A week after antifascist hip-hop singer Pavlos Fyssas was murdered in cold blood by a gang of Golden Dawn thugs, tens of thousands of antifascist protesters staged an impressive rally and marched on the Golden Dawn headquarters in Athens to confront the rising threat of fascism head on. Clashes briefly broke out after riot police prevented the march from reaching the party’s offices and began firing tear gas at protesters to disperse the crowd. Some molotov cocktails were thrown, some trash bins burnt and some bank windows thrown in, but overall the march remained mostly peaceful.
Today’s impressive show of force and numbers came amid a growing wave of popular outrage over the government’s continued insistence on austerity and its wilful reluctance to stem the rise of violent fascism this has produced. It also comes immediately on the heels of a 48-hour public sector strike against further budget cuts that will lead to the sacking of at least 12.500 civil servants in a country where unemployment already stands at 28% — higher even than the 25% peak experienced by the US during the Great Depression in 1933.
The new wave of social mobilization triggered by the murder of Pavlos Fyssas appears to have finally galvanized the ruling coalition into a much-belated crackdown on the openly neo-Nazi party and its sympathizers within the state apparatus. The government has announced its intention to charge any politicians involved in the attacks under anti-terrorism legislation and has proposed cutting off state funding for their parties. It also ordered the anti-terrorism unit and secret service to investigate Golden Dawn’s infiltration of the police and army.
Eight senior police officers were already sacked to guarantee the “objectivity” of the investigation — some of them accused of failing to give arrest orders for Golden Dawn members following their violent attacks — and two more resigned, citing “personal reasons”. Meanwhile, fascist sympathizers within the armed special forces now stand accused of clandestinely training Golden Dawn militias in the mountains and countryside. In a recent interview, one former Golden Dawn member claimed that the party has at least 3.000 men on standby — fully trained and armed with weapons “for when the time comes.”
This in turn raises fears over what would happen if the government were to move ahead in its crackdown. Even if its criminalization of Golden Dawn’s violent actions — perpetrated with the acquiescence and probably even under direct orders of party leader Nikolaos Michaloliakos — may eventually lead to its institutional dissolution, the question is what the party’s supporters will do. Of the 500.000 people who voted for Golden Dawn in last year’s elections, most will probably vote for the ruling conservative party of prime minister Samaras or the other far-right party, Independent Greeks, but some hard-core supporters may refuse to go down without a fight.
There are already some troubling signs that a further escalation of social tension might lie ahead. In a public statement, the daughter of Golden Dawn’s party leader publicly asked its members “to what extent they are ready to sacrifice themselves for the movement, to give their life.” But despite the fascist belligerence coming from the party’s leaders and its thugs, today the Greek left — both institutional and extra-parliamentary — showed its resolve in the face of the fascist threat and further increased the pressure on both Golden Dawn and the political establishment to stem the rising tide of fascism.
As official investigations by the Financial Crimes Unit show that Golden Dawn is actually being funded by a group of wealthy businessmen, ship-owners and priests, the party’s popular support is rapidly collapsing. One poll now indicates a 5.8% approval rating in the immediate wake of last week’s killing — down from its peak of 15% just a few weeks ago. Meanwhile, Golden Dawn has also been driven onto the defensive in its grassroots battle for control over the streets and neighborhoods. It was forced to postpone the launching of its new offices in Drama and Kavala while closing down its offices in Ierapetra and hiding its signboards from other offices throughout the country.
Today’s massive antifascist protest and the recent convergence of labor struggles in the public sector seem to mark the start a new wave of popular resistance to both neo-Nazism and the increasingly authoritarian neoliberal state under which it arose. But the fight against fascism is by no means over and unpredictable outcomes still lie ahead. With Athens in flames and the government increasingly under pressure, it is clear that some of the worst of Greece’s protracted crisis — which had already been confined to the dustbin by some — may still lie ahead.