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.
“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.