Who are these men in grey or black uniforms, wearing white helmets and riot gear, who we have for some years now been seeing in the midst of clouds of tear gas as they charge on demonstrators and lay into them with their batons?

Well, they are police officers, of course, that is, servants of a democratic state paid to protect that state. The state which is made up, theoretically at least, of those very citizens they are attacking. One uncomfortable detail lies in the fact that many of these police officers are inspired by ideals that have very little to do with democracy. Indeed, half of them are neo-Nazi sympathisers i.e. voters for the Chrysi Avghi’ party (Golden Dawn).

This is the disquieting fact - one that has been confirmed in the space of less than two months - of an analysis of last Sunday’s vote conducted by the authoritative weekly To Vima (The Tribune) across various Athens polling stations. Along with other citizens, around 5,000 police officers serving in the Greek capital cast their votes for the neo-Nazi party.

In some of these stations, the proportion of the vote that went to Chrysi Avghi’ on May 6 (allowing them to win 22 seats in Parliament) varied between 19 and 24%, while in other polling stations such as Agios Panteleimonas and Kypseli, which are considered strongholds of the party percentages stood at between 15 and 18%.

Impressed by these findings, To Vima journalists repeated their survey last Sunday and found out that nothing has changed: the percentage of police officers voting for Chrysi Avgi’ stays practically the same. This despite the fact that Golden Dawn thugs began a campaign of violent “punitive expeditions” as early as the day after the May election, targeting immigrants (illegal and legal) and the Athens gay community, as well as in other Greek cities.

But maybe this is precisely why, some say, the Golden Dawn bullies have attacted so many police votes. They are perceived as “colleagues” in arms in the fight for “public order” a concept that can easily be misunderstood.

It is no secret in Greece just how strong the links are between Golden Dawn thugs and the current security appartus, many of whom hark back nostalgically to the days of the Colonels. The leader of party, Nikos Michaloliakos, was in fact very close to the military regime that ruled the country from 1967 to 1974. Many photos have appeared over recent years of black-clad individuals giving officers a ‘helping hand’ against street demonstrators.

These were no members of Black Bloc or anarchists as has been rumoured, but right-wing thugs. This, according to local analysts, is why they have never been arrested, like the young man who used a Molotov bomb to set fire to a bank in central Athens on May 5 2010, leading to the deaths of three employees. Many have come around to seeing in these figures agents provocateurs, employed by the far right to give the left a bad name.

The figures appearing in this week’s leave a lot of questions to be answered concerning the political persuasions of police officers not just in Athens but across Greece. High among them is: “Who is going to protect the Greeks from their police?”.

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