Golden Dawn is still functioning. The five arrested lawmakers retain political rights or parliamentary seats until a final court ruling.

A sixth lawmaker is sought by police. But if the party's other 12 lawmakers were to resign, by-elections could be prompted in 15 Greek regions where Golden Dawn holds seats, a prospect spawning fears that those votes could become disruptive, mini-referenda on the government.

On Saturday, however, Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras ruled out the possibility of snap national elections. Analysts say the government could either manage the by-elections in such a way as to minimize the disruption, or else leave the seats in Parliament unfilled.

"Justice, stability, without elections," Mr. Samaras told reporters after meeting with Greece's justice and public reforms ministers to discuss the Golden Dawn case. "The case is now in the hands of the justice system."

The killing of Mr. Fyssas gave the government the impetus to move against Golden Dawn, after having been slow to react to the rise of the party. Mr. Samaras's New Democracy in particular has been accused of soft-pedaling the threat posed by the group in an effort to lure back some of its traditional voters who have drifted to the far-right party, a criticism it refutes.

But the death of the rapper changed the political calculus, with Public Order Minister Nikos Dendiaspresenting prosecutors, just a day after the killing, with a legal file based on more than 30 cases over the past year in which members or followers of the party have been charged with illegal acts.

Mr. Dendias, meantime, has moved to overhaul the Greek police force, which has been accused by immigrant and left-wing groups of ignoring Golden Dawn's activities. Seven senior police officials have been replaced or transferred for what Mr. Dendias said was a failure to take a tough-enough line against the group. Two of the officials handed in resignation letters saying they had resigned for personal reasons; the others have not commented publicly.

Being a member of a criminal gang is a felony under Greek law and prosecutors can now pursue criminal charges against any member of the group, regardless of whether they had any connection with specific violent acts.

At the same time, the government is expected to submit a law by Monday, which could potentially strip the party of state funding if police find links to criminal acts. It has also pledged to draft a new antiracism law to better address attacks against immigrants.

"The killing has roused the authorities from their slumber over Golden Dawn. There has been a significant amount of circumstantial evidence out there in the last three or four years about the group that bore investigating quite a while ago," said David Lea, an analyst at Control Risks in London, an independent risk consultancy. "But now that they have, this can only be a good thing. And that is the way you have to look at it."

Golden Dawn MP Christos Pappas surrenders to Greek police

Helena Smith in Athens, Monday 30 September 2013

Far-right party's parliamentary spokesman walks into police headquarters 24 hours after arrests of key members

Christos Pappas

Golden Dawn's Christos Pappas is escorted by masked officers to the prosecutor's office in Athens on Sunday. Photograph: Angelos Tzortzinis/AFP/Getty Images

A Greek MP said to be the second in command of the far-right Golden Dawn party has surrendered after authorities arrested the organisation's leader and other key members on charges of running a criminal gang.

Christos Pappas, the party's parliamentary spokesman and unrepentant holder of many of its most hardline views, handed himself over to police more than 24 hours after an unprecedented crackdown on the neo-fascist group began.

Appearing at Athens's central police headquarters in a taxi, the politician insisted the vehemently anti-immigrant party would "survive … the political persecution" it was being subjected to.

"I present myself voluntarily. I have nothing to hide, nothing to fear," he told reporters waiting outside the building where five other Golden Dawn MPs, including Nikos Michaloliakos, its leader, were taken into custody on Saturday. "The truth will shine. Nationalism will win. We will wage a non-stop political struggle and we will survive."

Like other members who appeared in court in handcuffs hours after their arrest, Pappas faces charges of murder, money laundering, extortion and intent to commit crimes.

His surrender came as officials in Europe, human rights groups, Jewish organisations and Diaspora Greeks applauded the crackdown – the first to be conducted against sitting MPs since the collapse of military rule in 1974. Golden Dawn is often seen as Europe's most violent political group and has been blamed for more than 300 attacks on immigrants in the three years since Greece plunged into economic crisis.

"We praise the Greek government for taking bold measures to bring the leaders of Golden Dawn to account for their actions and to safeguard Greece's democracy," said Anthony Kouzounis, the head of AHEPA, an association representing ethnic Greeks in the US, the world's biggest Diaspora community.

"The party's extremist principles and paramilitary-like tactics perpetrated upon any individuals of a free, democratic society are alarming and are a true threat to Greece's democracy."

Emboldened by its meteoric rise in the polls, the party had begun to look abroad, establishing branches in the US, Canada and Australia in the hope that it could capitalise on the anger of Diaspora Greeks over the financial meltdown.

Before this month's murder of a Greek musician by a Golden Dawn supporter spurred the government into finally taking action, the organisation was scoring as much as 15% in opinion polls – more than double its vote when it took seats in Athens on the back of economic despair for the first time in June last year.

With six deputies now in custody, pending trial, the party's executive power has been severely diminished and its parliamentary presence cut by a third. By-elections are expected to take place to replace the deputies.

As he was being hauled before the court, Michaloliakos shouted: "Golden Dawn will never die."

But without its leader, the party seems rudderless. Tellingly, only a few hundred sympathisers heeded a call for support following the arrests, gathering outside police headquarters as the politicians were brought in.

The government of prime minister Antonis Samaras has pledged that the inquiry will continue. Arrest warrants have been issued for another 11 Golden Dawn members who are still at large.

Golden Dawn MP Christos Pappas surrenders to Greek police | World news |

The arrest of Golden Dawn's leader will do little to counter institutional racism

Costas Douzinas, Hara Kouki and Antonis Vradis The Guardian, Monday 30 September 2013

The authorities in Greece have long been aware of this neo-Nazi group. So why are they only now taking action?

Anti-fascist demonstration rally in Athens

Antifascist demonstrators hold a banner that reads 'crash the Nazism' at a demonstration in Athens on 25 September. Photograph: Orestis Panagiotou/EPA

Imagine an Athenian who went on an overseas trip for a couple of weeks and returned to the city on 28 September. The traveller left before Pavlos Fyssas's assassination, and the awakening of media and government to the neo-Nazi threat, leading to the arrest of Golden Dawn leader Nikolaos Michaloliakos and some of its MPs and supporters.

The initial reaction of the traveller to the crackdown would be jubilation mixed with surprise: the change in the authorities' attitude following Fyssas's murder was dramatic. And yet, the same authorities have had detailed information about the party's criminal activities for years. Racist violence is experienced daily and has been widely reported by international media, national and international NGOs and the EU commissioner for human rights. Indeed, racist violence had become normalised for many. Legal and political authorities were unwilling to take action; Greece's anti-racist law was never applied (an improved version was recently rejected in parliament); and perpetrators of racist attacks were offered impunity.

Less than a year ago, Nikos Dendias, the minister of public order, insisted that no link existed between the police and Golden Dawn, and threatened the Guardian with a libel suit when it reported that policemen tortured anti-fascists. Yet in the wake of Fyssas's assassination, Dendias was forced to launch an inquiry into such links. Several senior officers were sacked or suspended. A day after the assassination, 32 legal cases were filed against Golden Dawn including violent, even lethal incidents.

Our Athenian would be puzzled by the obvious questions: why did the authorities not step in earlier? Why are they stepping in now? Could it be because a Greek has been murdered?

Golden Dawn should have been designated a criminal gang and legally confronted a long time ago. This course of action would have been automatic in most European countries. After the murder, European politicians indicated their displeasure, with several suggesting that unless Greece confronts the neo-Nazis it should not assume the EU's rotating presidency in January.

But perhaps the main motive in the government's fluctuating response has been political calculation: until very recently senior rightwing politicians and commentators suggested that the rightwing New Democracy (ND) party should consider entering a coalition government with the neo-Nazis, if they became more "moderate". The government presented the left and anti-fascist movement as one of the two pro-violence "extremes", even though they resisted Nazism all those years.

This historically ignorant and morally perverse "theory of two extremes" was meant to instil fear and turn people away from the leftist organisations and grassroots movements resisting neo-Nazi attacks and supporting their victims. The ND/Pasok coalition government now hopes that the exposure of Golden Dawn criminality will attract its voters to their natural home.

And so, the feeling is bittersweet: even if delayed, the heavily publicised arrest of the Golden Dawn leadership will be a relief to many. To the city's migrants, who may find it easier to walk the Athenian streets, to homosexuals, leftists, to all anti-fascists to everyone resenting Golden Dawn's shameless entry into everyday life and in the country's politics.

Every dark-skinned person had to take precautions in Athens. Evil walked the streets.

Little has changed at the institutional level, however. The application of the criminal law to thugs will not change the widespread racism fuelled by the New Democracy-Pasok coalition government. It was Andreas Loverdos, a prominent Pasok member at the time, who likened Golden Dawn to a "Greek Hezbollah" because they are "active in the big issues" and "create trust".

It was Vyron Polydoras, a former New Democracy minister, who urged a coalition with them. And it was prime minister Samaras himself who declared, in March 2012: "Our cities have been occupied by illegal migrants; we will take them back." Sticking to its word, this government launched the ironically named hospitable Xenios Zeus operation, rounding up dark-skinned people and detaining undocumented immigrants in camps euphemistically named "holding centres".

The same government repealed the reform of the 2010 Greek citizenship law, the first to offer second-generation migrants a potential entitlement to citizenship. The government and authorities criminalised HIV patients and drug addicts; persecuted and illegally detained anarchists and anti-fascists; slashed salaries and pensions; saw youth unemployment rocket to over 60%; shut down hospitals; and pushed universities to the point of collapse. This is the great paradox of dismantling Golden Dawn: the same government which threatens democracy and indulges fascism gives itself democratic credentials for its supposed curbing of extremism.

Golden Dawn is both a political party and a gang – and outlawing political parties often proves problematic and ineffective. The law can prohibit, but it cannot eliminate, fascist ideas; these must be confronted politically instead. For ordinary people, the struggle against Golden Dawn is not limited to the welcome though theatrical arrest of its leadership. Anti-fascism is a political struggle about the kind of life we want to live. It is fought daily by citizens, activists, civil society groups and migrant communities. It is a battle for democracy, solidarity and social justice. It cannot be won unless the systemic injustice of austerity is defeated.

The arrest of Golden Dawn's leader will do little to counter institutional racism | Costas Douzinas, Hara Kouki and Antonis Vradis | Comment is free | The Guardian

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Golden Dawn leader charged with heading a criminal gang

Helena Smith in Athens The Observer, Sunday 29 September 2013

Nikos Michaloliakos appears in court after he is arrested along with key members of his Greek neo-fascist party

Link to video: Greeks agree with arrest of Golden Dawn leader Nikolaos Michaloliakos

The leader of Greece's Golden Dawn party, widely viewed as Europe's most violent political force, appeared in court on Saturday night on charges of heading a criminal gang after police mounted an unprecedented crackdown on the neo-fascist party, arresting Nikos Michaloliakos and other key members of his organisation.

After a police operation in which anti-terrorism officers stormed the homes of Golden Dawn politicians across Athens, Michaloliakos and five of his MPs were seized. Fifteen other senior party activists, including a female police officer, were taken into custody accused of fomenting violence as members of a criminal organisation. Reading from a nine-page charge sheet, a public prosecutor accused the far-rightists of murder, extortion and money laundering.

The crackdown was hailed as "a historic day for Greece and Europe" by the public order minister, Nikos Dendias, who oversaw the operation, known only to three security officials before it was launched a little after dawn. "Golden Dawn tried to test the endurance of democracy," he said in a televised address, insisting that the inquiry into the party's illegal activities would continue apace. "Today it got an answer from state justice."

Earlier in the day, following emergency talks with the prime minister, Antonis Samaras, the justice minister, Charlambos Athanasiou, promised "just justice" for those who had been arrested. "Justice has moved with decisiveness and transparency," Athanasiou told reporters gathered outside the prime minister's city centre office. "I want to say for all those who have been arrested, if they are sent to trial there will be just justice."

By nightfall, authorities said 25 counter-terrorism units were still trying to track down the party's deputy leader, Christos Pappas, who is accused in a strict hierarchy of command of jointly running a gang that, masked as a political organisation, had spawned terror on the streets of Greece. At least 11 others were also being sought, police officials said, citing "incontrovertible evidence" from intercepted telephone calls.

Michaloliakos was arrested in his Athens home at 7am. Greek media quoted the politician as telling police: "What you are doing is not right. The truth will shine," as he was taken into custody in handcuffs. Hundreds of Golden Dawn supporters gathered outside Athens's police headquarters spurred on by a text message reportedly sent by the party to "support our moral and just struggle against the corrupt system".

Michaloliakos and his chief lieutenant, the party's spokesman, Ilias Kasidiaris, were inside the building as the supporters massed. Only on Friday, Kasidiaris, who became infamous when he assaulted two female leftwing MPs on live TV last year, had openly joked that "we are here to hand ourselves in", as the party launched a lawsuit against Pasok, the junior leftwing party in Samaras's fragile coalition. Police officials said a number of weapons had been discovered in the crackdown. Three unlicensed guns allegedly found in Michaloliakos's home were to undergo ballistics tests, and tens of thousands of euros was also apparently found, the media reported.

Greece's third biggest party, Golden Dawn, has seen its popularity soar on the back of desperation. The organisation is accused of making violence its calling card, and human rights groups hold it responsible for hundreds of attacks on dark-skinned immigrants in the three years since the debt-stricken country plunged into crisis.

Since being elected to parliament with 18 MPS and 7% of the vote for the first time in June last year, the party has been linked to a wave of violence directed mostly against migrants, gay people and leftists on Greece's increasingly fractious political scene. The fatal stabbing this month of Pavlos Fyssas, a hip-hop star popular among anti-fascists, prompted widespread outrage and galvanised the governing coalition into taking action.

Amid revelations that Golden Dawn had set up hit squads with the help of commandos in the special forces and openly colluded with the police, the authorities launched a far-reaching inquiry into the group's activities.

Two senior police officers resigned and several officers were suspended after allegations of links with the party. More than a dozen Golden Dawn members, including the 45-year-old man who confessed to murdering Fyssas, were rounded up. Not since the collapse of military rule have MPs been arrested en masse. "This is without precedent in Greek political life," said a lecturer in constitutional law, Kostas Chrysogonos. "Authorities are acting within the law, but I also think it would have been constitutionally more correct if they had asked parliament to lift their [MPs'] political immunity first."

Even if the politicians are imprisoned pending trial, they will still retain their standing as MPs, experts said.

As he was hauled under armed guard from police headquarters to the court, Kasidiaris shouted: "Long live Greece. Nothing will bend us, nothing will frighten us." Previously he had told a TV show that "they can arrest us, they can put us in prison, but we will still be MPs. We are not going to go back even one step."

Samaras's shaky coalition has been applauded for its tough stance, with opinion polls showing a drop in support for Golden Dawn and a slight rise for his conservative New Democracy party, but there are fears the crackdown could ultimately damage the government.

The opposition leader, Alexis Tsipras, of the radical left Syriza party, said last week the party should be confronted "within the law, not outside it".

Before the crackdown Golden Dawn was polling at around 15%, prompting it to boast it had "more than a million" supporters in Greece. Michaloliakos warned last week that he might withdraw his 18 MPs from parliament, a move that threatened to unleash political instability in a country dependent on international rescue funds to survive.

The politician had also said that "mudslinging and slander" against his party would "open the gates of hell".

Golden Dawn leader charged with heading a criminal gang | World news | The Observer

Golden Dawn arrests take Greece into uncharted waters


Helena Smith in Athens The Observer, Sunday 29 September 2013

The crackdown on the far-right party will undoubtedly release new tensions on to an already poisoned political scene

Golden Dawn supporter

A supporter of the extreme far-right Golden Dawn party holds a placard that reads: 'Listen chief, listen again, you have ridiculed the system one more time - Golden Dawn of the Greeks', outside the police headquarters in Athens. Photograph: Kostas Tsironis/AP

Before his untimely death at the age of 34, Pavlos Fyssas was a hip-hop rapper popular on Greece's anti-fascist scene but little known beyond the frontiers of that music genre or the borders of the country itself. On the night of 17 September all that changed.

After becoming embroiled in a row over a soccer game being shown at a cafe in a working-class Athenian suburb, Fyssas and his friends were set upon by thugs dressed in the combat pants and black T-shirts worn by supporters of the country's far-right Golden Dawn party.

Cornered by the mob, the bearded singer was soon lying in a pool of his own blood, with stab wounds to the heart and chest. Within minutes he had died. And within hours the killer, a self-professed member of Golden Dawn, had been arrested.

Murkiness may still surround the circumstances of the murder, but what Fyssas's death revealed, in sharp relief, was the depth of division within Greece. In an atmosphere made toxic by record levels of poverty, unemployment, desperation and despair, Greeks were soon describing the killing as a "political assassination" – the latest act in a string of attacks by a party bolstered by its seemingly runaway popularity in the polls.

Overnight, Fyssas had become a martyr – with the far-rightists deemed to have crossed a red line, despite Golden Dawn's vehement protestations that it had no connection with the crime. Thousands took to the streets.

"Until then we had managed to be civilised about the differences between the left and the right that have run through our country since the [1946-49] civil war," said the political commentator Giorgos Kyrtsos. "With Fyssas's assassination, that line was crossed."

After months of tolerating a group that had brutalised society – spawning a climate of fear among immigrants, attacking gays, holding "Greek only" food handouts and coarsening political exchange with rants about "subhuman foreigners" in the Athens parliament – Antonis Samaras's fragile coalition finally took action.

And, when it did, it acted with an alacrity and determination that few might have envisaged. In the space of 10 days, Golden Dawn branches across the nation were raided and searched, members were arrested, weapons confiscated and sympathetic police officers removed from posts. In the early hours of Saturday came the next step: the arrest of five of the organisation's senior members, including its rabble-rousing leader, Nikos Michaloliakos, and 14 prominent cadres.

All 19 were due to appear late on Saturday before a public magistrate on charges of forming a criminal gang.

Not since the return of democracy after the collapse of military rule in 1974 has a party been so publicly hounded. The arrests will undoubtedly unleash new tensions on to a political scene already poisoned by profound disillusionment with an establishment widely blamed for the financial mess that has lead to the nation's economic and social meltdown.

Adding to the crippling sense of uncertainty hanging over Greeks, Michaloliakos himself pledged that the campaign against his party would "open the gates of hell" before his arrest at his home early on Saturday. As Golden Dawn supporters gathered outside the gargantuan central police headquarters in Athens – blue and white Greek flags in hand underscoring their ultranationalist views – it remained unclear how the extremist organisation would react.

In recent months Europe had looked on horrified as the group, whose emblem resembles the swastika and whose politicians have openly applauded the policies of Adolf Hitler, has gone from strength to strength. Three years ago the far-rightists won only 0.72% of the vote. In elections last year that support increased tenfold with the party winning just under 7% of the vote and 18 deputies in the 300-seat parliament on the back of deep disgruntlement over sweeping austerity measures.

The government, which had come under increasing pressure to clamp down on an organisation now viewed as the continent's most violent political force, has won plaudits for the decisiveness with which it has ultimately cracked down on the group. Polls have shown a sudden drop in support for Golden Dawn, with conservatives who had migrated to the far right in disgust with Samaras's own centre-right New Democracy party returning to the fold.

But the far-rightists have also managed to retain their core support with successive polls this week showing that the party still remained Greece's third biggest political force. If need be, Michaloliakos and his cadres have vowed to fight their corner from inside prison cells.

Many have voiced concerns that the crackdown could backfire. The government is wading into uncharted waters, constitutionally, with experts emphasising the impossibility of outlawing a party catapulted into parliament by democratic means.

Even if its MPs are found to be guilty they will still retain their political identity. Greeks are still haunted by the memory of the KKE communist party being outlawed for almost 30 years after the civil war.

"It may have been more correct constitutionally to have sought parliament's approval to lift their political immunity first," said the constitutional law professor Kostas Chrysogonos.

In a rare display of consensus on both the left and right, politicians have attributed Golden Dawn's meteoric rise to the relentless, internationally mandated cutbacks Greeks have been subjected to since their debt-stricken country descended into crisis in late 2009. Far from having ideological appeal in a country that suffered one of the most brutal occupations between 1941-44 under Nazi rule, the far-rightists have managed to capitalise on the deep sense of injustice and fury that has increasingly radicalised society.

"Golden Dawn's respirator is the memorandum," said Takis Pavlopoulos, a senior policymaker in the radical-left main opposition Syriza party, referring to the loan accord Athens has signed up to with its "troika" of creditors at the EU, ECB and IMF. "Its base is not ideological but one of desperate people. Once you abolish the memorandum, the party will wither away."

Without Greece being cut some slack by its foreign lenders – not least Germany which has paid the lion's share of its €240bn in rescue loans since 2010 but has made austerity the price – many fear the party will resurface under another name if it is ultimately banned.

Hopes abound that by exposing the inner workings of a group that has operated as a paramilitary force but until now has been shrouded in mystery, Greeks will gradually turn their backs on Golden Dawn.

"We are not saying to all those people who voted for them that they are Nazis or fascists," said Notis Marias, a senior figure in the rightwing opposition Independent Greeks party. "What we are saying is that they made a mistake and this is the time to correct it."

Golden Dawn arrests take Greece into uncharted waters | World news | The Observer

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Greek police arrest Golden Dawn leader Nikolaos Michaloliakos

Staff and agencies, Saturday 28 September 2013

Leader and senior members of far-right party held on charges of founding a criminal organisation

Nikolaos Michaloliakos

Nikos Michaloliakos was among those arrested on charges of forming a criminal organisation, police said. Photograph: Petros Giannakouris/AP

Greek police have arrested the leader and other senior members of the far-right Golden Dawn party on charges of founding a criminal organisation.

Police announced the arrests of 16 Golden Dawn members, including party head Nikolaos Michaloliakos, spokesman Ilias Kassidiaris and two other politicians.

The arrests included a local Golden Dawn leader in an Athens suburb. The rest were ordinary members. It is the first time since 1974 that a party head and sitting MPs have been arrested.

Police officials said an operation by the counter-terrorism unit was still ongoing late on Saturday morning, and that about 35 arrest warrants for Golden Dawn members had been issued.

The arrested MPs will retain their parliamentary seats unless they are convicted of a crime. Golden Dawn holds 18 of the Greek parliament's 300 seats, after winning nearly 7% of the vote in general elections last year.

Police are investigating the party for links with the killing of an anti-fascist rapper by a self-proclaimed Golden Dawn supporter. The stabbing to death of Pavlos Fyssas on 17 September sparked violent protests in Athens.

Kassidiaris is infamous for hitting a woman live on television for which he escaped prosecution.

Golden Dawn – Greece's third most popular party, according to opinion polls – has denied any links to the rapper's killing and Michaloliakos has warned it may pull its members of parliament from parliament if the crackdown does not stop.

The party expressed outrage at the arrests in a text message to journalists on Saturday. "We call upon everyone to support our moral and just struggle against the corrupt system! Everyone come to our offices!" it said.

A later text message called for supporters to head to police headquarters "with calm and order". A small group of about 30 people initially gathered, standing on the sidewalk across the street from the building.

Greek police arrest Golden Dawn leader Nikolaos Michaloliakos | World news |

Greece's democracy in danger, warns Demos, as Greek reservists call for coup

Helena Smith in Athens, Friday 27 September 2013

Greece 'backsliding in democracy' in face of joblessness, social unrest, corruption and disillusion with politicians, says think-tank

Athens riot police fire tear gas at an anti-fascist protest calling for action against Golden Dawn

Athens riot police fire tear gas at an anti-fascist protest calling for action against the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn party following a rapper's murder. Photo: Milos Bicanski/Getty

No country has displayed more of a "backslide in democracy" than Greece, the British think-tank Demos has said in a study highlighting the crisis-plagued country's slide into economic, social and political disarray.

Released on the same day that judicial authorities ordered an investigation into a blog posting by a group of reservists in the elite special forces calling for a coup d'état, the study singled out Greece and Hungary for being "the most significant democratic backsliders" in the EU.

"Researchers found Greece overwhelmed by high unemployment, social unrest, endemic corruption and a severe disillusionment with the political establishment," it said. The report, commissioned by the European parliament, noted that Greece was the most corrupt state in the 28-nation bloc and voiced fears over the rise of far-right extremism in the country.

The report was released as the fragile two-party coalition of the prime minister, Antonis Samaras, admitted it was worried by a call for a military coup posted overnight on Wednesday on the website of the Special Forces Reserve Union. "It must worry us," said a government spokesman, Simos Kedikoglou. "The overwhelming majority in the armed forces are devoted to our democracy," he said. "The few who are not will face the consequences."

With tension running high after a crackdown on the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn party, a supreme court public prosecutor demanded an immediate inquiry into who may have written the post, which called for an interim government under "the guarantee of the armed forces".

The special forces reservist unit whose members appeared in uniform to protest against a visit to Athens by the German chancellor, Angela Merkel said Greece should renege on the conditions attached to an international bailout and set up special courts to prosecute those responsible for its worst financial crisis in modern times. Assets belonging to German companies, individuals or the state should be seized to pay off war reparations amassed during the Nazi occupation.

Underscoring the social upheaval that has followed economic meltdown, the blog post argued that the government had violated the constitution by failing to provide adequate health, education, justice and security.

Insiders said the mysterious post once again highlighted the infiltration of the armed forces by the extreme right. This week revelations emerged of Golden Dawn hit squads being trained by special forces commandos.

Fears are growing that instead of reining in the extremist organisation, the crackdown on the group may ultimately create a backlash. The party, whose leaders publicly admire Adolf Hitler and have adopted an emblem resembling the swastika, have held their ground in opinion polls despite a wave of public outrage. Golden Dawn, which won nearly 7% of the vote in elections last year and has 18 MPs in Athens' 300-member parliament, has capitalised more than any other political force on Greece's economic crisis. "Much will depend on how well it will withstand the pressure and they are tough guys who seem to be withstanding it well," said Giorgos Kyrtsos, a political commentator.

Greece's democracy in danger, warns Demos, as Greek reservists call for coup | World news |

Golden Dawn threatens to withdraw MPs from Greek parliament

Reuters in Athens, Friday 27 September 2013

Far-right party says the move is a weapon that could cause a 'political earthquake' by further destabilising shaky ruling coalition

Protesters demonstrating against Golden Dawn clash with police in Athens this week

Protesters demonstrating against Golden Dawn clash with police in Athens this week. Photograph: Xinhua/Landov/Barcroft Media

Greece's far-right Golden Dawn party has threatened to pull out of parliament, a move that would trigger a wave of by-elections that could destabilise the country.

Its leader Nikolaos Mihaloliakos warned late on Thursday night it might pull its MPs from parliament if a crackdown on the party in the wake of the death of an anti-fascist rapper did not stop.

"We have not reached a final decision yet. All options are open," Mihaloliakos said on Vergina TV.

A self-proclaimed Golden Dawn supporter has been accused of killing Pavlos Fyssas in Athens last week, prompting a court investigation into whether the country's third most popular party is a criminal organisation.

The stabbing sparked outrage and violent protests in the crisis-struck country. Police have been searching Golden Dawn party offices and several of its members were arrested or received suspended jail sentences for illegally carrying or owning weapons.

Golden Dawn has denied any links to the rapper's killing.

Golden Dawn has 18 out of parliament's 300 MPs. If they quit, they would have to be replaced through special elections in every electoral district they represent, which includes most of the country's biggest. If such by-elections were won by the opposition, as some polls indicate, the country's fragile two-party ruling coalition would become politically untenable, Mihaloliakos argued.

"Golden Dawn holds a weapon in its hands to cause a political earthquake. Those in charge should bear that well in mind," he said.

With political stability a key condition for the smooth implementation of Greece's EU/IMF bailout, senior officials have dismissed any notion that the government was under threat.

By-elections would not lead to a general vote that could destabilise the country, interior minister Yannis Mihelakis said on Thursday. "The whole affair has already damaged the country enough. A general election would just make things worse," he told Skai TV.

"It's not a threat. It's a great opportunity," deputy prime minister Evangelos Venizelos told Reuters on Wednesday after then unconfirmed reports that Golden Dawn was considering withdrawing its MPs.

Golden Dawn has surged in popularity over the past year and has been accused by human rights groups of attacking immigrants and political opponents without the police intervening.

Greek prosecutors investigating Golden Dawn have found evidence that could help them establish that it is a criminal organisation, a senior court official told reporters on Wednesday.

That labelling is expected to be the first step for the government to begin reining in the party – an outright ban is difficult to push through under current Greek law.

The government has said it was instead planning to cut the party's funding and target members who may have masterminded attacks on immigrants and opponents as part of a criminal organisation.

Golden Dawn threatens to withdraw MPs from Greek parliament | World news |

Greece: darkness at dawn

 Guardian G logo

Editorial The Guardian, Friday 27 September 2013

It is hard to avoid the conclusion that the political violence many predicted after economic meltdown is becoming a reality

Pavlos Fyssas, the anti-fascist hip-hop artist, is not the first person to be stabbed to death by supporters of Greece's far right Golden Dawn party. Few Greeks may now recall the name of the Pakistani worker, Shehzad Luqman, who was also stabbed after a confrontation in the street in January. Golden Dawn's tactic is to deny any link with the perpetrators of these crimes. But as the attacks multiply, it is hard to avoid the conclusion that the political violence so often predicted in the last four years of economic and social meltdown is becoming a fact of Greek life.

The murder of Mr Fyssas has jerked the coalition government out of its position of outraged inaction. It launched its first-ever investigation into whether the police forces were infiltrated by Golden Dawn members or sympathisers. Police stations were raided. Seven senior police officers were replaced to ensure an independent inquiry; two police generals resigned abruptly. If a direct link is proved between the party and the death, the state could cut off funding for a group that now has 18 members of parliament. A minister has proposed such a law. The crackdown, which is welcome though belated, is not without risk. It could drive Europe's most extreme and violent far-right movement underground.

Golden Dawn's popularity has dipped, as thousands took to the streets of Athens and Thessaloniki in protest at the latest murder. These crowds may reflect the fear that the violence that has so far been reserved for immigrants is now being turned on Greeks. Even so, the far-right group can still count on the support of about 8% of the voters. And absolutely no one thinks that the current crackdown will purge police ranks. The links go too deep.

There is no end in sight to Greece's economic misery. After four years of austerity, the country's debt-to-GDP ratio has grown from 120% to 175%. Whatever name the country's deputy prime minister Evangelos Venizelos tries to give it – he denied yesterday that Greece needed a third bailout, but sought instead "debt reprofiling" – the debt burden is unsustainable. The government's tactic is to implore Greeks to keep going in hope. Of what? That all will be different after the German election? The worst keeps on getting worse. And as each year passes, the economy approaches implosion. Youth unemployment is now around 60%.

Golden Dawn challenges not only the power of the Greek state. If it continues to grow, it will challenge its democratic core. Greeks can no longer afford to wait for the next crisis. By the time the indifference of the creditor nations of northern Europe to the social and human consequences of their actions is shattered, it will be too late. The next crisis may be a different order entirely.

Greece: darkness at dawn | Editorial | Comment is free | The Guardian

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

If Europe's future is German, Greece has only one hope for salvation

 Costas Douzinas

Costas Douzinas, Tuesday 24 September 2013

Angela Merkel's re-election will heap yet more misery and austerity on southern Europe. But it may yet inspire a leftist victory in Greece

Golden Dawn protest against German austerity

Supporters of the far-right party Golden Dawn hold up a sign that reads in German 'Merkel get out' during a protest outside the German embassy in Athens in March 2013. Photograph: Thanassis Stavrakis/AP

The German sociologist Ulrich Beck opens his latest book confessing how shocked he was when he heard in the news in February 2012 that "today the German Bundestag will decide the future of Greece". Southern Europe has become a declining underclass, while Berlin acts as a colonial master imposing brutal austerity. Calling his book German Europe, Beck joins a vigorous debate about the future begun by the German intellectual, Jurgen Habermas. For Habermas and the south Europeans, the question that should have dominated the German elections but did not was "Will Europe be German or Germany European?"

The European vote was clear: 82% of Spaniards, 65% of Portuguese and 58% of Italians rejected Merkel's policies in a recent opinion poll. But the German vote, the only one that counted, went the other way, giving Merkel unparalleled power on the German and European stage. The Social Democratic party (SPD) suffered the second worst defeat in its history, reminding us of the last British elections. Both results make sense. Why should anyone vote for either the SPD or Labour if their neoliberal policies are a pale version of what Merkel or the Tories offer?

As Habermas saw it, Merkel showed no leadership during the crisis, her main response being "soporific bumbling". He was proved right when, after her triumph, Merkel repeated mantra-like, that "we cannot prematurely drop the pressure on the south to reform". The pressure was indelicately applied on German election day with the troika representing the IMF, EU and ECB lenders arriving in Athens for the latest inspection round. Government actions will be examined to ensure that the Greeks have made satisfactory progress in sacking civil servants, cutting social services and privatising state assets. The Greeks will be ordered to foreclose the homes of families unable to pay the mortgage, a policy that had been banned for five years in a rare show of sympathy for the poor by the Greek government. These "reforms" have been imposed on Greece as precondition for the disbursement of the loan and are vigorously policed before each instalment is paid.

As a result of austerity, the Greek economy has shrunk by 25%, unemployment stands at a record 27%, youth unemployment at 70%. Debt to GDP ratio was 120% at the beginning of the crisis. It has jumped to around 175% after five years of suffering. Despite the IMF's recognition of a serious under-calculation of the effects of austerity on the GDP the troika doing Merkel's bidding will ask for more blood.

The second loan to Greece comes to an end next year. Current calculations indicate that the perpetual recession will create a fiscal gap of around €5bn in by 2016. A new loan and further austerity measures are currently being discussed. Greece is leading the race to the bottom, with salaries, pensions and working conditions coming close to those of China. Greece is the guinea pig: if the plan does not meet popular resistance and succeeds in decimating living standards, it will be exported to the rest of Europe.

On the way to the German poll another momentous event happened. Last week, the antifascist rapper Pavlos Fyssas was murdered in Athens, allegedly by supporters of the Golden Dawn neo-Nazi political party-cum-criminal gang. Despite daily fascist attacks on migrants, leftists, Roma and gays, no Golden Dawn member has been successfully prosecuted and a bill to put antifascist legislation in the statute-book was recently rejected by the government. Public opinion was shocked by the murder and the government was forced to act. The toleration of fascists was abandoned, with the government fearing that revulsion against the murder would rebound against it.

Habermas noted recently that the social decline in southern Europe "reminds of conditions in the late Weimar Republic that brought the fascists to power". It was a belated admission. Southern Europe has been in a state of emergency that has led to the rise of fascism. The German electorate rebuffed the hope that the north would mitigate the squeeze on the south out of self-interest or solidarity. Merkel, in a display of historical amnesia, does not seem to care and the Social Democrats have almost identical policies. A "grand coalition" between the two offers no hope to the south. The European Union's founding principles of prosperity, democracy and human rights have been set aside in the race for fiscal discipline.

Habermas and Beck believe that Merkel is destroying their ideal of "globalisation with a human face", a project that would start in Europe. For them, greater European integration is the only defence against unfettered capitalism. The plan was unconvincing from the start and has now been comprehensively defeated. The markets have imposed their will on politicians and German voters have accepted the Faustian pact. In the south, Europe now looks an elite project uninterested in ordinary people.

The salvation of southern Europe lies closer to home. In Greece a change in government is the only hope. The left's plan to cancel the catastrophic austerity measures, negotiate a substantial haircut of the debt that even the IMF deems unsustainable, and operate a moratorium on debt repayment until the economy starts growing offers the only realistic alternative. A victory for the left looks more likely if the German elections lead to a further turning of the austerity screw. It is a historical irony that the triumph of the most aggressive neo-liberalism at the centre may increase the prospect of a leftist victory in the periphery.

If Europe's future is German, Greece has only one hope for salvation | Costas Douzinas | Comment is free |

Golden Dawn's rise signals breakdown of the Greek state's authority

 Richard Seymour

Richard Seymour, Tuesday 24 September 2013

The far-right party's emergence – supported by far too many in positions of power – has created a toxic situation

Anti-fascist protest at Greek embassy after murder of Hip-Hop artist

Protest in London on Saturday after the murder in Athens of Greek hip-hop artist Pavlos Fyssas by Golden Dawn. Photograph: Pete Riches/Demotix/Corbis

Today, it is reported that elements in the Greek armed forces have been training Golden Dawn hit squads. There are allegations that there is a secret, 3,000-strong paramilitary structure within Golden Dawn that is being combat-trained by sympathisers in the military. It is appalling how credible this report is.

There was much idle chatter about a possible coup d'etat when prime minister George Papandreou was promising Greek voters a referendum on his austerity package. There was, allegedly, a state of alert order being circulated within the military, about the possible need to intervene in the case of social disorder. The fact that the defence minister felt the need to sack a lot of top army officers also fuelled the speculation.

A year after this, though, the centre-left newspaper To Vima was still writing about a "coup d'etat that didn't happen", alleging that the defence minister's actions stymied a coup – even though it seems the sackings were prompted by the army officers taking direct action against pension cuts.

So far, so much speculation. But the presence of a large and growing neo-Nazi organisation such as the Golden Dawn, which gained just under 7% of votes in the 2012 elections, could be a real challenge to parliamentary democracy. In those same elections, half the police force are said to have voted for the Golden Dawn. Sections of the Greek state have always been attracted to this far-right organisation. And I stress: sections of the Greek state. Subsequent revelations suggest that there was a close relationship between Golden Dawn and Greek police, while antifascists have been subject to torture in police hands. There has also been a general state tolerance for Golden Dawn's violent and racist public behaviour – the big surprise in May was that the Athens mayor finally decided that his police, rather than colluding with Golden Dawn, had to shut down one of their Greek-only food handouts.

Last week's murder of the leftist rapper Pavlos Fyssas has galvanised a furious response by the Greek left. Activists point to CCTV footage that indicates police were present and did nothing to try to stop the murder. Remarkably, a large number of chiefs of police and special forces were removed from their posts yesterday. The strong public reaction has coincided with a threat by the government to ban Golden Dawn .

Golden Dawn has appeared in some polls as the third party in Greece, although its stable base of support appears to still be in the single figures – and has fallen since the murder of Fyssas. Nonetheless, the resilience of the party's vote, despite its previous violent provocations, and its sustained links with sections of the state, suggest that, even were it to be banned, it would still exist in some form and be a threat.

Golden Dawn's classic, 1920s-style fascist paramilitarism is no surprise. The question is this: why do those elements of the state most involved with repression have such an affinity with Golden Dawn?

In the context of Greece's so-called sovereign debt crisis, the vicious austerity package imposed upon it by EU leaders and its own ruling class and the ensuing social breakdown have caused a crisis. The dominant parties' relationship to their political base – the traditional mode of legitimacy of the state – has been disintegrating. Ministries have repeatedly been in deadlock. Implementing austerity keeps prising open new antagonisms within the governing elite, as evidenced in attempts by the prime minister, Antonis Samaras, to shut down the state broadcaster, ERT. Cuts have sapped state capacity.

For a period, Greece's experience of general strikes, occupations and social movement protests came close to insurrection. This is as near to what Gramsci called a crisis of authority as one can get. The political control of the state has been breaking down. It is this breakdown of authority – which reactionaries blame on immigration, foreign control and communist agitation – that fuels Golden Dawn's support.

The situation is toxic. Austerity has not run its course, any more than the recession, or the social misery engendered by it. The only recourse of the left is to render Golden Dawn useless by incapacitating it, obstructing its activities and shutting it down as an effective street-fighting fascist organisation.

Golden Dawn's rise signals breakdown of the Greek state's authority | Richard Seymour | Comment is free |

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Golden Dawn is growing – Europe must help curb the rise of the far right

 George Iordanou

George Iordanou, Friday 20 September 2013

The inability of both the Greek and Cypriot states to stand up to fascist groups is a call to action at European level

Golden Dawn

'What explains the rise of Golden Dawn? The short answer is chronic corruption, economic austerity and the perpetuation of populist lies about immigration.' Photograph: Yannis Behrakis/Reuters

The rise of the far right is a daily reality in austerity-striken Europe. Its effects are more prominent in countries like Greece and Cyprus, where the impact of the crisis has been most severe. Yesterday, in Greece, a self-confessed member of the far-right party Golden Dawn allegedly killed leftwing activist and singer Pavlos Fyssas. This is not the first time that members of Golden Dawn have been in the news for violence – they routinely attack immigrants, anarchists and communists, but they are rarely prosecuted for doing so.

Their rise has been spectacular. Contrary to popular belief, Golden Dawn has been around for a long time. It was created in the 1980s, became registered as a political party in 1993 and elected 18 MPs in 2012 with 6.9% of the vote.

Worryingly, the political establishment in Greece seems willing to tolerate Golden Dawn. The veteran New Democracy MP, Vyronas Polydoras, has said that the troika poses a greater threat to Greece than Golden Dawn. Now that the core members of Golden Dawn are elected MPs, they enjoy parliamentary immunities, which their fellow MPs, like those of the ruling New Democracy and Panhellenic Socialist Movement, seem reluctant to remove. This reluctance has meant that the leaders of Golden Dawn can freely go about slapping female MPs on TV without facing any consequences for their actions.

What explains the rise of Golden Dawn? The short answer is chronic corruption, economic austerity and the perpetuation of populist lies about immigration. Golden Dawn has managed to channel the ensuing public anger to its favour. It capitalises on the fact that its members were not in previous governments, which contributed to Greece being considered one of the most corrupt countries in the EU.

The clientelism that rules political conduct in Greece has largely been one of the reasons behind the discontent of the Greek voters – it was fun while the urban middle classes could get some pieces of the pie, but when the pie became smaller in the age of austerity, those left out inevitably reacted.

At the same time Golden Dawn exploited the fear of immigration that has been masterfully constructed in Greek society. The party leaders have depicted themselves as the problem-solvers: honest people who have never taken a bribe, whose main interest is the welfare of Greek people. They portray themselves as "men of action", that don't make promises that they cannot keep. These actions consist of attacks on immigrants, anarchists and communists, all in the light of helping the Greek people, some of who, to their shame, ask for their help – "to clean the area". A horrible euphemism for "please come here, beat the immigrants and make them leave our neighbourhood".

Where will this end? How far will a rising Golden Dawn with ties with the police and military go before Greece becomes a totalitarian military state? There is no easy answer to this – I don't think this downward spiral can be stopped without an external intervention. The current state of the Greek political scene is such that it requires coalitions. Since leftist Syriza and communist KKE refuse to form a government with either of the two ruling parties whose power has been significantly reduced, the only solution for the two mainstream parties is to look to the extreme right. As the two governing parties continue implementing the troika-prescribed austerity policies, they will keep getting increasingly unpopular. Eventually, they will have no option than to form a coalition that involves Golden Dawn, which has scored highly in opinion polls, rising from 6.9% to 11.5% after it entered parliament.

This is where external factors may come in. European partners will not be able to ignore the social impact of their economic policies for long. The fascists are winning seats, or masquerading their extremism and joining the mainstream parties, where they have even bigger platforms to spread their racist views. The next step is Golden Dawn's expansion beyond Greece. Its officials often visit Cyprus and give talks to its sister party, the far-right Elam, which, thankfully, is nowhere near as popular as Golden Dawn. Like Greece, racist violence is tolerated both by the authorities and by the mainstream political parties.

The inability of both the Greek and Cypriot states to curtail the racially motivated violent actions of these groups, as well as the inability of the mainstream political parties to stand up to them, is a call to action for our European partners, who can no longer afford to sit back in their economically recovering countries as if nothing is happening elsewhere. What is naively considered a Greek problem is much more than that – it is no accident that Marie Le Pen's Front National and Nigel Farage's Ukip have increased in popularity recently. The far right is on the rise and collective action at a European level is needed. When parties like the Greek Laos or the French FN become part of the mainstream right, what is considered extreme becomes even more so. The result is what you see happening in Greece – violence, vigilantism and murder.

This article was commissioned after a suggestion from Kizbot.

Golden Dawn is growing – Europe must help curb the rise of the far right | George Iordanou | Comment is free |

Greece launches inquiry into claims Golden Dawn trained by armed forces

Helena Smith in Athens, Tuesday 24 September 2013

Defence minister orders investigation into rightwing extremists as President Papoulias warns that 'a storm is approaching'

Golden Dawn

Greece's far-right Golden Dawn party hit squads have allegedly been trained by members of the country's military. Photograph: Milos Bicanski/Getty Images

The Greek authorities have launched an inquiry into allegations that members of the country's armed forces have helped to train hit squads formed by the far-right Golden Dawn party.

The defence minister, Dimitris Avramopoulos, ordered the investigation as Greece's governing coalition exhibited new resolve to clamp down on the "criminal organisation" after a Greek musician was stabbed to death by one of the group's supporters.

Highlighting the menace rightwing extremism now poses in a nation hobbled by economic collapse and political division, the country's president Karolos Papoulias said that his top priority was to protect Greeks from neo-fascism. "From the time I was a young man I fought fascism and Nazism," he told reporters as he went into talks with the leftwing main opposition leader Alexis Tsipras. "It is my supreme duty as president of the republic to defend democracy and the Greek people from the storm that is approaching."

The inquiry came amid revelations that Golden Dawn, which has seen its popularity soar on the back of debt-stricken Greece's worst crisis in modern times, has not only set up a military wing but is actively training its members in the art of combat.

"In Golden Dawn we have an entire military structure with at least 3,000 people ready for everything," one member was quoted as saying by the Sunday Vima newspaper. Pictures of recruits in camouflage and balaclavas conducting night exercises in clandestine camps were published in another leading daily on Monday. The paper, Ethnos, claimed the men, some of who were armed with knives and wooden clubs, were being trained by members of Greece's elite special forces who sympathise with the ultra-nationalist party.

The extremists' meteoric rise has worried Europe, with officials expressing disquiet over an organisation believed to be behind hundreds of attacks on immigrants, and more recently gay people, over the past three years. There have been many accusations that the police and judiciary are colluding with the extremists.

But the murder last week of Pavlos Fyssas, a leftwing hip-hop artist, appears to have galvanised authorities into finally taking action. On Monday two high-ranking police officers were forced to resign after it emerged they had failed to issue orders for the arrest of Golden Dawn members involved in attacks. The suspensions followed a series of raids on the party's offices after the public order minister, Nikos Dendias, put the country's anti-terrorism unit in charge of the investigation into the killing.

By Monday night at least ten Golden Dawn members had been arrested in connection with the murder. A 45-year-old man belonging to the group has already confessed to the killing, according to police. The suspect, who reportedly worked in the cafe of the party's local branch in Keratsini – the working class district in Athens where the murder took place – was charged with the killing on Saturday.

As prime minister Antonis Samaras's government proposed that state funding for the far right group also be cut off if investigators found organisational links to the stabbing, Golden Dawn stepped up denials that it had any connection to the death. Its leader, Nikos Michaloliakos, insisted that the alleged killer was not a member of the party and had a tentative relationship with one of its 70 branches. "He was only passing through. I cannot control what everyone does," Michaloliakos told Kontra television in a rare interview.

Golden Dawn's spokesman, Ilias Kasidiaris, went further, accusing political parties, the government and the media of waging a dirty war against the organisation because of its growing appeal – despite one poll showing its support had dropped 2.5 points following the stabbing.

"Golden Dawn has been radically strengthened, it has passed 20% [in the polls] and in a few months it will lay claim to the biggest municipalities in the land. We will not stop. We have justice on our side and more than a million Greeks," Kasidiaris said.

Although surveys have shown the vast majority of Greeks expressing outrage at Golden Dawn's tactics in the wake of the killing, polls have also revealed the party maintaining steady ground in the areas most affected by the economic crisis. One survey released on Monday showed the group sweeping Athens in municipal elections next year – prompting speculation that the government's crackdown on the group could backfire. Especially hard-hit Greeks have lapped up the party's outreach programme that has included providing support for elderly Greeks in crime-ridden areas and "Greeks only" food handouts.

"For the first time they are being given a huge amount of exposure and air time," said Alexis Mantheakis, a political analyst who said there was a possibility of the party being in government in the future. "Before there was a media blackout and they rarely appeared on television. Instead of being deflated, all this coverage is boosting their image and boosting their support. The situation in Greece is much more serious than it seems."

Greece launches inquiry into claims Golden Dawn trained by armed forces | World news |