Greece: Pavlos Fyssas, the hidden side of political assassination (2/2)
1 November 2013
In the early hours of September 18, Greek rapper Pavlos Fyssas was murdered by a Golden Dawn activist. It was one killing too many, which heralded the fall of the neo-Nazi party, whose implicit collusion with the state and ties with powerful figures are now coming to light.
Why exactly was Pavlos Fyssas chosen to become a martyr? Listening to the words of his songs, you can wonder. He does indeed talk about intolerance and reactionary forces. But there is no direct reference to Golden Dawn. "Between two songs vaguely talking about the dangers of fascism, Pavlos Fyssas composed four about girls or about the crisis," confirms his childhood friend, Petros Poundivis.
This giant of a man, who looks like a Greek Mr T, is also a rapper, a member of the group PsyClinic TactiX. But first and foremost he is a working man, just like Pavlos Fyssas. Before considering an artistic career both young men did the same backbreaking work as their fathers in the naval yards of Perama, Athens' huge industrial port known as "The Zone".
This is a vast, enclosed area where graffiti-covered warehouses line the docks facing a few rusted cargo ships. "Pavlos gave up after five years. It's a very tough job and there are frequent accidents. But he always considered himself a child of the working class. He refused to join a party, but his name was always on the list of the Metal Workers Union. Around here, he was very popular, he had a big mouth, was always ready to defend the neighbourhood's crisis victims, and that's why he was killed," asserts Petros.
Last red bastion
Paying a heavy toll in the crisis, The Zone remains the last red bastion in a region where the neo-Nazis are gaining ground daily. Perama, Nikaia, Keratsini, these districts of the Piraeus region have been devastated by six years of austerity medicine. "The dismantling of public services and massive layoffs have pushed people to the brink of survival. One quarter of homes in Perama no longer have electricity because they do not have the means to pay the bills. So, naturally, some are responsive to the siren song of a party that says [that politicians are] 'all rotten', blames immigrants and distributes canned goods and pasta," sighs Petros.
That leaves The Zone – held since time immemorial by the PAME, the trade union close to the Communist Party, the KKE – which continues to resist in the face of pressure from employers. Three days before the rapper was killed, a significant event occurred. On the night of September 14, Communist militants were out on the well-named Democracy Avenue. They were putting up posters announcing a festival when they were suddenly attacked by 50 members of Golden Dawn. "It was very impressive. They came out in columns from all the surrounding streets, armed with clubs and stakes. Two motorcycle cops were there too, a little to the side. They did nothing when the stones and the clubs rained down on us," explains Sotiris Poulikogiannis, an energetic 40-something who heads The Zone's metal workers' union. As a result, nine union members were injured, some of them seriously.
"It was the first time they'd dared to attack us so openly. Yet, we knew something was up. In August, in the middle of the quiet season, one of their local leaders took the risk of coming here, to The Zone. He held a meeting where he promised to destroy us and to chase us out of here," adds Thanassis Panagiotopoulos, also a trade unionist. The man who made the threats, Yannis Lagos, a Golden Dawn MP, is now in prison. He is one of those who talked on the phone several times with Pavlos Fyssas' alleged killer just before and just after the crime. "All of this is part of a plan. To break the resistance to austerity measures, you have to eliminate all those who revolt, you have to instil fear. Everybody here knows about the links between Golden Dawn and the ship-owners as well as with major industrialists. Their more or less secret meetings were revealed in the press. In Parliament, the fascist MPs always vote for the ship-owners and in the field, they are their armed faction," adds Thanassis.
Is this somewhat exaggerated? In mid-October, a search in the home of a ship-owner, on the run from the authorities, uncovered, hidden in a secret room, a genuine mini-museum to the glory of Nazism. Investigations into Golden Dawn's financing, opened after the death of Pavlos Fyssas, seem to confirm the implication of at least two other shipping magnates, regular sponsors of the neo-Nazis.
Demons remain in the shadows
"The beast finally came out of its den," sighs Dimitri Kousouris. This 35-year-old historian specialised in contemporary Greek history, is well-placed to analyse the root of evil. His thesis, soon to be published in France, focuses on Greek collaborators during World War II. This period of history is still little discussed in Greece where, just after the German occupation, the horrors of Nazism were erased by the violent civil war between Communists and conservatives. These mixed memories allowed many demons to be kept in the shadows.
But for the young historian, the death of Pavlos Fyssas awakened more personal memories. Fifteen years ago, on a June night, he nearly also died under the blows of Golden Dawn's henchmen. He too was at a café, he too was a symbol – as a young student movement activist he was then very active against a reform of the educational system. Severely beaten with clubs and stakes on June 18, 1998, he spent several days close to death. As with Pavlos Fyssas the police first blamed a fight between young people over football. Only the leader of the gang that attacked him, a young rising star in Golden Dawn, was charged. After seven years of dodging arrest, the man calling himself "Periander" in reference to the tyrant of Corinth in the days of Antiquity, finally gave himself up to the police. The trial was very tense, fraught with threats and provocations by Golden Dawn militants. Sentenced to 21 years in jail, Periander served only four and was released in 2009.
"Still, in 1998, Golden Dawn was just a small marginal group. Today, it is a movement on the rise," says the historian, adding, "one cannot be surprised by this. In this period of extreme crisis the xenophobia, intolerance, and violence that are distilled within the society are exacerbated. People forget the past and can no longer imagine the future. Nothing counts but surviving in the present."
Pavlos Fyssas had a stage name: Killah P for "kill the past". But no one can kill the past, it surges back at the worst times. "The time to be afraid has come," predicted Nikos Michaloliakos, the leader of Golden Dawn, on the night of the June 2012 elections. That was the night that a man nostalgic for the Colonels and an admirer of Hitler entered Parliament.
Translated from the French by Pat Brett