1 Oct 2013

Trial exposes Golden Dawn party’s split-screen world

Tensions rise outside court in Greece as Golden Dawn’s leaders appear in court. But police evidence raises questions about the party – and about whether there is the political will to deter it.

Golden Dawn MP Christos Pappa leaves police headquarters on 29 September

The guy in the black T-shirt is very keen to tell me something: it’s not a swastika he’s wearing but a “meander”, which can be seen on the walls of ancient Greek buildings. He is the one who put his hand over my camera on Sunday, but on Tuesday – outside the Athens courthouse – he wants to explain.

“There is a difference between the meander and the swastika,” he begins, smiling. But then his mate, in sunglasses, comes up, points at me, and says: “This is the guy who just took my photo, and you can tell him if he puts it online he will get something up his ass”.

This is the split-screen world of Golden Dawn. Not officially violent but always prepared to threaten violence; not really fascist but prepared to use straight-arm salutes and a red-black symbol that looks closer to the swastika than any other used by the European far-right.

It’s in this space that the party survives. Its 18 members of parliament, its state subsidised offices, and its food handouts operating in the open; its hit squads and Hitlerism always deniable.

Until now. On Sunday night Greek police raided the homes of the arrested leaders, who appeared in court to plead today.

Police raids

This link takes you to the treasure trove they found at the villa of Christos Pappas MP (above). Two Nazi helmets from world war two, pictures of Hitler, two 9mm pistols and ammunition, and a surreal collection of Mussolini-themed wine bottles. At the home of Nikolaos Michaloliakos, the party leader, they found a shrine to Hitler, more weapons and 43,000 euros in cash.

Just to spell out what these finds mean for a Greek party that claims to be “nationalist”: from 1941 to 1944 the swastika was flown over the Acropolis by Nazi occupation forces. Three hundred thousand Greeks died in the ensuing famine; at least 21,000 were executed by the German occupation forces in reprisals for acts of resistance. I will mention also the 65,000 Greek Jews who died in the Holocaust, though it will not trouble the ideologists of Golden Dawn, who are on record as saying it was a fiction.

Basically, for a Greek nationalist to worship Hitler stretches the concept of nationalism very far.

The Nazi memorabilia finds came after a concerted anti-terror crackdown on Golden Dawn, following the murder of rapper Pavlos Fyssas. The man alleged to have killed Mr Fyssas is an activist for Golden Dawn in the neighbourhood of Nikea. Now, leaked wiretap evidence – this is a country where police evidence seems to flow to the press like water – confirms that one line of investigation is that the local branch of Golden Dawn coordinated the destruction of evidence, and may have coordinated the murder itself.

Golden Dawn’s leaders are on trial for organised crime; for running a military wing, which carried out physical attacks on receipt of text messages – using their political apparatus. That is, unlike even the crudest terror organisations, they seemed unworried by the overlap between their political wing and the military wing.

Political will

Which raises several questions for the Greek government. We know that prosecutors are examining evidence of police complicity and tolerance for Golden Dawn’s activities. The general tone of the wiretap transcripts after the killing is: what do we do now our immunity is gone?

But there is a bigger question of political will. It was revealed today that in April 2012 the national intelligence bureau submitted a report on the organised crime activities of one Golden Dawn MP, Yiannis Lagos. It included allegations of trafficking of sex workers and extortion. At the time of the election that followed, in June 2012, I remember business leaders in the upmarket district of Colonaki pleading with me to report that Golden Dawn is “full of organised criminals, people traffickers and they have weapons”.

So even if the intelligence report got lost, just as the famous Lagarde list of tax evaders did, the Greek government clearly knew of concerns that the far-right party were organising criminal activities.

I’ve spent too long in this country to find speculation useful: the left perennially claims that the conservative New Democracy party is covertly supporting Golden Dawn. We should find out soon whether the more plausible claims of support from private business stand up. The fact is, New Democracy – which has absorbed MPs from the previous far right party LAOS – has at last cracked down on Golden Dawn.

Golden Dawn MP Kostas Barbarousis attends a rally in solidarity with his colleagues, who appeared in court

‘Jews, journalists, traitors’

The main left wing opposition party leader, Alexis Tsipras, welcomed this at a rally on Sunday, calling it “a victory for democracy, for the antifascist movement and the whole of democratic Europe”.

So with the chant of “Jews, journalists, traitors” ringing in my ears from the Golden Dawn picket of the courtroom just now, I will stick to fact.

Security minister Nikos Dendias repeatedly denied there was any evidence of police collusion with Golden Dawn. He threatened to sue the Guardian for presenting evidence of the torture of anti-fascists in police custody, who alleged they heard officers of the Delta Squad (motorcycle riot cops) proclaim allegiance to Golden Dawn inside the police HQ. He claimed photographic evidence of their injuries were false.

This was in October 2012, when I and other journalists were presenting evidence that there was, indeed, police collusion. That police support for Golden Dawn existed was even trumpeted from the mouth of (now arrested) Golden Dawn MP, Ilias Panagiotaros, who claimed support among the police was “above 50 per cent”.

The fact is, for whatever reason, the government ignored the activities of Golden Dawn.