No tolerance for Golden Dawn

March 26, 2015

Leaders of the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn have been released from prison this week at the end of the maximum 18-month detention before trial--leaving them free in the weeks before the long-awaited trial of dozens of party leaders on charges of running a criminal organization. In this article for Workers' Left, the newspaper of the Greek socialist group Internationalist Workers Left, Thanasis Kourkoulas explains the background to the trial, the impact on the new government led by SYRIZA and the prospects for the struggle to defeat the fascists.

THE TRIAL of the neo-Nazis of Golden Dawn will start on April 20 in a specially designed hall inside Korydallos prison in Athens. Coincidently or not, this is the birthday of Adolf Hitler, and it is the day before the anniversary of the 1967 coup by the military junta in Greece.

Despite the fact that the crimes of Golden Dawn are documented are documented by evidence, the conviction of the leadership of the Golden Dawn--on charges against 70 party members, including all 16 of the party's members of the previous parliament, for collectively directing a criminal organization--is by no means certain.

There have been hundreds of violent attacks by Golden Dawn members against immigrants and anti-fascist and left-wing activists. But only three cases are being examined in relationship to the charge of running a criminal organization: The murder of hip-hop artist and anti-fascist Pavlos Fyssas in September 2013; the attempted killing of a group of Egyptian fisherman in Perama near Athens in June 2012; and a violent attack on members of the PAME trade union and Communist Party, also in Perama, in September 2013.

Golden Dawn leader Nikos Michaloliakos
Golden Dawn leader Nikos Michaloliakos

It is telling that Golden Dawn leaders are charged with running a criminal organization and not a related and much harsher anti-terror law which has been used to prosecute radical leftists and anarchist, such as the Conspiracy of Fire Cells, whose adherents are accused of committing a wave of bombings against property.

As if that double standard wasn't enough, among the three judges on the panel that decided the Golden Dawn leaders should be put on trial, one dissented and proposed that the charges should be dropped. Judge Nikos Salatas claimed that Golden Dawn could not be charged with running a criminal organization because there was no economic incentive. But this is not a prerequisite for prosecution under Greek law--though Salatas, in explaining his vote, referred to the Treaty of Palermo which aimed to dismantle the Mafia!

The Golden Dawn leaders are not facing charges of inciting violence and other crimes, and while they are alleged to have participated in and directed a criminal organization, there is no accusation against them for setting up the group.

The conclusion of the ruling by the three-judge panel speaks of a criminal organization that "probably started to act in 2008." But there are convictions of leaders of the neo-Nazis for murderous attacks dating back to the 1990s--for example, a prominent Golden Dawn member known as Periandros was convicted of attempted murder in a savage assault in 1998 on three left wing students, including Dimitris Kousouris, who was badly injured--immediately after the Nazi organization was established.

It is unclear what the outcome of the trial will be. And because of the long delay in starting the proceedings, half of the leadership of Golden Dawn, including founder Nikos Michaloliakos and senior member of parliament Christos Pappas, will have been released from prison at the end of the maximum 18 months of detention before trial. It is also probable that Giorgos Roupakias, the murderer of Pavlos Fyssas, will be out from behind bars for the same reason.

DESPITE THESE failures and omissions, one positive factor for the anti-fascist movement and the left is that the trial will be conducted in a political and social atmosphere in which the overwhelming majority of Greek society wants Golden Dawn to be held accountable for its crimes. This climate is directly connected to the victory for the radical left with the January election of SYRIZA to head a new government.

Now, all parts of the left must do everything they can to give concrete expression to this political climate and to organize a mass mobilization outside the Korydallos prison where the trial will take place.

The left must also work to maintain an anti-Nazi political environment as the trial gets underway. The establishment of a means of monitoring the trial on the initiative of human rights and anti-fascist organizations, as well as the journalists' union in Athens, is a very important step.

More can be done to ensure that the whole of the left takes a firm stand in favor of convicting the Golden Dawn leadership. The decision of Tasia Christodoulopoulou, the minister for immigration policy under the new government, to refuse to answer questions submitted by Golden Dawn members of parliament is absolutely correct, and should be an example to other government officials who insist that the parliamentary rights of the neo-Nazis should be observed.

After the unacceptable statements by Zoe Konstantopoulou, the speaker of the Greek parliament and leading member of SYRIZA, that laws passed by the previous parliament while Golden Dawn members were in detention may be invalid, it is more important than ever for central leaders of the government and the left to stand with the broad popular sentiment against the neo-Nazis and for the conviction of the Golden Dawn leaders.

It is also necessary for the government officials to ensure that the trial of Golden Dawn does not take place in an atmosphere where Golden Dawn members can intimidate and threaten anti-fascists--and that witnesses are protected from the bullying of the neo-Nazis, inside and outside the courtroom.

The conviction of the Golden Dawn leadership in the upcoming trial is absolutely crucial--to prevent hundreds of immigrants from being injured or killed teach year; to stop the neo-Nazis from being able to recruit youth on the basis of their violent street presence; and to neutralize the pockets of support for Golden Dawn among the police, security apparatus and armed forces--something that Deputy Minister for Citizen Protection Yiannis Panousis says he will refused to act against.

Sections of the state apparatus and bureaucracy, government officials and even voices on the left have suggested before conducting this important trial that leaders of Golden Dawn should be given clemency or let off without punishing. It rests on the rest of the left to prevent such a development, which would lead to a return to the violence and intimidation of the period before the assassination of Pavlos Fyssas, with unpredictable consequences for the course of the new Syriza-led government. The situation that government faces in the months ahead is not independent of the outcome of the battle against fascism in Greece.

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