Whenever police frog-march the duly elected leaders of a political party to jail for collective prosecution, alarm bells should sound. The arrest of six neofascist Golden Dawn politicians in Greece is no exception—though in this case it may also be the least bad option for Greek authorities.
The crackdown on Golden Dawn appears political because it happened only after the stabbing death of a left-wing rapper, Pavlos Fyssas, caused public support for the party to drop to 7 percent from post-election highs of 11 percent. The violent nature of Golden Dawn, which has 18 members of Greece’s 300-seat Parliament, has been clear for at least two years.
Human Rights Watch and others have documented an increasingly organized campaign by party members in which they ride on motorcycle patrols hitting “immigrants” with clubs and iron spikes as they pass, smash the stalls of immigrant market traders, and ask dark-skinned passersby where they are from before beating them. Other far-right parties have gained a footing in European parliaments, but they largely keep their activities to politics. Golden Dawn bears more resemblance to the Brownshirts who spread fear in the streets of Germany between the wars. That is neither the exercise of democratic rights nor free speech: It is crime.
All that said, the European Union and Council of Europe should press and help the Greek government to address two major concerns. First, the arrested members of Golden Dawn must receive, and be seen to receive, a fair trial. Comments such as one recently made by Prime Minister Antonis Samaras in New York—that those arrested are “a criminal group of people”—don’t help. Prosecutors must be able to link the arrested politicians directly to the acts of violence under investigation, including two deaths.
Second, the Greek government must address the root problem: racist violence and police complicity. That means changing the rhetoric of the government itself on the issue of immigrants and providing police with the training required to ensure that immigrants are protected from hate crimes.