Watch This Space: Doc Martin on fascists, patriots, reclaimers and thugs

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Like Greece's neo-Nazi Golden Dawn, Australia has its own fascist thugs. Doc Martin Hirst argues it is only a matter of time before we see an anti-racist campaigner, like Greece's Pavlos Fyssas, murdered.

A Greek tragedy for Australia? Fascists, patriots, reclaimers and thugs

IT'S JUST over three years since the murder of Greek hip hop artist, musician and anti-racist campaigner Pavlos Fyssas by a member of the fascist Golden Dawn organisation. So far in Australia, despite arson attempts and mosques and churches, the fascists have not killed anyone but, as I will argue, it is only a matter of time.

The murder of a musician

In late September 2013, Pavlos Fyssas was attacked and fatally stabbed by Golden Dawn "batallion squad" leader George Roupakias, late one evening while he sat in a cafe.

An account of Fyssas last night alive has been put together by Thanasis Kampagiannis for Left Flank; it makes chilling reading:

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. 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.

There has not yet been a violent death attributed to the small, but growing, fascist movement in Australia. In the past, migrants have been attacked and injured, but the neo-Nazis have only killed their own.

Golden Dawn's George Roupakias arrested for the murder of Pavlos Fyssas. (Photo via tovima.gr)

It can’t happen here. Or can it?

Australia seems a long way from the troubles of Europe, but we have our own anti-refugee, anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim agitators and they’ve been given a boost by the election of One Nation to the Senate. We should not think for a moment that the local fascists do not have hopes of emulating their Greek comrades.

As we learned this week, three members of the so-called Australian "patriot movement" have been charged with racial vilification, damage to property and public order offences for a stupid racist stunt in Bendigo a year ago this week.

A bunch of goons from the United Patriots Front, including their "führer" Blair Cotrell, staged a "beheading" scene outside Bendigo Council chambers on October 4 last year. They used a dummy and spread fake blood over the forecourt of the building.

At least two of the men involved in the Bendigo incident – Blair Cottrell and Neil Erikson – have criminal records for acts of violence and/or making threats of violence. Weapons have been seized from UPF members and other far-right nutters at several protests around the country. One of them has had his gun licence revoked after trying to take the weapon to a rally.

An associate of the UPF, Philip Galea from Reclaim Australia, was gaoled in November 2015 for weapons offences already. He was in possession of tasers which police say he intended to take to a rally, perhaps with the intention of attacking anti-racist protestors.

The intent of these thugs is clear. They are willing to use violence.

How long will it be before these fascist thugs seriously injure or even kill someone?

Lessons from the trial of Golden Dawn

In Greece, the immediate reaction to the murder of Pavlos Fyssas was divided. Some blamed the left equally for the murder because, they argued, the fascists had been "provoked". Like in Australia, some even wanted to sit and talk with the GD thugs over a coffee.

At first, the Greek tried to present the murder as a random "argument" between rival soccer fans. However, very quickly and under the weight of evidence and witness statements, the role of the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn party could not be covered up.

Eventually, a GD member, Giorgos Roupakias, was arrested and charged with Fyssas’ killing.

The killing was the catalyst that led to the arrest of many of the extreme right organization's members. Along with Fyssas's murder case, several other charges were also mounted against the organization.

In all, more than 50 Golden Dawn officials and rank-and-file members are caught up in a trial that has been ongoing now for nearly 18 months. Seventeen GD parliamentarians are also on trial, bringing the total number of defendants to 69.

However, the trial only came about because of a national outburst of anger following the Pavlos Fyssas murder. The right-wing government then in power had been cooperating with GD, but the pressure of the protests forced it to mount the prosecution.

The trial will decide three very serious crimes: the murder of Fyssas, the attempted murder of a group of Egyptian migrant fishermen in their own home in June 2012, and the attempted murder of a group of left wing trade unionists just five days before the Fyssas killing and in a neighbouring area to it.

The court will then, on the basis of those cases and scores of others where there have already been convictions, decide on the overall charge that Golden Dawn is a criminal organisation, not a legitimate political party.

The law under which the trial is taking place is Article 187 of the Greek penal code, which was introduced to deal with organised crime.

The Greek Article 187 is similar to other provisions in other jurisdictions aimed at dealing with the legal issues arising from prosecuting organised crime.

Progressive Athens-based journalist and author of the book, Syriza: Inside the Labyrinth, Kevin Ovendon, says that the trial is not a prosecution of GD on the grounds of banning the organisation’s "free speech":

"Despite propaganda from Golden Dawn, this is not a prosecution of their 'ideas'. It has nothing to do with 'free speech'. It is their acts – serious criminal acts – that are being prosecuted. At the same time the trial is already revealing the Nazi character of the organisation."

Golden Dawn fascists, not just naughty boys

According to Ovenden, Golden Dawn operates on the National-Socialist doctrine of Hitler's party in Germany Das Führerprinzip, of the "leader principle" of one man rule from the top. This is why the fascists' defence that criminal acts by its members are not the responsibility of the organisation is untrue.

In addition to the state prosecutors, there are lawyers acting, pro bono, for the victims of Golden Dawn's crimes. In the Greek legal system, they are called the "civil action" of the victims.

The presence of these lawyers is pressing the state prosecutors to go beyond bounds which some in the Greek judicial and state authorities would like to keep to.

According to Kevin Ovenden this is because of the hidden and not-so-hidden "collalboration" between elements of the Greek state and GD.

Said Ovendon:

"The rise of Golden Dawn came out of extensive collaboration with elements of the police and state, with parts of the traditional party of the right and with sections of big business."

So the trial is important not only in seeking to gaol the core of the fascist organisation in Greece and for its party to be disbanded. It is also about uprooting the nexus of support for Golden Dawn and for fascist politics. However, there are several months of testimony and legal argument ahead. A decision is not expected in the trial until early 2018.

Ovenden says the Greek left expects the prosecution to be successful, but he adds that this may only lead to Golden Dawn "seeking to rebrand itself".

But it will be very hard for them to do so if its core leadership nationally and in key regions is gaoled for a long time, and if the bases of support it enjoyed on its rise between 2010 and 2014 are exposed.

Ovendon again:

"The trial is having an impact already in frustrating Golden Dawn's efforts to grow out of disappointment with the left wing government of Syriza."

On a wider level, he adds: 

"This is the most significant trial of fascist criminality in Europe since the Nuremberg process at the end of the Second World War."

The neo-Nazi fascist party is one of the fastest growing political parties in Greece with offices in Australia and the United States.

Popular anger against GD’s racism

Ovenden says the eruption of popular anger against Golden Dawn three years ago has been sustained by anti-racist and antifascist campaigners.

"The trial itself symbolises the different social constituencies that are the base for opposing Golden Dawn. Fyssas was of the young radical music scene. The Egyptian fishermen of the new migrant communities in Greece, subject to appalling state racism and now the anti-refugee measures signed between the European Union and Turkey. The trade unionists attacked are part of the radical union front PAME, led by the Communist Party of Greece."

Every day the anti-fascist movement is present at the trial. It has provided the lawyers – through the "Jail Golden Dawn" initiative – for the Egyptian fishermen. Communist Party lawyers represent the trade unionists. And the Fyssas family have their lawyers. All of them cooperate tightly in the courtroom.

The Greek union movement has taken a strong stand against the fascists, refusing their activists entry to workplaces and banning GD members from elected office in the unions. The ADEDY public sector union confederation has called several half day strikes so that members can participate in anti-fascist events, including rallying outside the court. 

The trial of Golden Dawn’s leadership is an important yardstick for measuring the growth, and resistance to, fascism in the rest of Europe.

There are a range of far right forces in Europe from racist populists, such as the AfD in Germany, through to out and out neo-Nazi forces such as Golden Dawn in Greece and Jobbik in Hungary.

Ovenden says it has been "a conflicted picture".

"There has also been in parts of Europe the advance of the radical left, electoral forces to the left of the Labour or Social Democratic Parties - most recently in Ireland, north and south."

All of this is taking place in the context of every government in Europe – be they of the centre right or centre left – turning increasingly to racist policies as their popularity falls through the continued implementation of austerity. This is leading in most countries to an increase in popular racism, out of which the far right and fascists grow. However, the fascists don’t have it all their own way. Ovenden says resistance to the neo-Nazis is growing.

There has this year in Germany been the founding of a major national coalition to oppose the AfD, racism and fascism — Stand Up Against Racism. And there continues to be strong humanitarian support for the refugees fleeing Syria and other wars. We have a growth of racism, but also the basis everywhere for a strong anti-racist movement.

Despite this success of anti-fascist organising on the ground, the left cannot be complacent, Ovenden says. ‘The traditional parties of government, cannot be relied upon to provide a barrier to the far right. Angela Merkel in Germany has this month capitulated to the demands of the far right over refugees, for example.

I asked Ovenden if he thought the fascists were growing in Greece on the back of the GD trial. He says the trial has taken a "heavy toll" on them. But he is not so optimistic about the rest of Europe.

"Golden Dawn’s growth has been stopped. But they have far from disappeared and they continue to poll about seven per cent. In Britain the fascists have been pushed back over the last ten years and are not isolated, though very violent, groupuscules."

Ovenden has a warning: we should not think that the fascists will just disappear:

No one should underestimate the danger. Many mainstream commentators have argued that the far right is just a protest phenomenon and will either die down of its own accord or moderate when it enters parliaments and the political system. That is not happening.

The great danger is that with a further round of crisis in Europe they will radicalise further.

Had there been no struggle against Golden Dawn and racism, and no trial, then the fascists in Greece would be enjoying a surge now in conditions which favour them.

The Greek left is using the trial to organise and politicise new recruits. There is a protest every day the trial sits. 

Ovendon told me:

"We had a major wave of protests two weeks ago commemorating the murder of Fyssas. There will be significant protests when the trade unionists' case is heard in October. And there are many anti-racist events and protests all the time."

There are also ongoing protests in support of the refugees. The Greek government policy of putting them in camps has made them targets for right wing agitation and even racist attack in some parts of Greece. Countering that is a "major priority" for Greek anti-racist groups, says Ovenden.

Ovenden told IA that the anti-racists are "winning the argument" inside the trade unions and other areas for opening the borders to the refugees, ending the shameful deal that brings death at sea to so many, and placing the controls upon big business and the banks, not upon poor people fleeing war, economic dislocation and the effects of climate change.

Are we winning in Australia?

I’m not so sure. Watch this space ...

Read more by Dr Martin Hirst on his blog Ethical Martini and follow him on Twitter @ethicalmartini.

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