Friday, June 8, 2012

'Greek Slap' Marks a Major Turning Point?

Nathalie Savaricas of the Independent reports, Greek police hunt far-right MP Ilias Kasidiaris over live TV talk show brawl with female rival:

Greek television channels spent most of yesterday replaying and debating shocking scenes of violence between rival politicians that erupted during a live television talk show.

A public prosecutor ordered the immediate arrest of the far-right Golden Dawn party's Ilias Kasidiaris after he punched and slapped a Communist rival, Liana Kanelli, and hurled a glass of water at a radical left MP, Rena Dourou.

The talk show's seven guests, representing all of the parties elected to the Greek parliament in the vote on 6 May, were debating whether natural resources could help to pull the debt-strapped country out of its financial quagmire, but the talks quickly degenerated. Ms Kanelli called Mr Kasidiaris a "fascist" and he retorted with "old commie".

After Ms Douru made reference to a court case pending against him and said his party would "take the country back 500 years", Mr Kasidiaris leapt from his chair and threw a glass of water over her.

As Ms Kanelli stood up to condemn Mr Kasidiaris and threw a newspaper at him, the ex-special forces weightlifting enthusiast turned his rage on her. He slapped Ms Kanelli around the face three times as she struggled to defend herself.

The host, Giorgos Papadakis, ran across the set shouting "No, No" as he tried to intervene, but was too slow to stop the attack. After the incident, Mr Kasidiaris was locked in a room at the Athens studio but broke down a door and escaped, it was claimed. Last night, police were searching for the party leader.

Ms Kanelli, a former journalist, told The Independent: "I got the winning ticket to unveil the face of the monster." She said her assailant was out of control but added: "I have dignity. I could not just sit there as everyone was just stunned, white and motionless. I'm still trying to collect my senses. I assure you, this is not our culture."

Golden Dawn won an unprecedented 21 seats in the 300-seat parliament in May, riding on a wave of discontent over the economy and rising nationalist sentiment. It campaigned on the promise to rid the country of illegal immigrants and lock up corrupt politicians.

No party won a majority in the election and several attempts to form a coalition failed. Another election will be held on 17 June.

In a statement, Golden Dawn said Mr Kasidiaris was provoked. "If you want us to condemn our fellow fighter for this truly unfortunate moment, you must first condemn the insults and attack of Liana Kanelli or you are nothing more than sad hypocrites," it added.

And Karolina Tagaris of Reuters reports, Greek TV attack deals blow to rightist party image:

Slapping a woman on live television has tarnished the image of Greece's far-right Golden Dawn party, and its spokesman's attack may cost the anti-immigrant movement votes as well.

"You saw right in front of you the full brutality and ugly behavior of a young neo-Nazi man beating up a defenseless woman," political analyst Theodore Couloumbis said after Thursday's live TV shocker. "It's a simple as that."

Golden Dawn spokesman Ilias Kasidiaris provided the most dramatic image of the campaign so far for Greece's critical June 17 election during a live television debate when he hurled a glass of water at one female politician and surged from his seat to slap another in the face.

"My first reaction is that it will hurt their chances, especially with women," Couloumbis said.

Golden Dawn came from nowhere to win 7 percent in a May election and entered parliament for the first time on a wave of hostility towards illegal immigrants in austerity-ridden Greece.

With the new vote looming, the last polls produced before a pre-election blackout showed support had dropped but still remained comfortably above the 3 percent threshold needed to enter parliament.

An arrest order was issued for Kasidiaris but he remains at large and could still run in the election if he is not apprehended and convicted before a 48-hour deadline expires at midnight on Friday.

Under Greek law, suspects arrested within 48 hours, face immediate trial. If they are not, they face a regular court date that does not prevent running for office.


The daily Ethnos newspaper ran with the headline "Black Dawn", while daily Ta Nea wrote "No to Violence."

"With his punch, the Golden Dawn deputy ripped off the mask of this neo-Nazi organization. Greeks can no longer claim ignorance - these people have shown their true colours," it wrote in a front-page editorial.

Golden Dawn caused a major upset in the May election, winning unprecedented support by building an image as the protector of vulnerable Greeks, including the elderly, who have suffered heavily in the savage economic downturn.

In a country that resisted Nazi occupation in World War II, it has been at pains to reject the label of a neo Nazi party but it uses an ancient Greek symbol resembling the swastika as its logo and books on Aryan supremacy line shelves at its offices.

Kasidiaris, who was elected to parliament in May despite a previous assault charge which he denies, faces a maximum sentence of 10 years in jail if convicted. He dismissed the incident on Friday, saying he had been provoked.

"She (Communist party member Liana Kanelli) raised her hand and hit me first and since I respect my honor and my name, I had to defend myself. The police ought to arrest her," he told Star TV by phone from an undisclosed location, according to a recording broadcast by the channel.

He is already due to stand trial on June 11 on separate charges - which he denies - of helping assailants attack a university professor in 2007.

Women's groups decried the attack as sexism against female politicians and journalist unions asked the National Council for Radio and Television to ban Golden Dawn members from news shows despite legal requirements that all parties in parliament are given equal air time.

The Council said the election law must be upheld but Golden Dawn said it was pulling out of TV shows on its own anyway.

Its members appeared undaunted by the incident that may cost them their place in parliament and gathered at several rallies near Athens late on Thursday, making anti-immigrant speeches and chanting, with fists raised: "Blood, Honor, Golden Dawn!"

Leftist groups are organizing demonstrations across the country, including central Athens late on Friday, to protest against the extreme-right group.

Finally, Helena Smith of the Guardian reports, Greeks protest against violent neo-Nazi MP on the run (h/t, Suzanne):

Protesters across Greece poured on to the streets of cities Friday night, denouncing the "dark force" of fascism as the spokesman of the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn party continued to elude arrest more than 24 hours after his extraordinary on-screen assault of two female leftwing politicians.

Nine days before fresh general elections, the fault lines in Greek society are deepening.

And late on Friday, as a police manhunt for Ilias Kasidiaris showed little sign of yielding a positive result, the divisions were on full display.

While anti-fascist demonstrators descended on public squares, supporters of Golden Dawn crammed into a hotel in Athens to hear the party's leader, Nikos Michaloliakos, rail against immigrant "scum" and the corrupt and crooked system that had brought the crisis-hit country to such a "dark place".

"There is growing polarisation. People are becoming increasingly radicalised thanks to all the rhetoric in the EU and here against the anti-austerity leftist majority and that is opening the door for Golden Dawn," said veteran activist Petros Constantinou. "We are demonstrating not only against the rise of the far right but against those who have enabled fascism to take root."

Constantinou, a tall, thin man who has spent years running an organisation that protects migrants, is, like a growing number of Greeks, convinced that it is the police who have facilitated Golden Dawn. "Without police cover and protection Golden Dawn would not have survived," he said. "And the proof of that is the failure to capture Kasidiaris.

"How is it possible that a man can do what he did in a television studio and yet manage to get away and stay on the run after a state prosecutor has ordered his arrest? The police clearly don't want to arrest him."

Dimitris Trimis, the head of the Greek journalists' association, ESEA, agreed. In a nation where physical violence is rare – and public displays of violence against women even rarer – Kasidiaris's assault on Liana Kanelli and Rena Dourou, during a live TV debate of politicians representing the seven parties that won seats in the country's inconclusive 6 May election, had clearly shocked Greeks.

All day Friday, TV channels had replayed footage showing Kasidiaris, a former commando in the Greek army, lashing out at Dourou first, hurling a glass of water in her face before turning his fists on Kanelli, the KKE communist party's spokeswoman, a former news anchor.

But his ability to evade arrest was entirely plausible, said Trimis.

"Suspicions of the collaboration between the police and Golden Dawn were confirmed at the ballot box in May," he said.

"As much as 50% of the police force voted for the party. There might be all the political will to arrest Kasidiarias. But there is a certain level of unwillingness among the police force that will stop that happening."

For years, he said, rightwing extremists had done the police force's "dirty work", mopping up migrants from the ghettoes of inner Athens in exchange for protection.

The spokesman of the Hellenic police force, Thanassis Kokkalakis, denied the accusations and said special units all over Greece were looking for Kasidiaris.

"Our belief is that he is hiding in the knowledge that the arrest warrant runs out at one minute past midnight. He doesn't want the media all over him, showing him in handcuffs ahead of the election."

Golden Dawn is widely regarded as Europe's most fanatical neo-Nazi party, going so far as to ensure that its emblem bears an uncanny resemblance to the swastika.

By playing on deep disgruntlement over the punishing income cuts and tax increases demanded by creditors in return for rescue loans, it won 7% of the vote last month – ushering the hard right's entry into parliament for the first time since the collapse of military rule in 1974. Although polls have shown its popularity dropping to as low as 3.6% as Greeks gear up for a second election, it would be enough to allow the party representation in Athens' 300-seat house.

Emboldened by the growing divisions between left and right, rich and poor, Golden Dawn has resolutely refused to condemn or even reprimand Kasidiaris for his behaviour. A party statement said the spokesman had instead been provoked by the female politicians.

"Ms Kanelli got up first ... hitting him unprovoked in the face with a sheaf of documents," it said.

The denial fits in with the neo-Nazi party's history of terrorising women, including female journalists whose photographs and passport numbers have been published in the party's weekly newspaper.

With Thursday's assault quickly followed by Golden Dawn attacks on socialist MPs campaigning in northern Greece and leftwing students at Athens' Panteion University, there are mounting concerns that the darkening mood could be a precursor of worse to come – even if Kasidiaris's explosive temper has shone a spotlight on the party as never before.

On television and radio chatshows commentators voiced fears that in a country where memories of the brutal 1946-49 civil war are still vivid, Greece could be hurtling towards a full-scale social breakdown – sparked initially by its worst economic crisis in modern times and now exacerbated by the political uncertainty engulfing the nation.

"After months of extreme hate speech, violence has climaxed," wrote the analyst Vivian Ethymiopoulou in the mass-selling Ta Nea newspaper.

"From verbal run-ins and yoghurt throwing we have officially passed to acts of personal revenge and daggers being drawn."

Now, I'll be the first to admit that Liani Kanelli, the Greek Communist leader who got slapped, is the most annoying Greek politician. She's despised by most Greeks who rightly call her an abrasive hypocrite (she lives in Ekali, the richest suburb in Athens, and claims to care for the proletariat).

But as annoying as many Greeks find her, nothing justifies the reaction of Ilias Kasidiaris of the Golden Dawn. Instead of walking away, in the heat of the moment, he threw a glass of water at Rena Dourou of the leftist Syriza party and proceeded to shove and then slap Ms. Kanelli, not once, but several times.

In doing so, Mr. Kasidiaris exposed the ugly side of Greek fascists. These guys are basically thugs/ cowards who will resort to violence when confronted and challenged. You can be sure that many Greeks who voted for Golden Dawn to protest the main parties in the last election will not vote for this party on June 17th. They're toast in the upcoming elections.

What remains to be seen is who will benefit from this fiasco? Will it be the centrist parties or the leftist parties who want to abolish all previous agreements and rewrite the rules. Hopefully, it will be the centrist parties, the ones that understand what's at stake if Greece exits the eurozone.

For the wider eurozone, this 'Greek slap' was a major wake-up call too. Europe's Golden Dawn has arrived and the politics of savage austerity have been exposed. If Merkel doesn't cave in to demands to stop austerity, spur growth and back a eurobond market, then she's next to face the wrath of German voters and global leaders.

Importantly, as I wrote in my previous comment, the end of Germany's illusions is near. Merkel, Schaeuble and anyone else who thinks otherwise are only fooling themselves. They will all cave to demands of global leaders and more ominously, bond market vigilantes.

As for the US, the 'Greek slap' is a warning of what lies ahead if mindless austerity is the chosen path. As professor Stiglitz rightly notes in my previous comment, austerity has been an abject failure and it has exacerbated the debt profile of peripheral economies. To solve the debt problem, we first need to solve the unemployment crisis threatening the global economy.

Below, a clip of Ilias Kasidiaris throwing water at Syriza deputy Rena Dourou, before slapping Communist Party deputy Liana Kanelli in the face repeatedly. Also embedded a Yahoo Breakout clip discussing whether the 'Greek slap' that marks a turning point. It hopefully will.

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