Torn between his hatred for Nazis and the need to lure right-wing voters from the extremist Golden Dawn party to his New Democracy Conservatives, Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras vacillated before taking action against them until it was too late to stop their rise in popularity, a scathing report in the Wall Street Journal claims.
Samaras, whose great-grandmother Penelope Delta, a patriotic children’s author, committed suicide in 1941 on the day when invading Germans raised the swastika over the Acropolis, ignored soaring numbers of assaults against immigrants critics said were carried out by the extremists, who had risen from obscurity to gain 18 seats in Parliament and nearly 7 percent of the vote in the 2012 elections Samaras won, but without enough of the vote to have a majority in Parliament.
That forced Samaras to bring in his political rivals, the PASOK Socialists and the Democratic Left (DIMAR) but the report said he kept one eye on Golden Dawn as it continued to jump in public support to nearly double the vote it won as advisors told him not to act against them, fearing a backlash against a constituency the Conservatives wanted.
The Journal, citing interviews with investigators and politicians, as well as members and alleged victims of Golden Dawn, show those showed how the authorities hesitated to respond to the party’s growing violence, amid fears for their voter base.
An important factor, said some, was the prime minister’s split political personality. Samaras was reared by a liberal mother from Athens’ commercial aristocracy and a right-wing father from a poor anti-Communist village. His career has swung between fiery nationalist rhetoric and statesmanlike sobriety, the paper noted.
But his base was a faction on New Democracy’s right wing, which grew alarmed as supporters drifted into Golden Dawn’s arms. To win them back, some of his advisers argued, New Democracy needed to shun any anti-fascist drive and show it was the true home for voters who favored clamping down on immigration and unruly left-wing protests.
“We didn’t pay too much attention to stabbings of immigrants, because they were not in the press, and prosecutors didn’t pay enough attention” either, a senior official of Samaras’s party told the paper. “It was not a priority.”
The Journal also said that a year ago, the head of a human-rights advisory body, Kostis Papaioannou, presented its annual report to a close prime ministerial adviser, Takis Baltakos, Papaioannou said Baltakos opened at a chapter on racist violence and threw it on the table, saying, “We are not interested in the human rights of foreigners.”
It wasn’t until the September murder of a 34-year-old anti-fascist hip-hop artist for which a Golden Dawn member was charged that Samaras had finally had enough and ordered a roundup of the party’s leaders on charges of operating a criminal gang, although some analysts said that too could backfire.
Golden Dawn denies any wrongdoing for anything and denies it is a neo-Nazi party although its leader – Nikos Michaloliakos who is still in detention along with several other in the hierarchy pending trial – adores Hitler and has cited the Nazi manifesto as a way to conduct politics and rid Greece of its enemies, including all illegal immigrants and foreigners. Golden Dawn wants only people with 100 percent Greek blood from both parents going back to to ancestral times to be allowed to live in Greece.
After the arrests of its leaders, including six of its lawmakers, Golden Dawn retreated as polls showed its support waning but has begun to rebound. On Nov. 30 it conducted a rally outside Parliament demanding the release of those in jail and recent polls show it’s coming back as the government has again waffled on how to dismantle it.
Legal experts who spoke to the Journal said that proving the speedily assembled case will be hard. Many observers say that if the prosecution fails, the radical party could hit new heights of popularity,
Golden Dawn says the effort is a conspiracy against it, led by “the European Commission, the U.S. government and the Israeli lobby,” in the words of party spokesman Ilias Kasidiaris, a lawmaker who has a swastika tattoo on his shoulder.
Meanwhile, members of Greece’s anti-terrorism squad on Dec. 5 searched the homes of three Golden Dawn deputies, local media report in a growing probe that has led authorities to Crete as well.
The three ultra-nationalist MPs – Stathis Boukouras, Giorgos Germenis, Panayiotis Iliopoulos – face charges for participating and managing a criminal organization. Greek lawmakers voted to lift their immunity last month.
Other reports said that another 12 people are likely to be added to the list of Golden Dawn supporters suspected of committing a range of crimes that had not been officially linked to the party until now.
Incidents which are set to be added to the case file include the murder of a 27-year-old Pakistani man on his way to work in Athens on January 17 this year. He was stabbed by two men on a motorcycle. Two suspects aged 25 and 29 were arrested. Golden Dawn fliers were found at one of the men’s houses.
Another incident allegedly connected to the party is the near-fatal stabbing of a 17-year-old pupil outside a school in Neo Faliro, southern Athens, in January. One of the two men arrested, aged 20, has since been identified as having links to Golden Dawn.
The party’s deputy leader, Christos Pappas, failed on Dec. 4 in his bid to be granted conditional release from pretrial custody. Earlier this week, Michaloliakos also had his request turned down.