Banned Golden Down members continue to reach far-right followers from behind bars

Greece
Tue, 15 Mar 2022 13:38 GMT
Greece’s neo-Nazi Golden Dawn party was left broken by the October 2020 jailing of 18 of its senior figures. But they continue to reach far-right followers from behind bars in what critics say reeks of preferential prison treatment. A research made by Ili...
Banned Golden Down members continue to reach far-right followers from behind bars
Greece’s neo-Nazi Golden Dawn party was left broken by the October 2020 jailing of 18 of its senior figures. But they continue to reach far-right followers from behind bars in what critics say reeks of preferential prison treatment.

A research made by Iliana Papangeli and Stavros Malichudis, published in BalkanIinsights on 15th March 2022.

The first voice on the tape is that of a woman

“Good evening Mr Ilias Kasidiaris, I am speaking [to you] as a lawyer,” she says. “In light of the decision banning your communication with persons other than your relatives and lawyers, I would like to hear your opinion on this issue and for you to give me permission to record this conversation.”

Kasidiaris consents, and embarks on effectively a 17-minute monologue in which the lawyer makes just three brief interjections.

On October 24 last year, the recording was uploaded to 41-year-old Kasidiaris’ personal YouTube channel, giving his more than 100,000 subscribers yet another chance to hear the thoughts of a former leader of the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn party now serving a thirteen and a half year prison sentence for running a criminal organisation.
Just before the video switches to an advert for Kasidiaris’ latest book, the lawyer says: “I would like to point out, refuting the rumours that you not participating in the upcoming elections, that both your participation and success are certain.”

And there ends the latest party political statement issued from behind bars on behalf of Kasidiaris’ National Party Hellenes, a statement that critics say makes a mockery of a prison ban on public communication.

It is only the latest sign of the apparent preferential prison treatment enjoyed by the former leaders of the Golden Dawn.

Spreading the word from behind bars

Once a force to be reckoned with in parliament and on the streets, Golden Dawn’s fortunes have waned since 18 senior figures, including long-time leader Nikos Michaloliakos, were convicted in October 2020 of running a criminal organisation. Dozens more were convicted of participation in the organisation.

A number of those figures, such as Kasidiaris, have opted to form their own political offshoots. But they rely on communication beyond their jail cells if they are to remain relevant and, in the case of Kasidiaris, stake a claim as undisputed leader of the Greek far-right ahead of the next parliamentary election in 2023.

In October 2021, a report by the Greek media non-profit Solomon detailed the tactics employed by Kasidiaris to circumvent a ban on public communication and the way he and fellow former Golden Dawn figures control the allocation of prison ‘workshifts’ as a way to reduce the time they end up spending behind bars.

The recording that was posted on October 24 has since been viewed at least 101,000 times. But it was by no means the first.

Indeed, Kasidiaris uploaded his first prison message a year earlier, just four days after he and his fellow defendants were sent to Domokos prison, central Greece, following their conviction.

Of 124 videos uploaded to his YouTube channel since it was created in June 2012, 52 appeared after his imprisonment.

These 52 videos have racked up a total of more than 6.82 million views, or an average of roughly 131,000 each. According to the social media analysis tool Social Blade, since Kasidiaris was imprisoned, his YouTube channel has gained more than 36,100 new subscribers, around a third of its current total.

On October 7, 2021, after almost a year of these prison messages, authorities imposed a ban on Kasidiaris’ communication with people outside the prison beyond his immediate family and lawyers. It had become apparent that Kasidiaris was in possession of a mobile phone, which is otherwise prohibited, and talking with associates who uploaded his remarks.

For two and a half weeks, Kasidiaris was silent. Then the October 24 tape emerged, and at least seven have followed since.

Now, each tape begins with a party lawyer stating that the conversation is the result of his or her legal duties and concerns issues purely related to the Kasidiaris case. Somehow, the conversation happens to veer onto topics such as the government’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic and its policy on migrants and refugees.

The ban was imposed by Sophia Nikolaou, who at the time was secretary general of anti-crime policy and therefore responsible for management of prison facilities in Greece.

Nikolaou said she had acted to block Kasidiaris’ ‘preaching of hate’, as the media widely described it, after he gave a remote, online address to a party event.

Nikolaou left her post in January 2022. BIRN approached her successor, Constantinos Papathanasiou, for comment on Kasidiaris’ continued public communication, but received no reply.

The imposition of control and Kasidiari’s new tactic

Kasidiaris is not the only former Golden Dawn figure who appears to be flouting prison rules with impunity.

Like Kasidiaris, former Golden Dawn MP Ioannis Lagos, now an MEP and founder of the National People’s Consciousness party, ELASYN, was sentenced to thirteen and a half years in prison.

He too gets his message out via his party’s website and YouTube account, albeit to far fewer subscribers than Kasidiaris.

On December 10, last year, Lagos shared an update via a recorded message posted to YouTube in which he said he had been banned from prison work for a year after objecting to a cell inspection.

Under the way prisons are run in Greece, prisoners can undertake unpaid work in the running of their facility, with each day worked counting to reduce their actual sentence.

Prison labour councils allocate work positions which, for each month worked, can lead to sentences being cut by 23, 30 or 45 days. The latter posts, those carrying 45-day reductions, are the rarest.

Is Kasidiari’s new tactic consistent with the decision against him?

According to several media reports, before the incident over the cell inspection, Lagos was in charge of the prison library, which sources familiar with the inside workings of Domokos prison say was among the best posts going. For every month he worked, Lagos would have been cutting 45 days of his sentence.

The same sources, who spoke on condition of anonymity out of fear for their security, say the Golden Dawn inmates are currently in control of the workshifts in Domokos. With room for 600 inmates but a population of some 650, the prison is crowded and there are not enough workshifts for everyone.

According to media reports, Michaloliakos, Golden Dawn’s leader, has been working as a librarian and Kasidiaris as a nursing assistant.

On January 10 this year, dismissing the objections of prosecutors, a Greek appeals court ordered the release of former Golden Dawn MP Nikos Michos, who had been serving a six-year sentence, pending a second instance ruling in his case.

Michos was described by witnesses in the Golden Dawn trial as a “butcher” who trained party members in how to use a knife as a weapon. He was identified as the “main perpetrator” of a violent attack on anti-fascist activists on the island of Paros in 2013 and convicted of involvement in another Golden Dawn attack the same year in Athens.

Pressing for his release, Michos’ lawyers cited a disability, but, according to the decision of the court, what tipped the scales was the workshifts he had accumulated as a prison barber.

This research was conducted for “Simeio / Signal. Researching and Confronting the Far Right”, where an extensive version in Greek can be found. The research was sponsored by the Office in Greece of the Rosa Luxemburg Stiftung.

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