Yesterday's attack on two Greek female MPs by Ilias Kasidiaris, the spokesman for the neo-Nazi Chrysi Avgi, (Golden Dawn) party, on a national talk show, has presented the Greek public with a moment that will be difficult to ignore.
The clip of the encounter has now gone viral and it makes astonishing viewing. In the middle of an extremely heated debate, Rena Dourou of the leftwing Syriza coalition, suggested that there was ' a crisis of democracy when people who will take the country back 500 years have got into the parliament.'
This not unreasonable observation was too much for Kasidiaris, who threw water in her face. When the KKE communist deputy Liana Kanelli appeared to throw a newspaper at him, Kasidiaris laid into her with a wild series of punches, before being escorted off the set.
According to Athens News, Kasidiaris continued assaulting people in the tv studio and taking photographs of anyone who approached him, promising 'I'm taking photographs of you so I can take care of you later,' before going on the run.
A former special forces soldier who is due to go on trial next week for his alleged participation in a 2007 gang attack on a postgraduate student, who was clubbed and stabbed in order to get his identity card, Kasidiaris was always a dubious spokesman for a party seeking to enter the political mainstream.
Such behaviour on a national breakfast tv show might not seem the greatest advertisement for a party in the midst of a crucial electoral campaign, but Golden Dawn is not known for its media savvy. At its first press conference as a parliamentary party during the last elections, party members ordered assembled reporters to stand up when its leader Nikos Michaloliakos entered the room, declaring 'all rise! Show some respect!'.
Last month Greek journalists protested this incident by squatting down on the floor when Michaloliakos went to the presidential palace for negotiations over a coalition government. Michaloliakos has claimed that the latest incident has been 'blown out of proportion' and that Kasidiaris was attacked first, while an official Golden Dawn statement has described the incident as another expression of the media's ' war of propaganda against the party'.
Golden Dawn likes to present itself as a victimised political outsider, vilified for its honesty and patriotism, but Kasidiaris' thuggery is merely the most visible expression of a political formation that is steeped in violence and hatred, much of which is directed towards the country's migrant population.
When I was last in Greece in the autumn of 2010, migrants in downtown Athens were being subjected to almost daily assaults, from beatings by gangs armed with iron bars to hit-and-run stabbings by individuals on motorbikes.
Most people I spoke to attributed these attacks to rightwing vigilante groups and militants from Chrysi Avgi. Since then, things have got a lot worse, and anti-immigrant violence has escalated in Athens and other parts of Greece. As the Guardian reports:
A surge of recent attacks in recent weeks on migrants, particularly from Pakistan and Afghanistan, has been blamed squarely on the neo-fascist party. Immigrants have been assaulted in their homes, on the streets, on trains and buses in and outside city centres with most requiring intensive hospital care.
Last week, far rightists were accused of an arson attack on a migrants' hostel in Athens. Ourania Michaloliakou, the daughter of Chrysi Avgi's leader, was among six masked party cadres charged with conducting a motorcycle raid against Pakistani migrants although they were later released.
The fact that a horrendous party like this managed to capture 7% of the vote in the last elections is a testament to the prevalent racism and xenophobia in a country that has become the major entry point for undocumented migrants seeking work or asylum in the last few years - and which simultaneously serves as a trap to prevent them going any further into Europe.
All this has left thousands of migrants in a state of permanent marginalisation in a society that does not want them and which many of them do not want to be in - and which has transformed them into convenient scapegoats for mainstream politicians and the more extremist fringes.
This has been going on for some years, but the new electoral respectability of an unrepentantly neo-Nazi party with ties to the Greek military dictatorship is another consequence of a society in profound crisis. Only yesterday a friend in Greece wrote to me: ' Some things that we see these days are hard to believe. There is an increased fear, increased desperation and harshening survival conditions for all. The situation here is crossing many limits.'
Golden Dawn has presented its anti-immigrant, anti-corruption message as an expression of patriotism and a defence of 'national sovereignty' against the 'slavery of the bailout'.
Behind the patriotic rhetoric and flagwaving, lies the face that Kasidiaris revealed so unforgettably yesterday to millions of breakfast viewers. There are undoubtedly some Greeks who will not be too bothered about seeing a communist slapped around on national television.
But Kasidiaris may have presented wavering Greek voters who see Golden Dawn as a viable alternative to a corrupt political class with a reminder of their country's past and a glimpse of the worst possible future, that may cause them to think again when they go the polls.
And if that happens, his moment of madness will have done Greece a huge favour.Suggest a correction