Anti-fascist rally to protest the stabbing of Pavlos Fyssas, Athens Sep 2013. Demotix/Konstantinos Tsakalidis. All rights reserved.
Pavlos Fyssas was no ordinary rapper. Born and raised in the working class district of Amfiali near Piraeus, one of several unemployment- and poverty-hit parts of the Greek capital, the 34-year old man had distinguished himself both through his art (as Killah P, he was part of the low bap music scene, alongside bands such as Active Member) and actions of solidarity, the two often combined. A well-known anti-fascist activist, he was murdered by a thug of the Golden Dawn neo-nazi party on September 18, 2013. This act of political violence has led to a major political defeat of the conservative-led Greek government. This is so for several reasons.
First, the Greek government’s long overdue reaction proves decisively that existing domestic legislation (specifically the penal code and anti-terror laws) offers powerful tools that ought to be used in the fight against the neo-nazis of Golden Dawn. Since, unlike in other European countries, a political party cannot be banned in Greece on historically-defined constitutional grounds, in the wake of Pavlos Fyssas’ murder, the conservative-led government asked the country’s top public prosecutors to investigate no less than 32 documented cases of attacks that had taken place across Greece and were thought to be linked to Golden Dawn.
The idea is powerfully simple: on the basis of existing evidence, could a case be made – the government asked – that Golden Dawn is, in fact, an organised criminal group? An equally important consequence on the operational level is the direct involvement of the state’s counter-terrorism and intelligence service apparatus in key parts of the investigation. It is as a result of this initial investigation that the country’s top prosecutors issued arrest warrants for more than 30 individuals including not only its leader (who reportedly had no license for the three firearms that were found at his residence at the time of his arrest) and five other Golden Dawn MPs, but also serving police officers. Aided by whistleblowers, the top prosecutors’ initial report refers, inter alia, to several cases of murder or attempted murder. These are charges that, if proven, carry lengthy jail sentences and, crucially, in these cases MPs cannot hide behind parliamentary immunity. Where there is a will, there is a way.
This begs the question of why the conservative-led government did not act earlier; why did the relevant minister not do anything more than merely stating that he was ‘worried’? Why did we have to get to Pavlos Fyssas’ murder for the government to act? Incompetence is certainly a factor (as it was in the case of the closure of the public broadcaster) but there are more sinister causes at play here. Indeed, one idea behind the government’s initial inaction was that many of those who voted for the Golden Dawn (or declared their support for it in opinion polls) were working class voters who could – in the absence of this option – have voted for parties of the Left, especially SYRIZA, the main opposition party. This demonstrates the strategic importance of the Golden Dawn’s significant presence in working class constituencies like the one where Pavlos Fyssas was murdered.
In addition, at the level of political narratives, the conservative-led government systematically used Golden Dawn’s presence and actions to propagate its own so-called ‘theory of the two extremes’. According to that theory, SYRIZA too could be considered to be an extremist party, or at least one that harboured some sympathies for (left-wing) extremism. Implicit here is the idea that SYRIZA is not a legitimate option, especially for the ‘law-abiding citizens’ that traditionally vote for the two ruling parties but deserted them in the wake of the crisis.
This kind of argument was propagated not only by the government’s official spokesman but also conservative MPs such as Chrysanthos Lazarides, a senior aide to Prime Minister Antonis Samaras, both of whom come from the nationalist wing of the ruling Nea Dimokratia. Even by their standards, relying on this rhetoric after Pavlos Fyssas’ murder and the revelations that followed about Golden Dawn’s criminal activity, would be far fetched. Both they and PASOK, the other ruling party, are in desperate need of an alternative strategy and narrative. Arguably the same applies to SYRIZA. Its rating in the opinion polls has been stagnating since the last election, possibly because it has not yet established itself as a party with a single voice on key issues. More importantly, it has not yet completed its long overdue turn to pragmatism.
Pavlos Fyssas’ murder has also been a long overdue wake-up call for the government in terms of the implications of the support that Golden Dawn enjoys amongst the Greek police and armed forces. In democracies, citizens are free to choose which party they vote for and we know for sure that the election results in the Athenian polling stations where most Greek police voted in 2012 showed a much higher degree of support for Golden Dawn than the country’s average. However, taxpayers pay police and soldiers’ salaries in order to be kept safe rather than see them tolerate, turn a blind eye to, help prepare or even contribute to criminal acts such as those that Golden Dawn is alleged to have perpetrated.
This is not a problem that can be kept under the carpet for long, especially in a crisis-hit country like Greece. In that sense, the policing minister’s decision to move, replace or effectively sack several senior police officers, including at least one senior official involved in the investigation on Golden Dawn, and the charges brought against police across the country who had links with Golden Dawn are steps in the right direction.
Finally, Pavlos Fyssas’ murder ought to be a wake-up call for ordinary Greeks who have voted for, declared their support for (even in opinion polls), or turned a blind eye to the Golden Dawn’s hate-filled activity and rhetoric. After his murder, they can no longer claim that they did not know what the Golden Dawn is really about. The era of innocence, if it ever existed, is well and truly over.