Golden Dawn: courage of two women stems the rise of Greece’s neo-Nazis
Under armed guard, the judges investigating the far-right party’s criminal activities have brought it down: but it is far from out
For half a year they have sat in their seventh-floor office, probing the murky depths of Europe’s most violent political force. It is not a mission that many would envy.
But Ioanna Klapa and Maria Dimitropoulou, long-time friends who belong to Greece’s first generation of female judges, have gone about the business of dissecting Golden Dawn with the precision of a surgeon.
After trawling though computers confiscated from the far-right party’s leaders, examining witnesses and wading through thousands of videos, pictures, speeches, documents and blogs, the court officials have compiled a 15,000-page dossier outlining why they believe Golden Dawn is a criminal organisation.
Under the weight of their inquiry – spurred by the murder of a leftwing musician at the hands of a senior party operative in September last year – the extremist group has begun to crack. Last week one Golden Dawn MP resigned, citing ignorance of the party’s activities. Another was expelled after indicating that he, too, was about to leave.
“The justice system is one of the few meritocratic institutions in Greece and both of these women are known to be enormously courageous, fiercely independent and non-partisan,” said Aliki Mouriki, a sociologist at the National Centre of Social Research. “For a party that is so macho and militaristic, it is an irony of history that two women should now be in this role.”
The loss of its deputies reduces to 16 the number of seats the neo-Nazis control in the 300-member house – although nine MPs already face charges and six have been jailed pending trial. In February Klapa and Dimitropoulou proposed that politicians lift the immunity of another nine MPs who have so far escaped prosecution. A parliamentary vote is expected in the coming weeks.
The far-rightists have responded with a torrent of venom, accusing the judges of working to an agenda masterminded by the “rotten” political establishment. On Friday night the party’s imprisoned leader, Nikos Michaloliakos, sent a message to supporters gathered in the port city of Piraeus promising revenge. “They are trying to convince people Golden Dawn is dissolving,” he said in a statement read by Eleni Zaroulia, his MP wife. “They haven’t understood that Golden Dawn will bring their demise.”
For many the crackdown is long overdue. In the two years since the extremists were catapulted into parliament – winning 7% of the vote on the back of widespread fury following the debt-stricken country’s financial collapse – almost no one has confronted their violent tactics or thuggish behaviour.
While an alarming rise in attacks on migrants elicited condemnation from international human rights groups, Greek parties and intellectuals remained eerily quiet. With record levels of poverty and unemployment, the neo-Nazis went from strength to strength.
“The failure of anybody to speak out in a country that experienced such brutal Nazi occupation is absolutely inexcusable,” said the 92-year-old poet Nanos Valaouritis, one of the few to openly address the issue. “The passivity of Greeks when they have been the victims of such ideology is unusual to say the least,” he told the Observer. In the vacuum, the judiciary appears determined to do what the political system has failed to achieve so far by tackling the scourge.
No one knows what Klapa or Dimitropoulou think. As judges for the past 30 years, handling some of Greece’s most hardened criminals, neither are allowed to make public statements. Armed police who keep watch over the women around the clock, standing in the neon-lit corridor outside their office with guns at the ready, have added to the cloak of mystery surrounding them. Since the two women were appointed by a gutsy female prosecutor to head the inquiry, guards have ensured neither has been caught on camera. Lawyers who have known them for decades are only prepared to describe the women as fearless, hard-working and “incredibly detailed”.
“They speak through their actions,” said one. “And it is evident that they believe Golden Dawn is not only a criminal organisation masquerading as a political party, but one based entirely on fear among those who support it and those it is against.”
For the two women, time is now of the essence. In a country where it is impossible to ban a party elected by democratic process, judicial authorities have a deadline of 18 months to put the MPs on trial.
But even as it loses support, there are few who believe Golden Dawn is done. Though surveys show the party losing its place as the third most popular political force in Greece, no other attracts as many protest votes among a populace intent on punishing the establishment for the country’s economic crash.
Gruelling austerity may have helped Greece to achieve the biggest fiscal adjustment in global history. But it has also thrown the nation into its worst recession since the second world war and created a climate that has made Golden Dawn hard to eradicate.
“I don’t think we are close to the end of Golden Dawn. People who support it tend to avoid telling pollsters what they think,” said the veteran conservative commentator Giorgos Kyrtsos. “This is a very well organised party and it will pick up at least what it got in June 2012 in the European elections this May. It will be a long time before Greece gets rid of this menace.”