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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Boris Johnson is right about Saudi Arabia - but will he stick to his tune in Riyadh?

The Foreign Secretary went off script, but on truth. 

The difference a day makes. On Wednesday Theresa May was happily rubbing shoulders with Saudi Royalty at the Gulf Co-operation Council summit and talking about how important she thinks the relationship is.

Then on Thursday, the Guardian rained on her parade by publishing a transcript of her Foreign Secretary, Boris Johnson, describing the regime as a "puppeteer" for "proxy wars" while speaking at an international conference last week.

We will likely never know how she reacted when she first heard the news, but she’s unlikely to have been happy. It was definitely off-script for a UK foreign secretary. Until Johnson’s accidental outburst, the UK-Saudi relationship had been one characterised by mutual backslapping, glamorous photo-ops, major arms contracts and an unlimited well of political support.

Needless to say, the Prime Minister put him in his place as soon as possible. Within a few hours it was made clear that his words “are not the government’s views on Saudi and its role in the region". In an unequivocal statement, Downing Street stressed that Saudi is “a vital partner for the UK” and reaffirmed its support for the Saudi-led air strikes taking place in Yemen.

For over 18 months now, UK fighter jets and UK bombs have been central to the Saudi-led destruction of the poorest country in the region. Schools, hospitals and homes have been destroyed in a bombing campaign that has created a humanitarian catastrophe.

Despite the mounting death toll, the arms exports have continued unabated. Whitehall has licensed over £3.3bn worth of weapons since the intervention began last March. As I write this, the UK government is actively working with BAE Systems to secure the sale of a new generation of the same fighter jets that are being used in the bombing.

There’s nothing new about UK leaders getting close to Saudi Arabia. For decades now, governments of all political colours have worked hand-in-glove with the arms companies and Saudi authorities. Our leaders have continued to bend over backwards to support them, while turning a blind eye to the terrible human rights abuses being carried out every single day.

Over recent years we have seen Tony Blair intervening to stop an investigation into arms exports to Saudi and David Cameron flying out to Riyadh to meet with royalty. Last year saw the shocking but ultimately unsurprising revelation that UK civil servants had lobbied for Saudi Arabia to sit on the UN Human Rights Council, a move which would seem comically ironic if the consequences weren’t so serious.

The impact of the relationship hasn’t just been to boost and legitimise the Saudi dictatorship - it has also debased UK policy in the region. The end result is a hypocritical situation in which the government is rightly calling on Russian forces to stop bombing civilian areas in Aleppo, while at the same time arming and supporting Saudi Arabia while it unleashes devastation on Yemen.

It would be nice to think that Johnson’s unwitting intervention could be the start of a new stage in UK-Saudi relations; one in which the UK stops supporting dictatorships and calls them out on their appalling human rights records. Unfortunately it’s highly unlikely. Last Sunday, mere days after his now notorious speech, Johnson appeared on the Andrew Marr show and, as usual, stressed his support for his Saudi allies.

The question for Johnson is which of these seemingly diametrically opposed views does he really hold? Does he believe Saudi Arabia is a puppeteer that fights proxy wars and distorts Islam, or does he see it as one of the UK’s closest allies?

By coincidence Johnson is due to visit Riyadh this weekend. Will he be the first Foreign Secretary in decades to hold the Saudi regime accountable for its abuses, or will he cozy up to his hosts and say it was all one big misunderstanding?

If he is serious about peace and about the UK holding a positive influence on the world stage then he must stand by his words and use his power to stop the arms sales and hold the UK’s "puppeteer" ally to the same standard as other aggressors. Unfortunately, if history is anything to go by, then we shouldn’t hold our breath.

Andrew Smith is a spokesman for Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT). You can follow CAAT at @CAATuk.