Hundreds of mourners turned out in Athens today for the funeral of a hip-hop artist and anti-fascist campaigner who was killed in an apparently politically motivated attack blamed on the far-right Golden Dawn – an episode that has shocked Greece and prompted calls from politicians for a crackdown on the party.
As family, friends and many strangers paid their respects to 34-year-old Pavlos Fyssas, the country debated how it would deal with the party, which some have accused of increasingly turning to violence.
Late on Tuesday night, Mr Fyssas was stabbed in the chest after leaving a café with friends. Witnesses and friends say the motive of the attack was political, pointing to previous examples where friction between the far-right and left-leaning organisations has resulted in violence.
The death of the young man has deeply shocked the nation, which last year handed Golden Dawn 18 seats in its 300-member parliament.
Speaking on Thursday, Panayotis Fyssas, Pavlos’s father, said he wanted his son’s killer to be executed. “I don’t want him to be tried or jailed, I want him executed. That, for me, is vindication.” He also called for other participants involved in the murder to be arrested as mounting evidence suggests the attack was well-organised.
“Pavlos was very good person, pleasant with everyone and open-minded,” said Lukas, a teenage musician and friend of Pavlos.
The day after the attack, Greek newspapers were filled with testimonies linking the perpetrator with the far-right party, prompting politicians to point the finger at Golden Dawn.
The party today vehemently rejected any involvement in Pavlos Fyssas’s death. “I would like to remind you – because nonsense was said again... I’d like to remind all of you in here, who pretend to be stupid and not understand, that since the first moment we have condemned this criminal act,” said the party’s spokesman, Ilia Kasidiaris, in parliament. “Our party has absolutely no connection with this act.”
Meanwhile, for the second day running, protests took place in the south-western districts of the Athens area, close to where Mr Fyssas died. The offices of Golden Dawn continued to be raided throughout the country in the search for incriminating evidence while police guarded against groups of youths protesting outside.
Last night’s demonstration in Nikaia was meant to coincide with a planned speech by Nikos Michaloliakos, Golden Dawn’s leader, but the party cancelled the visit so that its opponents could not reap “political benefits” from the death of the musician, according to a statement on Golden Dawn’s website.
Three other men were arrested in connection to the murder, local media reported. Late last night, the Minister of Public Order ordered a meeting with the Prime Minister to decide a strategy to quell violence allegedly being carried out by Golden Dawn supporters.
“We won’t allow the descendants of Nazis to poison our social life and undermine the foundations of the country that gave birth to democracy,” said Antonis Samaras, the Prime Minister, in a televised speech.
Meanwhile, his Public Order Minister handed out a “Golden Dawn dossier” to the prosecutor in an effort to charge some of the party’s members – including MPs – for past acts under the anti-terrorism laws. “All of the state’s mechanism need to be on alert to deal with Golden Dawn,” Nikos Dendias said.
The desire to act against Golden Dawn appeared to spread like wildfire throughout the day today, with constitutional experts and politicians appearing on talk shows to analyse available options on how to curb its activity and reduce its appeal.
A professor of political sciences at Panteion University in Athens who has been studying Golden Dawn for years urged authorities to seize the chance they missed in the past to crack down on the party.
“We must expose the organisation to the people to convince them that it’s embroiled – in a direct or indirect way – in illegal and criminal events – even ban the party,” said Vasiliki Georgiadou.
A poll published weeks ago suggests that Golden Dawn’s popularity has more than doubled since elections in 2012, making it the country’s third-strongest political party. The staggering increase reflects the electorate’s disgust with mainstream party politicians whom many blame for the country’s woes. But experts say if the government acts smartly its fortunes could be reversed.
According to Ms Georgiadou, although a third of the party’s supporters are hard-core fans, the rest is evenly split between the protest vote – Greeks angry and punishing the established parties – and the so-called “wandering vote”: the part of the electorate that traditionally goes for small parties.
“These voters aren’t extremists or Nazis, nor do they espouse violence,” she explains, adding that they will abandon Golden Dawn if the party’s activities are exposed to be criminal.
Fascist revival: Rise of Europe’s far right
The far-right National Popular Front, or Ethniko Laiko Metopo (Elam), has links to Greece’s neo-fascist Golden Dawn party, whose officials have been known to visit Cyprus to give talks to Elam followers. Elam barely polled 1 per cent of the vote at the parliamentary elections in 2011. That does not mean it has abandoned attempts to exploit the anger Cypriots feel at the harsh bailout conditions agreed with the EU.
Marine Le Pen’s Front National (FN) party has seen a surge in support. In presidential elections last year, the party’s vow to push back against what it calls the “Islamisation” of France proved popular, and is credited with helping it to win its biggest slice of the national vote ever – almost 20 per cent.
The neo-Nazi National Democratic Party of Germany (NPD) has been very active of late ahead of Germany’s national elections on Sunday. Most recently, NPD members sent mock airline tickets marked “one-way” to politicians in Berlin with migrant roots, urging them to return to their “home country” immediately. In post-war Germany, no far-right party has gained the 5 per cent needed to enter the national parliament, but the NPD is represented in two state parliaments.