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.