The so-called trial of the century launched in Athens this week as the process begins to bring nearly 70 Golden Dawn party members including 18 politicians to justice.
For those of us who have been following Golden Dawn’s antics, their frightening rise to power, the arrests, the short-lived belief that this would be the end for them, the wait for the trial date and finally the trial date, this Monday was a bit of an anticlimax. A few short hours into the process, the court was adjourned until the 7th of May.
Golden Dawn’s thuggery and brutal crimes are an open secret. What eventually led to the arrests was the murder of Pavlos Fyssas, and it was from this pivotal point onward that the situation began reminding me of the media coverage of the Peter Sutcliffe case which formed part of a university lecture about media stereotyping when I was a journalism student.
Peter Sutcliffe for those who don’t know was the infamous Yorkshire Ripper. He was found guilt for 13 murders over five years, ending with his arrest in 1981. Murderers and prostitutes. Neo nazis and illegal immigrants. They both occupy a miserable space on society’s compass.
In the beginning, his targets were prostitutes, and though people were disturbed they didn’t particularly pay that much attention. They didn’t move in those circles. They were safe. It was when he started murdering women from other sectors of society that the public outrage finally kicked in.
The moment Peter Sutcliffe claimed his first victim who was not involved in the sex trade was when the media and the public uproar began in earnest. The seriousness of the problem escalated immediately, now that he was killing ‘innocent girls’ (as opposed to not so innocent prostitutes) as a senior West Yorkshire detective put it.
This same rhetoric gets repeated again and again when it comes to vulnerable people who fall victim to serious crime. We can’t relate to them, so we don’t really consider it our problem. The life of a prostitute and the life of an illegal immigrant both involve an elevated level of risk which we theorise they made a choice about.
It was the same awkward, uncomfortable language and public outrage that occurred when Pavlos Fyssas was murdered by a Golden Dawn supporter that reminded me of the media coverage and public response to the Peter Sutcliffe case.
Golden Dawn have been known for a long, long time to be involved in many brutal crimes. Not satisfied with beating up illegal immigrants, they soon turned their attention to the LGBT community, journalists and the disabled. Of course the public by and large condemned these events (where they heard of them, a media blackout meant few of the attacks were covered in news and it was up to social media and bloggers to cover them) but they couldn’t relate to them. Not an illegal immigrant or other minority group? You’ll be safe. Nothing for you to worry about here.
The authorities looked on and did not much at all about the growing confidence with which Golden Dawn acted. Internet comments probably decorate some wall in the Seventh Circle of Hell, but the vitriol against foreigners and support for Golden Dawn on online videos, articles and forums got so frenzied that they became unreadable for me.
Every time I heard about another minority group member being attacked by them, I felt a pang of fear. It’s really something you can’t relate to if you are not a foreigner, because my husband didn’t understand why Golden Dawn bothered me at all. I sensed the change in the air, and for the past three summers I haven’t worn my traditional clothes outside the house even though they make a great, comfortable choice for the hot summers of Athens.
It just made me too uncomfortable. I’d had too many “I’m not a racist, but…” conversations with people I knew, and I didn’t know any more where Golden Dawn supporters might materialise. I was not safely beyond their reach in a bubble of Greekness.
Still nothing happened.
And then Pavlos Fyssas was murdered and the media and public reaction exploded. All over the TV in debates, guests banged their tables furiously, mostly talking along the lines of “See? They’re killing Greeks now! Are we finally going to do something?”
A Greek, a nice, good respectable Greek, not a disabled Greek or an LGBT Greek, and as the uproar continued, at long last the authorities moved and arrests were made.
On one hand it’s a blessing that at long last this group’s actions are being held to account. On the other, so much violence took place before that and nothing was done. Here’s a tiny sample:
Abu Zeid Mubarak Abu Zeid said he woke to see several men setting upon him. “They were trying to kill me, I swear that they wanted to kill me. I passed out and woke up in hospital.”
He was left with a double fracture of the jaw, a broken nose, and needed substantial stitching on his head.
We met a Pakistani immigrant stabbed three times by suspected Golden Dawn supporters. A year on, the scars are still there – one just millimetres from his heart. On his stomach is a lump of scar tissue from the second wound, which has never healed.
But, he says, the police did nothing, launching no investigation and never contacting him beyond a first conversation.
“They said: ‘You’re the cause of Greece’s problems. You have seven days to close or we’ll burn your shop — and we’ll burn you,’ ” said Mohammed Irfan, a legal Pakistani immigrant who owns a hair salon and two other stores. When he called the police for help, he said, the officer who answered said they did not have time to come to the aid of immigrants like him.
“It was ten minutes to midnight on a Sunday night in Keramikos. I was out with friends and I was walking back home, a bit drunk. Four masked guys stopped their motorbikes next to me. One asked for a cigarette and another asked me if I was Bangladeshi,” Ahmed told me in broken Greek. “I said I was Iraqi and then I felt pressure on my right arm and my back, and I fell to the ground. I felt heat on my arm and then on my back and my neck.” Ahmed didn’t realize he had been stabbed eight times until he saw blood spilling on to the street.
During the early morning of January 17th, Shehzat was cycling to his employer’s house in Petralona to load their truck before heading to the open-air market. The two offenders, who claim they had a fight with Shehzat because he’d been blocking their way, stopped their motorbike and stabbed him in the chest, causing his death a short time later.
The lives of the disenfranchised, immigrants and prostitutes have always been valued less than more legitimate members of society. In death, Fyssas unwittingly turned into the Sutcliffe equivalent of the ‘innocent’ murder victim.
As I watch the Golden Dawn trial judder along after so many months of waiting with who knows how many more months ahead of us, I can’t help but think of the trail of pain, misery and death Golden Dawn have left behind them and think: What if they had all been Greek?