Golden Dawn in the twilight zone

Golden Dawn in the twilight zone

“Justice, stability, no elections” was the laconic answer from Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras last Saturday, to anxious journalists as he was leaving his office to head to the airport on his way to an important trip to the United States. Not satisfied by his answer, they insisted on highlighting the arrests of Golden Dawn deputies which might lead to elections. His answer was the same: “Justice, stability, no elections.”

However, last Saturday’s dramatic arrest of the leader of the neo-Nazi party of Golden Dawn, Nikos Michaloliakos, and three of his deputies, together with several other party officials and two police officers, all accused of being part of a “criminal gang,” changed the Greek political agenda overnight from an economic crisis-based debate to a discussion on democracy.

The shift was caused by a political crime: the cold-blooded assassination of a popular anti-fascist rapper almost two weeks ago, by a member of the fascist party of Golden Dawn. The brutal killing of the young musician stunned the public and put an end to seeming plans by conservative circles to work out some kind of an electoral alliance of the democratic right, which would include even a refurbished GD. Following the brutal death of Pavlos Fyssas, the Greek government had no choice but to show its ultimate determination to push the GD off the political map.

Samaras’ coalition government showed remarkable determination and speed, unseen so far in Greek politics. The much praised minister of public order, Nikos Dendias, sent all the case files compiled against the GD, which had been kept in his office for some time, to the top police and judicial authorities with a request to deal with them immediately. The files, some 250 pages of tapped phone conversations, allegedly provide the missing link between the murder of the unfortunate rapper and the party’s top brass.

The arrested were formally accused for two murders, several attempted murders, violent attacks, blackmail and money laundering. Their party is being labeled a “criminal gang;” Michaloliakos and his three deputies are expected to appear before the court tomorrow. If convicted, they will face heavy prison sentences. The Greek media are hailing the end of the Golden Dawn by such headlines as “Democracy sweeps the Neo-Nazis.”

But is it so easy? Constitutional law academics are already involved in long debates on the legality of the arrests, especially of the GD leader, and question whether the Parliament should have first stripped them of their immunity before they were handed over to the police authorities. Some claim that the arrest of a party leader without the approval of the Parliament lies on the “edge of constitutional legality.” Others believe that all is justified on the provision that a parliamentarian can be arrested for a flagrante delicto act, i.e., when been caught in the act of committing an offence, although the offences in question were committed some time ago. And there is another hitch: the arrested GD deputies will retain their status until their final conviction by the court as the Greek Constitution forbids the banning of political parties. If they resign, they cause by-elections in their constituencies, the last thing that the government and its creditors want.

There is a general consensus that the Samaras government acted responsibly – albeit after a long delay. But it will have to convince the public that it did so out of a genuine wish to protect democracy in the country and not with an eye for political gain. The evidence against the GD must be strong enough to justify the purge of its members. Almost half a million people voted for GD in last year’s elections, and the party remains the third in the latest polls after the conservative New Democracy and the leftist coalition of Syriza. The electorate after an avalanche of austerity measures is very suspicious about any move by the government. If the operation against the GD raises suspicions that it was carried out for political motives, it might turn into a boomerang for the government.