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Golden Dawn crackdown: Greek initiative or international pressure?

The Council of Europe has long been putting pressure on the Greek government to suspend the operation of this organisation. But it has taken a long time and much grief before this preventive action was taken.

The historic decision of the Deputy Public Prosecutor of the Greek Supreme Court in Athens that led to the arrest of the leader and members of “Golden Dawn”, a nationalist political party based on neo-Nazi ideology, was a long-awaited move by the Greek government which saw nationwide protests after the murder of an anti-fascist rapper in the centre of Athens by a Golden Dawn member.

The report of the Deputy Public Prosecutor, Ch. Vourliotis, recently made public, provides an insight into the criminal activities of the organisation and outlines the legal basis for the arrest of its leadership. According to the Ministerial Order that enabled the Supreme Court to initiate the preliminary investigation, the government remained concerned that the activities of the organisation exceeded the limits of isolated incidents to a degree that poses a threat to public order in the country and interferes with the international and European human rights obligations and commitments of Greece. The findings of the report reflect the views expressed previously by the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, Mr. Nils Muižnieks, who, in a report of 16 April 2013 following his visit to Greece stated that:

‘…The International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD) and the European Convention on Human Rights, both ratified by Greece, make possible the imposition of criminal and other sanctions and restrictions on the activities of individuals and political organisations, including political parties, such as “Golden Dawn”, where evidence demonstrates that they advocate for and are involved directly or indirectly in acts of racist violence, incite racial hatred and oppose some of the basic principles of democracy and the rule of law. Such political parties must be banned, as prescribed by ICERD, and excluded from all state subsidies which are usually provided to political parties.’

In its report, the Supreme Court describes how the group that first appeared in the early 1980s was transformed into a political formation entitled “Golden Dawn” which according to its Articles of Association has an operational and a political part, with the operational part carrying out violent attacks against those who the organisation perceives as enemies. The leader of the organisation is referred to as “Fuererprinzip” [conforming to Hitler’s doctrine] and his powers are sacred and non-negotiable, while the report also explains how foreign immigrants, Roma, disabled persons and those that do not conform to the organisation’s ideas are viewed as “subhuman”.  The organisation’s military structure requires blind obedience to the commands of superiors, while violent attacks are carried out by its youngest members.

One of the most striking findings concerns the staffing of the so-called “Assault Battalions” in a way that assimilates the skills of those serving in the elite units of the Armed Forces, and, more importantly, the use of various weapons that were kept in an undisclosed location near training camps. The involvement of minors in the organisation is also discussed in the report which notes that ‘the scheduled meetings of the members at the offices of local organisations of Golden Dawn include the participation of guest speakers, including minors’.

The Supreme Court concludes that Golden Dawn is a criminal organisation and identifies 11 offences that were committed by its members up to now, including, inter alia, manslaughter with intent, homicide with intent, homicide attempts, robbery, detonating explosive materials and other violations related to explosive materials, grievous bodily harm with intent and disturbing the public peace.

It also reveals that a small number of Greek police officers have been assisting members of the organisation in the commission of criminal acts and calls for further investigation on the matter. The report concludes that in light of the findings of the Supreme Court, the arrest and prosecution of the leadership and members of the organisation is justified on the basis of Article 187 of the Criminal Code which criminalises the formation of a structured group with continuous activity that seeks to commit a number of offences as listed in the relevant provisions of the Criminal Code.

Although it is plausible that the Greek judicial system is finally taking measures to prevent the organisation from committing further criminal acts, the findings of the report did not have much impact on the public conscience; the theatricality of the arrest perhaps did, but Greek citizens were well aware of the ongoing crimes committed by Golden Dawn members, a political formation that grew electoral support as a result of public anger against failed governmental policies. Even though the Council of Europe has long been putting pressure on the Greek government to conduct such investigations and to suspend the operation of this organisation, it has taken a considerably long time and much unnecessary grief to finally take this preventive action.

The confrontation with this ‘criminal organisation’, as it is now referred to by the Supreme Court of Greece, may have been made possible due to the clear evidence of links between its members with serious criminal activities, but its destruction if far from over. What remains as the most challenging task for the Greek government is to find an ingenious way to channel public anger against the policies that led the country to the brink of economic collapse, at the same time as enabling the development of a healthy economic, social and political system in the country so that there is no longer any need to resort to extremism.  

About the author

Andreas Yiannaros is a doctoral candidate in International Law at the University of Bedfordshire, who holds an LLB Law (Hons), and LLM in Public International Law from King's College (University of London).


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