Golden Dawn on trial: witness finally stands by original statement (days 87-88)

gd_on_trial_4Kevin Ovenden reports from the trial of Golden Dawn, the most far-reaching trial of fascist criminal activity in Europe since the Nuremberg process following the Second World War.

Day 87-88 (23/9/2016+27/9/2016): witness finally stands by original statement

A neighbour of the Egyptian fishermen who suffered a near fatal attack by a Golden Dawn battalion squad completed two days of testimony today and returned to the vivid description he gave at the time of the events in June 2012.

Costas Tatsiopoulos lives very near to the where the Egyptian fishermen were attacked in their home in Perama and responded to their cries for help.

He gave a witness statement to police in the hours that followed and later to investigating magistrates.

But on his first day of testifying in court, on Friday of last week, he appeared to downplay his earlier statement.

Where he had told investigators that he had heard a furious commotion which alerted him to the attack and caused him to go outside, on Friday he spoke of just a noise, perhaps a broken pane of glass.

He had vividly described a gang of men smashing up the Egyptians’ cars with staves and bars. That became just some men pushing and rocking the cars to and fro. Where there had been detail, on Friday there was none.

But questioned today by the president of the court and by lawyers acting for the Egyptian fishermen he was less reluctant to speak out and returned to endorsing his original, written witness statement.

Tatsiopoulos accepted that he knew at the time that it was a Golden Dawn assault and that he was clear about that before Mohammed, one of the fishermen attacked, told him that that is what one of the assailants had shouted.

He agreed that it would take more than just one broken pane of glass to get a number of neighbours out to respond and that it was a sustained and violent commotion.

Contrary to efforts by Golden Dawn lawyers – a consistent strategy on their part – to claim that the affray he could see at the front of the house was entirely separate from the near murderous attack at the back, on the terrace where Abuzid Ebarak was sleeping, he said that he was clear that all the incidents were part of one attack.

Why had he been so vague earlier, asked the president of the court.

“Look – I knew they were Golden Dawn,” he said, “But I didn’t want to say so. I didn’t want to meddle and get involved.”

But events conspired to involve him. They did so not in the clean or black and white fashion which lends itself to simple tales of heroes and villains. Instead it is a story with all the complexity and shadings which characterise both politics at a mass level and criminal proceedings the world over.

On the night of a near fatal attack on his immigrant neighbours Costas Tatsiopoulos helped them summon the police and ambulance service.

The same Costas Tatsiopoulos, the court has heard, had taken food from a Golden Dawn food bank set up in the poor area of Perama.

This perversion of “social solidarity” by the fascists between 2010 and 2013 was never on a large scale and always largely a publicity stunt. The media – Greek and international – duly obliged in exaggerating the neo-Nazis efforts to gain a base through those means. Other means – intimidation of neighbourhoods with police collusion – were always much more central.

Still – Perama was a target area for Golden Dawn and their “Greek-only” aping of the social solidarity movement had intersected with the life of Costas Tatsiopoulos.

He did not want to be in court testifying, he told the judge. And he had not wanted to be involved that night. Yet today he ended up doing the right thing.

A clue as to why perhaps might be found in an answer he gave to the Egyptians’ lawyers:

“They were quiet people. They’d been in the neighbourhood about 10 years. This was the first time there had been any incident like this. They got on with people. Sometimes they would bring back fish from their shop as a present for neighbours.”

And so he continued, matter-of-factly, to confirm key elements of what happened that night despite not wanting to be a witness at all.

Next it was the turn of the lawyer acting for Golden Dawn MP Giannis Lagos. It was Lagos who, the court has already heard, had addressed a Golden Dawn meeting in Perama hours before the attack. At it he said there were “these Egyptian fishermen selling fish in the area and unaccountable to anyone”. He was accusing them of working and trading illegally, not paying taxes or answerable to the authorities. “From now on they will be accountable to Golden Dawn,” Lagos told the fascist meeting.

Today his lawyer repeated that accusation to the witness:

“Did you hear if the Egyptians had problems with others, because they bought products without invoices and illegally undercut the market…?”

That is a leading and improper question in any court. The presiding judge said so.

One of the lawyers for the Egyptians interjected: “Madam president – we ask you to allow this question as it is revealing of the motive for this attack.”

She did not. But out of the mouth of the fascist MP’s defence lawyer himself the motive for the attack was further clarified. It goes to the heart of the nature of Golden Dawn and of the fascist threat.

The prosecution will later in this trial present evidence of how Golden Dawn has operated in other neighbourhoods, seeking to act as a “cleansing force” and extension of the police.

One aspect is vicious racism directed at immigrants. But why the Egyptian fishermen and why at that time in the poor neighbourhood of Perama in 2012?

Another aspect is exactly to offer themselves to small business to deal with competitors, especially “non-Greek”. A protection racket and an ethnic protectionism at the same time.

This was exactly the way that the Nazi party in Germany sought to build support among small businessmen and farmers, and lawyers and doctors in private practice.

The reluctant testimony these two days of the neighbour Costas has provided an insight into something which none of us can turn away from and hope to avoid.

A reminder of the threat that represents was outside the court this morning as three members of Golden Dawn fuhrer Nikos Michaloliakos’s security battalion tried to start a physical confrontation.

Next week the Egyptian fisherman Mohammed will testify as the case continues.

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