Giving up the idea of banning the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn party, which is not allowed under the Constitution, the Greek government instead is said to planning to try to designate it as a criminal gang so that more than 30 cases involving its members could have them facing felonies instead of misdemeanors as part of a scheme to put a stranglehold on the extremists.
That comes in the wake of the murder of an anti-fascist, Pavlos Fyssas, a 34-year-0ld hip hop artist witnesses said was stabbed to death outside a cafe in a southern Athens neighborhood by a man identified as Giorgos Roupakias, who said he belonged to Golden Dawn.
Public Order Minister Nikos Dendias and Justice Minister Haralambos Athanasiou met to discuss how the government can best corral the out-of-control Golden Dawn, whose members – emboldened by largely avoiding arrests and prosecution – have been running amok for more than a year since the party won 18 seats in Parliament, accused of attacking immigrants, leftists, Communists, gays and others on their long list of perceived enemies of Greece.
Speaking out for the first time since police said an anti-fascist hip-hot artist was stabbed to death by a suspect linked to the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn party, Prime Minister Antonis Samaras said in a televised address on Sept. 19 that his government will no longer tolerate violence by the extremists as it has done for more than a year and urged there be no bitter reactions.
He condemned the killing of Fyssas and said that, “The government is determined not to allow the Nazi descendants to poison our social life, commit murders, terrorize and undermine the foundations of the country that gave birth to democracy.”
With street protests breaking out all over the place the night of Sept. 18 and political parties issuing harsh statements against Golden Dawn, which has 18 seats in the Parliament, he appealed for tension to be avoided and an end to fiery language so there wouldn’t be any further provocations that could lead to violence.
He said it was no time for domestic or political conflicts although critics said he has turned a blind eye to Golden Dawn’s antics so as not to offend their right-wing constituency that he also seeks.
“We all know that our country is at an exceptionally crucial moment and that our people are suffering the biggest sacrifices to conquer the crisis and succeed in its financial rebirth. Any political disagreements should be solved with a democratic dialogue, not with incendiary arguments nor with violence anywhere it may come from and, what is more, not with blood which divides us and exposes us abroad,” he said.
Samaras, who set aside a bill earlier this year that would have increased the penalties for hate crimes in an attempt to corral the neo-Nazis, said the shocking murder had forced him to finally act against them and that he would not allow the “successors of the Nazis” to destabilize Greece.
Since entering the Parliament in June of 2012, Golden Dawn has denounced the body and been on a rampage of anti-immigrant assaults and beatings of leftists and Communists and clashed with anarchists while the police – said to be sympathizers of theirs – have done little to stop them unless there were more serious and public incidents that forced them to act.
In this case, they quickly arrested Roupakias, 45, and the raided the party’s headquarters before protests raged into the night.
While other political parties quickly criticized Golden Dawn, Samaras, the New Democracy Conservative party leader, waited but now said that, “Democracy is much stronger than its enemies realize.” He said there should be calm as an antidote to the troubles.
“Violence is a downhill slide that destroys any chance of Greece achieving what it deserves, in other words growth, prospects and prosperity,” he said. “This is not the time for internal disputes or tension,” added Samaras with a reference to the damage being inflicted on Greece’s image abroad.
While he said there should be no political rivalries emerging, his own advisor Chrysanthos Lazaridis, lashed out at the major opposition party the Coalition of the Radical Left (SYRIZA) and also blamed Golden Dawn, for political violence and suggested that the leftist party was not part of the “constitutional axis.” SYRIZA was among the first, however, to denounce the killing and the political atmosphere it said had allowed it.
Meanwhile, Council of Europe Secretary General Thorbjorn Jagland he was worried the murder could be the trigger for more violence. “This murder stems from an extremely dangerous development we are seeing in Greece and also other parts of Europe,” he said. “Sections of society are becoming more radicalized and there is a real risk that hate speech turns into violence and cold-blooded murder.
“I support the Greek government’s efforts to conduct a rapid investigation of Golden Dawn’s involvement and to uphold the rule of law in the face of current protests. We cannot tolerate racist radical groups disrupting democratic society.”
Although the Constitution doesn’t allow it, Public Order Minister Nikos Dendias, who cancelled a trip to Rome, said the government would table emergency legislation that would seek to outlaw the group and re-evaluate what constitutes a criminal gang that can be controlled, and has the support of the other parties in the Parliament apart from the extremists.
“Neither the state will tolerate, nor society accept, acts and practices that undermine the legal system,” the minister told reporters, adding that the attack showed “in the clearest way the (party’s) intentions”.
With the killing getting worldwide play – negatively for Greece – the British newspaper The Guardian wrote about the ramifications and possible aftermath and speculation that the party, which blames the government for imposing austerity measures, is running amok.
“It is up to the government now to deal with Golden Dawn once and for all,” said Giorgos Kyrtsos, a prominent political commentator. “We know very little about the inner workings of Golden Dawn, and whether its leadership has lost control (over its members.) But what we do know is that, for the first time, the government has them in a corner.”