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

[NB., this is not AAfG-produced content — the following article in the form below first appeared on 30 September 2013 on the Critical Legal Thinking website, itself being an elaboration of an earlier article]

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.


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
Writ­ten by Cos­tas Douz­i­nas, inspired by Emile Zola

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

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 (CUP2012).