Greek law allows that criminal-ridden, Golden Dawn, roam the streets but local Cretans won’t stand for it.
Alexandra*, 21, is preparing for her university exams next week, but it’s hard to concentrate. She’s happy. She smiles. Because the next day, May 27, is going to be a special day for her and her comrades from the Anti – Fascist Assembly of Heraklion. “We cast the Golden Dawn away [from Crete] and we want to invite people of all ages to come and celebrate together. It’s not only a win for anti-fascists but a win for life – for every person who wants to live freely.”
Last February, this anti-fascist group undertook an attack against the Cretan offices of Greece’s far-right, Golden Dawn party, located in the neighbourhood, Nea Alikarnassos.
“We were about 60 people. We went early in the morning, around six am. We didn’t want it to be at night because we wanted the neighbourhood to see it. And we didn’t want to cause a fight with the police because doing it at night seems sneaky. We wanted to do it the safest way possible – to have the neighbourhood with us and to not be scary people who break things,” she explains.
Entering in through the balcony, the group broke the windows, damaged furniture in every room, destroyed the plumbing and electrical utilities, wrote slogans and sprayed paint on the walls. What can be described as vandalism was, however, followed by applause from many in the neighborhood? “They said ‘thank you’, which satisfied us. That meant a lot to us,” says Konstantinos*, another member of the anti-fascist group.
After several prior attempts to establish their Cretan headquarters in the city center of Heraklion – frustrated always by civil society who would protest against them in riots of over 1,000 demonstrators – the political party chose the Nea Alikarnassos neighborhood instead. “The fact that the Golden Dawn chose to establish its headquarters here five or six years ago was because they found supporters here. Where you find working class people, unfortunately, it’s easier to find radicalized fascists,” Konstantinos* says. He adds that many of his lively childhood memories took place on its streets, so this neighborhood means a lot to him.
Nea Alikarnassos also has a strong connection with immigration back from the Greco-Turkish War. This history helps garner support for the Assembly’s open public sessions, explaining what is behind Golden Dawn propaganda, ideas and values which are based on three pillars: fascism, violence and race supremacy.
Following the vandalism of the building, the landlord no longer wanted to rent the space to them. And as of yet, no one else has been willing to either. Building owners in Crete are now aware that where Golden Dawn opens an office on the island, the anti-fascists will show up again and destroy it. “So, they just left. Now in Crete, there are fascists but no offices,” Alexandra* says. Since February, Golden Dawn has had no official space on the biggest island of the Aegean Sea, from where to coordinate their actions and freely spread their hate message.
Alexandra* smiles even bigger, remembering the ‘thank-you’ of grandmothers and people from the area, responding to their collective actions. “It was really encouraging,” she says.
The rhetoric of the group
As the country’s third largest political party, the Golden Dawn has an office in the Parliament building in Syntagma Square in the center of Athens. Inside, Ilias Kasidiarias, spokesperson of the Golden Dawn and one of the most well-known members due to his controversial public behaviours but a well-looking aspect, is like a lion dressed in lambskin.
He appears gentle. He also smiles. He is open to talk with media abroad because, according to Kasidiaris, he isn’t given a platform in Greek mass media, except for when he speaks in Parliament. “It is impossible to watch a speech or an interview of the Golden Dawn on television,” he says, claiming that is why their constituency is less likely to be older citizens.
However, the reduction of the Golden Dawn’s space in mass media started in 2013 following the murder of Pavlos Fyssas – an anti-fascist rapper. The murder, which was committed by a Golden Dawn supporter, provoked a general condemnation of the party: from politicians, to civil society, as well as the mass media.
The assassination was followed by demonstrations that drew 50,000 people into the street of Athens. Greece’s President at that time, Karolos Papoulias, stated that: “It is our duty not to allow any space whatsoever to fascism—not even an inch.” Since then, there has been an unwillingness of the Greek media outlets, who have self-discretionary power, to give them a platform.
“Older people do not know what we say,” Mr. Kasidiarias continues, “But young people can watch us on YouTube and they vote for us.” According to polls, a big portion of their support comes from voters between the ages of 25 and 39. Nonetheless, Associate Professor in Comparative Politics at Reading University, Daphne Halikiopoulou, asserts that we have to look at this data with perspective.
“First of all, education is the most significant factor. The less educated you are, the more likely to vote for the Golden Dawn. And then, we are talking about a particular constituency of young men in employment age who are unemployed and very angry. So probably, if you break the young people down you will find it is more male, and these are more males in precarious employment.”
From the beginning of the financial crisis, to the first year Golden Dawn was elected into Parliament, youth unemployment rose from 22.5 % to 52% respectively.
Still, Prof. Halikiopoulou warns that the explication cannot be reduced to the argument that their support is an outcome of the embitterment that times of crises brings. “The crisis definitely opened the space, it pissed people off. But we cannot just attribute everything to the crisis because, simply, other countries with crises do not have a similar party. There’s a particular constituency in Greece, a steady support for a party that’s simultaneously in prison.”
Nikos Marantzidis, Professor at the University of Macedonia, describes Golden Dawn supporters as having mainly, “authoritarian tendencies, strong or latent, and is more or less indifferent to liberal democratic values. In reality, democracy is not as threatened as liberal values.”
Politicians or criminals?
Today, Golden Dawn is facing what is considered the “the biggest trial of fascist criminality since Nuremberg” in the Greek justice system. And under the accusation of being a criminal organization, three serious criminal offences were also brought before the courts: the above-mentioned murder of Pavlos Fyssas; an assassination attempt on Abuzid Embarac, an Egyptian worker; and assassination attempts on members of the Greek Communist Party.
On September 17th, 2013, these charges brought in 69 accused. Among them, all the 18 members of the parliamentarian group, including the leader Nikolaos Michaloliakos and spokesperson Ilias Kasidiaris. “When Golden Dawn rose up, the political system started an illegal war against us,” Ilias Kasidiaris claims. He was released from prison on a €50,000 bail.
But the trial began in 2015 and is still open in court. “The fact that they are free and circulating around is one of the Greek specificities,” explains the Professor Nikolaos Alivizatos, who testified in the trial against Golden Dawn as a Constitutional Law Scholar. “If they were in France or in Spain, they would have still been in jail because their court case goes on. In Greece there is a clause in the Greek constitution saying that they cannot remain [in jail] for more than 18 months.”
Greece’s recent history of coups sheds a light on a broader political culture of intolerance of any form of state intervention on internal party matters. So even though Nikolaos Michaloliakos himself accepted political responsibility for the murder of Pavlos Fyssas on live radio, and although a close relationship between the rappers murderer and main party members has been proven, Greek law does not permit the prohibition of political parties based on ideological reasons.
“What I testified in court is that their specific party may be accused as a criminal organization and under common criminal law. And in the end, that is the way Golden Dawn was treated, as a criminal organization. That is to say, an organization that purportedly commits crimes,” Mr. Alivizatos explains.
From Marie LePen in France, to Viktor Orbán in Hungary, the rise of far-right parties in Europe is unmistakable. But it has been emphasized by professionals that the Golden Dawn are not just another anti-Europeanist and anti-immigration party. “Just bear in mind that they are criminals,” Prof. Daphne Halikiopoulou says.
Mr. Alivizatos makes it clear that, “if you start comparing Golden Dawn with the extreme right-wing political parties of other European countries, you will make a confusion. These guys are killers. You should bear in mind that there is a specificity in that respect.”
What Golden Dawn stands for
Accused as fascist and racist, Ilias Kasidiaris rejects both labels, claiming instead to be nationalist. However, Prof. Halikiopoulou has assembled arguments to show why they should be studied as a fascist group, even with a Nazis perspective.
“[Unlike other far-right European parties who] frame their anti-immigration in an ideological way and in an economic way saying `we do not want immigrants because most of them are Muslim and they seek to erode our national democracy,´ Golden Dawn says `if your blood is not Greek, you are out of here´. Also, they are very violent. They have a whole violent structure and hierarchy like a fascist regime. They walk around, they have these T-shirts with Golden Dawn and they carry the bats – you can see them, they’re like a mob.”
When Kasidiaris is asked about reserving the hand out free food to Greek nationals alone, his response is like that of a snake charmer to desperate people. “This is not democracy in Greece. We called the people to Syntagma square where I said ‘1.000 people, take food today.’ And after that, there was a law saying it is illegal for Golden Dawn to do that. We gave a present. We say, `we want to give a present to you, but not to you.` I can decide who I give to because I give the present. This is my decision, not the decision of the state.”
What’s not being said and what party supporters do not want to see, is that it’s not just a decision one person or one party gets to take on alone and without consequence. Only those who were able to present their Greek ID’s were allotted food. These actions go against equality and are motivated by discrimination based on race, colour and nationality, contrary to all the principals that inspired the Human Rights declaration.
“They are a threat for society first and foremost,” says the Political and Communications advisor of SYRIZA, Dimitris Rapidis, who sees a lack of political initiative to stop them. “I am worried about a fascist group taking advantage of the public sphere and doing what they are doing. The problem is that SYRIZA is the only party, so far, that publicly condemns the actions of Golden Dawn. No other party is saying anything about them. This is actually a problem, because we need to have a united front against such guys.”
The fight of the heroes
“Hence we will not say that Greeks fight like heroes, but that heroes fight like Greeks,” Winston Churchill once said. Greece has a deep history in fascist resistance since WWII, especially in Crete, where the population showed strength when Nazi Germany began an invasion of the island.
And for that reason, on May 27, the Anti-Fascist Assembly of Heraklion is ready to celebrate that they are still aware and ready to fight against the large shadow of the fascism.
“We know what Hitler did to the humanity,” Angela*, 50, one of the event attendees says, later referring to Cretans stopping German paratroops during an invasion in 1942. “We do not want [fascists]. We believe they must not exist because even if they have even a little power, they will start against us, against our children, our town and every minority.”
At the festival, there is free food and drinks. There is company. There is live music. Greek songs are played using traditional instruments, revindication that Greek culture need not be played solely as an exclusionary political tool. Everyone is welcome. Everyone who wants to celebrate that the Golden Dawn no longer has their offices in Crete.
Still, they must keep their feet firmly planted. Offices are a consequence of a support that remains there, and people who still believe in their cause. “The destruction of the office is a message,” explains Myrto*, 34, supporter of the anti-fascist movement. “It means that they do not have official permission to be here, that they do not have enough supporters to hold their headquarters here. But it can be dangerous if we think that this has finished, because we know that they still exist and that they can always find ways to attack and spread their ideas. It is a good thing that we are celebrating today, the closure of the headquarters, but it does not mean that the struggle is over. We should always be alert,” she says.
For now, they deserve to dance. Together, joining their strength, they have been able to resist criminals. “If we let them think or understand that we are afraid, we give them power. And if we let them take further steps into society, they will grow. If you have your comrades, your friends and you are all together, then you are not afraid, you feel pride,” Angela* says.
*All stared names have been changed to protect the identity of those who have participated in the vandalism of the headquarters as well as those who have supported those actions by attending the event.