Greek citizens express their views on the far-right movement Golden Dawn
Pending trial on charges of being part of a criminal group, Nikos Michaloliakos and other members and sympathizers of Golden Dawn are facing charges such as the founding of a political movement that follows principles of Nazi ideology and of actively engaging in acts of violence. The party targets immigrants such as Blacks and Roma. Still, in the June 2012 elections 7% of the people voted for GD and therefore 18 GD members have seats in the Athens Parliament.
Evi Andrianou, actress and teacher of Roma children in Athens
CartaCapital: You told me once that you know people who have voted for Golden Dwan in 2012.
Evi Andrianou: Over the last three years, I came across some GD voters and I suppose I still do. Although I seldom engage in conversation with them, there were occurrences where I tried to bring them to their senses and avert their fascistic beliefs. I cannot say I have been successful, but still it seemed as if I was the first person to challenge their ideas. GD voters may have different backgrounds but they share a common enthusiasm for our race supposed “superiority”. Most people I have encountered have lost faith not only in the recent Greek governments but in politicians in general. They believe "democracy doesn't work." They voted GD to sabotage the “system” and the whole thing went absurdly out of proportion and out of hand. Usually GD voters are fascists, racists and supporters of violence. Even those who could be described as “family people” have began to support GD mainly due to their frustration, anger, irresponsibility to face the new socio-economical facts. They can no longer think rationally.
CC: Can you describe a typical GD voter?
EA: A GD voter I met personally, through acquaintances, tried to “explain” to me how the uncontrolled immigrant admission affected his business but also how his wife was supposedly harassed by immigrants living close by. Instead of dealing with those incidents as, exactly, incidents, this person preferred to view “all immigrants as criminals.” And since the police are not arresting every single one of them, the only solution to his problem was to support the only party which could “deal” with this situation.
CC: In the meantime you keep on teaching Roma children? What do you tell them if they ask about GD members?
EA: During my experience at the Roma Children Education Program no child has raised the GD issue as a topic of discussion. Having said that, there was a time where a five-year- old Greek boy got into a fight with a Roma boy and at one point shouted at him, “I’ll bring the Golden Dawn to take care of you.” After I stopped the fight I called the whole class, including the two boys, for an open discussion regarding the incident in particular and anger management in general. Soon I realized that the Greek boy had no idea of what his phrase meant, neither what “GD” represents. He was merely repeating a sentence he overheard grownups using in a similar bullying situation. I explained to the class how to talk through their differences and also that GD is a group of people who resolve their differences through violence which is hardly an example to follow.
CC: How has the death of Fyssas affected you?
EA: Although Fyssas’ murder was arguably the incident that triggered the events that followed, he was hardly the only victim of the brutality of GD. There were at least two confirmed murders by GD supporters that did not get as much media attention or social response due to the fact that they were not Greeks but immigrants. Fyssas’ murder was disturbing first and foremost because it proved to everybody that it could have been them in his place. Many people believed that GD attacked only minorities, “non-pure Greeks.” This murder proved GD for what it really is: a pack of common criminals. Watching the heads of this so called political party going to jail is not going to bring Fyssas and the others back from the dead, but it exposes GD’s true nature. Many people have not realized until now that they voted or at least supported people who were capable of such terrible acts.
The Greek-Canadian Stan Draenos is a political analyst who has taught at several universities in North America and Greece. His latest book is Andreas Papandreou: The Making of a Greek Democrat and Politcal Maverick (I.B. Tauris, 352 pages, 30 pounds).
CartaCapital: Why did it take so long for the government to confront the GD party? You certainly remember the Pakistani worker Shehzad Luqman, who was stabbed by a GD member in January - not to mention other attacks against immigrants.
Stan Draenos: Greek authorities, both in the police and the judiciary, have been lax in responding to the criminal acts of Golden Dawn members against Greece’s immigrant population, which sadly is too diverse, marginalized and politically weak to effectively defend itself from Neo-Nazi hooliganism. Until now, Prime Minister [Antonis] Samaras has not backed his frequent denunciations of Golden Dawn with deeds. The timing of this aggressive crackdown is, it seems, attributable to a number of novel factors surrounding the crime. First, it was a politically-motivated crime. The victim, Pavlos Physsas, was a well-known anti-fascist rapper. Second, the murder was particularly cold-blooded and took place before a wealth of witnesses, whose depositions and other evidence strongly suggest that the crime was organized by the local Golden Dawn “battalion” on approval of, and perhaps direction from their superiors. Third, just preceding the murder, Golden Dawn had perpetrated a number of unsettling incidents, including a violent attack on members of the Communist Party and abusive behavior towards a New Democracy mayor, suggesting that Golden Dawn was broadening the scope and frequency of its attacks. Finally, Syriza has of late been accusing Samaras’ New Democracy party of pandering to Golden Dawn in hopes of somehow allying with it, a charge based on the fact that some members of Samaras’ party have, indeed, been playing footsie with the Neo-Nazis. The current crackdown has lent credibility to Samaras’ rhetorical denunciations of Golden Dawn, enabling him to neutralize Syriza’s attacks and distance those within his own ranks interested in building bridges to the far Right.
CartaCapital: The government also launched an investigation against senior police officers as the police forces are allegedly infiltrated by GD members or sympathizers. How far can the government go?
SD: It will have to go very far. If it doesn’t, Syriza can be expected to keep the government’s feet to the fire. Public Order and Citizen Protection minister Nikos Dendias moved boldly soon after the attack to fire or reassign seven top national police officials, a move meant to underscore that the government meant business in addressing the long-recognized phenomenon of police tolerance for, and sometimes collaboration with Golden Dawn. Currently thirty-five police units are under investigation, along with dozens of incidents and citizen complaints. While the government can be justifiably criticized for its earlier reluctance to act, the upside of the current situation is that Greece can no longer be compared to Weimar, where the tolerance of the authorities towards political criminality gave Hitler his footing.
CC: If the prosecutors prove that there are direct links between the party and the death of Pavlos Fyssas, politicians such as Nikos Michaloliakos and Yannis Lagos, among others will receive jail sentences. Wouldn't that affect parliament in terms of seats - and therefore the coalition in power?
SD: Golden Dawn deputies are being charged for offenses committed as members of an organization engaged in planning and executing criminal acts, not for espousing anti-democratic ideas as members of an extremist political party. Even from behind bars, they can remain members of parliament. Meanwhile, according to Athens law professor Nikos Alivizatos, technical parliamentary means exist for preventing them from forcing either by-elections or general elections by resigning.
CC: Matthew Goodwin, an academic at Nottingham University, told The Economist that far-right movements exist because of “national culture, identity and a way of life that matter more than material worries.” He says they exist in triple-credit rating countries such as the Netherlands as well in a country that may need a third bailout such as Greece. How do you respond to that argument?
SD: Economic hardship is only one of the conditioning factors that has fostered Golden Dawn’s impressive rise in voting support. A public opinion poll published on October 7 found that, when asked to choose the factor most responsible for the rise of Golden Dawn, 38.5 % of voters selected “the view that the political system had betrayed the country”, while 36.3 % selected “economic problems of citizens”. Interestingly, 50 % of Golden Dawn voters chose betrayal by the political system, while only 21.9 % cited economic problems. Equally interesting was that “the wave of illegal immigration and criminality” was chosen by only 8.4% of respondents, and 15.6 % of Golden Dawn voters. The percentage Golden Dawn is a particularly odious manifestation of neo-Nazism in Europe as indicated by the eagerness of Marine Le Pen, leader of France’s National Front, to distance her party from it in statements she made shortly after the Greek government’s crackdown.
CC: How do you explain the fact that there are 18 GD deputies in parliament - and around 8% of the Greek population supports them?
SD: In my view, Golden Dawn is a symptom of a broader political malaise that goes beyond the economic situation. In Greece, the first mass protests against the political system took place in 2008, with the Grigoropoulos police shooting, well before the sovereign debt crisis broke out. The loss of public faith in democratic institutions as they currently function is a widespread phenomenon in the democracies of the West. In the United States, Washington gridlock, the Tea Party and the Occupy movements are all expressions of this malaise.
CC: If deputies from GD receive, as we expect, jail sentences is there a risk that GD becomes an underground movement and therefore much more dangerous?
SD: Rather than driving Golden Dawn underground, the government crackdown has effectively penetrated its façade as a political party and surfaced its essential nature as an underground, anti-democratic movement. According to one former member, the core of this movement consisted of around 300 cadres secretly organized and trained military-style to mount storm troopers attacks, mainly against immigrants, but also eventually on the country’s parliamentary institutions. Voting support, which has fallen by about 1/3 since the crackdown, is another matter. We can continue to expect a hardcore support of 6-8 %, making it the third most popular party in Greece’s fractured political system, where its largest parties, New Democracy and Syriza, each command only around 20 % in the polls. Remarkably, aside from a relative decline in support for Golden Dawn, the seemingly earth-shaking events of the past few weeks have not produced a political earthquake. My guess is that the political fallout will only become apparent in the spring, when there are both EU and municipal elections. So far, the most dramatic impact politically has been that Syriza’s strategy for the fall—to mobilize street protests, particularly against reforms in education, health and local government, in order to force elections—has been thrown, probably permanently, off-course. What would really make Golden Dawn dangerous is if it had an effective leader a la Hitler or Mussolini, something, thankfully, that it lacks. In their court depositions, Golden Dawn members have effectively denounced fascist ideology and the use of violence, apparently in fear of the judicial consequences, disappointing those who have embraced their gospel of hate and leaving the public at large with the impression that they are political cowards. In this regard, at least, they have shown themselves to be pussycat fascists.
Alexandra Tzavella is a journalist of Eleftherotypia (newspaper online: www.enet.gr)
CartaCapital: How do you deal with Golden Dawn sympathizers and members? Do they threaten you?
Alexandra Tzavella: Several times, Golden Dawn members have expressed their views in online media and TV programs, especially within the last year, when they gained in polling numbers and parliamentary representation. As a journalist, I have talked many times to sympathizers and members of Golden Dawn, usually off-the record and undercover, in order to get information for my research. And when the stories were published, I saw their dirty teeth. But the readers do not care if we as journalists are threatened or not or if the risk is high – they just want to read a good story. Being threatened is a part of my job and when I am threatened, not only from Golden Dawn but from other more dangerous guys, I know I am doing my job well.
CC: What other stories have you been writing, including the GD ones?
AT: I have always been interested in stories which others ignore or pass by. Human trafficking in Greece, abandoned children in hospitals, immigrants at the boarders of Southern Greece, gangs of bicycle thefts, the Siemens scandal, homeless people in Athens, everyday life in a "drug suburb" of Athens, are just some of my big stories. Within the last four years I have been interested in issues that led Golden Dawn being elected in the Greek Parliament and I have been researching the practices that it uses to recruit more members and voters. For instance, Golden Dawn have intervened in Greek schools; this was a big story which showcased the condition of schools, nine months ago. In that story, teachers from around Athens described the difficulties of teaching classrooms with teenage skinheads who are members of Golden Dawn. Teachers of nursery schools said for example that some parents, who are members of GD, visit them and complain when their kids play with immigrants. Many stories were out. In one of them, a teenager was attacked by a GD member with a knife at his neck and lost half of his nose. I also have interviewed many of the major victims of Golden Dawn: immigrants. Last summer I was an eye witness in an attack. Members of GD in a motorcycle parade attacked a young Afghan immigrant.
CC: How do you explain the popularity of Golden Dawn?
AT: The current economic crisis in Greece has helped the rise of Golden Dawn. The party positioned itself against the troika memorandum and the austerity measures. It presented itself as a solution to unemployment, crime-rates and poverty. Over the last years, it was proved that GD conducts itself beyond the boundaries of law and democratic principles. They continued to be an underground movement even when they were elected to parliament. Their empowerment made them even more dangerous. It depends on the tolerance of the voters and on their IQ, if this gang continues to exist. But also on the effectiveness of the Greek judicial system.