The rise of the far-right party has long been a thorn in the side of the government, damaging Greece's reputation internationally. But the crackdown's trigger was the Sept. 18 murder of Pavlos Fyssas, an anti-racist, anti-fascist rapper who used the stage name of Killah P. He was stabbed in Athens by a man alleged to have ties to Golden Dawn.
The government response was immediate, with senior members of the party arrested, though several have now been released on bail. Members have been arrested for homicide, attempted homicide, money laundering, blackmail, grievous bodily harm, and other crimes, while leader Nikolaos Mihaloliakos has been charged with founding and participating in a criminal organization.
Government rhetoric has been tough, with Prime Minister Antonis Samaras, leader of the center right New Democracy party, describing Golden Dawn as "Nazi descendants." In a televised address to the nation, Mr. Samaras described the group as “our enemies," saying he would not allow them to "poison our social life, to commit crimes, terrorize and undermine the foundations of the country that gave birth to democracy."
The timing is not favorable. Greece is in crucial phase of its debt negotiations and preparing to take over the rotating presidency of the EU in January.
But there are signs that the crackdown has been in the works for some time. The newspaper Eleftherotypia (Freedom of the Press) reported on Sept. 26 that authorities had Golden Dawn under surveillance for several months prior to the arrests.
While critics of the government have frequently charged that Golden Dawn has penetrated the Greek police – a claim denied by, among others, the prime minister – shortly before the crackdown two senior policemen resigned, seven were transferred, and the head of the country's intelligence service was replaced.
Though Golden Dawn has inspired horror among both the left and the mainstream right, the crackdown against the group has raised some concerns about democracy and freedom of speech. Nikos Konstandaras, journalist with center right Greek newspaper I Kathimerini (The Daily), wrote that the move "went a long way toward restoring faith in the country's institutions and the state," but warned Golden Dawn members must be prosecuted for actual crimes, not subjected to a "political pogrom."