The day Golden Dawn’s leaders are arrested, their supporters tell me this means ‘war’

image

AP

This morning I woke up to blue skies and a text message from a colleague.

“They’ve arrested Michaloliakos.”

It’s what many people in Greece, have wanted to see happen for 2 years now – a crackdown on the extreme right party Golden Dawn. As I write, arrests include the leader of the party, on charges of forming a criminal organisation, plus 3 MPs a party leader in Athens and 12 more.

It’s big news. It’s unprecedented. We should all be jumping up and down that the Government is taking a stand against neo-nazism.

Not that those on the train on my way to the police HQ were that bothered. Glum faces, unenthused, unaffected, unimpressed. Subjected to a week of non-stop Golden Dawn drama on their TV screens since the murder of a Greek rapper last week, they look completely unconcerned by the unfolding developments.

A Greek colleague of mine seemed equally as unperturbed as the commuters when Pavlos Fissas was stabbed by a man claiming to be a GD supporter. “I don’t think anything will change,” he told me. “I’ve seen it all before.”

There have been numerous attacks and killings in the last 2 years, which have been blamed on the party, but it has never been held accountable. Today’s charge sheet includes up to 10 murders and attempted murders. Now though, it seems the death of one white Greek rapper has had some sort of effect. It’s kicked the Government into action. MPs say the incident means they can finally prove the party’s involvement in criminal activity. It’s spurred a crackdown.

Phones have been tapped, offices have been raided, police alleged to have colluded with the party have resigned. It’s a full on spring clean at the end of September.

“Golden Dawn are going down,“ a friend tells me upon hearing the news. “The Government has just been waiting for the right moment to clamp down on them. I’m embarrassed. Something should have been done about Golden Dawn a long time ago.”

In the afternoon, alongside the press, around 250 of the party’s supporters gather to protest outside the police headquarters where their leader is being held.

“I’m shaking”, one tells me. “I’m so angry with this supposedly democratic system. Greeks voted for this party. It has nothing to do with the murder of that rapper and nothing to do with any other attacks. We’re being framed by the government. They set us up”

They are all adamant they’re not neo Nazis. “It’s a question of nationality.. of Greece.. how others may want the country to become one Europe full of Asians, blacks and other shit”.

But they don’t want that. They want to fight to “protect” their country. To “preserve” it.

“None of us here would ever kill anybody” one well spoken young Greek man assures me. Next to him children and grandmothers all proudly wave their Greek flags.

“It’s just we have a huge immigration problem here. The immigrants are dirty, they smell and they piss in the streets. This cannot continue.”

It has never felt so strange to be stood amongst Greeks singing the national anthem. It feels un-Greek. It feels wrong.

Because all these people are, are lost causes. Lost causes of the crisis, grouping together in order to give them a sense of identity and a sense of purpose. Deluded, confused Greeks who feel they have nothing else to believe in.. but a bunch of neo Nazis.

“Be proud you are Greek,” one woman says to me as I make my way out of the crowd.

Another shouts:

“You know Nigel Farage..? He’s a great guy.. we love him.”

Two press conferences and one scuffle later things calm down. One woman totters in heels through officers and riot police. She is holding a nationalist newspaper.. “Come on,” she yells at them and taunts. “Aren’t you going to arrest me? I’m holding a Greek flag. I’m a criminal..”

It’s hard to take any of the GD supporters seriously, but the statement of one man questioned on the street still sticks in my head.

“This is about justice. Golden dawn should suffer at the hands of justice if they are found to be guilty. But so should everybody else including every politician that has lied to us. And stolen our money.”

Yes, support for Golden Dawn may be waning according to various polls this week, but the Government should be careful about hailing it a victory just yet. It shouldn’t give GD supporters cause to feel bullied or singled out. If the fight for justice in general is to begin here, it should begin properly. Criminal activity goes beyond Golden Dawn and its alleged members.

“This whole thing is a panigiri” says a friend as it starts to get dark… A circus.

I would like to think it isn’t and that the possible removal of a party from Government that promotes such warped ideologies and inspires such violence and most importantly is accused of being linked to criminal activity could actually mean something. I would like to think it could mean migrants might be able to walk the streets and not fear for their lives, or that leftist musicians would not have to worry about being next on a hitlist.. I would like to think it could mean that Greece might regain lost respectability.

But I’m not sure.. and like the people on the train, I end up going home rather sceptical..

As I moped it back, I ride along the route anti-fascist protestors took a few days ago – past their anti-racist graffiti and stencils of stick men chasing nazi symbols.

The GD supporters today call what is happening a war. A political war, that comes before a real one ensues. But watching the events unfold, it feels like a game and as I leave I ponder over who will win.

Perhaps New Democracy will become the heroes who finally stamped out extremism.

Perhaps the anti-facist protestors will feel eventually they were successful in making their voices heard.

Or perhaps the winners will be a new Golden Dawn forming right now amongst the 250 outside police HQ. Maybe they’ll be careful enough not to be linked to criminal activity and their rhetoric will be much more carefully worded, so as to be more accepted.

***

Extremism in Greece and everywhere goes beyond the political. It is first and foremost a psychological state. And until the real issues of poverty, unemployment, uncontrolled immigration and lack of economic growth, are properly addressed, Greece will always be fertile ground for the far right.

Before the murder of Pavlos Fissas, opinion polls put Golden Dawn support at 14 percent.

“Nothing scares us.. “ was what Michaloliakos shouted as he was led handcuffed by men in black balaclavas to the court.

His supporters echo his cries.

There is a story, perhaps you’ve read it, about a chicken who managed to survive 18 hours after its head was cut off.

The seeds of neo Nazism have been sewn. And like the chicken, with or without a head, it will continue to run around for a while. Its supporters must be shown a new Greece to believe in before it can be eradicated. I’m guessing it may be a while before we begin the next shiny new chapter of this country, but I’m hoping at the very least, what happened today means that somebody’s already started writing it.

Advertisements

The man who breathed life back into his dying village

Watch my report on BBC World’s Fast Track by clicking HERE

After living abroad for more than 30 years John Papadouris returned to his childhood home in Cyprus and was shocked to find the village he grew up in had almost become derelict.

1209169_10153264305250331_460386535_nMr Papadouris decided to restore Kalopanayiotis to its former beauty and after about 10m euros ($13m, £8.3m) of European funding his efforts were so successful that the government has been inspired to restore other places in the Troodos region.

Amid Greek austerity, plunder of priceless treasures

Watch my report on BBC World’s Fast track by CLICKING HERE.

The financial crisis in Greece has already had far-reaching consequences for many people, but now it is claiming a new casualty as some of the country’s ancient treasures become a target for thieves.

Detective Gergios Tsoukalis puffs nervously on his cigar. In the passenger’s seat of a taxi, he grapples with four different mobile phones as he tries to co-ordinate the arrest of yet another antiquities smuggler.

As the driver pulls into the port, he sees ahead of him that plainclothes police officers have already pounced on the unassuming man, who is completely shocked by the early-morning operation.

As he is being bundled into a van, one of the officers shouts at him: “How many of you are there? Don’t mess me around. How many?”

Mr Tsoukalis is less concerned with the accused. He is following the trail of the treasure. He heads straight to the back of the suspect’s vehicle and pulls out a bag to confirm that these are the stolen artefacts.

“These are them, here are the coins,” he says with relief, immediately lighting up another cigar.

These moments are what the detective lives for.

Hunting down illegal traders and saving timeless ancient objects does not just provide him with a rush of adrenaline or a satisfying buzz.

First and foremost, he does this job because he is Greek and cannot stand to see his country’s most valuable and vulnerable artefacts in the wrong hands.

There has been a rise in the last three years in illegal trading. According to police reports, there has been a 30% increase since the crisis took hold in 2009.

Mr Tsoukalis believes the most popular buyers are Russians, Chinese and Latin Americans.

“In the last few years with the crisis, people who have reached their limits have become more easily tempted,” he says.

“They are more likely to either sell antiquities in their possession or search for them in abandoned excavation sites, in order to sell what they find to dealers who take them abroad.

“We’ve tracked down ancient Greek antiquities as far away as Colombia – in the hands of drug dealers”.

In February, he received a call from one man determined to do the right thing.

Yiannis Dendrinellis, from the coastal town of Derveni in Corinthia, came across what he has now been told could be the site of an ancient temple.

He found a bag left at the side of the road where someone had been digging.

“Inside there were some old coins and parts of small statues. You read stories about people finding treasure, but it can’t be compared to finding it yourself with your own hands. It was amazing, just something else.”

Yiannis will receive a small share of the value of his find because he contacted the authorities. He is still waiting to hear more about its worth.

There has been a 30% rise in illegal trading of antiquities since 2009

From the onset of the financial crisis in Greece, it became easier for people to steal and sell on artefacts because many sites, including those still being excavated are not adequately protected.

“Some islands only have one guard to protect and maintain all of the ancient sites,” says Despina Koutsoumba, of the Association of Greek Archaeologists.

“How can he do his job properly? Things are being stolen all the time. Only recently a man was arrested and caught with a Macedonian tomb – and inside the entire warrior’s outfit. We didn’t even know it existed until the man who took it was arrested.”

Her main worry is ensuring the maintenance and security of the already registered artefacts in Greece’s museums.

In December 2012, the finance ministry took control of the archaeological fund containing all the profits from museum ticket sales – a budget of 2m euros (£1.72m).

“We have not seen this money since December last year and this money is needed to keep our museums running properly. Not only can we not afford toilet paper and petrol for our drivers, but we haven’t been able to pay our electricity, water and phone bills, since last year.

“So you can imagine what this means for a museum, to be threatened and have its electricity cut off, what that means for its operations and what that means for its alarms,” she said.

The Ministry of Culture stresses it is doing all it can to protect Greece’s most important sites and museums.

Despina Koutsoumba says museums cannot even afford toilet roll

Maria Vlazaki, General Director of Antiquities and Cultural Heritage says: “There are a lot of people employed to guard Greece’s most important sites, but of course there are less than before.

“As there are fewer employees in all other sectors, we have the same problem with this one. But we have done all the work we can to protect our museums and archaeological sites and keep them safe. I know it is a difficult situation, but we try hard”.

Last week the government secured another bailout instalment from the troika of international creditors, the EU, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and European Central Bank (ECB). In return, a further 25,000 public sector workers will be dismissed and all ministries will be affected.

Those working for the Ministry of Culture are waiting nervously to find out not only if their jobs will be protected, but also the ancient antiquities behind glass cases – and those yet to be discovered.