The images play on in an interminable loop: the helmeted riot police, the young men poised to run, the burning rubbish skips and skittering Molotovs, the tear-gas smoke and glint of metal against the night. Athens in flames again. A video that’s gone viral clearly shows gangs of men throwing stones beside the police, far-right irregulars fighting under the state’s protection. There are other images too, less hot on the Internet, of the thousands who gathered to protest and mourn the murder of leftist rapper Pavlos Fyssas Tuesday night by a member of the neo-Nazi party Golden Dawn, and to stand against the fascist poison that seeps out everywhere: on the streets and on TV, in parliament and police stations, in odd things the neighbours say.
This is not the first time Golden Dawn has killed, but it is their first known murder of a white Greek national—and their first clearly political assassination. Fyssas was a well-known anti-fascist; he was ambushed by a group of about thirty men (some in the familiar black shirts and camouflage pants) outside a cafe in the working-class suburb of Amfiali and stabbed twice in the chest, allegedly by a man who later told the police that he is a member of Golden Dawn. (As ever, the official police statement tiptoed around the issue, coyly stating that material from “a particular political tendency” was found in his apartment.)
The murder feels like part of a deliberate escalation: it comes at the end of a week of political (as opposed to merely racist) shows of force by the neo-Nazis. Last Thursday, some fifty blackshirts armed with clubs and crowbars set on thirty Communist Party supporters leafletting in Perama, one of Athens’s poorest neighbourhoods; nine communists were taken to hospital with serious injuries. Over the weekend, leftists protested a wreath-laying by a Golden Dawn MP on the memorial to victims of the Nazis in a northern village; a member of the MP’s entourage responded with a fascist salute. On Sunday Golden Dawn supporters disrupted a memorial at Meligalas for the hundreds of collaborators and their suspected supporters killed by the wartime left resistance as the Nazis withdrew; two Golden Dawn MPs seized the microphone from the mayor and lambasted the “traitor” government, while their acolytes skirmished with members of less “pure” nationalist groups.
In Greece, history is a powerful symbolic battleground. Having drawn the government onto its territory on immigration, Golden Dawn is raising the stakes and moving more explicitly against fascism’s deepest enemy, which has always been the left (or, in the neo-Nazis’ term “Judeo-Bolshevism”). Most of the 15 percent of Greeks who recently told pollsters they would vote for Golden Dawn have no interest in such ideological niceties; indeed, some are former left voters who’ve bought the populist, anti-immigrant and anti-elitist packaging in which the party has wrapped its neo-Nazi core. Without the aid and comfort of successive governments—especially Antonis Samaras’ New-Democracy led coalition—there is no way Golden Dawn would have the support it now enjoys.