Head of the Golden Dawn, Nikos Mihaloliakos, being escorted to court in Athens. (Photo by Alexandros Katsis)
Perhaps we shouldn't have celebrated the demise of the Golden Dawn quite so quickly. Last week, the arrest of over 20 members of the ultra-nationalist party – including leader Nikos Michaloliakos and five other MPs – on charges of belonging to a criminal organisation led everyone to believe that Greece's New Democracy had finally got their shit together, that they were ready to tackle the violent firm of homophobic Holocaust deniers who've somehow found themselves holding 18 seats in parliament.
But the bail of three MPs on Wednesday morning demonstrated that maybe the Greek justice system wasn't quite as ready as everybody had hoped; that maybe putting a case of flimsy evidence together in a week wasn't enough to keep everyone detained.
Given the weight of the charges (two murders, three attempted murders, several counts of aggravated assault, human trafficking and kidnappings, among others), the court's decision to temporarily release the suspects back onto the streets doesn't bode particularly well for both the prosecution's case against the party or, arguably, the state of Greece's justice system in general.
One of those three bailed MPs is Ilias Kasidiaris, Golden Dawn spokesperson, alleged getaway driver and televised slapper of women. To the prosecutors' further ridicule, it appears that the neo-Nazi Renaissance man has discovered the identity of one of the protected witnesses who testified against the party, reportedly because of a leak from inside the prosecutor's office.
With that under their belts, Kasidiaris and his two colleagues are free to get back to the kind of intimidation and violence they've made their names in, already slapping a BBC cameraman and kicking a Reuters photographer between them after their respective releases. Party leader Michaloliakos hasn't been as lucky as his liberated comrades, and was jailed pending trial along with another MP.
Golden Dawn MP Ilias Panagiotaros after being released on bail.
The charge that the Golden Dawn are a criminal organisation was convenient because it allowed the court to arrest senior members and charge them as accomplices to all the crimes allegedly committed by those below them in the party. Assuming that was the idea – and given the fact that Kasidiaris and the two other bailed MPs are senior members of the party – why is it that they've been released pending trial?
I put that to Anny Paparousou, a lawyer who has previously worked on a case where charges of forming a criminal organisation were brought against her client, an alleged member of the anarchist group Conspiracy of the Cells of Fire (CCF).
VICE: Hi Anny. What do you think of the Golden Dawn members' release?
Anny Paparousou: The release of the Golden Dawn MPs definitely shifts the weight of the trial. I personally, as a lawyer, would consider this a positive development for a client of mine, because it raises the question of reasonable doubt in the public's mind.
Do you share the fear that the case was put together too quickly?
It definitely was – they put it together in a week. Despite the fact the cases were known for quite some time and we had many individual incidents, the Greek legal system failed to pursue them at the time. It’s not right to hold back like this and then move procedures forward at will. Maybe they have a tight case that will bring them down when the time comes, but I don’t know. I can only comment on the data available.
In your experience – including the CCF trials – has there ever been a case where someone charged with forming a criminal organisation was released pending trial?
I’ve not heard of anyone being released after being charged with heading a criminal organisation, no. At least, not in my knowledge. The usual treatment is detention until they go to trial [like Michaloliakos]. We saw that with anarchists, we saw that with CCF and we saw it in other cases as well.
Do you think it’s good that we have all these leaks of testimonies and reports from inside the prosecutor’s office?
I'm not sure. It’s good because it builds public pressure. But all this noise has its negatives as well; the leaked name of the witness is a scandal. But we already knew him before his name was accidentally exposed. One of the leaked reports was his testimony, which included all his personal data, despite the fact names had been deducted. Someone like Kasidiaris could probably find out who he is anyhow.
What do you think of the charges that have been brought against them?
They're shaky and too general. It unties the hands of judges who need to bring in the big heads of various criminal organisations, but it serves as an excuse to hold people for a long time and with little evidence. I believe people should be brought in on individual, tight cases, not under a general umbrella law.
Supporters protesting against the Golden Dawn arrests. (Photo by Alexandros Katsis)
Suggestions have been made that the government were rushed to make the arrests in light of Greece's upcoming presidency of the EU council, as well as the fact that Prime Minister Antonis Samaras presumably wanted a bit of positive PR before his visit to the US this week. Unfortunately, if those allegations are true, it's likely that the short-sighted crackdown may eventually prove beneficial to the Golden Dawn – with the potential for the case to fall apart on the lack of legitimate evidence.
So what next? If the case flops, the Golden Dawn could arguably carry on picking up support in the polls, which would be catastrophic for the country's future. And despite the fact they've ultimately benefitted Greece's immigrant population and any other citizens who don't like the idea of violent thugs having a say in their parliament, the methods used to bring in the Golden Dawn suspects don't exactly hold positive implications for the rest of the country, either.
Prosecutors kept repeating that the arrests had been made after "the Prime Minister gave the order", which doesn't say much for Greece's supposedly independent justice system. And after the orders were given, it emerged that the phones of certain Golden Dawn MPs were wiretapped by Greek secret police without anyone issuing a warrant. In a country where wiretappings have already risen by 1,050 percent in the last five years, this is very worrying news for the other primary enemy of the Greek state: Political activists.
The same law used to accuse the Golden Dawn of being a criminal organisation has already been used against 27 activists who were trying to stop a Canadian gold mining company from destroying an ancient forest and devastating the local economy. Meaning New Democracy could realistically try to manipulate this law – or others, like withholding the funding of parties that are under investigation, but not formally convicted, by the public prosecutor – to attack their rival parties. Like the radical-left Syriza, for example, who the government often like to associate with terrorism.
One high-ranking New Democracy advisor, Chrysanthos Lazaridis, has claimed that "Syriza and Golden Dawn are the same", while Failos Kranidiotis – unofficial advisor and personal friend to Prime Minister Samaras – has taken to every major news outlet to make statements like, "we need to get rid of both extremes" and "you got your dead [respectfully referring to the murder of leftist, antifascist rapper Pavlos Fyssas by an alleged Golden Dawn member], but we cleaned our house".
That New Democracy have cleared parliament of a physical Golden Dawn presence for the moment isn't a bad thing. But we mustn't let the brief sigh of relief keep us under the illusion that everything's going to get better. Greece is still a country with an ailing justice system and detention camps where migrants are being incarcerated and allegedly abused while the government wait to repatriate them. And while using the criminal organisation law to deliver a blow to the Golden Dawn might have been a worthy act, there's no telling how Samaras will use it next.
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