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Guardian – Aris Chatzistefanou
Monday 21 October 2013
Swastikas and other fascist symbols became increasingly popular in recent years as the party grew to become Greece’s third biggest political force. But the murder last month of the anti-fascist rapper Pavlos Fyssas has led to an unprecedented crackdown on Golden Dawn and prompted many to rethink overt support for the group.
“I now have customers who want me to cover up their old tattoos with new ones,” said Yannis Barouxis, a tattoo artist.
Christoforos Tzermias, a dermatologist, uses laser surgery to remove neo-Nazi symbols from Golden Dawn supporters. “They are usually young people aged 20 to 25 and their tattoos were made in the last two or three years,” he said.
Barouxis and Tzermias said they had customers from the police force and the military who now feared they might be singled out for supporting Golden Dawn. “It’s a sign of nationalism, but I wouldn’t say that they are neo-Nazis,” said Tzermias.
Many prominent Golden Dawn MPs, such as the party spokesman, Ilias Kassidiaris, have argued that the swastikas on their arms are ancient Greek meanders or other symbols.
Panayiotis Iliopoulos, another Golden Dawn MP, said he “didn’t know anything about Hitler” and that he chose to have the words “Sieg Heil” tattooed on his right arm because he liked the fonts.
But a string of police raids have turned up evidence that some Golden Dawn activists are active supporters of the Nazis. A small museum of Nazi paraphernalia and weaponry was found at the house of Anastasios Pallis, a fugitive ship owner who is believed to be a party donor. Pallis was also a major shareholder in Proto Thema, a newspaper often condemned for its uncritical reporting on neo-Nazis.
Michalis Spourdalakis, professor of political science at the University of Athens, said confronting neo-nazism in Greece would be much harder than simply erasing a few tattoos.
“You have to deal with fear, insecurity, authoritarianism, the extremism of the political centre ground and the subversion of democracy by the austerity policies,” he said.
Recent polls show that after the arrest of its leaders, Golden Dawn has managed to increase its support in comparison with the last general elections of 2012.
But Tzermias, the dermatologist, said: “[Customers] are asking me to remove the neo-Nazi tattoos immediately, but this is impossible. This procedure takes time.”