[MGSA-L] GOLDEN DAWN DIARY

June Samaras june.samaras at gmail.com
Thu Nov 27 19:24:51 PST 2014


http://www.lrb.co.uk/v36/n23/alexander-clapp/diary

Diary
Alexander Clapp

In Kalamata I introduce myself as an American neo-fascist with a strong
interest in Greek history. Sceptically at first, later with fervour, a few
members of the Golden Dawn invite me to attend meetings. Their offices tend
to be located off main squares, usually in residential buildings in quiet
neighbourhoods. Large Greek flags hang on the walls, along with news
clippings and redrawn maps: Greece in possession of Skopje and bits of
Bulgaria, Greece in possession of northern Turkey, Greece in possession of
Cyprus and southern Albania. Swastikas (‘ancient Greek symbols’) are
everywhere: on pencil-holders, clock faces, a paperweight. On the walls of
a room in Gytheio there are reproductions of Hitler’s watercolours. Last
autumn, two Dawners were gunned down by Athenian anarchists. Their profiles
are pasted on refrigerators and desk drawers. No one says their names. They
are just the Athanatoi, the ‘deathless ones’. Kala palikaria itan, the
older Dawners murmur. ‘Those were good lads.’ They cross themselves.

Meetings last two hours. Dawners spend the first hour talking and drinking
instant coffee; a lecture follows. Some offices will play black metal
albums by Naer Mataron, the unofficial party band. (Giorgos Germenis, a
Golden Dawn MP, is the bassist; Dawners call him ‘Kaiadas’, after the gorge
where the Spartans tossed their unfit newborn.) We gather in a few rows of
chairs. The Dawn hymn is handed out, sometimes accompanied by a recent
article by Nikolaos Michaloliakos, Dawn’s founder. The party’s website has
been revived – WordPress shut it down after it kept posting threats to
journalists – but the Dawners prefer print. There are two party weeklies,
the Wednesday Chrysi Avgi and the Saturday Empros, as well as the
Maiandros, a monthly cultural review. Each has a circulation of roughly
3500. Most Dawners wear black at meetings; shorts and sandals are
prohibited. About one in four attendees is a woman; I’ve seen kids on two
occasions: three teenage girls in Athens and a family of five in Gytheio.
The men are big. Dawners like to stress the importance of exercise: they
run martial arts camps in the Taygetos Mountains, send a team to the Athens
marathon, and claim not to watch television.

Small talk wheels around percentages. The average Dawner can rattle off the
party’s electoral results in every Greek prefecture; ‘536,442’ is pinned to
a wall in many offices: it’s the number of Greeks who voted for the party
in May’s European elections. For all their contempt for democratic
procedures, the Dawners believe they will one day take over Greece by
democratic means. They are not putschists. Their power will come from a
grass-roots movement. ‘Every election, the media writes us off,’ the Dawn
MP Ilias Panagiotaros told me in Athens, ‘and every election we prove them
wrong.’ The Volos Dawners ferry out to the Sporades to discuss policy in
grocery stores. The Megarans make speeches in the village square. The
Athenians distribute flyers to tourists on the Acropolis.

The party pushes its anti-immigration programme not simply because it
believes in it, but because it’s popular among Greeks generally. Dawners
ambush immigrants about once a week. They call these raids krypteia,
‘secret things’. Most attacks are ordered by the top brass and pinpointed
by hour and neighbourhood. Party violence is rarely random. Dawn texting
groups and Facebook threads are used to home in on three or four
immigrants. A Bangladeshi barber I met in Metaxourgeio said that Dawners
mimic the Greek police: they roll up in pairs on white motorcycles,
helmeted and decked out in black armour. The party doesn’t go after the
illegals in immigrant neighbourhoods; it targets those who have strayed
into middle and upper-class areas, where the residents are less welcoming.
Dawners generally don’t kill. They break a few limbs in lightning-quick
strikes. Last September a Dawn truck driver stabbed an Athenian rapper
named Pavlos Fyssas to death in Piraeus. The uncharacteristic murder of a
Greek – immigrants don’t count – triggered a government investigation into
the party. Sixty top Dawners are now facing criminal charges in trials
which began in November.

Achilles, a burly hull inspector from Piraeus, invited me to a meeting on
Salamis. Some time after eight o’clock, the chapter head entered the room.
We rose, bolted our arms to our sides and clapped our right heels against
the floor. In came the guest lecturer, a boxy, middle-aged Athenian lawyer
called Tasos Dimitrakopoulos. He nodded to the chapter head, adjusted his
wire glasses and stepped up to the podium. His black blazer was studded
with swastikas. Agapimenoi mou Sunagonistes kai Sunagonistries. ‘My dear
brothers and sisters-in-arms.’ Within 15 minutes he’d carefully unpicked
the legacy of Konstantinos Karamanlis, the man who restored Greece’s
democracy in 1974. What did Karamanlis actually do for Hellenism? First, he
rooted the nationalists out of parliament. Then he cosied up to the West.
Cyprus was left to fend for itself, the old communist guard was
reintegrated, and taxes skyrocketed. Seven years later, the left came to
power. Debt and immigration soared. Education was secularised. The military
was de-clawed. ‘None of those problems existed under the Junta,’ Achilles
whispered to me. ‘The Colonels just built roads.’

We stood up and recited the three Dawn dicta: zito o Archigos! (‘long live
the Leader!’); zito i Chrysi Avgi! (‘long live Golden Dawn!’); zito i
Ellada! (‘long live Greece!’). We sang the Greek national anthem, then the
Dawn hymn. ‘Trackers of ancient glories, Sons of brilliant struggles, We
are the New Spartans!’ Then we dispersed and headed home. On the stairwell
I passed Dawners changing out of their black party garb into street clothes.

At each of Dawn’s 62 chapters there are four or five ‘members’. These are
the party busybodies: village lawyers, family doctors, shopkeepers. For the
first hour they stay together in a side room. During the lecture they weave
in and out of the periphery, taking photos or monitoring the Q&A session.
‘What about the Polytechnic rising? Didn’t the university students first
derail the Junta?’ someone asked Dimitrakopoulos. ‘No,’ he answered,
drumming his fingers against the podium. ‘That was a bit of New Democracy
revisionism.’ Every chapter also has a few ‘soldiers’. They are uniformed –
green cargo pants, laced-up boots, black swastika T-shirts – and aren’t
necessarily the toughest Dawners. Some are unshaven, grizzly former police
officers, their teeth stained by tobacco. One is tasked with guarding the
front door. Another scouts the street from the office balcony. Ordinary
Greeks have a habit of honking their car horns in protest outside party
offices.

Dawn money doesn’t leave Athens. Trucks bring the countryside chapters
office supplies and groceries for the party’s food handouts. The Dawn’s
role as a social movement is often passed over in press accounts, but
historically it’s typical of any fascist party infrastructure. The party
provides bodyguards to pensioners going to cashpoints. There are
blood-donor drives for ethnic Greeks. It gives prescriptions and medical
aid to the homeless. Dawners assault employers who hire immigrants in
preference to Greeks. In a country with ineffective – or vanishing – public
services, these measures are important enough to make many Dawn voters look
past the party’s veneration of Hitler.

The Dawn also instils pride in being Greek at a time when many Greeks would
like to leave the country. This lends credibility to its anti-immigrant
stance. Chapters throughout Greece have attempted to buy patches of
historic land – a beach facing the straits of Salamis, obscure battlefields
from the Balkan Wars – and erect national monuments. They offer to do this
out of their own pockets, though local mayors almost invariably deny their
requests. Four times a year Dawners from all over Greece gather in Athens
and Thermopylae for historical commemorations. The chapter head leads the
cohort, waving the office flag. The Dawners from Arcadia parade next to
those from Lacedaemonia, who march beside the ones from Messenia. It’s a
fascist Catalogue of Ships.

Golden Dawn is run from the top. Nikolaos Michaloliakos issues all major
commands. He’s currently awaiting trial in Korydallos Prison outside
Athens. His framed portrait presides over every meeting. No one refers to
him by his name. He is o Archigos Mas, ‘Our Leader’. Around him is a tight
circle of relatives and longtime associates. Below this rung sits the
Council, approximately sixty Dawners who oversee the opening of new party
cells and the refining of the Dawn’s ideology. Every three years they’re
elected by the Congress, composed of the roughly three hundred chapter
members from all over Greece. The Council in turn votes in two further
vertebrae of the party: the ethics and audits committees. The former
disciplines Dawners who publicly fail to adhere to party ideals. The latter
drafts the party budget. There’s also a political committee – five Dawners
handpicked by Michaloliakos to manage the party’s day-to-day operations –
and a five-man task force in charge of background checks.

A disproportionate number of those in the top ranks come from the Mani, a
small spit of land in the southern Peloponnese, roughly half the size of
Cornwall. Golden Dawn has close ties with the region. Michaloliakos is
descended from a famous Maniot clan; a great-grandfather was a hero in the
1821 Revolution. Maniots have nicknamed the Dawn the G, the ‘Maniot Party’.
Priests in Gytheio blessed the opening of the town’s Dawn chapter; the
bishop of Sparta enjoins his parish to vote Dawn. When Dawn MPs travel to
Areopoli, they are welcomed as celebrities; approving crowds attend their
meetings; shots are fired from antique pistols. In some parts of the Mani,
50 per cent of the villagers have voted for the party. ‘Maniatika’, a
section of Piraeus settled by Maniot families in the 1950s, is probably the
most Dawn-heavy neighbourhood in the whole of Greece. No other far-right
Greek party – LAOS, Independent Greeks – has a regional backing of this
sort.

The guiding ideology of the Dawn is rooted in the Greek Civil War. At that
time the great division in Greek society – broadly speaking, between
Venizelists and anti-Venizelists, or republicans and monarchists – was
overwhelmed by a more brutal conflict between communists and
anti-communists. The Peloponnese has always been staunchly royalist and
anti-communist, more vehemently so as one goes farther south. It was
politicians of the right who reconstructed the state after the Civil War,
which all but destroyed the left. Many were from the Peloponnese, and had
collaborated with the Nazis. They were funded and rearmed by the British
and Americans to finish off what the Germans had started: hunting down the
communist andartes, the Elas bands who did the lion’s share of the
resistance. Many of the Dawners’ fathers were present at the Dekemvriana,
the first skirmish on the streets of Athens in 1944.

In many ways the Junta, which ruled from 1967 to 1974, marked a return to
the Nazis’ wartime regime in Greece. Several Colonels had served in the
German ‘security battalions’; Georgios Papadopoulos, the head of the Junta,
had been one of the chief Nazi collaborators in the northern Peloponnese.
Golden Dawn represents the Junta’s last gasp. In 1973, when Michaloliakos
met Dawn’s current ideologues, he was a member of the 4 August Party, a
fringe movement named after the day in 1936 when Ioannis Metaxas, the
prewar fascist dictator, seized the state. Michaloliakos joined when he was
16. The members of 4 August tended to be former German sympathisers and
Nazi nostalgics (Metaxas himself was neither). Ten years later,
Michaloliakos put together Golden Dawn. ‘We started in a Leninist way,’ he
once told a reporter: ‘We decided to issue a newspaper, the Golden Dawn,
and to build a party around it.’ There were 12 contributors. Until the
mid-1980s, it remained a highly secretive neo-Nazi club. It took cues from
other Third Reich revivals around Europe – notably Cedade, a fascist
gathering in Spain. But it also had a legitimate link to the Junta.
Michaloliakos had founded the Dawn under the guidance of Colonel
Papadopoulos, his boyhood hero. The two met in Korydallos Prison after
Papadopoulos had been overthrown and a young Michaloliakos had been caught
attacking anarchist cinemas with grenades.

Golden Dawn has done its best to reactivate Greece’s mid-century tensions.
Dawners everywhere have attempted to rehabilitate Metaxas – when they
discovered a statue of the dictator in a sewer on Kefalonia in 2012 they
tried to haul it to the central square of Argostoli. They’ve rallied more
effectively around the Civil War. Last autumn columns of Dawners in black
shirts and boots marched into the cemetery at Meligala, a small Messenian
village where a ceremony was being held to honour the Partisans. They
entered in military step, shoved the mayor from his podium, called him a
karagiozis – ‘jackass’ – and delivered their own version of events. ‘Those
who govern us now are traitors to the fatherland,’ Kasidiaris announced.
Dawners have wreaked havoc on other Civil War ceremonies and hold an annual
rally for Georgios Grivas, the Cypriot commander of the ‘Chi’, a Civil War
militia that patrolled the Peloponnese knocking off suspected communists.
When party thugs file into Athenian neighbourhoods to crack leftist skulls,
it isn’t dressed up as ‘street cleaning’. It’s called emphulios, ‘civil
war’.

For Golden Dawn, the Civil War isn’t over. For the Mani, nothing is over.
The region is a pre-modern bubble or oasis, depending on your view: it’s
monitored by a single police officer and remains virtually untouched by
industry and tourism. A variety of historical epochs converge there –
ancient Sparta, the Byzantine revival at Mystras, the Civil War – but the
region is most revered for having resisted the Turks. The concept of
adouloti, ‘un-slavery’, is found everywhere: in the names of Maniot stores,
squares, the Areopoli newspaper and the local Dawn newsletter. This partly
explains the regional fixation with ethnic purity. Maniots call themselves
‘clean Greeks’, uncontaminated by foreign rule. If the idea of everyone
belonging to the same race ‘means “racism” then yes, we’re racists,’
Kasidiaris told an audience in Gytheio last March.

Even today Maniots are like characters out of Kazantzakis novels who growl
audibly and gnash their teeth at outsiders. This summer I hitchhiked to
Michaloliakos’s house in Korogonianika, a tiny smattering of stone towers
somewhere in the Deep Mani. I was picked up by Romanos, a 22-year-old
Maniot who claimed to be Michaloliakos’s nephew. We bounced over dirt roads
in his agrotiki, a pickup truck used to haul boulders and cattle. He smoked
and slugged back a few cans of beer as we made our way down to the
southernmost crag of continental Europe. The Maniots, Romanos explained,
are a ‘single family’ and an ‘open mafia’. To leave the Mani is to ‘turn
Vlach’ – ‘to become an idiot’.

The Mani’s peculiarly violent and nonconformist culture has infused Golden
Dawn. For centuries Maniot families feuded among themselves – one reason
the region’s villages are mostly empty today. The vendettas dragged on for
generations. The last official feud ended forty years ago, with a shot to
the head near Dimaristika, but one still reads of knifings in Piraeus
alleyways and sighs of Maniatika pragmata, ‘Maniot matters’. When they
weren’t killing each other, Maniots were leading battalions to recover
Greece’s ancestral lands. Maniot vigilantes, frequently acting out of range
of Athenian oversight, won many of Greece’s victories over the Turks in the
Balkan Wars and the Cretan insurrections.

How do Maniot nationalists who obsess over Greek sovereignty reconcile
their views with the German Army’s onslaught on Greece in the Second World
War? It requires an acrobatic retelling of history. First, ‘Greece’ is an
idea, not a physical place – ‘Hellenism’. It is Orthodox, Greek-speaking,
neither Oriental nor Western, capitalist nor socialist, let alone
communist. Next, Dawn points to a lineage of heroes, military figures,
generally from the Peloponnese: the Spartan king Leonidas, the Byzantine
emperor Constantine XI Palaiologos, the Revolutionary captains Kolokotronis
and Mavromichalis, Metaxas, Colonel Papadopoulos. Many of them were undone
by fellow Greeks, which makes for a neat counter-lineage of traitors. As
long as there have been Greeks who’ve fought and died for Hellenism, there
have been Greeks determined to undermine it. The latter group includes,
above all, communists. They are everything true Greeks shouldn’t be –
atheists and internationalists. In the Second World War, Greece’s enemies
weren’t those who administered the country on behalf of the Nazis. They
were the Elas irregulars who banded together to convert a broken state into
a Stalinist fiefdom. It’s a charge similar to the one the Dawn now brings
against Syriza and the European Union.

The Dawn’s current Hitlerism is a reduced version of what it was in the
party’s early years. The name ‘Golden Dawn’ derives from a misreading of
Nazi mythology. The earliest Dawners believed that Hitler was a member of
the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, a secret society associated with
Yeats and Aleister Crowley. In the 1990s Michaloliakos shifted to a more
nationalist rhetoric, looking to draw votes with a hard-line stance on the
Macedonian issue. But the Nazi fascination never entirely went away. ‘The
fact that we now use the terms “nationalism”, “popular nationalism” and
“social nationalism” does not mean that we have changed our ideas,’ a 2006
Chrysi Avgi article says. ‘It is simply that we consider it more acceptable
to use these terms … given the ocean of propaganda over the last sixty
years.’ The party’s Nazism was also mixed into an obsession with ancient
Sparta. In July dozens of buses packed with Dawners descended on
Thermopylae for the party’s annual commemoration of Leonidas’ last stand.
There were fire-lit swastikas and knights’ crosses, fog machines, flares,
organ music, prayers for the martyred Athanatoi and a ludicrous role call
of the ancient Greek dead. But Dawners will coyly deny that the celebration
had any fascist or Nazi implications. The party’s ‘Nazism’ – the Hitler
salute, the youth columns, the translated SS chants, the swastika – is just
an attempt to reclaim what Germany’s fascist intellectuals lifted from the
classical Greeks: ancient Dorian gestures, Spartan training camps, pagan
hymns, vase decorations.

Present-day Germany, boxed into another intellectual category, which some
Dawners call the New World Order, is a quite different thing, a
conglomerate of banks, corporations and international governing bodies.
Merkel is the mistress of that order. Golden Dawn stands for Greek
self-sufficiency; other parties – even those who claim the mantle of the
far right – are conspiring with the Order to sell Greece’s assets to
foreign competitors.

I became a Dawner in order to find out more about the party than I could
from reading the Greek press. When I’m not going to meetings, I work
part-time at the Greek newspaper, Kathimerini. If you’re in the press, and
you want to meet members of the Golden Dawn, you have to undergo a long,
tedious process of introduction. Only a few freelancers have any sort of
amicable relationship with the party. They gave me the names of some
possible contacts. I called and waited weeks for the chance to interview
anyone not in jail. Finally, Ilias Panagiotaros, the husky Maniot who
currently administers the party day to day, slotted me in for a half-hour
appointment at parliament. I asked specific questions about the party’s
earliest known members. He shrugged and claimed never to have heard their
names. His description of Dawn operations contradicted much of what I’d
read. Then I arranged to have a press tour of Dawn’s headquarters on
Deligianni Street. The office was empty. I was handed a bottle of water and
sent away with a couple of party pamphlets.

Covering Golden Dawn can be dangerous for Greeks. In April 2012, one of my
colleagues at Kathimerini wrote an article arguing that the party should be
outlawed. Five days later, some Dawners posted a 2500-word response on the
party website. ‘They knew every detail about my life,’ she told me. ‘My
age, the age of my daughter, where I was born, where I’ve worked, my
previous articles. It concluded with a direct threat, written in German,
because I was born in Hamburg: “Watch out. We’re after you.”’ This isn’t
unusual: there are dozens of accounts of party members – even MPs – either
openly calling for journalists’ heads or punching them in public. The old
guard of the Junta remains well-entrenched in the Greek deep state; in
part, this explains how Dawn has been able to indulge its habit of street
violence. Even as the Dawn trials commence, the Greek police, secret
services, military and justice systems remain reluctant to take serious
action against the party. There is fear in parts of the judiciary that a
drawn-out trial won’t conclude in convictions and that the Dawn will
successfully present itself as the target of an unfair political system.
The deep state has stood in the way of any kind of wide-ranging discussion
about Golden Dawn – or the Junta legacy – in Greek society. It has also
allowed the Dawners to exercise some control over the story that’s told
about them. At Kathimerini, we’ve only had tepid editorials on the party,
or investigative pieces written almost exclusively from the immigrant
perspective.

In July I went to an office in the Piraeus to sign up for Golden Dawn’s
Thermopylae rally. They asked for my name – I gave a fake one – and then,
unexpectedly, my passport. I claimed not to have it. They found it after
searching my bag. During the Leonidas lecture, I saw the chapter head
Googling frantically in a closed back office. A few members marched back
and joined him. Something was loudly discussed. The lecturer stumbled
through the rest of his Herodotus sermon. Then I saw the chapter head pick
up the phone. I grabbed my bag, dashed past the soldiers, out the stairwell
and ran down the street. I took three different cabs home. I haven’t been
back.

-- 
June Samaras
2020 Old Station Rd
Streetsville,Ontario
Canada L5M 2V1
Tel : 905-542-1877
E-mail : june.samaras at gmail.com
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