Ilias Kasidiaris and entourage, looking every bit the Greek, neo-Nazi brat pack they are. (Image via)
Dancer, author, food technologist, elite military operative, assaulter of women, Golden Dawn MP and alleged getaway driver in a racist stabbing, Ilias Kasidiaris is a true neo-Nazi Renaissance man. He's young, he's tanned, he's buff, he waxes. He's never without his Police shades and his crew-cut is more "Mediterranean playboy" than "eugenics advocate". The Golden Dawn's heir apparent is the general in a new model army that's channelling the volcanic anger of the Greek streets into something that could easily sit inside a Benny Benassi video.
Thirty-two-year-old Kasidiaris has probably already skittered across your radar, you just didn't bother to attach a name to him at the time. In June of last year, a clip of the Golden Dawn spokesman slapping female Greek Communist MP Liana Kanelli on live TV went viral. Afterwards, he was locked in a side-room while police were called. Just like any other rational politician would have done, Kasidiaris broke the door down and fled.
From his hiding place at party HQ, he defended his actions: “I did what millions of Greeks would have done – when you get hit in the face you have to defend yourself.” The only issue with that line of defence was that he hadn't been hit in the face; he'd thrown a glass of water at a woman across the table, before Kanelli stood up to confront him and he pushed her then hit her in the mouth.
Throughout the Greek political spectrum, his opponents rubbed their hands and waited for Golden Dawn support to crumble. It didn't. Within a few hours, a Facebook group supporting Kasidiaris had gained some 6,000 followers and the party's poll ratings shot up by two percent. The Greek people had seen the mask torn from the face of modern fascism, and they liked it. A couple of weeks later, he was elected to Parliament, bringing in 13,937 votes in the Attica constituency, more than double the share of the runner-up.
Last month, his fellow MPs in Greek parliament had to vote for the second time to lift his parliamentary immunity. This time, so that he can be tried for assault over the slapping incident. Kasidiaris's attitude seems to be one of completely idiotic bravado – he both actively asked to have his immunity lifted and is counter-suing Kanelli, the woman he hit. He's the Greek Clinton of feigning innocence, only he hits women rather than sleeps with them.
In one way, his counter-suing ruse is standard legal gamesmanship. In another, it's infantile and highly irritating. He's a born whiner – his speeches consisting of lengthy moans and loosely taped-together lists of grievances brought on by row-upon-row of shadowy "enemies": the media, "the elite", the Bangladeshis, the Egyptians and the Zionists, all of whom are out to get him and to get "us".
Ilias Kasidiaris, slapping a woman on live TV.
His mish-mash of amateur-hour conspiracy theories and occasional fact isn't exactly eloquent, but he does at least seem genuinely angry. And in his hot flushes of rage, he offers a sort of emotional eloquence to his supporters. Greece is beyond furious, and Kasidiaris' eternally outraged face is the living embodiment of the country's inarticulate anger.
In one of his first speeches to Parliament, the boy wonder read passages from The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, an ancient fabricated smear text beloved by European anti-Semites since before Hitler. Describing his own ongoing legal troubles, he quoted protocol 19: “In order to destroy the prestige of heroism, we shall send them for trial in the category of theft, murder and every kind of abominable and filthy crime.”
“I would say he's kind of like a caricature,” says Anna Stamou, head of PR for the Muslim Association of Greece. “Within the political process, he has a specific role to play. And it's a very convenient role. People in Greece are very angry. They want to punish the politicians. Like when he hit Kanelli, it was interpreted by some as an attack on political class. He is their rude voice.”
Kasidiaris seems to have a knack for coming up roses. The Kanelli incident left him almost better-off than before. And indeed, even his trial for taking part in an attempted murder also somehow seemed to see him walking away with outright victory. The charges only came to court in March of this year, but they related back to 2007, to an assault on an Athens university professor in a carpark, for which Kasidiaris was alleged to have driven getaway.
The trial was carnival – a complete farce. The Golden Dawn had loaded the public gallery with big shaven-headed bruisers to soften-up the judge. While, at the same time, the trial's star had turned the feverish daily media coverage into his own personal press corps, regularly appearing on the court steps to give self-involved speeches to the assembled cameras. He was acquitted. As he stood on the steps that day, he defiantly announced he wanted to "rub the decision in the faces" of a media that had broadcast the allegations against him. “Lots of people want the Golden Dawn to stay marginalised,” he said, “but we are here, more powerful than ever and very soon we will be running this place.”
“The trial was a comedy at the end,” says Stamou. “The judge was so intimidated; the court was full of bodyguards. To me, it feels like the courts are either afraid of the Golden Dawn or aligned with them.”
Kasidiaris has been tried only once, but there remains a large body of evidence pointing to his ongoing role within the Golden Dawn's violent anti-immigrant patrols. The far-right Fernando Lamas did his compulsory military service with an elite Greek special forces regiment, The 35 Commando, in Cyprus. He's since spent plenty of time teaching his military-grade death grips and karate chops to a new generation of young activists. Here he is posing for a things-to-make-and-do supplement.
“But now he's very cautious about getting involved in violence,” Stamou points out. “They train the youth to beat people up. Kids, the under-18s who can't be prosecuted. They don't do it themselves. It's like a gang: they have a system, both frontline and backline.”
There are rumours that much of Kasidiaris' angry zeal stems from an incident where he was ambushed, set-upon and beaten-up by immigrants in a revenge attack. Since then, the personal has become the political. “I think he got into a lot of fights with anarchists and communists,” suggests Yiannis Baboulias, a journalist who has covered the Golden Dawn extensively. “He did get his ass kicked on more than one occasion, so he is quite angry, quite wounded by that.”
But the simplest answer as to what has led him this far is that fascism is in his blood. His grandfather is alleged to have been a Nazi collaborator during the war. It's difficult to say so exactly because most of the records of who collaborated with the Nazis were destroyed and their deeds pardoned by premier Georgios Papandreou immediately after the conflict. His father was a doctor and his mother is a professor of archaeology, but it’s his uncle – Nikos Michaloliakos, leader of the Golden Dawn – who clearly influenced him most.
Uncle Nikos was a confirmed paramilitary and sympathiser with the right-wing junta that ran Greece between 1967 and 1974. He founded the Golden Dawn after prompting from the jailed junta leader Georgios Papadopoulos and has spent many of the intervening 20-odd years cheerfully denying the Holocaust. Under his protection, Kasidiaris has flourished: a shit-kicking young crank who serves as much to make Michaloliakos look like the sober face of respectability by comparison. Consciously or not, the pair form a bad-cop-even-worse-cop double-act. As official spokesman, given prominence without power, Kasidiaris has had free reign to say the unsayable, while older, cooler heads can roll their eyes indulgently, saying "no" when really they mean "yes, yes, yes".
“Up until a year ago, Golden Dawn was Michaloliakos in the public imagination,” says author and editor of Lifo.gr Aris Dimokidis. “The public didn't know anyone else from that party. No one else was allowed to go on television. Now, he's even more famous than Michaloliakos. I'm wondering whether Michaloliakos sees him as a threat now. If anyone should be fearful, it should be the leader.”
Ilias Kasidiaris looking slick with some of his Golden Dawn cronies. (Image via)
His path to power has been seemingly effortless. He seemed to do well at school. He was reportedly "very interested in civics and social issues". He was a gymnast. He took tango classes for many years, toying with the idea of becoming a professional dancer. He went to the Agricultural University of Athens and took a degree in chemistry, specialising in food technologies. He came out and got a job as an inspector in a food processing plant. But even then, he was already active in his uncle's youth movement. Soon enough, he began drifting ever-more under its spell. He rose very quickly. Some would say too quickly. He has been the cause of a lot of in-fighting within the Golden Dawn because of this very rapid rise from the youth part of the party to his present position as spokesman.
“I don't think anything went wrong or right with him,” says Athens-based journalist Matthaios Tsimitakis. “You have to understand: fascism has deep roots in this country. During the 20th century we had two dictatorships and a civil war. So there were people who co-operated with the Nazis. And these people may have been silent for decades, but as we've seen in other parts of the world, that doesn't mean that they don't exist. So this guy just brings to the surface sentiment and reflexes that were already there, underground.”
That diverse list of hobbies didn't die at the gates of his thuggy new career. In 2010, Kasidiaris began writing books. Sector X was his first novel. Apparently it's about: "the last zone of resistance in a fractured frontier". A place where the sort of true patriots who "resist assimilation" will be hanging out when race-war judgement day arrives. Sector X was the infamous counter-resistance group of Greek collaborators in World War II, who were tasked with hunting down and summarily executing partisans. One of the most popularly notorious photos of Kasidiaris shows him standing next to a Sector X poster, giving a fascist salute. The book is the first of a planned series of "eight historical novels for eight battles, where the spirit of the warrior and the virtues of war are outlined in their true dimension, at a both physical and metaphysical level". Cripes. At its launch, Michaloliakos made particular reference to how it represented a new type of literature, because it's written by a real man, a man of action, rather than a beard-stroking, pointy-headed communist intellectual. I think it’s fair to assume Michaloliakos prefers Andy McNab to Virginia Wolf.
Taking a leaf out of Mussolini's book, he seems to be actively cultivating his Renaissance man schtick. “I think it's deliberate,” agrees Tsimistakis. “It's part of their education. Don't forget that fascism and Nazism are complete ideologies, and they are rooted in literature and ideas about human perfectibility, so they are just continuing the tradition. These are not just guys who use these ideologies as a cloak, they really are fully-rounded fascists.”
A typical Kasidiaris speech, where he describes immigrants as "subhuman".
In the midst of all this publicity, there remains a kind of enigma to Kasidiaris. Domestically, he seems to live quite a closed, disciplined lifestyle, ascetic bordering on eccentric. He still lives with his parents in the suburbs of Athens. If he has girlfriends, they're kept under wraps. The closest he has come to being "linked" with anyone was being photographed on holiday with the Greek triple-jumper expelled from the London Olympics for her racist tweets. He seems wedded to the cause instead. Is he a genius at PR who is bright enough to know how to play dumb? Or are we over-thinking this: Is he just plain D-U-M dumb, and so will soon enough hoist himself on his own petard?
“I'm not sure he is intelligent,” Stamou considers. “But he's definitely changed the debate. He's just not very well-informed. He only ever has the same three points for everything. His language is in the gutter. But that is enough for the youth. It's a fashion thing now. The young people follow winners. They go to the gyms and they have very nice bodies. He looks like a winner. So he has made these things more acceptable.”
Tsimistakis disagrees: “Yes, I would say he's intelligent. Not just him. The Golden Dawn has given us many figures who are intelligent in that sense. In my opinion, fascism is an ideological thing, but it is also a kind of sickness. These people have the basics completely wrong, but they still have complex ideas. So, there are many of them who present books, literary books, ideological books and have formed an intricate, but completely backwards, world view.”
“I think he's about as intelligent as the other members of the Golden Dawn,” Dimokidis suggests. “But his looks are more than that. He has become something of a pin-up boy – a twisted sex symbol in Greece for some women and some gay men. I read on his Facebook hundreds of girls saying: 'You're adorable, You're a hunk.' In an organisation of very strange faces, he has a very boy-next-door face. So he makes these things acceptable.”
Whichever view you take of the blancmange in his head, it's obvious he's going to be with us for a while yet. His uncle is only 55, yet already Kasidiaris is known as "The Protege". He has proven his talent for making things happen, and for making himself known when they do. He is the empty vessel that makes the loudest noise, which, in politics, is sometimes all you need to be. I imagine that soon enough he’s going to make it impossible for anyone in Europe to forget his name.
Follow Gavin on Twitter: @hurtgavinhaynes
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