On the murder of Pavlos Fyssas and the rise of Fascism in Greece: Interview with Costas Douzinas

This interview was first published in Greek in ‘Η Εποχη’ on 24 September 2013 before the subsequent arrests of Golden Dawn members. Many thanks to Elena Loizidou for this translation.

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Ionna Drosou (ID): It appears, from the most up to date evidence, that Pavlos Fyssas was targeted because of his music. What does this symbolise?

Costas Douzinas (CD): The artistic name of Mr Pavlos Fyssas was Killah P(ast). He was, in this sense, an executioner: he executed a past so as to build the future. Pavlos’s name and killing brought to my mind Walter Benjamins’ renowned essay ‘Theses on the Philosophy of History’. Benjamin talks in this essay about the angel in Paul Klee’s painting ‘Angelus Novus’. Fyssas is the ‘Angel Novus’. Like Klee’s angel, he is looking backwards at the piles of past wreckage, defeats, deaths, exiles, with his wings caught in a storm. This storm is blowing from Paradise. The force of the storm stops the wings of the angel from closing and consequently the angel find itself being pushed towards the future. ‘We call this storm Progress’ Walter Benjamin writes somewhat ambiguously. Let’s then call Pavlos Fyssas the martyr angel. I use the word martyr here in its double meaning, as both a witness and as somebody that sacrifices himself. Let his sacrifice bear witness to the coming re-volt/surrection.

At a second level of analysis, we can say that Pavlos’s  sacrifice symbolises the death of art. It can be seen as being part of a sequence of attacks on the arts and culture; the closing down of ERT (Greek National Television), the closing down of theatres, the boarding up of EMPROS, the disappearance of music education at schools. All these closings or deaths are taking place in the name of the market. Those in power and their impresarios are concerned primarily by the ’excesses’ in Greek culture. They are not one bit concerned by the deficit that they are injecting in the areas of culture and education in Greece that will have catastrophic long term effects.

ID: Thousands of people demonstrated against fascism last Wednesday (14/09/2013) as a response to Pavlos Fyssas’s murder. Why did they take to the streets just now? This was not the first attack or murder we have witnessed in Greece by the far right?

CD: Pavlos Fyssas’ murder awakened the historical memory of the Greek people. It brought to their minds the 4th of August, the Civil War, the ‘anomalous 50s’, Lamprakis’ murder. The more pertinent question, though, is why wasn’t there the same response from the Greek people when the far right was attacking migrants and small traders or when they were transgressing all boundaries? Firstly we can say that there was no response because there was insufficient reporting by the mass media on these incidents and secondly, there was no public political stand from our politicians encouraging the formation of a counter-fascist front. We are all responsible for this, even the Left. To consider the life of a native Greek as more valuable than a migrant’s is like adopting a fascist ideology. As the philosopher Emmanuel Levinas states, ‘The killing of a human being is like the killing of all humanity’. Fascist killings are not responses to acts done but rather responses to who you are: black, jew, homosexual, left wing, etc. Fascism condemns you because you exist. This is what differentiates fascist ideology from all others, even from right wing (conservative) ideology. We can only talk of an anti-fascist front if we recognise that all lives are of equal value and if we put this at the forefront of such a struggle. We must recognise that Makronissos, Yiaros and Amigdaleza are abominable concentration camps.

ID: Following the death of Pavlos Fyssas we have witnessed a united antifascist demonstration instead of multiple and fragmented ones. Figures of the political left like the KKE MP Liana Kanelli also talked about forming a united front to fight fascism. Does this change give us hope?

CD: I’m afraid the Left is besieged by petty narcissistic disputes, byzantine-type internal disputes, most of which reside in history. When such unfounded disputes and resistances become harmful conflicts, the Left becomes part of the problem and it loses its essence. Nevertheless, an event or a shocking occurrence may act, even if only temporarily, as a catalyst to break down the logic of differences. Let’s hope that it’s permanently broken down, that it doesn’t last for only a week. But, even if this unity doesn’t last long, it has pointed the Left in the right direction; it has reminded the Left of its history, its past and of course of its responsibility for the future.

ID: Is the call for the outlawing of Golden Dawn baseless?

CD: In Greece we’re witnessing a paradox; Golden Dawn is both a legal party and a criminal organisation. If we look at other examples, without having to identify with their causes, like the Irish, the Basques or the Kurds, we notice that there is a separation between party and armed organisation. In Ireland, for example, Sinn Féin was the legal political party and the IRA was the illegal armed organisation. In Greece, the legal political party and the armed organisation of Golden Dawn completely coincide. Golden Dawn is both a party and a gang. Outlawing political parties is both fruitless and problematic. Let’s not forget that calls to outlaw political parties have been mainly made, if not exclusively, against the Left. The German Constitutional Court and the European Court of Human Rights decided that the outlawing of the Communist Party of West Germany was a violation of human rights. My opinion as a legal scholar is that it is hopeless and a political mistake to believe that the law can prohibit the idea of fascism (or fascist ideology). Even if Golden Dawn is outlawed it can always reinvent itself under a different name and continue its activities. This happened with outlawed political parties in both Turkey and Egypt. We must instead approach the actions of members of Golden Dawn as criminal activities and simultaneously recognise the organisation as a gang. Greek criminal law has a plethora of provisions that would allow us to prosecute them on this level. Nevertheless the police, the prosecution service and judges fail to exercise these provisions. It beggars the imagination that we have 6 criminal cases still pending when all the evidence against the perpetrators has been gathered and formal complaints have been launched to the authorities. We have all the means to prosecute fascism, though we lack the political will to do so.

ID: Why do you think we have a sudden move by the authorities and prosecution services now to take these cases forward?

CD: It is infuriating that we had at least 31 cases buried in the drawers of the Ministry of Public Order and the Protection of Citizens that Mr Dendias (Minister of Public Order) has only now passed to the Attorney General of the Areiou Pagou (The Supreme Court of Greece). If these cases relate to crimes committed then doesn’t the failure to submit these cases to the Supreme Court by the Minister constitute a breach of duty, in the same way as the failure to submit the ‘Lagarde list’ did?  Why now? Could it be because a Greek has been murdered? Could it be because all the other lives that have been lost or injured did not count for the authorities until now? Isn’t this exactly what Golden Dawn is saying? If we take the logic that identifies such criminal acts with extremists to its ultimate conclusion, then all those that tolerated and protected this criminal gang can be said to constitute the political arm of this organisation.

ID: Those of us that participated in the demonstrations last week noticed that police officers disobeyed the commands of their superiors and launched attacks on demonstrators. As we have never seen any prosecutions against police officers, should we in future expect to see prosecutions against officers who disobey their superiors?

CD: In theory, the State, which can be described as the consolidation of bourgeois power relations, uses two types of violence. The first type of violence is legal, covered by ‘State law’, and gives the State the ’monopoly on violence’. The second is typically illegal and utilises para-state methods that operate underground and in secrecy. If the incidences that you just referred to are substantiated, then this would evidence the spread of the ‘typically illegal’ type of violence. Moreover it would become obvious that the State and its state-of-emergency-status had, without hesitation, abandoned the democratic and bourgeois guarantees promised to society, replacing them instead with a reign of fear or terror. When the legitimation that citizens grant the State through their faith—encapsulated in the phrase ‘the State is doing its job well’—disappears, then the State resorts to these secondary methods of legitimation, the use of increasing violence both openly and in secret. I think it is at this stage that we find ourselves now.

ID:  We also notice that the theory of the two extremes (extreme right/extreme left) is prominent in the analysis of the use of violence in Greece.

CD: Drawing parallels between the extreme right and the extreme left is both historically inaccurate and stupid. Fascism attacks the values of the Enlightenment and liberalism as represented by the bourgeois class. Liberalism, in its new form, has abandoned its basic ideas (i.e., equality before the law and justice). It is the Left that is keeping these ideas alive. Whilst the Left is being attacked by the State, the Left continues to stand by the side of migrants and all those that are under attack by the State and parastatal violence. The Left is the defender of freedom, equality and brother/sisterhood. The theory of the two extremes is indicative of the cynicism and ethical bankruptcy of a system of authority that has exceeded its life expectancy and that finds itself at the edge of a cliff. Whilst perhaps it has not yet died, it survives as a zombie.

J’Accuse / I Accuse

I accuse all those who are destroying our social web, who trivialise our dignity and account for people as numbers and their deaths as statistics.

I accuse all those who hit, injure and execute because the colour, religion and body of the other appears to be different.

I accuse all those who have turned: death from poverty and illness, the suicide of our neighbour, and the murder of a singer, into a tolerable everyday situation.

Thanatopolitcs is the name we will give to the death-bound politics of the authorities.

I accuse all those who have defected from the path of their youth and like all other defectors have turned the hatred of their old self against all those who insist upon their youthful values.

I accuse all those who pillory sex workers, those of a different sexual orientation, and the poets; this hatred is directed at their objects of passion.

I accuse all those who were ‘mildly’ concerned because a Greek has been killed, as if the blood of a Pakistani, an Egyptian or a Nigerian is not equally red.

Antifascism is the tax power pays to virtue.

I accuse all those who appear as the trustees of the Enlightenment, the liberals, the intellectuals and the progressives, who betray these values a soon as they conflict with their self-interest.

I accuse all those who hit the singer, the painter, the actor, the dancer.

I accuse all those who are killing art, music and the letters because they don’t tally with the calculations of their companies and the garbage transmitted on their channels.

How can you separate the singer from the song?

I accuse the extremists who accuse the singer of extremism.

I accuse all those who at first protect all these marginal thugs and then, when they are caught, throw them away like used objects.

I accuse all those who say that those who trespass upon all human values are the same as those who have devoted their lives to defending all human values.

There are no equivalent measures between life and death.

I accuse the judges who apply the law without justice.

I accuse the ‘objective’ sociologists, the technocratic economists and the prudent ‘modernisers’.

What is the meaning of neutrality, objectivity and prudence in the years of rupture?

I accuse all those cynical and half-ignorant know-alls.

Add your own ‘I accuse’. Let’s create the accusations for the court of history

Written by Costas Douzinas
Inspired by Emile Zola

Costas Douzinas is Professor of Law, Pro-Vice Master for International Links and Director of the Birkbeck Institute for the Humanities. He is the author of several books, including the End of Human Rights (Hart Publishing 2000) and most recently Philo­sophy and Res­ist­ance in the Crisis: Greece and the Future of Europe (Polity Press 2013) and, with Conor Gearty [eds], The Cam­bridge Com­pan­ion to Human Rights Law (CUP 2012).

 

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