Greece urged to 'take action' on neo-Nazi party
Europe's human rights watchdog has said Greece should consider banning the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn party for its violence, racism and hate-filled rhetoric against immigrants.
The Strasbourg-based Council of Europe says Greece needs to curb the activities of those who advocate racism and hate “including parties such as the neo-Nazi ‘Golden Dawn,' on which it should be possible to impose effective penalties or prohibition, if necessary.”
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The conclusions were among many made in a 36-page report on Greece released on Tuesday (16 April) by the council’s top human rights commissioner, Nils Muiznieks.
Muiznieks, who visited Greece in January of this year, says two people stabbed a Pakistani migrant worker to death in Athens a few days before his arrival. One of the assailants was linked to Golden Dawn.
Another migrant with severe wounds had the Greek Golden Dawn initials "XA" cut into his back.
The once fringe party shot to prominence in 2012 when it won seven percent of the votes in elections and sent 21 deputies to Greek parliament. It won 0.23 percent of the vote in the previous election.
Several Golden Dawn MPs have been involved in racist and violent attacks against immigrants, with the police documenting 17 such incidents between June and October 2012.
Among the more notable Golden Dawn deputies are Panayotis Iliopoulos and Georgios Yermenis.
Both had their parliamentary immunity stripped in October 2012 following reports they allegedly attacked migrant vendors near Athens in September. A number of stalls had been destroyed during their ‘inspection’ to root out undocumented traders.
"We did not break any stalls, it is just that some goods found themselves on the ground,” spokesperson Elias Kasidiaris at the time told Skai TV.
Kasidiaris’ immunity was also stripped after he was charged with robbery and causing bodily harm in a separate incident dating back to 2007.
“What is also particularly worrying is that from statements made by the party’s leadership and ideological documents available on its official website it is clear that ‘Golden Dawn’ is a party that is against parliamentary democracy, and treats it with contempt,” notes the Council of Europe report.
The group's current head is Nikolaos Michaloliakos who maintained ties with the leadership of the 1967-74 right-wing military junta in Greece. He was also convicted for involvement in terrorist bomb explosions in Athens in 1978.
Michaloliakos edited the Golden Dawn magazine when it first came out in December 1980 and has made a number of glowing references to Nazi Germany.
An article published in 1987 by Michaloliakos on white supremacy ends with "Heil Hitler!" written out in full capital letters.
While the anti-immigrant rhetoric is more extreme in the Golden Dawn party, it is not exclusive to that party.
Mainstream political faction, including prominent leaders like Prime Minister Antonis Samaras, have also made populist remarks regarding immigrants.
Samaras in November spoke of an on-going “recuperation” by the Greek authorities of city centres from irregular migrants who had “occupied” them.
Other statements are more direct.
In August, the Greek minister of public order and citizen protection likened the number of irregular migrants who had entered the country to an “invasion” and to “a bomb on the foundations of the society and the state.”
Greece, for its part, recognises that racism is a problem but describes it as a marginal phenomenon.
The government says it has taken significant measures to stop the hate crimes, including setting up an anti-racism prosecutor in Athens as well as some 70 anti-racist police units.
The government also notes, in a nine-page response to Muiznieks’ report, that dealing with groups like Golden Dawn which have legally found their way into parliament “is a complexity in itself for obvious reasons related to the function of democratic polity."