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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Erdogan’s purge was too big and too organised to be a mere reaction to the failed coup

There is a specific word for the melancholy of Istanbul. The city is suffering a mighty bout of something like hüzün at the moment. 

Even at the worst of times Istanbul is a beautiful city, and the Bosphorus is a remarkable stretch of sea. Turks get very irritated if you call it a river. They are right. The Bosphorus has a life and energy that a river could never equal. Spend five minutes watching the Bosphorus and you can understand why Orhan Pamuk, Turkey’s Nobel laureate for literature, became fixated by it as he grew up, tracking the movements of the ocean-going vessels, the warships and the freighters as they steamed between Asia and Europe.

I went to an Ottoman palace on the Asian side of the Bosphorus, waiting to interview the former prime minister Ahmet Davu­toglu. He was pushed out of office two months ago by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan when he appeared to be too wedded to the clauses in the Turkish constitution which say that the prime minister is the head of government and the president is a ceremonial head of state. Erdogan was happy with that when he was prime minister. But now he’s president, he wants to change the constitution. If Erdogan can win the vote in parliament he will, in effect, be rubber-stamping the reality he has created since he became president. In the days since the attempted coup, no one has had any doubt about who is the power in the land.

 

City of melancholy

The view from the Ottoman palace was magnificent. Beneath a luscious, pine-shaded garden an oil tanker plied its way towards the Black Sea. Small ferries dodged across the sea lanes. It was not, I hasten to add, Davutoglu’s private residence. It had just been borrowed, for the backdrop. But it reminded a Turkish friend of something she had heard once from the AKP, Erdogan’s ruling party: that they would not rest until they were living in the apartments with balconies and gardens overlooking the Bosphorus that had always been the preserve of the secular elite they wanted to replace.

Pamuk also writes about hüzün, the melancholy that afflicts the citizens of Istanbul. It comes, he says, from the city’s history and its decline, the foghorns on the Bosphorus, from tumbledown walls that have been ruins since the fall of the Byzantine empire, unemployed men in tea houses, covered women waiting for buses that never come, pelting rain and dark evenings: the city’s whole fabric and all the lives within it. “My starting point,” Pamuk wrote, “was the emotion that a child might feel while looking through a steamy window.”

Istanbul is suffering a mighty bout of something like hüzün at the moment. In Pamuk’s work the citizens of Istanbul take a perverse pride in hüzün. No one in Istanbul, or elsewhere in Turkey, can draw comfort from what is happening now. Erdogan’s opponents wonder what kind of future they can have in his Turkey. I think I sensed it, too, in the triumphalist crowds of Erdogan supporters that have been gathering day after day since the coup was defeated.

 

Down with the generals

Erdogan’s opponents are not downcast because the coup failed; a big reason why it did was that it had no public support. Turks know way too much about the authoritarian ways of military rule to want it back. The melancholy is because Erdogan is using the coup to entrench himself even more deeply in power. The purge looks too far-reaching, too organised and too big to have been a quick reaction to the attempt on his power. Instead it seems to be a plan that was waiting to be used.

Turkey is a deeply unhappy country. It is hard to imagine now, but when the Arab uprisings happened in 2011 it seemed to be a model for the Middle East. It had elections and an economy that worked and grew. When I asked Davutoglu around that time whether there would be a new Ottoman sphere of influence for the 21st century, he smiled modestly, denied any such ambition and went on to explain that the 2011 uprisings were the true succession to the Ottoman empire. A century of European, and then American, domination was ending. It had been a false start in Middle Eastern history. Now it was back on track. The people of the region were deciding their futures, and perhaps Turkey would have a role, almost like a big brother.

Turkey’s position – straddling east and west, facing Europe and Asia – is the key to its history and its future. It could be, should be, a rock of stability in a desperately un­stable part of the world. But it isn’t, and that is a problem for all of us.

 

Contagion of war

The coup did not come out of a clear sky. Turkey was in deep crisis before the attempt was made. Part of the problem has come from Erdogan’s divisive policies. He has led the AKP to successive election victories since it first won in 2002. But the policies of his governments have not been inclusive. As long as his supporters are happy, the president seems unconcerned about the resentment and opposition he is generating on the other side of politics.

Perhaps that was inevitable. His mission, as a political Islamist, was to change the country, to end the power of secular elites, including the army, which had been dominant since Mustafa Kemal Atatürk created modern Turkey after the collapse of the Ottoman empire. And there is also the influence of chaos and war in the Middle East. Turkey has borders with Iraq and Syria, and is deeply involved in their wars. The borders do not stop the contagion of violence. Hundreds of people have died in the past year in bomb attacks in Turkish cities, some carried out by the jihadists of so-called Islamic State, and some sent by Kurdish separatists working under the PKK.

It is a horrible mix. Erdogan might be able to deal with it better if he had used the attempted coup to try to unite Turkey. All the parliamentary parties condemned it. But instead, he has turned the power of the state against his opponents. More rough times lie ahead.

Jeremy Bowen is the BBC’s Middle East editor. He tweets @bowenbbc

This article first appeared in the 28 July 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Summer Double Issue