With the arrest of several party leaders the Greek government has begun a crackdown on the far-right Golden Dawn in the wake of the murder of Pavlos Fyssas.
A crackdown on the far-right Golden Dawn(GD) is under way in Greece. Party leader, Nikolaos Michaloliakos, and several MPs and party members were arrested this morning with more expected. They are accused of participating in a criminal organisation and will go before court. The crackdown has two main targets. The first is the political party itself and the second target is its accomplices in the security services. All of this comes on the back of the murder of Pavlos Fyssas just over a week ago.
Along with Michaloliakos came the arrests of party spokesman Ilias Kasidaiaris and Giorgos Patelis who headed the Nikaia branch of GD, the same area where the murder happened. The documents presented to the court are said to consist of 33 charges amongst which are 10 counts of murder or attempted murder. The investigation into the security services has so far led to the resignation of several police generals, the removal of the head of the intelligence service and members of the Dias units. The head of the riot police units whose men were seen fighting alongside GD members in the riots on the 18th has also been removed.
It's the first time since 1974 that a party leader has been arrested in Greece and the crackdown has come as something of a surprise. Just over two weeks ago mainstream media were discussing GD's possible inclusion in a governing coalition. In the wake of the murder on the night of the 17th the media and government made a complete turn around and decided to attack GD head-on. This is not the first time that GD members have killed and the violent nature of the group has been evident for years. Many of the incidents for which GD and the security services are being investigated dated back much further than the last two weeks and the speed with which the case was prepared and presented suggest that the evidence has long been known in political and judicial circles. Question is why when the government did so little to stem the rise of GD for so long did they decide to act now?
One answer is that this time the government simply had to act. The murder caused great anger in Greece which quickly spilled over into rage on the streets. For the last ten days GD offices up and down the country have come under attack and antifascist protests have been constant. On the night of the 25th there were again protests in every major city in Greece with as many as 50,000 marching on a GD office in Athens alone. Early attempts by the media to portray the murder as the result of a brawl over a football match failed and so there was no way to down play this one. To not take some action would have but the fragile coalition government in the spotlight. By taking on GD the government has a shot at the limelight as the defenders of democracy.
Another possible reason for the crackdown could be fear. GD has recently risen to become the third most popular party in Greece and until the last few days nothing could seem to dent that popularity. Many of the voters who recently backed GD would in the past have been natural supporters of the right wing New Democracy(ND) the current leader of the coalition government. With much of GD's appeal being based on anti-systematic rhetoric ND may have despaired of ever being able to work with GD and decided something had to be done before they lost more votes.
The government may also have had its eye on the army. Collaboration between GD and the security forces has long been known. Part of the current investigation claims that members of the special forces have been giving GD members military training. A few days ago a statement by a group of special forces reservists called for the government to step down and make way for a national unity government with the army as its protector, in short it was a call for coup. Fearing that if they don't act soon they may lose control of the security services completely the government chose to act first.
After such a long period when the government ignored the actions of GD it's hard to take at face value their current claims to be the champions of democracy and justice. More likely is that ND are taking advantage of the rage caused by the murder of Pavlos Fyssas to curb a political rival. With thousands out on the street and the first drop in GD popularity the government took its chance and hopes that by imprisoning its leaders and possibly banning the party they can win back some of their lost voters. By criminalising the party all of those nationalist but hardly committed fascists who have flocked to GD may return to ND. When fascists were attacking protesters alongside police they were useful auxiliaries but once they started to become a threat to the ruling party itself they had to be reined in.
Even with the leaders of GD in prison and the leading sympathizers in the security forces removed this is far from the end of the far-right in Greece. Whilst the government may be able to win some sort of political victory from this the fascism that they fostered and allowed to grow has gone too deep to disappear in a few days. Any investigation of the police is likely to leave the majority of the 50% of the force who voted for GD untouched. By no means all of the hundreds of recorded racist attacks in Greece were committed by card carrying GD members. The influence the far-right has had over the young is unlikely to just evaporate, indeed the crackdown may only heighten this.
If the party is banned out right its anti-systematic standing will only increase with its leader urging supporters to fight on from behind bars. Freed from the pretence of being a respectable party GD hit squads may be given license to increase the violence. Those who attack immigrants and leftists will still have many sympathizers in the security forces and the population at large. Rather than marking an end to the rise of fascism the murder and the crackdown could led to an escalation of violence and a further polarization of society which could led us to a very dark place. At the back of many people's minds is the possibility that we may be on the road to civil war. The idea seems extreme and certainly there's a long away to go before that but such a catastrophe is no longer unthinkable.
Whatever the result of this political manoeuvre the fight against fascism in Greece will continue for a long time yet.