Friday, 4 April 2014

Thoughts on the Baltakos affair

The conservative-led coalition in Greece is facing accusations of engineering a legal persecution of far-right Golden Dawn for political gain. 

The furore was sparked by a leaked video on Wednesday, showing cabinet secretary Panayotis Baltakos saying that Prime Minister Antonis Samaras ordered a crackdown on the party in hopes of sweeping up its votes. Baltakos, who was talking to Golden Dawn MP Ilias Kasidiaris in the video, resigned yesterday.

Six Golden Dawn MPs, including its leader and deputy head, are in jail awaiting trial on charges of forming a criminal organisation. The charges came after the killing of a left-wing rapper at the hands of a Golden Dawn member last year. Public order minister Nikos Dendias has said he believes that 31 more cases of manslaughter, brutality and attempted murder over a two-year period are attributable to Golden Dawn.

At one point in the leaked conversation, Kasidiaris asks why he and another MP were released from pre-trial detention. "They let you go for the simple reason that there is no evidence'" says Baltakos.

Later, Kasidiaris asks whether the prime minister is aware of the hollowness of the charges. "Not in the beginning but now that he's seen the polls... he's such a bourgeois that in the beginning he said to me '[Golden Dawn] will fall to two percent.' I replied, 'I'm telling you they'll go to 20 percent.' He said, 'you're a wanker.'"

Golden Dawn entered parliament in June 2012 with 6.97 percent of the vote, gaining 21 seats.

"Who told him to do these things?" Kasidiaris presses on.

"First of all he's worried about himself. Because you lot prevent him from gaining a lead over [left wing opposition] Syriza," replies Baltakos.

Later Kasidiaris asks why the prosecutor agreed to file charges.

"They persuaded her that "these people are pagans, idol-worshippers, Nazis, and against Christianity."

"Who persuaded her?" asks Kasidiaris. "Athanasiou and Dendias," replies Baltakos, referring to Justice Minister Haralambos Athanasiou and public order minister Nikos Dendias.

In resigning, Baltakos said he was merely keeping back-channels of communication with Golden Dawn open. Through Baltakos, the government may have been preparing the ground for a reconciliation with Golden Dawn MPs it has no real evidence against, perhaps in hopes of signing them on; but the conspiratorial tone of the conversation has led many people to suspect that he is an earnest sympathiser with the right wing party, and this is as great a concern as the possibility that New Democracy attempted to influence the judiciary. 

There are independent indications of Baltakos' right-wing leanings. In December 2012, Baltakos told the National Committee for Human Rights that “he doesn’t care, in his capacity as a representative of the government and New Democracy, about the committee’s work and human rights, nor about the country’s international obligations.” The committee made the comment public after New Democracy drafted a Draconian citizenship bill a year ago, but withdrew it without any parliamentary debate or online public consultation. 

That parts of the ruling New Democracy party are sympathetic to positions espoused by far-right Golden Dawn is no secret. Last February, 85 New Democracy MPs petitioned the prime minister to reserve jobs in the military and police for Greek nationals who are also ethnic Greeks on national security grounds, effectively abolishing constitutional equality before the law.

Baltakos may not be the only senior New Democracy member with far-right sympathies. Makis Voridis, a New Democracy MP who defected from the right-wing LAOS, was said to be seeing Kasidiaris on an almost daily basis in the first half of last year. 

Syriza has asked for a parliamentary discussion, which the government agrees to. It seems likely that Kasidiaris is responsible for Golden Dawn's back-channel communications with the centre-right. Opposition MPs are likely to ask, are his interlocutors acting on the party's behalf or their own?  

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