In what may be a highly destabilizing step, both political and socially, Greece announced this morning that in a shocking political crackdown, the biggest since the fall of the military junta in 1974, the Police had arrested the leader and more than a dozen senior members of the far-right Golden Dawn party after the killing of an anti-fascist rapper by a party supporter triggered outrage and protests across the country. Reuters reports that the party's leader Nikolaos Mihaloliakos, spokesman Ilias Kassidiaris, two other lawmakers and 10 members were arrested on charges of founding a criminal organisation. They are due to appear in court this weekend to be charged formally. Police confiscated two guns and a hunting rifle from the home of Mihaloliakos, saying he did not have a license for them. As has been reported previously, Golden Dawn, is under investigation for the murder of Pavlos Fissas, who bled to death after being stabbed twice by a party sympathiser.
The crackdown, however, is a major problem in a country in which the neo-nazi Golden Dawn party is widely seen as the third most popular party, and this step, which will be largely seen as a politically-motivated ideological retaliation by the party's supporters, will almost certainly unleash even more social unrest and instability.
"Shame on them, the people will lift Golden Dawn higher," Ilias Panagiotaros, a Golden Dawn lawmaker told reporters before his arrest.
Several hundred party supporters gathered outside police headquarters chanting slogans and waving Greek flags. The party on its website called for protests in solidarity with its leader.
Prime Minister Antonis Samaras's government has so far resisted calls to ban the party, fearing it could make it even more popular at a time of growing anger at repeated rounds of austerity measures and instead, it has tried to undermine the party by ordering probes that could deprive it of state funding.
While PM Samaras ruled out snap elections after the arrests, it is difficult to see how this full crackdown on Golden Dawn can be contained in government without major repercussions:
Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras ruled out early elections after the arrest of senior Golden Dawn members and lawmakers on Saturday and said his government would focus on ensuring stability in the country. "The case is now in the hands of the justice system," Samaras told reporters after a meeting to discuss the developments around the arrests, the biggest crackdown on a political party since the fall of a military junta in 1974.
"Justice, stability, without elections," he said.
An aide to Samaras also confirmed that the government had no intention to move towards snap elections. Golden Dawn controls 18 seats in the country's parliament. Finance Minister Yannis Stournaras said Greece did not face the risk of political instability and Justice Minister Haralambos Athanassiou said all Golden Dawn members who had been arrested would receive a fair trial.
Considering this is Greece, any talking point that is repeatedly denied, is virtually assured of happening. And the reason why the current PM is dead set against snap elections is that also according to recent polls, the opposition, anti-Europe party, Syriza continues to lead and have more support than the current ruling party, which could result in a rerun of the Greek elections from the summer of 2012 which nearly cost the Eurozone the expulsion of its most crippled member.
The public response has been loud and prompt:
The move to arrest the party members surprised some Greeks wary of political theatre in a country where little has been done to rein in a party widely viewed as neo-Nazi. "It's good that they arrested them, but I'm afraid that we will start killing each other now," said Dimitra Vassilopoulou, a 58-year old housewife.
"Does the government actually mean it or is it just a tactic to impress us? Why didn't they do anything when the immigrants were killed? How come they just discovered that Golden Dawn is a criminal organisation?"
And some more on the political implications.
The party has denied any links to the killing and Mihaloliakos has warned the party could pull its lawmakers from parliament if the crackdown does not stop. If potential by-elections were won by the opposition, as some polls indicate, Greece's fragile two-party coalition would become politically untenable, Mihaloliakos has argued.
The party has 18 of parliament's 300 lawmakers and scored 14 percent of voter support in opinion polls before the stabbing. A poll this week showed this had fallen as low as 6.7 percent.
Greek lawmakers do not lose their political rights or seats unless there is a final court ruling against them but the government has proposed a law that could block state funding for Golden Dawn if police find links to Fissas's murder.
Golden Dawn, whose emblem resembles a swastika, rose from obscurity to enter parliament last year after promising to mine Greece's borders to prevent illegal immigrants from entering. Its members have been seen giving Nazi-style salutes but the party rejects the neo-Nazi label.
One thing is certain: in Greece, where broad unemployment (not to mention youth) hits a new record high every month, the population certainly has a lot of free time. All that would take for that idleness to be harnessed and catalyzed, is some major ideologically-charged social event which instead of dismantling the neonazis, further coalesces public support behind them as a conduit for social anger at the ongoing economic collapse: a screenplay well known since a certain Beer Hall Putsch.