A Jewish political activist went on trial in Athens on Tuesday for inciting violence against the Greek neo-Nazi party Golden Dawn.
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Savvas Michael-Matsas, who heads the small Trotskyite Revolutionary Worker's Party, is charged with defaming Golden Dawn, inciting violence against its followers and disturbance of the peace. His co-defendant is Konstantinos Moutzouris, former rector of National Technical University in Athens, who is accused of allowing an anti-establishment website, Athens Indymedia, to use his university's Web server to gain access to the Internet.
Members of the Greek left have rallied to the defense of Matsas, 66, who is a leading figure among anti-capitalist circles in Greece. Supporters claim that the prosecution is political and serves the purposes of the ruling center-right New Democracy party. They have enlisted the help of left-wing organizations abroad, which have been asked to apply pressure on the Greek government.
Maria Margaronis, a London-based journalist, termed the trial political persecution in a column in the Guardian newspaper on Monday. It was no coincidence, she wrote, that of the many people against whom similar allegations have been made, the first to be put on trial is Jewish. "Picking out the Jew to be the first to walk the plank is sleazy beyond belief, a cheap sop to the fascist gallery, she wrote. As one of the few Jewish public intellectuals in Greece, Savvas [Matsas] has long been targeted by neo-Nazi websites, with slogans like 'Crush the Jewish worm' and claims that he can be found lurking under every stone, fomenting civil war among pure-blooded Greeks in order to establish a Judeo-Bolshevik state."
For his own part, Matsas has said his Jewish identity has rendered his case worse than one simply involving a politically-motivated indictment, mentioning that calls have appeared on the Internet referring to him as an agent of an international Jewish conspiracy and a Jewish rat and calling for him to be killed. He said the authorities viewed his party slogan, "Crush fascism," as incitement. Trial takes place against the backdrop of the slogan "The people don't forget, they hang fascists," allegedly used by Matsas' party at a 2009 demonstration, according to the English-language website of the Greek newspaper Eleftherotypia.
Matsas described the events leading up to the trial from his perspective in an interview to Indymedia, the website hosted by the National Technical University. It was that interview that was the basis of the indictment against the school's rector.
"In 2009, the right-wing government, with the assistance of the Nazis from Golden Dawn, initiated pogroms in neighborhoods with many immigrants," Matsas told the website. "The Greek left organized anti-fascist demonstrations in which our party was involved. Golden Dawn filed complaints against the parties on the left, including the Greek communist party, KKE, the left-wing Syriza opposition [which is currently the primary opposition party in the country] and the anti-capitalist Antarsya alliance as well as our party."
"The complaint was revived by the [newly-elected] right-wing government of [Antonis] Samaras in 2012 and the police began investigating those mentioned in the complaint," Matsas said. "In June 2013, two of the 80 people accused at the beginning were selected, [former rector] Konstantinos Moutzouris and myself."
In the parliamentary election in 2009, Golden Dawn received a fraction of one percent of the vote. In last year's election, its support rose to about 7 percent and opinion polls currently show it getting 13 to 15 percent of the support of the electorate, which would make it Greece's third largest party.