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April 17, 2015

Greece’s Prosecution of Golden Dawn

Origins of Golden Dawn

Golden Dawn exploded on the Greek political scene in 2012, amid the worst economic crisis in post-war history, stunning pollsters, politicians and the public by winning 6.92 percent of the vote and 18 seats in Parliament.

At first blush, it seemed Golden Dawn, with its Nazi rhetoric, swastikas, and black-shirted street thugs, was just a skinhead group taking advantage of economic misery and public anger at the political failure and corruption of all of its recent governments. But Golden Dawn is more than just another neo-Nazi fringe group. Its leadership has direct ideological and personal links to officers in the notorious Greek army units that collaborated with the Nazis during World War II, fought with the British against the Greek communists after 1944, and went on to lead the U.S.-backed military dictatorship that ruled Greece from 1967 to 1974, known as “The Junta” or “The Regime of the Colonels.”

Golden Dawn was founded by Nikolaos Michaloliakos, an ultranationalist who was arrested at least twice for political violence and convicted in 1978 in connection with terrorist bombings in Athens. 

Michaloliakos launched a weekly magazine called Golden Dawn, which espoused blatantly Nazi ideology. For many years members of the Golden Dawn were bodyguards for businessmen and politicians.

In 1985 Michaloliakos founded the political party Golden Dawn. The party participated in the elections for the first time in 1994 and won less than 1 percent of the vote. Recently, though, fueled by economic collapse, unemployment, and poverty, Golden Dawn has emerged as a potent political force in Greece.

Violent Attacks

Golden Dawn is no ordinary ultra-nationalist party. No other extreme right party in Europe is as stridently racist, nativist and violent, none is so unapologetically antisemitic, and none so openly calls for the overthrow of the State. It seeks to impose its vision of Greek racial superiority across society and has used intimidation and violence to achieve those ends. It attacked migrant, political opponents, doctors and medical facilities, artists, bloggers, teachers, human rights workers, playwrights, and even priests.

In 2013, the Racist Violence Reporting Network (RVRN) recorded 166 incidents involving at least 320 victims. Most victims were immigrants and refugees, including undocumented migrants, asylum seekers, and recognized refugees. Most were also Muslim. In many cases, victims were approached and asked to produce identification to show they were legal residents. When they could not, they were assaulted. Most of these attacks occurred in public places by vigilantes in groups of two to twenty. In 15 cases, victims or witnesses said they recognized Golden Dawn members or associates among the perpetrators, or saw the Golden Dawn insignia.

Most worrisome, Golden Dawn’s popularity has grown after scores of violent attacks on migrants, dark-skinned Greeks, and even on members of parliament.

Golden Dawn portrays itself as a protector of a Greek traditional morality threatened by Western influences, and is also hostile to LGBT individuals and the community’s attempts to secure their civil rights.

The RVRN documented six incidents of attacks based on sexual orientation in 2013, and another 16 victims targeted for their gender identity. Anecdotal reports suggest that the number of hate crimes targeting LGBT people is higher, and transsexuals are the most vulnerable to attack. NGOs are attempting to better document such cases.

Golden Dawn frequently expresses animosity toward Turkey, Greeks of Turkish origin, and other Muslims, and aspires to see Istanbul, once the Byzantine city of Constantinople, under Greek control again. Golden Dawn M.P.s have deliberately insulted their Muslim colleagues, and people who appear to be from Muslim-majority countries have been targeted for attacks.

In addition to at least two murders, Golden Dawn members or supporters are accused of torturing an Egyptian immigrant, biting off the ear of an Iranian refugee, carving the Golden Dawn initials into a Somali man’s back, and burning down a house inhabited by poor Egyptian fishermen. One victim was a nine-year-old boy. Even worse, for more than four years they did it with relative impunity, and in some cases with the cooperation of the police.

Golden Dawn violence is not limited to migrants and “foreigners.” It has attacked health workers and artists in the name of “protecting” Greek values. On April 4, 2014 Golden Dawn supporters once again attacked a free clinic run by Doctors of the World in Perama, on the outskirts of Athens. The group’s free clinics have attracted many migrants who have been victims of racist violence, who need medical treatment but fear arrest and deportation if they go to public hospitals. Golden Dawn leaders have also used Greek blasphemy laws to attack its cultural opponents and to imply that only Golden Dawn can defend the Greek Church against an onslaught of corrupt, Westernized values.

A defector from Golden Dawn, and a witness in the criminal case, said that Golden Dawn do not fear law enforcement. “The police couldn’t touch us,” he said, then corrected himself. “The police had specific orders not to touch us.” Once, when four Golden Dawn members attacked two Pakistani migrants and beat them “really, really badly,” he received a phone call from the police chief who had ties to the local Golden Dawn boss and told him the case would not be investigated. Once they realized they could operate with impunity, they turned to intimidation for profit, evicting recalcitrant tenants and collecting debts. According to an investigation by the Internal Affairs Department of the Greek Police, police involvement in racist attacks rose sharply between 2009 and October 2013, with the peak in 2012. In all, 203 police officers and 3 civilians were involved in incidents of racist violence. In June 2012, as reports piled up of police standing by during Golden Dawn attacks, a study of voting behavior indicated that a community heavily populated with Athens police officers had voted disproportionately for Golden Dawn.

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