New York Times
Case Against Greek Far-Right Party Draws Critics
European Pressphoto Agency
By LIZ ALDERMAN
Published: October 2, 2013
NIKAIA, Greece — For over a year, 30 Kaisareias Street bustled with activity. Burly, black-clad members of the neo-fascist Golden Dawn party converted part of the nondescript white building into a headquarters, holding frequent meetings and fanning out for military-style neighborhood patrols armed with batons and heavy poles wrapped in the Greek flag.
Then, last week, the group disappeared overnight. A regular in the office, Giorgos Roupakias, was accused of killing an anti-fascist activist in a crime that shocked the nation, and the government began an effort to “eradicate” the group, as Prime Minister Antonis Samaras put it.
But already, serious questions have been raised about the planning and effectiveness of the crackdown, and whether it may actually boomerang against the government and end up generating sympathy for Golden Dawn, one of Europe’s most violent far-right groups.
“If it is not handled properly, you could get a kind of a bounce back of Golden Dawn,” said George Katrougalos, a constitutional law professor at the Democritus University of Thrace. “If they appear to be victims of the establishment, that may broaden their appeal.”
Questions are already being raised about the legality, even constitutionality, of the government’s methods.
On Wednesday, in a surprise decision, a magistrate ordered three prominent Golden Dawn lawmakers, among 35 people associated with the party who were arrested in a sweep last Saturday, to be released pending trial. After more than 17 hours of testimony, one of the men, the party’s spokesman, Ilias Kasidiaris, strode from the court, called reporters “bums” and pushed photographers out of his way.
However, a fourth Golden Dawn lawmaker, Yannis Lagos, was remanded to custody after the judicial authorities deemed that evidence linking him to criminal activities — including murder, attempted murder and blackmail — was strong.
The legal wrangling pointed to the rising conviction of the government and many others here that Golden Dawn has been run less as a political party than as a mafia. But it also underlined concerns that the government’s case might be riddled with legal holes and procedural missteps in the investigation. Golden Dawn’s supporters say the government is basing its case against party members in large part on wiretaps that lacked the required judicial approval.
Mr. Samaras has made it clear that he sees no place for Golden Dawn in the Greek political system. “We must do it within the context of our democratic Constitution,” he said in a speech in New York this week. “But we have to go all the way and do whatever it takes.”
Doing so will not be easy. Because the government cannot ban political parties, it is trying to undermine the group by dismantling its leadership and cutting its financing. Prosecutors are charging members with participating in a criminal organization, a move that would effectively outlaw the group.
In court testimony, the Golden Dawn spokesman, Mr. Kasidiaris, said his group was the victim of a politically motivated persecution aimed at discrediting the party before local elections next spring. He and the others denied the government’s accusations.
Golden Dawn’s popularity has slipped since Mr. Roupakias admitted to the killing of the activist, Pavlos Fyssas, a Greek rapper whose lyrics inveighed against rightist extremism. But questions have swirled around why the government is only now pursuing an organization whose violence and Nazi ideology have been well documented.
Included in the 31 charges are cases that have been pending for years, involving murder, extortion and money laundering — none of which were previously pursued by Mr. Samaras’s government. The Greek ombudsman cited nearly 300 cases of recent racist violence involving Golden Dawn members that also received no judicial attention.
“It is obvious that there was an inertia toward Golden Dawn by the state and other authorities until now,” Mr. Katrougalos, the law professor, said.