The conservative government of Antonis Samaras claims to be cracking down on “extremism”. But what skeletons does the Prime Minister hide in his closet?
Video by Ross Domoney, Klara Jaya Brekke and Dimitris Dalakoglou for the City at a Time of Crisis research project.
The Greek Prime Minister, Mr Samaras, is currently visiting the USA. He arrived here in the immediate aftermath of the arrest of the leadership of Golden Dawn, the notorious Greek neo-Nazi party.But what skeletons does Mr Samaras have in his closet?
Mr Samaras’ speech on October 2 at the Peterson Institute in Washington, DC gives us a first answer to that question. There, the Prime Minister claimed that his government crushes extremism, he talked about the leadership of Golden Dawn which had been, at that time, driven to jail. However, later during the Q&A session he also added that his government was not quite done; that he would also deal with the other extreme, the one that talks of leaving the EU and NATO — directly implying the Left opposition.
His statements pose at least three issues. One, Mr Samaras makes clear that his government had accepted the illegal activity of Golden Dawn so far, or that it did not have the will to deal with it. Two, he admits that the government intervenes in the system of justice which supposedly is independent. Three, he promotes once again his plan to crush the Left opposition which disagrees with his government and which protests in public.
The incident that triggered the arrests of Golden Dawn’s most prominent members was the assassination of the antifascist musician Pavlos Fyssas in Nikaia, Athens. Fyssas was the first Greek to be killed by Golden Dawn since the group launched its violent campaign against migrants and — to a lesser extent — against antifascists in 2009. Less than 24 hours after Mr Samaras’ speech at the Peterson Institute, the majority of the arrested Golden Dawn members were released from detention, awaiting trial. On their way out from the court, they kicked and abused journalists under the eyes of the police.
The simplistic theory of the “two extremes” has been promoted by the Greek nexus of power ever since Mr Samaras came to office. On that very same day on September 16, 2012, two of the country’s largest newspapers (the pro-government To Vima and Kathimerini), published two texts by their key editors with very similar titles, making an identical argument. Even if this is a total coincidence, their argument was a dangerous legitimization of the far-right. In sum, the articles suggest that the emergence of Golden Dawn provides an “opportunity” for the state to eliminate the “two extremes” of Greek politics.
According to the opinion of government officials, the antifascists comprised that hypothetical other “extreme”. So the minister of public order, Mr Dendias, as part of Mr Samaras’ government, attacked those who stand up to racism and fascism. In 2012, a political action called the antifascist motorcades began. These were big groups of people on motorbikes riding around the areas of Athens where most attacks against migrants were occurring, aiming to stop them, since police did little to help the victims. In September 2012, DELTA motorbike police attacked the antifascists, arresting, beating and later torturing them.
Allegedly DELTA and the riot police force (MAT) are the two police units with the closest links to Golden Dawn. On the day following the arrests, MAT attacked those who had gathered at Athens’ courthouse to express their solidarity to the antifascists, arresting even more of them. This series of arrests brought to a temporary halt an action that was aimed at stopping what were, by then, daily racist attacks in those parts of the city. From that time on, the lives of several immigrants — and now one local antifascist — have been claimed by neo-Nazis on the streets of the Athens.
A few months later, in December 2012 and January 2013, some of the most prominent social centers in Athens were evicted by police. These had been the physical and cognitive cornerstones of the city’s antifascist struggle. Additionally, they were located in those parts of the city center where Golden Dawn and other neo-Nazi groups systematically attack migrants. Soon after these evictions, similar raids occurred in such antifascist centers throughout the country.
Since Mr Samaras became Prime Minister the city has been subjected to the police operation “Xenios Zeus”. Since its inauguration in August 2012, the operation has seen the detention of over 80.000 migrants, the vast majority having broken no law according to police press releases. Eventually, most of the innocent migrants have been released with the exception of around 5.000 who were imprisoned, mostly due to lack of documents, in new detention centers built across the debt-ridden country.
Targeting a substantial proportion of the population of Greek cities simply due to their skin color marks the adoption of Golden Dawn’s agenda by Mr Samaras’ government. Golden Dawn claims that migrants are dangerous and Mr Samaras’ New Democracy (ND) has followed this logic, detaining innocent migrants in the thousands. In his pre-election campaign, Mr Samaras claimed that illegal migrants have become “the tyrants of society” and that Greeks subsequently have to “liberate our cities from illegal migrants”, once again repeating the Golden Dawn rhetoric.
Mr Samaras’ party in May 2013 made a gift to Golden Dawn by blocking the anti-racist bill, which would criminalize racism and the denial of the Holocaust. Golden Dawn on the other hand provided aid to Mr Samaras’ government on at least two debatable decisions since June 2012: first, when the government shut down overnight the Public Television, and second when it applied further tax exceptions to the Greek ship-owning companies.
Just one week before Fyssas’ assassination in Nikaia, Babis Papadimitriou, a renowned pro-ND journalist, suggested that we need to discuss a conservative coalition government with the participation of a “more serious” version of Golden Dawn. Simultaneously, prominent ND members, including Vyron Polydoras and Failos Kranidiotis, have expressed their positive feelings toward the neo-Nazis of Golden Dawn. This may come as little surprise to those familiar with Greek politics. By this point in time, the Greek government is at its furthest right position since the fall of the military dictatorship back in 1974. Note, among others, the inclusion of Adonis Georgiadis or Makis Voridis in the current parliamentary team of New Democracy — both are best described as ultra-right.
Clearly, the assassination of Pavlos Fyssas and the charges brought against the Golden Dawn leadership have dramatically altered the political atmosphere in Greece, indefinitely postponing, one would think, such collaboration. Mr Samaras might portray himself as a combatant against the extremism of Golden Dawn. But how, then, can he explain the very strong ideological and practical links between his own party’s rhetoric and policies, and those of the neo-Nazis?
Dimitris Dalakoglou is member of the crisis-scape.net research team and a member of Occupied London collective.