All this weekend Greeks were glued to images of Nikolaos Mihaloliakos, the little führer of Golden Dawn, being led in handcuffs from the Athens police headquarters with four of his deputies, each one flanked by members of the anti-terrorist squad, armed and with faces covered. Greek TV channels played the perp walk over and over again. Stills of Mihaloliakos, face set hard, clutching a battered leather bag in front of him like a shield, and of the party spokesman, Ilias Kasidiaris, mouth gaping wide to roar, are all over the Internet, raw or Photoshopped or embellished with jokey captions. Like children gripped by pictures of monsters in a book, we stare at them and scrawl on them, crayons held tight in our fists, wanting and not wanting to turn over the page.
The five Golden Dawn MPs were arrested on Saturday, along with two policemen and a few party members; the deputy leader, Christos Pappas, went AWOL for twenty-four hours (no doubt to take care of business) and turned himself in on Monday with a fascist salute. Pushed into action by the public outcry both in and outside Greece at the murder of anti-fascist rapper Pavlos Fyssas—the first Greek, but not the first person, to be killed by the neo-Nazis—the government pressed Greece’s Supreme Court to declare Golden Dawn a criminal organization. The charge sheet includes murder and grievous bodily harm, money-laundering and blackmail. The MPs will keep their seats until (or unless—a frightening thought) they are convicted, but the party appears set to lose its public funding.
It’s a moment to celebrate; it’s also fraught with dangers. Golden Dawn’s tentacles reach deep into Greek public life. Its neo-Nazi ideology is particular, in its open contempt for democracy, its use of paramilitary structures, its roots in anti-Semitism, racism and blood lust, its glorification of violence, its opposition to capitalism as well as communism. But Golden Dawn is also the most dangerous beneficiary of a far-right nationalist tradition that goes back at least to the 1930s and has the prime minister’s ear, if not a piece of his heart. As welcome as this purge is, there’s a risk that it will be used to legitimize a more “respectable” far right as well as the policies of Greece’s old mainstream parties, New Democracy and Pasok, that have formed a dark penumbra round the black spot of fascism: the random street round-ups and brutal detention centres for migrants and dark-skinned people, the outrageous law that allows forcible testing for HIV, the violent repression and criminalizing of protest, the selective application of the judicial system.