It is two years since the murder of the Greek antifascist rapper Pavlos Fyssas. A detailed account and political analysis of the crime and the neo-Nazi organisation behind it, Golden Dawn, has been written by Thanasis Kampagiannis, one of the lawyers involved in the trial currently underway. This was first published in Left Flank
’18 September 2015 marked the second anniversary of the murder of Pavlos Fyssas by a Golden Dawn battalion squad in Keratsini. The antifascist explosion that followed the assassination was a catalyst for political developments, and Antonis Samaras’s government was forced to give the judiciary the signal to prosecute Golden Dawn as a criminal organisation. The austerity government of New Democracy (ND) and Pasok sacrificed its valuable — though repulsive — “black crutch” of fascism, just a few months after its “pink crutch” (the centre-left Dimar party) withdrew from the coalition after the closure of national broadcaster ERT. It was a political precursor to the collapse of Samaras-Venizelos government just over a year later, and the rise of Syriza to power.
But what was the reaction to the murder of Pavlos Fyssas? This question has been given many answers, from the Right and the Left. The mainstream media initially made a desperate attempt to present the murder as a random “argument over football”. However very quickly, and under the weight of testimonies and revelations, the involvement of the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn party could not be covered up.
The fascists themselves tried to present the murder as an “isolated incident” while pushing a conspiracy story that it was a “provocation”. Michalis Arvanitis, the Golden Dawn MP for Patras and a former advocate for I. Kalampokas (the right-wing ND thug who murdered teacher Nikos Temponeras during the school occupations of 1990-1991) called the Golden Dawn member Giorgos Roupakias — who stabbed Pavlos Fyssas — an “agent of the Communist Party” who was trying to incriminate Golden Dawn.
Theories of provocation found an unexpected ally in certain Left and anti-authoritarian circles. The murder of Fyssas was, for them, a state-led plan to smash the “two extremes” — first Golden Dawn (which “took votes from New Democracy”) and then the social movement and the radical Left. These theories tried to link the Greek political system and the state machine with the murder of Fyssas, but ended up absolving the leadership of Golden Dawn. The fascists grabbed those theories and used them to their advantage.
What was the murder of Fyssas, then? A random event? A plan by the leadership of Golden Dawn? Maybe something which went beyond a plan? Is there a link between the murder and the political system and state institutions, and — if so — what kind of link?
The crucial role of the battalion squads
The murder was part of the activity of the “battalion squads” of Golden Dawn, a phrase commonly used for the security bodies of the local organisations of the neo-Nazi organisation. Unlike the claims made in retrospect by its accused leaders, battalion squads were not “hot-blooded fans” of Golden Dawn or some isolated initiative of a local organisation. For a neo-Nazi group like Golden Dawn, building battalion squads on the model of the archetypal German Nazi party is central to its political project — something that differentiates it from other political parties, even extremely conservative ones.
In the case of the murder of Pavlos Fyssas, the perpetrators received an order by SMS from the head of Golden Dawn’s local organisation in Nikea, Giorgos Patelis, who used one of the organisation’s mobile phones. They received the message at 23:28 on 17 September 2013, a Tuesday evening . The recipients of the message were not random — they were all members of the “Security” of the local organisation. The Security was a permanent paramilitary structure with a given composition, uniforms, hierarchy, weapons, training, wireless, reports and rules of secrecy. The Security of Nikea was the best organised battalion of Golden Dawn, which is why it was used as a “wildcard” (a name given to it by the party’s MP Ilias Panagiotaros) in missions throughout Greece (e.g. openings of offices, training excursions, attacks, etc.).
Nikea Security Battalion had formed up within 20 minutes (by 23:50) at the organisation’s offices on Kesarias Road. They were equipped with batons, knuckle-dusters and knives. Battalion members learned of the intended target of the attack after being informed by members of Security who were already in the Coralli café in Keratsini, and they headed in a procession of cars and motorbikes to their destination.
Within 15 minutes, by 00:05 Wednesday morning, Fyssas was lying dead — stabbed three times by Roupakias, who was also a member of the five-member coordinating body of the local GD organisation in Nikea.
The battalion squad that night also included at least two paid Golden Dawn officials, the head of the local organisation (Patelis), and the head of the Security battalion (Yannis Kazatzoglou). The murder took place inside a circle of dozens of Golden Dawn members backing up Roupakias, some of them holding Fyssas down, and in the presence of at least eight armed police officers who never intervened. Dozens of terrified people watched the murder from the neighbouring streets or from their balconies . In a tragic rendering of a verse written by Fyssas, his death occurred “in public view” . The goal of the attack was to sow terror.
The picture of these events is now clear (and firmly established by the documents of the investigation) and we can ask some basic questions: how was the murder of Pavlos Fyssas made possible? And who is responsible for it, apart from those we know were directly involved?
The props of Golden Dawn in the state, capital and the political system
The relationship between fascists, the state machine and the overall system of economic and political power are historically well documented in Greece . We will not detail here the history of these relations, for either Golden Dawn or previous Greek fascist parties. It is well known that Golden Dawn is an organisation with close ties to the machinery of state and the secret service. It enjoyed the favour of powerful business interests (just one example: the conferences of Golden Dawn in Caravel Hotel were always an in-kind “sponsorship” by the Theodorakopoulos shipping family), and the political support of the traditional Right (two former deputy chiefs of the organisation, Haris Kousoumvris and Dimitris Zafiropoulos, have never denied the claim that organisational materials were printed with New Democracy’s expenses).
However, in considering 2012-2013, the period in which Golden Dawn built the battalion squads including that which killed Pavlos Fyssas, things are even more concrete.
Regarding the state: The battalion squads of Golden Dawn acted under the wing of state protection by ELAS, the Greek Police . The experiment began in central Athens after 2008, in Agios Panteleimonas, where the local police decided that the policing needs of the area would mean the action of Golden Dawn patrols as a supplementary force to that of the local department . But the generalisation of this experience came with the escalation of state racism against immigrants, and particularly with the launch of the “Xenios Zeus” project by Minister of the Interior Nikos Dendias in August 2012. The ELAS national headquarters’ specific aim was “to make life for immigrants hell” so that they would leave Greek territory, and the battalion squads of Golden Dawn were a friendly force allied to the police. This policy, expressed most clearly in the open cooperation of the heads of the police departments of Agios Panteleimonas and Nikea — Skaras and Giovanidis — with the respective local organizations of Golden Dawn, has a long history within the Greek state. Such cooperation goes back to the post Civil War period, with parastate bodies of “civilians” functioning to help the Gendarmerie in emergency situations.
One such body was the “Association” (known as the “Pin”) of former Nazi collaborator “Von Giosmas” in Thessaloniki. It was the organisation responsible for the assassination of Grigoris Lambrakis, an MP of the United Democratic Left, in 1963 . It is not accidental that Roupakias addressed the policemen who led him to the Keratsini police station, shortly after the murder of Fyssas, with the phrase: “I am one of yours, I am in Golden Dawn”.
Regarding capital: In 2013 Golden Dawn was able to take cooperation with business circles to a new level. Beyond the hiring of battalion squads by merchants and shopkeepers for “cleansing” an area of immigrants, or controlling the labour market in terms of national preference (raids in markets, attacks against immigrants’ shops, etc.), Golden Dawn achieved the most important contract in its history — the creation on behalf of shipowners of a “yellow” pro-employers union at the Ship-building Zone in order to break collective agreements, reduce labour costs, and achieve “industrial peace”. The hurdle to this project was obvious: the existing unions in the Zone belonging to the PAME trade union front. Tellingly, a few days after the attack on members of PAME and the KKE (Greek Communist Party) in Perama on 12 September 2013, and one day after the murder of Fyssas in Keratsini, the majority of Golden Dawn “union” members were hired by a company owned by the president of the association of ship-builders of Piraeus .
Regarding the political system: These connections with state institutions and employers were condensed in the political relationship that Golden Dawn enjoyed with the highest levels of the Samaras government, within the prime minister’s Maximos Mansion, in the person of the General Secretary of Government (similar to a cabinet secretary) Takis Baltakos. An old far-right-winger himself, Baltakos offered Golden Dawn first class political protection and functioned as a bulwark against members of the leading circle of New Democracy who sought a more aggressive policy against Golden Dawn.  This relationship had to be “secret” if it was to be in the interests of both parties — Golden Dawn had to display itself as anti-systemic, and therefore in opposition to New Democracy, at the same time as its actions gave the government the legitimacy of the “centre” against “both extremes” (i.e. Golden Dawn and Syriza). However, the relationship could not be denied. Former Dimar ministers have made public the threats from Maximos that if they withdrew from the coalition government, they would allow a government in cooperation with Golden Dawn (or maybe a “serious” version of it) to become possible.
Without the relationships that Golden Dawn had with the state, powerful business circles and the dominant political system, battalion squads could not have acted, let alone killed Pavlos Fyssas. However, the murder of Fyssas was not merely the expression of the subaltern position of the neo-Nazis to their patrons. In September 2013 the leadership of Golden Dawn unrolled its own, independent, political strategy.
The political project of the ‘Greek September’
Unlike ideological analyses that treat fascism only as “the long arm of the state and capital”, the fascist party is not just a “deep state”. It has its own political project, beyond the will of the politically and economically powerful. This is exactly what emerged in September 2013. During a lengthy period of economic, social and political crisis, with the government of ND-Pasok weakened and facing a new wave of discontent and workers’ struggles, Golden Dawn decided to seek an enhanced political role — an objective that would be achieved through the escalation of the violent actions of the organisation. The project of a “Greek September” (as it was baptised by an old member of the Greek far Right), part of which was the terrorising the neighbourhoods of Piraeus, was centrally organised and guided, like all of Golden Dawn’s activities.
The plan included widening the circle of victims of fascist violence. Instead of just foreign immigrants like the Egyptian Abouzid Embarak and the Pakistani Shahzad Luqman, the attacks would now have as their victims local trade unionists and antifascists, like Sotiris Poulikogiannis and Pavlos Fyssas. In terms of symbolism, Golden Dawn chose even to challenge the hegemony of the traditional Right in the annual “hate celebrations” at Vitsi and Meligala, at which the Right commemorates the victims of “red terror” and revels in its victory in the Civil War. The sequence of events and their orchestration by leaders of the organisation leave no doubt about the central planning.
On 1 September uniformed Golden Dawn members under the guidance of Panagiotaros ejected a New Democracy MP from the podium of the “memorial” in Vitsi. On 12 September, battalion squads of Golden Dawn were ordered by Lagos to attack the members of PAME and the KKE in Perama with murderous fury, smashing the head of the leader of the trade unions in the Ship-building Zone, Sotiris Poulikogiannis. On 15 September Golden Dawn, in full military array and dress, ejected leaders of the Right from the “memorial” of Meligala, taking it over themselves, and under the guidance of Kasidiaris, Lagos and Germenis, beat up other far-right organisations’ members (the president of the youth of LAOS and the president of the Patriotic Association of Larissa). On 17 September, the Security of Nikea attacked Pavlos Fyssas and his friends with murderous fury: he was known throughout the area for the antifascist lyrics of his songs.
The perpetrators of the murder of Pavlos Fyssas had been trained to carry out attacks like that of 17-18 September. They were fully aware of the immunity they enjoyed from law enforcement authorities. The experience of the “Greek September” itself offered them proof that the violent actions of Golden Dawn, either against the trade unionists of PAME or cadres of the Right, remained unpunished. Moreover, Nikea’s Security was present when MPs of the organisation were beating their rivals in Meligala. However, the decisive factor in the murder of Fyssas was the order coming from the offices of the organization, given by Patelis and Kazatzoglou under the direction of Lagos.
In an organisation that operates on the basis of the “Führerprinzip” (the “Leader Principle”), violation of a command given by a superior body constitutes disobedience to the “Chief” of the organisation himself.  For this reason, the battalion squad members of Nikea absolutely understood, while heading to Coralli, that what they were carrying out was the order of the Führer of the organisation, Nikos Michaloliakos. And this command they executed, murdering Pavlos Fyssas.
A plan that stumbled because of personal and collective resistance
But Golden Dawn’s plan of at once escalating violence and enhancing its political role failed. Instead of getting a step closer to power, the leaders of Golden Dawn found themselves behind prison bars. Michaloliakos had in the past been faced with criminal acts by GD members that “exposed” him (the greatest such moment was in 1998, after the attempted murder of the left-wing student Dimitris Koussouris by a battalion squad of the organisation led by its deputy leader, Periandros Androutsopoulos). So he used a tried and tested method: he “condemned” the murder; he professed ignorance about Roupakias, whom he characterized as had been a “passer-by” of the organisation; and he denounced the prosecution of GD as a criminal organization as “political persecution of a legal political party”.
But this time his method failed.
We need to be clear that it was resistance from below that defeated the Neo-Nazis’ project. First and foremost, we can never ignore the resistance of Pavlos Fyssas himself to the fascist raid. Although unarmed, Fyssas resisted the battalion squad that attacked him in order to protect his friends, but also to keep the territory of the neighborhood in which he grew up free. He refused to run away. This is not a matter of clichéd antifascist heroism. His personal and political stance, as it is described by his friends and comes out in the lyrics of his songs, was more that of social solidarity to fellow human beings than of an encompassing Leftist or anarchist ideology.  It was this attitude that determined that the killing didn’t take place in some dark alley, but in public view on Panagi Tsaldari Street. And it was he who succeeded, just before he died, in forcing the arrest of Roupakias by the otherwise apathetic police officers, when the offender attempted to flee and get into his car.
The goal of the fascist raid at Keratsini was to sow terror in the working class neighborhoods of Piraeus and to establish the reign of Golden Dawn. But the murder boomeranged on its perpetrators. Instead of terror, what was unleashed was an astonishing antifascist uprising in Keratsini the following day, and also throughout Greece. This majority antifascist tide built on the experiences of the antifascist movement that had confronted Golden Dawn in the previous 15 months during which it was in Parliament. The battalion squads had failed to control the neighborhoods and streets even before the assassination of Fyssas because of hundreds of antifascist rallies and activities that developed rapidly during 2012-2013. It is also noteworthy that the antifascist uprising after the murder also built upon the industrial action and workers’ strikes that were taking place, with the teachers’ indefinite strike being the most important one.
The antifascist explosion after Fyssas’s death created an acute dilemma for the government, which was faced with the risk of a new December 2008, when there was a nationwide youth uprising following the police murder of 15-year-old Alexis Grigoropoulos. If the cover provided by the state and the political system for Golden Dawn was not lifted (at least temporarily), New Democracy would jeopardise the stability of its government. Hence, Dendias was forced to send a list of “32 cases” to the Prosecutor of the Supreme Court, who ordered a preliminary investigation into the existence of GD as a criminal organisation.
Samaras might have afterwards attempted to portray himself as a “persecutor” of Nazism, but the reality is that the government and the state gave the leadership of Golden Dawn 10 precious days, from September 18 to 28, to destroy all incriminating evidence and to organise its defence. During these days, Secretary General of the Government Baltakos unsuccessfully attempted to sabotage the prosecution. According to an article in Kathimerini — always well-informed in such matters — on the one-year anniversary of the arrests: “a lawyer — a close associate of Baltakos — was day and night in the Courts trying to elicit information on the progress of the investigation”.  The contradictory messages sent to the judiciary by government ministers and from Maximos were not unrelated to the decision to releasethree Golden Dawn MPs, Kasidiaris, Panayiotaros and Michos.
However the persistence of the antifascist explosion, expressed in the huge demonstration of 25 September 2013 to the offices of the “Central Command” of Golden Dawn (especially as the Syriza leadership failed to reduce it into a “harmless” concert in Syntagma Square) determined that criminal proceedings would go ahead. On 28 September the leadership of Golden Dawn was arrested, while the next day the members of the Security of Nikea who participated in the murder of Fyssas were arrested as well. At the same time, the perpetrators of the attack against PAME were arrested (they had remained free up to that point!). Other cases on file were correlated, such as the attack on Egyptian fishermen in June 2012, which was now redefined as an attempted murder.
Justice for the victims of Golden Dawn
20 April 2015 marked the beginning of the trial of Golden Dawn before the Three-Member Court of Felonies in Athens. In addition to the murder of Pavlos Fyssas, the attempted murder of the Egyptian fishermen and trade unionists of PAME are being co-tried, along with charges of belonging to a criminal organisation, the direction of which is attributed to the 18 MPs of the previous parliamentary group of Golden Dawn (essentially its entire core leadership). Whether the 69 defendants sitting in the dock of the court will be convicted will not depend solely on what is happening inside the courtroom. Admittedly, the investigative material is overwhelming and, to the extent that it will be the sole factor of the formation of the judicial verdict, the conviction of the defendants will be heavy. However, as we know from similar trials in the past, state procedures can favour parastate and fascist criminals, usually condemning some perpetrators, giving instigators “soft” sentences and always concealing the ties between the criminals and state functionaries who covered up their action. Having this historical experience the antifascist movement must develop its activity both in the trial and beyond. The trial of the fascists passes through the constant presence of the antifascist movement in the court, the support of victims and their lawyers (the “civil action” as it is legally called), ensuring the publicity of the trial through the transfer of the venue from the women’s prison of Korydallos to the Court of Appeal’s complex, widening the front of social and political forces demanding the conviction of the neo-Nazis. The nationwide campaign conducted by the KEERFA antifascist and antiracist coalition has already paved the way in this direction. Precisely because the fascists sense the overwhelming weight of the evidence of their criminal activity, they have transferred all hope for their acquittal outside the courtroom. The intended re-legitimisation of Golden Dawn involves specific tactics: utilisation of their parliamentary presence and its acceptance by the parties of the “constitutional arc”, “anti-memorandum” rhetoric after the signing of a new agreement by the Syriza-ANEL government, echoing institutional racism on the occasion of the new refugee flow, and pursuing the widening of its voting base. The antifascist movement must wage a lasting and targeted campaign at all levels, in order to prevent the re-legitimisation of the neo-Nazis: initiatives to reveal the criminal character of the Nazi gang behind the institutional facade of the “legal political party”; unmasking its false anti-systemic rhetoric; antiracist initiatives that will restore the unity of the working class; and exclusion of Golden Dawn from every public space (particularly on the occasion of the elections) through mass antifascist rallies. Only through such a campaign can we exclude any possibility of Golden Dawn playing a role in the subsequent phases of the economic and political crisis and relaunching its battalion squads, which have retreated since September 2013. The victims of Golden Dawn, the family of Pavlos Fyssas (called finally this week to testify in court), the Egyptian fishermen, the trade unionists of PAME and hundreds of others who were attacked by battalion squads are entitled to get justice for the attacks they suffered and for the people they lost. Justice, however, will not be easy for them. This is because the perpetrators of these attacks were not just isolated individuals, but a Nazi criminal organisation with strong support in the machinery of state and in the system of economic and political power. It will be a rough road to achieve justice. Let us try to walk it with the determination and the courage of Pavlos Fyssas on the night of 17-18 September 2013, as he stood up against a pack of neo-Nazi murderers.’
A Greek version of this article originally appeared in the magazine ‘Socialism From Below’.