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Greece Cracks Down On Violent Golden Dawn Party

Sep 30, 2013
Originally published on September 30, 2013 6:44 am

The Greek lawmaker who leads the neo-fascist Golden Dawn party is behind bars, awaiting trial for running a criminal organization. Many are happy to see him punished: His views are racist and anti-Semitic, and he's been blamed for inciting violence, especially against immigrants.

He says he's not a criminal and is being persecuted for his beliefs.

But will shutting down the party shut down its support?

When Nikolaos Michaloliakos arrived in court late Tuesday night, escorted by police in balaclavas, hundreds of his supporters were waiting for him, chanting: "Blood! Honor! Golden Dawn!"

The motto comes from Nazi Germany's Hitler Youth, but these true believers waved Greek flags.

This crowd helped the once-marginal party win nearly 7 percent of the vote last year — when Michaloliakos compared himself to Julius Caesar after the polls closed.

"I came, I saw, I conquered," he said at the time. "You slung mud at me. You defamed me. You silenced me. I defeated you."

And Michaloliakos says he will keep fighting, even though he's now in jail at high-security prison near the port of Piraeus.

He is accused of running Golden Dawn like a Nazi-style gang — training hit squads and ordering violent attacks. A date for his trial has not been set.

Political scientist Nikos Marantzidis says the more than 400,000 people who voted for Golden Dawn will now see what the party really does.

"The majority of the voters of Golden Dawn, until now they didn't believe that the leadership of the organization were some criminal persons," Marantzidis says. "For them, they were some people with strong nationalist or other ideas, and of course, first of all, with anti-systemic behaviors."

But their anti-establishment ideas are often combined with anti-immigrant hatred.

Egyptian fisherman Abu Hamed Dahi has been afraid of Greeks since a gang of men broke into his home last year and nearly beat one of his housemates to death.

"Now if anyone passes me and stares, the truth is I am afraid," he says. "When a car full of people slows down behind me, I am afraid."

Golden Dawn members say immigrants are subhuman and that Greece should be cleaned of them.

But this kind of language could be punished if hate crime legislation in parliament becomes law, says criminal lawyer Tania Dionyssopoulou.

"And these law proposals refer to punishing publicly instigating hatred or violent acts against persons or groups of persons because of their race, religion, national origin, sexual orientation or sex," she says.

But no such law would have protected Greek rapper Pavlos Fyssas — who was allegedly killed by a Golden Dawn member last month.

His death sparked the crackdown on the party.

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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Now, over the weekend Greek police arrested two dozen leaders, including members of parliament, from Golden Dawn. That's a neo-fascist party that has been growing in popularity amid the country's economic depression. Charges against this group include murder, money laundering and blackmail. Joanna Kakissis reports that a rapper's death prompted this crackdown.

JOANNA KAKISSIS, BYLINE: The arrests began early Saturday morning.

(SOUNDBITE OF A MOB SHOUTING)

KAKISSIS: By evening, TV news showed Golden Dawn's leader and parliamentarian, Nikolaos Michaloliakos, in handcuffs.

(SOUNDBITE OF A MOB SHOUTING)

NIKOLAOS MICHALOLIAKOS: (Foreign language spoken)

KAKISSIS: Long live Golden Dawn, he shouted, down with the traitors.

But authorities say it's Michaloliakos who's the criminal. A Supreme Court prosecutor says the leader runs his party like a Nazi-style gang. The party uses violence to enforce its special brand of nationalism, says journalist Dimitris Psarras. He's been studying the party for more than 25 years.

DIMITRIS PSARRAS: (Through Translator) The group's nationalism is race-based and excludes anyone who's not white, of course, as well as those who don't have Greek blood. But it also excludes anyone with different views.

KAKISSIS: Nikolaos Michaloliakos, a former army commando who admires Adolf Hitler, formed Golden Dawn in the 1980s. He hoped to feed off partisan hatred between the left and right that was fueled by the 1946 to '49 civil war, and a seven-year military dictatorship that ended in 1974. But his party lived in obscurity until the financial crisis, when Greeks blamed mainstream politicians for bankrupting the country and then selling it out to foreign lenders.

Again, here's journalist Dimitris Psarras.

PSARRAS: (Through Translator) Some people believed Golden Dawn was an alternative to the traitors, thieves and servants of foreign powers.

KAKISSIS: In 2012, the party that denies the Holocaust and called immigrants subhuman won 18 seats in the 300-member parliament.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHANTING NEW DAWN PARTY SUPPORTERS)

KAKISSIS: Supporters celebrated by chanting that Greece belongs to the Greeks and that foreigners must get out.

Political scientist Elias Dinas says that the party used its base of nationalists to create an alternate state.

ELIAS DINAS: So what they did, and it is very specific what they did, was to function as local mafias.

KAKISSIS: They patrolled neighborhoods. They set up food, job and blood banks for Greeks only.

Vigilante gangs led by Golden Dawn parliamentary deputies also smashed the stalls of immigrant vendors, as you can hear in this video. They claimed the vendors were selling goods illegally. This kind of incitement helped fuel more than 280 hate crimes between January 2012 and April of this year, that includes at least four murders, the Greek government says.

(SOUNDBITE OF A SONG)

PAVLOS FYSSAS: (Rapping in foreign language)

KAKISSIS: But the government didn't crack down on Golden Dawn until a supporter allegedly stabbed a Greek musician to death in Athens earlier this month.

(SOUNDBITE OF A SONG)

FYSSAS: (Rapping in foreign language)

KAKISSIS: Rapper Pavlos Fyssas performed under the stage name Killah P and strongly condemned fascism and racism in his lyrics.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHANTING PROTESTERS)

KAKISSIS: His death sparked several protests against fascism, including one that medical student Georgia Zafeiri attended last week. She says she'd like to think that not everyone who support Golden Dawn is a fascist.

GEORGIA ZAFEIRI: (Foreign language spoken)

KAKISSIS: They're unemployed people who lost hope and looked in the wrong place for a savior, she says. I hope they see that now.

Golden Dawn insists that the party is not involved in violence and that it's being set up by corrupt politicians working for foreign bankers. Those arrested are expected to make their pleas in court tomorrow.

For NPR News, I'm Joanna Kakissis in Athens.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

INSKEEP: It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.