A personal story
Growing up and becoming your own person in Greek high schools in the early 2010s was perilous. The newly-elected right-wing government’s ambition was unapologetic patriotic indoctrination: despite a disastrous economic crisis, we had lengthy school schedules filled with proud Greek history and biased religion courses. National consciousness, supplemented with ethnic pride, has always been a requirement for the Greek youth, and it is taught early in life. Class consciousness was always a refuted elective.
While battling my way through the college admissions process, the emergence of what seemed more of a farce than a political party became part of my everyday life. Golden Dawn’s caustic jargon and incendiary language was integrated into the high-schoolers’ lexicon while the televised conflicts they engaged in – including physical fights with MPs – were jokingly acted out by students during class or recess. Golden Dawn was presented to the Greek youth as an “angry” patriotic activist faction rather than a neo-Nazi organization, therefore humanizing and legitimizing its deeply racist and violent character. Eventually, there were youth alt-right formations with thousands of members in the schools, trained by Golden Dawn in a militia style to obey their ruling “Fuhrer” (as he is allegedly called).
A year after Golden Dawn’s successful election campaign, an anti-fascist singer named Pavlos Fyssas was stabbed. This news followed a number of murders and attacks against immigrants, which weren’t noticed by the public. The party denied their connection to the stabbing but it was later proven that the murderer had received orders from their hierarchy.
The Greek youth shook off their seeming indifference as they took to the streets. Madga Fyssa, the mother of Pavlos, mobilized an anti-fascist struggle with remarkable strength and dedication. Protests sprung up throughout Greece demanding the arrest of not only the perpetrators, but the Golden Dawn leadership itself. Schools were occupied by students and the banners hung from the facilities read: “Lock Them Up.”
Golden Dawn: an ideological profile
Golden Dawn, which originally had negligible public support, gradually established itself in the wake of austerity following the 2008 financial crisis and mass (mainly Muslim) immigration). By employing nationalist-populist measures, such as social services exclusively for Greek people, these former outcasts became part of Greece’s political reality. Blood-banks, soup kitchens, and medical advice were a few of the services provided from Greeks to Greeks. regular violent raids targeted immigrants, aimed at protecting Athens’ national and racial purity.
In 2012, Golden Dawn garnered 6.97% of the Greek vote, causing a political paradox: the party’s poisonous neo-Nazi ideology that ultimately imagines the death of democratic values, was represented in a parliamentary democracy. The Golden Dawn blatantly stood for xenophobia, antisemitism, biological nationalism, and national socialism. The media and right-wing politicians, controversially refraining from explicitly condemning Golden Dawn, became accomplices in normalizing its participation in mainstream political discourse and electoral politics.
Eventually, the Golden Dawn provocatively demonstrated its hatred for immigrants, with the 2012 slogan, ‘’So we can rid this land of filth,’’ targeted at non-European immigrants. Consistent with its misogyny, two critical female left-wingers were attacked live on television Added into the mix was Nazi-sympathizing Holocaust denialism, never more apparent than when the ‘’Fuhrer’’ Nikos Michaloliakos endorsed a claim that “There were no crematoria, it’s a lie. Neither were there gas chambers.” Nazi salutes, flags with swastikas, Ku Klux Klan-like rallies with torches, and Nazi chants opened historical wounds in Greece’s troubled past with Nazism and awakened its sympathizers who for decades existed only as part of our collective memory.
Not just another protest
Following the murder of Pavlos Fyssas, the party leadership was arrested by the Greek Police while the Government initiated investigations into Golden Dawn’s offices. Raids in these party offices and members’ houses uncovered myriads of weapons, including guns, knives, and brass knuckles. In April 2015, the largest court hearing of Nazis since the Nuremberg Trials began in Athens to determine if Golden Dawn was a criminal organization. Golden Dawn faced charges for three murders, a number of attempted murders and numerous violent hate crimes committed by 69 of its members (many of whom are key leaders and MPs).
Throughout my time in higher education, I have looked back on those turbulent high-school years and asked myself whether organizing, getting involved in heated debates, and attending exhausting protests paid off.
A few weeks ago, the 7th of October 2020, 20,000 people gathered in the streets of Athens in front of the Court of Appeal, many of them high-school students just like I was not too long ago. After five years of continuous hearings, the Golden Dawn trial concluded with the justice’s verdict.
Giorgos Roupakias was found guilty for the first-degree murder of Pavlos Fyssas, and thirteen more Golden Dawn members were found guilty of conspiracy to murder. Close to fifty members of Golden Dawn were found guilty for the attempted murder of Abouzid Embarak (an Egyptian fisherman) and thirty members of the Greek Communist Party (KKE), while some of them were also charged with illegal gun possession and participation in a criminal organization. The historic and final court decision declared Golden Dawn a criminal organization and its authorities guilty for leading it.
A battle won, but not the war
I have grown up watching the rise and the fall of neo-Nazis; this victory of solidarity over hatred is symbolic and morally compensating. Actualizing a neo-Nazi ideology required violent criminal activity. Rightfully, Golden Dawn has been held legally, politically, and morally accountable for the murderous hatred that guided its criminal activities. The ultimate fantasy of neo-Nazis — exterminating anyone who is not racially ‘’pure’’ and does not Nazi-salute their compatriots — was cut short. Today, Democracy’s motherland is celebrating a victory against its most dangerous enemy. Golden Dawn had been knocked out of the Greek Parliament and jailed for its criminal activity.
Nevertheless, a shift in electoral behavior does not necessarily reflect a shift in political ideology; the voters who elected Golden Dawn have been absorbed by right-wing parties with similar inflammatory rhetoric, and therefore the threat of neo-Nazism still exists. The horror of national socialism, and the Greek Resistance’s fight against it, is part of our collective memory; today’s mass anti-fascist protest rekindled our democratic sentiment against evil. History repeated itself with the revival of Nazism in Greece, but as we have seen, Greeks fought to avoid past mistakes. So much blood has flooded the pavements of Athens; so many tears have been shed by the families of the victims; all for futile hate. To echo Magda Fyssa’s words: ‘’I can’t bring Pavlos back. I am fighting to save future victims.’’
Spyros is a PhD student at the University of Michigan. Ifigenia is a Master’s student in Political Theory at the London School of Economics.
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