Has the sun set on Golden Dawn?

Whatever the crackdown against Golden Dawn means for Greece, the hope is now rekindled that the EU might be starting to see the rise of the far right as the threat that it is.

More than 20 members of the Greek neo-Nazi party Golden Dawn were arrested in late September. This unprecedented crackdown on the far right followed public outrage at the murder of the anti-fascist musician Pavlos Fyssas, known as Killah P, by a self-proclaimed Golden Dawn member. Greece’s public prosecutor labelled the party a criminal organisation and among those arrested were its leader, Nikos Michaloliakos; his deputy, Christos Pappas; the spokesman Ilias Kasidiaris; the press officer Ilias Panagiotaros; and the man touted to be the link between the parliamentary team and the party’s activists, Ioannis Lagos.

The public prosecutor’s report links Golden Dawn to multiple offences, including trafficking, kidnapping, money laundering and extortion, but the main charges remain those of multiple accounts of murder, attempted murder and aggravated assault. The prosecutor argues that the party’s strict, almost military structure strongly suggests that every hit was carried out as a result of orders from higher up.

The testimonies of two ex-members paint a picture of hardcore groups undergoing special-forces-like training in order to carry out brutal, sometimes deadly, attacks on leftists and immigrants.

The Greek government’s reaction might seem to imply it has woken up to the truth about Golden Dawn’s practices, but in reality the government’s hand was forced by pressure from Brussels following the murder of Fyssas.

In Athens people are feeling pessimistic. This is for two reasons. On the one hand, two Golden Dawn MPs, Kasidiaris and Panagiotaros, were released on bail, a first for anyone charged with helping to lead a criminal organisation. As Anny Paparousou, a Greek lawyer with expertise in the field, told me, “This will definitely shift the weight of the trial to their favour when the time comes, as they will walk in as free men.”

Prime Minister Antonis Samaras is reportedly furious at the public prosecutor for his decision and insiders say he almost sacked two ministers over the incident. Many analysts now believe that Greece won’t see the convictions many wish for. That the name of one of the witnesses under protection was accidentally leaked to Kasidiaris shows how hastily everything was put together. A positive result for Golden Dawn would cement the party’s support for years to come.

On the other hand, Chrysanthos Lazaridis, a senior adviser to the prime minister, has stated that Golden Dawn and Greece’s leading left-wing party, Syriza, are “the same thing”, hinting that leftists and anarchists will face persecution, too.

Elsewhere in Europe, as in Greece, the best bet for defeating far-right extremism will be to deal not only with openly fascist groups but also with those that paved the way for parties such as Golden Dawn by legitimising hellish detention camps for immigrants, by prosecuting activists in Skouries simply for opposing the destruction of their natural environment, and by adopting racist rhetoric to try to win back right-wing voters.

Whatever the crackdown against Golden Dawn means for Greece, the hope is now rekindled that the EU might be starting to see the rise of the far right as the threat that it is.

It is shameful that the Greek government and the European leadership have pretended they didn’t know what was happening. Now, they have run out of excuses.

Members of the Greek far-right ultra nationalist party Golden Dawn (Chryssi Avghi) demonstrate outside the Turkish consulate in the northern Greek city of Thessaloniki during the visit of the leader of the Turkish ultra-nationalist group Grey Wolves, Devl

Yiannis Baboulias is a Greek investigative journalist. His work on politics, economics and Greece, appears in the New Statesman, Vice UK and others.

This article first appeared in the 11 October 2013 issue of the New Statesman, Iran vs Israel

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Find the EU renegotiation demands dull? Me too – but they are important

It's an old trick: smother anything in enough jargon and you can avoid being held accountable for it.

I don’t know about you, but I found the details of Britain’s European Union renegotiation demands quite hard to read. Literally. My eye kept gliding past them, in an endless quest for something more interesting in the paragraph ahead. It was as if the word “subsidiarity” had been smeared in grease. I haven’t felt tedium quite like this since I read The Lord of the Rings and found I slid straight past anything written in italics, reasoning that it was probably another interminable Elvish poem. (“The wind was in his flowing hair/The foam about him shone;/Afar they saw him strong and fair/Go riding like a swan.”)

Anyone who writes about politics encounters this; I call it Subclause Syndrome. Smother anything in enough jargon, whirr enough footnotes into the air, and you have a very effective shield for protecting yourself from accountability – better even than gutting the Freedom of Information laws, although the government seems quite keen on that, too. No wonder so much of our political conversation ends up being about personality: if we can’t hope to master all the technicalities, the next best thing is to trust the person to whom we have delegated that job.

Anyway, after 15 cups of coffee, three ice-bucket challenges and a bottle of poppers I borrowed from a Tory MP, I finally made it through. I didn’t feel much more enlightened, though, because there were notable omissions – no mention, thankfully, of rolling back employment protections – and elsewhere there was a touching faith in the power of adding “language” to official documents.

One thing did stand out, however. For months, we have been told that it is a terrible problem that migrants from Europe are sending child benefit to their families back home. In future, the amount that can be claimed will start at zero and it will reach full whack only after four years of working in Britain. Even better, to reduce the alleged “pull factor” of our generous in-work benefits regime, the child benefit rate will be paid on a ratio calculated according to average wages in the home country.

What a waste of time. At the moment, only £30m in child benefit is sent out of the country each year: quite a large sum if you’re doing a whip round for a retirement gift for a colleague, but basically a rounding error in the Department for Work and Pensions budget.

Only 20,000 workers, and 34,000 children, are involved. And yet, apparently, this makes it worth introducing 28 different rates of child benefit to be administered by the DWP. We are given to understand that Iain Duncan Smith thinks this is barmy – and this is a man optimistic enough about his department’s computer systems to predict in 2013 that 4.46 million people would be claiming Universal Credit by now*.

David Cameron’s renegotiation package was comprised exclusively of what Doctor Who fans call handwavium – a magic substance with no obvious physical attributes, which nonetheless helpfully advances the plot. In this case, the renegotiation covers up the fact that the Prime Minister always wanted to argue to stay in Europe, but needed a handy fig leaf to do so.

Brace yourself for a sentence you might not read again in the New Statesman, but this makes me feel sorry for Chris Grayling. He and other Outers in the cabinet have to wait at least two weeks for Cameron to get the demands signed off; all the while, Cameron can subtly make the case for staying in Europe, while they are bound to keep quiet because of collective responsibility.

When that stricture lifts, the high-ranking Eurosceptics will at last be free to make the case they have been sitting on for years. I have three strong beliefs about what will happen next. First, that everyone confidently predicting a paralysing civil war in the Tory ranks is doing so more in hope than expectation. Some on the left feel that if Labour is going to be divided over Trident, it is only fair that the Tories be split down the middle, too. They forget that power, and patronage, are strong solvents: there has already been much muttering about low-level blackmail from the high command, with MPs warned about the dire influence of disloyalty on their career prospects.

Second, the Europe campaign will feature large doses of both sides solemnly advising the other that they need to make “a positive case”. This will be roundly ignored. The Remain team will run a fear campaign based on job losses, access to the single market and “losing our seat at the table”; Leave will run a fear campaign based on the steady advance of whatever collective noun for migrants sounds just the right side of racist. (Current favourite: “hordes”.)

Third, the number of Britons making a decision based on a complete understanding of the renegotiation, and the future terms of our membership, will be vanishingly small. It is simply impossible to read about subsidiarity for more than an hour without lapsing into a coma.

Yet, funnily enough, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Just as the absurd complexity of policy frees us to talk instead about character, so the onset of Subclause Syndrome in the EU debate will allow us to ask ourselves a more profound, defining question: what kind of country do we want Britain to be? Polling suggests that very few of us see ourselves as “European” rather than Scottish, or British, but are we a country that feels open and looks outwards, or one that thinks this is the best it’s going to get, and we need to protect what we have? That’s more vital than any subclause. l

* For those of you keeping score at home, Universal Credit is now allegedly going to be implemented by 2021. Incidentally, George Osborne has recently discovered that it’s a great source of handwavium; tax credit cuts have been postponed because UC will render such huge savings that they aren’t needed.

Helen Lewis is deputy editor of the New Statesman. She has presented BBC Radio 4’s Week in Westminster and is a regular panellist on BBC1’s Sunday Politics.

This article first appeared in the 11 February 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The legacy of Europe's worst battle