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From Golden Dawn to new dawn: Will government crackdown on far-right party mark a fresh start for Greece?

Pavlos Fyssas’s stabbing has led to the arrest of an entire right-wing party’s leadership and a new sense of unity

“On a day like this, it’s nice to die pleasantly and standing upright in public view. My name is Pavlos Fyssas from Pireaus, [I’m] Greek with all that entails – not just a flag.” These were the prophetic lyrics of 34-year-old musician Pavlos Fyssas in a hip-hop song he wrote less than a year before being stabbed to death on the streets of his neighbourhood by a middle-aged sympathiser of Greece’s extreme-right party, the Golden Dawn.

Emerging evidence suggests the killer was in close contact with a local party organiser, who played a leading role in the far-right effort to expand its influence in neighbourhoods that had traditionally been a stronghold of the left. Witness testimonies say Giorgos Roupakias attacked the artist out of the blue – without any physical provocation.

Brawls aren’t unusual between left-wing and far-right supporters in Greece, especially since the onset of the country’s chronic debt crisis. Because of the inherent culture of rap, its adherents are stereotypically placed to the left of the political spectrum. But Pavlos didn’t identify with any of Greece’s parties.

“He made his personal revolution through his songs,” says his closest friend, and fellow hip-hop artist, Thanassis Perrakis, aka Tiny Jackal.

A young Greek who deeply loved his country, Pavlos shuddered at Greece’s current predicament which he attributed – like many of his countrymen – to decades of misrule by a corrupt political class that was dominated by a handful of alternating dynasties.

Despite his stage name, Killah P from Kill the Past, and his music, which urged “death to the negative things of the past” – Pavlos was not violent, according to friends. He would avoid taking sides between police and youths at protests. “He’d say let’s throw koulouria – bread rings sprinkled in sesame – at the riotous crowds to get flocks of pigeons to scatter them,” his friend recalls.

Indeed, many of the musician’s songs called for freedom of expression and tolerance. “I have a mind that goes beyond borders, colour... my mind couldn’t care less about religions or political ideologies,” Killah P jammed in 2007.

Pavlos grew up in Athens’ working-class suburb of Amfiali and started working at the docks with his father. After qualifying as a plumber, he tried to make ends meet in any job he could find during the economic meltdown.

Stepping out of a café a couple of weeks ago, witnesses say Pavlos and half a dozen friends were confronted by an angry mob. He died protecting his friends, confronting the men so his friends could run. “No one could make Pavlo run,” Thanassis says.

His death prompted a backlash against the far right. Authorities, with unprecedented speed, gathered evidence linking the Golden Dawn to the stabbing and other crimes, then arrested the party’s entire leadership.

Last Saturday morning, 11 days after Pavlos’s death, the leader of Golden Dawn, Nikos Michaloliakos, four other MPs and many other party members were detained over allegedly forming a criminal organisation, although there was criticism of the government that it had taken Pavlos’s death for it to act. Exploiting the financial crisis and rising crime, Golden Dawn sprung out of near-anonymity with anti-immigrant rhetoric and won an unprecedented 18 seats in Parliament in last year’s general election. Recent surveys suggested the party, which openly admired Hitler’s ideology, has become the country’s third strongest.

But the tables are turning. The escalation of Golden Dawn’s street violence and the murder of a Greek national have given mainstream parties criticised for not tackling the financial crisis some breathing space. The authorities have seized the opportunity to crack down on Golden Dawn, and in doing so pushed the public’s attention away from the harsh austerity drive.

A wave of angry nationwide protests against Golden Dawn, however, went unabated, prompting fears of serious social polarisation. In an effort to tame the moods of furious youths in the streets, famous rap artists once bitterly opposed appeared united – for the first time in decades – to condemn violence. Musicians from Greece’s “low bap” – a sub-genre of hip-hop – and the rest of the rap scene addressed their hundreds of thousands of fans through a joint press conference. 

“While we’re here talking about Pavlos, people outside are looking for revenge but we urge composure,” popular hip-hopper Ilias Papanikolos told an audience filled with fans and journalists. “I know that humanity is not about parties, it’s about what’s inside us… people who kill have problems. It doesn’t matter if they’re Golden Dawn or Communist – we must help them.”

Many of the hundreds of thousands of followers applauded the move on social media last week – and tempers appeared allayed. But murdered Pavlos never lived to see his dream of a united Greek rap scene.

His killing has even attracted legendary international hip-hop artists Eric Bobo of Cypress Hill & DJ Rhettmatic of The Beat Junkies to express their condemnation as they head to Athens to perform in a hip-hop concert on Friday. “We would like to send our deepest condolences to Killah P and the Greek hip-hop community,” the musicians said in a video broadcast on YouTube. “We don’t like what’s going down, we’re down with racism and fascism.”

Greek hip-hop fans talking to The Independent remain furious at the mainstream political parties whom they hold responsible for the Golden Dawn phenomenon. 

Some artists say they had cautioned the public for years about the spread of fascism but that they weren’t taken seriously. “Before the killing, they just saw us as musicians with funny hats and controversial views because we were so critical of the establishment,” Akis Tsinidis, aka 12th Monkey, says. “Now they pretend to be shocked and surprised to see Golden Dawn murder just because the victim was a Greek.”

But despite the dismantling of Golden Dawn, musicians lament the enduring flaws of Greece’s institutions and a brazen exploitation of their friend’s death – from politicians across the spectrum trying to win voters to a press eager to increase its public. “Whatever happens, my friend isn’t coming back so let’s just hope he didn’t die in vain – if they’re going to take advantage of it, let them at least not pander,” says Thanassis.

He intends to make sure Pavlos’s death wasn’t futile. A concert in Pavlos’s memory is to take place within the next year and will bring musicians – from reggae to punk – onto one stage. The proceeds of the festival will help set up the non-profit organisation Pavlos wanted: care for the homeless and lessons of music, languages and history to destitute Greeks and foreigners.

Weeks after his death, the music that routed Golden Dawn blasts outside a hip-hop club in central Athens. Emmanuel Olayinka Afolayan, aka MC Yinka, a 32-year-old Nigerian rapper who was born and raised in Athens, worries over the hate infecting Greece. And yet the artist – who has yet to receive citizenship in the country he calls his own – remains hopeful over Greece’s fate. He says: “I represent the new Greeks, the new breed and generation: people who live on the same ground and no matter their colour, share the same dreams and fight for the same goals. We are all together.”