Greece Cracks Down On Violent Golden Dawn Party

Over the weekend, Greek police arrested around two dozen party leaders, including members of parliament, from the Golden Dawn party — one of Europe's most violent political parties. Charges include murder and blackmail.

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Now, over the weekend Greek police arrested two dozen leaders, including members of parliament, from Golden Dawn. That's a neo-fascist party that has been growing in popularity amid the country's economic depression. Charges against this group include murder, money laundering and blackmail. Joanna Kakissis reports that a rapper's death prompted this crackdown.

JOANNA KAKISSIS, BYLINE: The arrests began early Saturday morning.


KAKISSIS: By evening, TV news showed Golden Dawn's leader and parliamentarian, Nikolaos Michaloliakos, in handcuffs.


NIKOLAOS MICHALOLIAKOS: (Foreign language spoken)

KAKISSIS: Long live Golden Dawn, he shouted, down with the traitors.

But authorities say it's Michaloliakos who's the criminal. A Supreme Court prosecutor says the leader runs his party like a Nazi-style gang. The party uses violence to enforce its special brand of nationalism, says journalist Dimitris Psarras. He's been studying the party for more than 25 years.

DIMITRIS PSARRAS: (Through Translator) The group's nationalism is race-based and excludes anyone who's not white, of course, as well as those who don't have Greek blood. But it also excludes anyone with different views.

KAKISSIS: Nikolaos Michaloliakos, a former army commando who admires Adolf Hitler, formed Golden Dawn in the 1980s. He hoped to feed off partisan hatred between the left and right that was fueled by the 1946 to '49 civil war, and a seven-year military dictatorship that ended in 1974. But his party lived in obscurity until the financial crisis, when Greeks blamed mainstream politicians for bankrupting the country and then selling it out to foreign lenders.

Again, here's journalist Dimitris Psarras.

PSARRAS: (Through Translator) Some people believed Golden Dawn was an alternative to the traitors, thieves and servants of foreign powers.

KAKISSIS: In 2012, the party that denies the Holocaust and called immigrants subhuman won 18 seats in the 300-member parliament.


KAKISSIS: Supporters celebrated by chanting that Greece belongs to the Greeks and that foreigners must get out.

Political scientist Elias Dinas says that the party used its base of nationalists to create an alternate state.

ELIAS DINAS: So what they did, and it is very specific what they did, was to function as local mafias.

KAKISSIS: They patrolled neighborhoods. They set up food, job and blood banks for Greeks only.

Vigilante gangs led by Golden Dawn parliamentary deputies also smashed the stalls of immigrant vendors, as you can hear in this video. They claimed the vendors were selling goods illegally. This kind of incitement helped fuel more than 280 hate crimes between January 2012 and April of this year, that includes at least four murders, the Greek government says.


PAVLOS FYSSAS: (Rapping in foreign language)

KAKISSIS: But the government didn't crack down on Golden Dawn until a supporter allegedly stabbed a Greek musician to death in Athens earlier this month.


FYSSAS: (Rapping in foreign language)

KAKISSIS: Rapper Pavlos Fyssas performed under the stage name Killah P and strongly condemned fascism and racism in his lyrics.


KAKISSIS: His death sparked several protests against fascism, including one that medical student Georgia Zafeiri attended last week. She says she'd like to think that not everyone who support Golden Dawn is a fascist.

GEORGIA ZAFEIRI: (Foreign language spoken)

KAKISSIS: They're unemployed people who lost hope and looked in the wrong place for a savior, she says. I hope they see that now.

Golden Dawn insists that the party is not involved in violence and that it's being set up by corrupt politicians working for foreign bankers. Those arrested are expected to make their pleas in court tomorrow.

For NPR News, I'm Joanna Kakissis in Athens.



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