A road map: What to do with Golden Dawn

The murder of Pavlos Fyssas acted as a catalyst for the key developments that followed on the role of Golden Dawn in Greek political life: its characterization as a criminal organization which combines national-socialist ideology with mafia-like practices; an organization which spread fear and its ideology of hatred in Greek society without facing serious obstacles. Part of Greek society, moreover, proved to be ready to adopt its methods and idelology. 

We believe that the basic question we have to put forward is the following: which are the defense mechanisms of a constitutional democracy based on the rule of law when its members realize with great delay that there is a threat to the democratic regime itself? Furthermore, after years of apathy, what can the consequences of this sudden mobilization of the law enforcement mechanisms and the judicial authorities be? 

The Hellenic League for Human Rights expresses its satisfaction with the latest developments towards the exposure of the criminal organization Golden Dawn. However, instead of tolerating Golden Dawn – as it was for many years the case – or rush into doing the obvious thing – as it is now the case – we prefer to follow the route of constitutional rule of law. 

Between impunity and “exemplary” punishment there is the rule of law: fair and proportionate sentences for those whose guilt has been proven. 

Democracy has to fight back with rules. 

Under the spotlight of these last developments, the Hellenic League for Human Rights presented at two press conferences held in Athens and Thessaloniki a “road map” on what can be done in relation to Golden Dawn. 


The Hellenic League for Human Rights takes a position on two main areas of action concerning the question that lies in the mind of every democratic Greek citizen after the murder of Pavlos Fyssas: the first one concerns the state and is summarized in a message that now appears to be widely understood: that Golden Dawn is a criminal organization and that such organizations should be prosecuted within the limits of the Constitution. The second area concerns the political system and the government in particular: in the midst of the Greek economic crisis and its outcomes – like the empoverishment of the population and the disintegration of institutions – an anti-migrant agenda and a xenophobic rhetoric fuels neo-Nazism as it legitimizes not only racist violence but also violence against social ‘others’. Thus, in the name of security, security itself is undermined. 


Following the death of Pavlos Fyssas, the Hellenic League for Human Rights issued a press release entitled “The perpetrator does not simply belong to Golden Dawn. Golden Dawn is the perpetrator” (in Greek https://www.hlhr.gr/index.php?MDL=pages&SiteID=948). What this statement wanted to show is that, apart from the individual responsibility for homicide under penal law, there is also an issue of a criminal group, as stipulated in the provisions of the Greek Penal Code, as well as of other extremely hideous crimes. The Hellenic League for Human Rights made this argument when Sahtzat Loqman was assassinated, long before the murder of Pavlos Fyssas (in Greek: https://www.hlhr.gr/index.php?MDL=pages&SiteID=233). 

In other European countries there have been political parties that may operate under the law but that either support or even cooperate with illegal organizations like “criminal” or “terrorist” ones. On the contrary, Golden Dawn has proven to be a case where this pattern found in European political history where a “core-party” and a separate “arm-criminal organization” collaborate does not apply. In the case of Golden Dawn the core and the arm are identical. This means that the criminal organization is the party; and vice versa, the party is a criminal organization that its members engage in illegal acts, operating in a hierarchical and coordinated manner. 

This particular character of Golden Dawn can be explained with a number of reasons: First, in Greece, due to the recent historical past of undemocratic regimes, there is a political culture and a wide agreement against the ban of political parties. As a result, a party that would have been almost certainly banned in most European countries, in Greece enjoys legal status. Second, significant parts of public authorities that are responsible for maintaining public order have not been prosecuting the Golden Dawn members that engage in criminal offences, as they assent to their far-right discourse and actions. Here we refer to the Police staff and to the judiciary. Especially the latter, although they are usually very strict when prosecuting and convicting other criminals, they have shown to be unacceptably tolerant and possibly violating their duties when it comes to Golden Dawn members. Third, Golden Dawn and its operation have been used in the political game by those pursuing the “theory of the two radical extremes” in the political spectrum [meaning Golden Dawn and Syriza], but we do not wish to expand on this. 

The next question we should ask is: how the Greek state ought to have reacted if Golden Dawn was not an exceptional scheme where a political party is bound with the criminal organization but if the party and criminal organization were operating separately? In other words, if there were an illegal terrorist cell and a party operating lawfully? We believe that in such a case the focus of law enforcement authorities within a constitutional democracy should first focus on the prosecution of the terrorist cell and only if needed, on the second level, on banning the political party. 

1. The question “what shall we do with Golden Dawn?” is misleading if we interpret it in terms of banning a political party. Today it should be primarily raised in terms of prosecuting a criminal organization, of course under full respect to the constitutional guarantees and to the rights of all those prosecuted. The Greek Police and the judiciary are fully aware of how to prosecute such an organization; especially when this particular organization acted to date undisturbed. 

Based on the distinction we put forward above, it would be misleading to ban the party, not only because a political party can reappear with a different name and therefore we could constantly face the same situation, but also because the action of banning political parties is democratically a slippery slope. Consequently, the best way for the Greek authorities to proceed is to focus on the individual criminal acts committed by the members of the (criminal) organization as its members

The existing legal framework is sufficient for such a move: it includes general provisions covering the individual participation in criminal acts (as perpetrator, mastermind, direct or simple accomplice) but also provisions for participation in a criminal organization. Golden Dawn is clearly such an organization – it remains to be proven if it is a legal or illegal one – and it is proud of operating in a strictly hierarchical way under a disciplinary manner to pursue certain goals. Both in its structure and modus operandi, spontaneous, unplanned or individual operations are excluded. 

Drawing from the cases that have been taken up to the court or the ones that have been reported to the Racist Violence Recording Network [Diktyo Katagrafis Ratsistikis Vias], it is also clear that the structure, operation and modus operandi of the organization is fully reflected in all of its illegal actions. For example, in order to murder Pavlos Fyssas, a large number of people were mobilized within a very short period of time and they all appeared to be well-prepared for criminal action; even the murderer was especially called for that action while at home watching a football game! 

All these elements – a coordinated network, readiness to action, the relation between those giving and those receiving orders – fully constitute the offense of establishing a criminal organization. They also constitute individual offences for those participating in the actions of this organization, as we already described. Someone can find this mode of operation in a number of criminal acts committed by Golden Dawn members. 

2. The judiciary is currently facing a clear but difficult question: based on the fact that some of the members of Golden Dawn have committed criminal offences, also establishing a criminal organization, does this make the whole organization criminal – thus, the political party that holds parliamentary representation? If the answer is ‘yes’, the judges should then press charges against tens of thousands of registered members of this party on the account of their membership to a criminal organization and not only against those actively forming a criminal organization. This, however, has the character of collective punishment and it would be against the legal provisions that the criminal responsibility should be individualized and linked with certain motives. These should not be overlooked by a constitutional democracy. Therefore, the dispersion of the criminal responsibility from the top to the bottom is not recommended from both a political and a legal point of view, as it would open a dangerous path. Thus, the most appropriate way to act is from the bottom to the top. 

It is certainly not a solution against the unacceptable inactivity of the past in relation to Golden Dawn, to now act without respecting the constitutional provisions. We fear that this is a likely possibility. If things turn that way, we will not only face the legitimization of socially dispersed mafia-type bullying, thus violence without constitutional rules but we will also see a society that seeks for that violence as revenge. 

For reasons not to be analyzed here, Golden Dawn has evolved from a marginal organization to a parliamentary party that yields a considerable rate of support. Today, the political parties or the judiciary cannot turn against certain citizens just because they became members of a party – which has been legally registered by the Supreme Court and participated in elections – and tell them “sorry, in fact you have not been members of a political party but of a criminal organization. Please, proceed to receive your sentence”. They can nevertheless say so – as they currently do – to the leaders, founders or/and senior members of the party in the case it will be proved that this party operates raid squads and other bodies that have been established for the purpose of committing crimes. In this respect, the party is linked with a criminal organization, but it is also exceeds the latter: there are also members who do not belong to the criminal organization and its raid squads. Based on this distinction, it makes us wonder why some of the Golden Dawn senior members were set free and the up-to-18-months pre-trial detention – a measure that has been extensively used by the jury in cases like that of drug addicted HIV positive women or debt holders – was not enforced in their cases. Of course, if no pre-trial detention for Golden Dawn leaders is a manifestation of a general shift of the judiciary on pre-trial detention, we can only welcome this as it certainly constitutes an important judicial precedent in a country where 4,259 people (according to official statistics by the Ministry of Justice) are kept in custody waiting for their trial at the same time when all prisons are over crowded. 

So, what the judiciary can do? The same as in any other case: not to loose its temper; to judge each case separately; to individualize. Where there is evidence of a criminal organization, justice should be applied as appropriate. In the case of minor crimes (like damage against property, disturbance, incitement to violence) all the relevant law provisions should also be applied. Whether these will be applied from a single judicial authority, i.e. an appeal Judge-Investigator, it is up to the judges to decide. In all cases, simply applying the law is sufficient to prevent future harm and there is absolutely no need for legal tricks and games that could prove to be dangerous for the outcome of the procedure. The same applies to the media popularity the issue has attracted – which is in many cases clearly government directed – that can harm the legal procedure of the case. Whatever the future of Golden Dawn may be, the prosecution of its members will definitely leave its traces into the future and it is important to remember that even the enemies of constitutional democracy have the right to be constitutionally protected. 

3. At the same time it is necessary that the government should review without any prejudice the legislation on combating racism: The legislation in its current form is more or less an excuse for inactivity as the active law (927/1979) which punishes only racist rhetoric and not racist violence. It moreover defines as offensive only rhetoric against racial, ethnic or religious groups excluding gender identity and sexual groups, while it does not include any provisions for supporting the victims and vital witnesses of such cases. In addition to that, there is no sufficient link between the racist motives and the provisions (article 187 PK) for formulating a criminal organization. As a result, in practice there is no punishment of the racist motive in a crime. 

4. What has to be done as soon as possible is that the law should include provisions that protect the migrant victims who lack legal documents, as these are the primary – though not only – targets of such attacks. As long as the state does not provide a sufficient legal framework for the protection of such persons –similar with the one that protects victims of human trafficking– it effectively denies to the victims access to legal protection and to Justice. It also sends a political message to the racist “squads” to act with impunity, and a message towards the rest of society that it denies the right to security through not prosecuting these violent acts. 

In this direction, one must ensure that the racist motive will be investigated at the beginning of the criminal prosecution (during the pre-trial phase), regardless of whether or not it will result in a longer sentence after the trial. A crime motivated by racial hatred should either (a) be considered as a crime with distinct offenses, or (b) be combined with longer sentences for some specific types of crime (e.g. crimes against life, physical integrity, personal freedom, property), or finally (c) constitute a general aggravating circumstance, defining a fixed sentencing period. This cannot be separated from the responsibility of the political leadership of the Ministry of Justice to finally send a clear message of punishing hate crimes, by ensuring the implementation of the provision 7100/4/3 of 24.5.2006 that concerns the obligation of the authorities to investigate the possible racist motives of alleged criminal offenses. 

II. Concerning the Greek government: Xenophobic rhetoric and nationalist discourse under conditions of poverty gives rise to Nazism and racist violence; This is why it has to stop. 

The rise of neo-Nazi ideology and the rapid increase of its visibility and influence both in the Greek society and the political sphere has not been something that came ‘out of the blue’, a ‘natural disaster’ or product of unfortunate destiny. It has been the result of certain political, social and historical circumstances that have falsified certain beliefs considered as given: that ‘in the Greek transition to democracy (post-1974 period) the extreme right had no place’ and that ‘Greeks are not racists’. The extreme right was always here; during periods of tranquillity traces of its influence could be found in all the range of the political spectrum. On the contrary, during turbulent periods (like the one now) it has been a solid bloc. 

During the last years the neo-Nazi version of extreme right has been strengthened due to two main reasons: First, the rapid increase of poverty, social disintegration and the implementation of austerity measures. Second, Greek governments have put forward during the last years a xenophobic agenda: they prosecuted and publicly disgraced prostitutes-HIV positive women; they cancelled the reform law that provided citizenship status for migrants’ children; they launched the operation ‘Xenias Zeus’ and created detention camps for illegal immigrants; they tolerated extreme police violence. That political environment boosted neo-Nazism which has now spread its influence both in the Greek state mechanisms and in the Greek society. 

The revocation of basic social rights in the workplace, public health and education (on the one hand) and the rhetoric and practices of social hatred on the other, boost racism and fascism despite the outcome of the punitive or political judgement of the Golden Dawn and its leaders. These are accompanied, by a widespread hostility against all these groups that are traditionally targeted by fascist groups, the depreciation of intellectuals and institutions, the widespread feelings of resentment towards others and the application of extreme social reflexes. 

We should also not forget that before the murder of Pavlos Fyssas there were many politicians and journalists who were calling for common action with Golden Dawn – despite its anti-systemic character – once it frees itself from some ‘extreme’ members, presenting Golden Down as the ‘party that gives assistance to the elderly’, as ‘active citizens that are just upset’, as ‘family persons’ or simply as ‘bad boys with extreme tattoos’. During the last years this party was normalized and legitimized with the dirtiest methods by those that now present themselves as its prosecutors

It was the Ministry of Public Order that now presents itself as the leader in prosecuting the Neo-Nazis who considered the fact that migrant victims of racist attacks who lack legal documents was more important than the racist attack itself, depriving victims of access to legal protection; in the meantime also familiarizing the whole of society with the method of mass detention of irregular migrants under hideous conditions only because of the fact that they were migrants. 

It was the same Ministry that under the slogan ‘zero tolerance to illegal activities’ was focusing its man-power to emptying occupied/squatted buildings – even in the absence of a request from the property owner- all the while, as the result shows, completely tolerating the Neo-Nazi violence. 

It was A. Loverdos, -Minister of Health at the time and the figure who now tries to revive the “centre-Left political area”- who then penalised HIV victims and drug addicts. 

It was E. Stylianides, Minister of Interior at the time who, after a parliamentary request made by the MP of Golden Dawn I. Panagiotaros asking to be informed about the numbers of foreign children in the public nursery schools, asked nurseries to immediately provide the data through a “very urgent request” . It seems that he was anxious to reply to Panagiotaros, who some days before had openly declared that he will ‘kick out’ from all nursery schools foreign children in order to create empty slots for Greek children. 

It was finally the current Minister of Justice who just after taking up office declared that the anti-racist law under discussion then was not one of the priorities of his ministry, hence putting it on hold. He now considers the law as top priority, supposedly after having made his self-criticism. 

Together with an effective political and juridical dual fight against Golden Dawn, all these actions that bring social groups and state institutions closer to fascism must be stopped. This is the responsibility of Greek society as a whole.


image: linmtheu


fascism, racism, racist violence


© HLHR 2020

info [@] hlhr.gr
+30 2130264975

Powered by Advalue