D. Christopoulos: Keep your eyes open with the GD trial

The presentation of Dimitris Christopoulos at the open discussion “Golden Dawn Trial, an international event. Why does it matter to Greece and beyond”, organized by AnalyzeGreece!, Athens, 6.5.201

Keep your eyes open is the motto of the International Federation for Human Rights. In this text, It is argued that there are plenty of good reasons for every democratic citizen –particularly European but not exclusively– to keep their eyes open on the Golden Dawn Trial which which has recently started in Greece.

The criminal organization as the political party’s core.
European political history is familiar with the phenomenon of political parties that operate lawfully, yet are either favorably disposed towards or collaborate with illegal organizations, described as “criminal” or “terrorist” by the current legal order. These parties are, in principle, political expressions of ethnic radicalism and act as the political wing of an outlawed cell: the most recent and indicative examples of these are the Basque Country (H. Batasuna-ETA), Northern Ireland (Sinn Féin-IRA) and Turkey (DPT-PKK).

Notwithstanding the obvious inconsistencies, Golden Dawn is a case that breaks the traditional rule of “cell–political wing” relations for the reason that, in this case, cell and wing coincide. The criminal organization is or is in the political party. Actually the criminal organization is the hard core of the party. Conversely, certain political party structures coincide with those of the criminal organization, since certain of its members engage, under strict hierarchy and coordination, in illegal acts due to the fact that they are its members. This explains why some members of the Golden Dawn could be equally regarded as members of the criminal organization, whereas others could not.
This particular status can be attributed to a number of reasons:

a. In Greece, due to the recent historical past of coups d’état, there is a general political culture of intolerance in the prohibition of political parties’ operation and particularly the Communist ones. As a result, a party that would, surely, have been declared illegal in most European countries, is here ensured the privilege of legitimate operation. Just as Catholic priests are allergic to legalizing abortion, the Greek legal world is allergic to ceasing the operation of political parties! This “allergy” was well handled by Golden Dawn...

b. For years, major departments of state institutions, charged with ensuring public order, have not been prosecuting members of Golden Dawn, even when they were provocatively committing crimes. I particularly refer to the police and the judiciary, but also to the Church and the Army. The infiltration of the Greek state apparatus by far right wing elements is not a new  phenomenon for us here and has been recently documented.[1] It is should rather be regarded as a continuation of the 20th century legacy.

Last but not least, for a considerable period of time, a “serious’’ Golden Dawn was expected to emerge as a kind of “sustainable solution” in the fragile Greek political system by certain circles of the conservative establishment in the country. This approach has been shared by the ex-Prime-minister Samaras cabinet and a good part of the media. The same people were very eager to promote the so-called “theory of the extremes”, the one extreme being the Left, the other being the Nazis. Golden Dawn had been equally useful in order to defend the plausibility of this theory.What’s for sure and should be highlighted right from the beginning here is that unlike similar formations in Western Europe, Golden Dawn has never been a party of outsiders, a pariah organization. It has always had its supporters within the police, the army, even the judiciary and the church. According to D. Psarras, the major Greek researcher of this organization, this did not change when the organization made it into the Greek parliament. Its action was simply split in two parts, a legal-public and a clandestine-criminal one – that is, a “political” and a “military” branch, both under the same leadership, of course.

The Nazis’ strategy of tension …

A prominent Golden Dawn’s member and MP says in an interview on BBC at October 17, 2012:

“The Greek society is ready for a new kind of civil war. On the one side there will be nationalists like us, and Greeks who want our country to be as it was, and on the other side, illegal immigrants, anarchists and all those who have repeatedly destroyed Athens”.

This excerpt is particularly revealing. The careful listener or reader will ascertain that the war will not be against the degenerated political class of the Memorandum or even against the Left who covets the power (although the term “anarcho-leftists” is very common in the language of GD). This is not the enemy. The enemy is the anarchists and immigrants, a blend that has already been targeted as intolerable for Greek society as a whole and, par excellence, for the Greek Police. Besides, since Golden Dawn believes that all immigrants should come to be illegal, the reference to this status potentially includes the total of the immigrant population in Greece. This strategy of tension that Golden Dawn launched after the 2012 elections has two main objectives, in the middle and macro-level: the short-term objective is the amplified polling percentage. According to this scenario, Golden Dawn hoped that the previous coalition government of Nea Democratia and Pasok would fail entirely and the Left would soon come into power, so that after their failure, when the conditions become more mature, it would be their turn to come into power. Thus, the long-term objective is the inter-historic objective of Nazism: to overthrow the democratic regime, of which GD disapproves in its statute.

This policy pertains to the historically proven formula of right-wing extremism, the strategy of tension. The strategy that feeds people’s fear against a particular group, dividing and manipulating public opinion by means of horror, propaganda and provocation. The systematic attacks against immigrants by the Greek neo-Nazi assault battalions serve to coerce the victims to respond violently and as an impetus to a martial mobilization of anarchists and parts of the radical Left. Therefore, in case the enemy of Golden Dawn slithers into this confrontation, the conditions will be mature enough for the existential decision of all the rest and predominantly for the crucial standpoint of the Greek Police: [2] who is the enemy? “Nationalists” or out of control “anarchists who confederate with the invaders of the nation, illegal immigrants”. Undoubtedly, in the middle class[3] , the dilemmas are more than simple.

…gone wrong

In September 2013, Golden Dawn lost control of this strategy by murdering Fyssas. In their arrogance, they simply went too far and they’ve proven their recklessness.

Pavlos Fyssas’ assassination in September 2013, as an outcome of previous events, became a catalyst for crucial developments regarding the position of Golden Dawn on the Greek political map. To put it simply: even the Right felt unsettled because they saw that, even as Golden Dawn was claiming to give hegemonic expression to the country’s traditional circles of extreme conservatism, it now posed a real threat to social peace. In the autumn of 2013, the Greek Republic’s until-then unjustifiable and unbearable tolerance towards its imminent enemy reached its limit. Golden Dawn was too obviously revealed as a criminal organization combining national-socialist ideology with mafia practices which had been left until then unperturbed in spreading the seed of violence and toxic ideology within Greek society – a part of which seemed well-disposed to adopt its message.

       A number of different reasons have been given to explain the political consolidation of this organization. Some conservative observers, quite one-sidedly, point to migration flows and the failures of migration policy as the sole cause. Others –particularly of centre left origin– speak rather abstractly about the predominance of nationalism in Greek political culture, or the historical depths of far-right intrusion into the Greek state. Still, others, mainly leftists, would blame the Memoranda and the economic crisis for everything. But this is no one-sided matter, and it would be a mistake to attribute Golden Dawn’s rise wholly to one factor. It is naturally true that Golden Dawn would not have come this far if it were not for the crisis afflicting the country since 2009. The crisis was a catalyst, however, and not the cause. In Spain and Ireland you may have similar –though not such acute– situations to the Greek one, yet no Nazi party exists. In Sweden and Austria, on the contrary, there is nothing similar to the Greek crisis, but still the far right is well settled into the political system.

Notwithstanding the pending results of the criminal prosecution of the organization and the ongoing effort towards its dismantlement, the Greek State and society have a lot more work to do in order to give a convincing and sustainable political answer to the social, political and economic conditions that engendered Nazism in 21st-century Greece. Even if the criminal organization is eventually dismantled, even if its ties with the State are restrained or cut off, the part of Greek society that has expressed itself through Golden Dawn will continue to look for a political outlet. Even after the trial is over, we still have an open front here. As European experience of the 20th century teaches us – particularly of the German Inter-war period – a stigmatized, defeated, isolated and humiliated country provides the most fertile soil for the development and consolidation of Nazism.

 Why monitor the trial?

It appears so self-evident to me that it is almost unnecessary to argue -as it denotes our uncertainty –that respect for the constitutional guarantees of due process towards the accused, whoever they may be, constitutes a sine qua non entitlement in a state governed by the rule of law. Accordingly, whenever there are problems, these should be identified and given prominence. I recognize that this creates an additional suspicion and burden towards a judiciary that most frequently demonstrates deeply conservative ideological preferences in the course of trials of crucial importance for the Greek society. As regards Golden Dawn, the main problem of the Greek justice system, until recently, was not the excessive zeal, but on the contrary the deafening indifference to the fact that people were committing crimes co-ordinately as its members. Certainly, after long-lasting inaction, the answer does not lie within demonstrations of fist. And this is what we can absolutely claim from the Greek judiciary in the forthcoming trial.

Let me conclude by saying that the members of Golden Dawn are not in the dock for their ideas but for their actions, actions not attributed to drunkenness or to the heat of the moment, but –unfortunately for them and all of us– to their membership in the organization and their ideology regarding “sub-humans”. These morbid ideas lead to criminal acts that no State should or could ever leave unpunished. Democracy defends itself; not in any which way but according to norms dictated by rule of law. Yet, once faced with threats, one thing is inconceivable: indifference. This is the message for this trial, the motto of the International Federation for Human Rights. Be aware: you’ve got plenty of reasons to KEEP YOUR EYES OPEN!

[1] On the issue cf. the study conducted in 2013 for the Rosa Luxemburg Foundation, D. Christopoulos (ed.) Mapping Ultra-Right. Extremism, Xenophobia and Racism within the. Greek State Apparatus.

Dimitris Christopoulos is the Vice President of the International Federation for Human Rights, an Associate Professor of Political Science, Panteion University.

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