Golden Dawn's neo-Nazis: A Murder Too Far in Greece

Greece's civil society is now mobilizing against Golden Dawn's neo-Nazi violence and ideology – and now it's up to the Greek state to stop tolerating illegal violence.

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In recent months, Greek society has grown to increasingly resemble the Weimar Republic, a historical symbol of a dysfunctional democracy besieged by increasingly violent political extremes. The last straw was the murder of young musician Pavlos Fyssas, 34, by a follower of the Greek nationalist party, Golden Dawn. The murder itself caused understandable outrage - and in its wake, serious questions must be raised about the specter of neo-Nazism in Greece and how to blunt its violent spread.

Many people in Greece and beyond are demanding a crackdown on Golden Dawn and its followers by a state long accused of tolerating illegal behavior. But the best triad of measures that Greece could do in response would be not only to properly enforce the existing laws against violence, and to affirm its strong support for freedom of expression, but also to work toward ending the economic crisis upon which support for Golden Dawn has been built.

It is unfortunately true that Greece has long turned a blind eye toward illegal behavior from armed and well-organized rightist groups. For two years, Golden Dawn has been patrolling towns and indiscriminately attacking immigrants and its ideological enemies. Its evident anti-Semitism, its hostility to liberal values, and its ideas and slogans that are copied from fascist regimes, make their presence even more detestable.

Members of the Golden Dawn party and even its own MPs have been involved in incidents of violence - but suffered no consequences. There have also been incidents of “unexplained” tolerance to Golden Dawn’s actions by security forces. Thankfully, the death of the young man has seemingly mobilized the state to restore the rule of law; there have already been several forced resignations of police officers who "tolerated" Golden Dawn’s activities. A number of left-wing politicians have suggested that Golden Dawn should be outlawed.

However, such authoritarian measures do not only collide with the Greek constitution but with common sense itself. Bans almost always fail, while simultaneously negating the core of democracy and the very essence of liberty.

A liberal state has nothing to fear from fascism, as long as it effectively fights illegal activities and prohibits any act of violence – neo-Nazism’s source of life and raison d’etre. Ideologically, Golden Dawn will not be defeated by prohibitions, but the mobilization of civil society, which shows evident marks of overcoming its fears. Last Sunday, people gathered in Athens, Thessaloniki and Crete wearing white shirts chanting slogans promoting non-violence, with the active participation of the Mayor of Athens, Theodorus Skylakakis (MEP and chairman of the Liberal Party), and other political activists and intellectuals.

Instead of participating in a battle of ideas, the Greek state needs to implement reforms aimed at revitalizing the market and reducing unemployment. Privatization, reduced regulation, and lower barriers to trade have traditionally died at the hands of organized professional “guilds,” unions and interest groups.

Golden Dawn represents a threat to liberty. But threats to liberty can only be destroyed through more liberty - everywhere, and especially in the economic sphere. Only a total liberalization of the economy and new investments will restore Greece and get her back on the road to growth. Then, and only then, will fascism lose its social roots, when it is no longer fed and watered by the misery of economic crisis.

Charilaos Peitsinis is a Young Voices Advocate and an attorney, specializing in legal counseling, in Thessaloniki, Greece, currently writing his PhD thesis in economic law in the University of Thessaloniki, Greece.

Supporters of Greece’s neo-Nazi Golden Dawn party celebrating election results in June, 2012.Credit: AP

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