Golden Dawn arrests are just the beginning

When it finally acted against the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn group, the government of Antonis Samaras surprised everyone with its speed and determination. The head-on confrontation was a long time coming; until the murder of anti-fascist rapper Pavlos Fyssas on September 18 by a man who confessed to being a member of Golden Dawn, the group had appeared to enjoy absolute impunity.

Now, however, we see that state authorities have been keeping an eye on the group for some time, and that over the course of the months its leaders and members have been implicated in a growing number of crimes.

The delayed action against Golden Dawn has come at a very high cost, including several murders in which GD members are implicated and the blackening of Greece’s name, because our society appeared to tolerate bigotry and violence. On the other hand, when they did act, the government, the police and judicial authorities did so with speed and confidence. This shows political courage, because there had been strong arguments in Samaras’s conservative New Democracy party in favor of going easy on the extreme right in a bid to draw supporters away from it. The confrontation also went a long way toward restoring faith in the country’s institutions and the state.

The stakes are high. Democracy has to show that when it defends itself against those who would undermine it, it does so with justice and transparency. The process must clearly show that it is crimes which are being prosecuted, not ideas (however foreign and distasteful they are to our society, as is the case here). It must also be clear that the authorities are doing the job well, that they will prove their case, otherwise the move against Golden Dawn may be seen as a political pogrom and work in favor of the group once its supporters’ initial shock wears off. The law must be enforced in every situation, and must be seen to be enforced, without exception. This is what society needs at this time of great uncertainty.

The arrest of Golden Dawn’s leadership is bound to trigger major developments in Greek politics. Regardless of its delay, the government acted with courage and competence; it shouldered its responsibilities and will have to deal with the consequences. It now remains to be seen how the opposition parties will act: will they show similar courage and responsibility, or will they do whatever they can for short-term political gain?

Greece’s crisis has uncovered many problems in our society. The rise of Golden Dawn is one of the most serious among these, but, more importantly, it has also represented a major distraction from the fundamental problems faced by our economy, public administration and society.

Enforcing the law, restoring the credibility of institutions, creating a sense that a serious government is in charge, are most valuable steps toward the future. But this is only the beginning. Greece’s restoration is everyone’s responsibility, from each citizen to the country’s political parties. There is no more time for sideshows.

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