Greek far-right revels in newfound spotlight
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The neo-Nazi party Golden Dawn won 21 seats in Greece’s parliamentary elections on Sunday – a historic first for the group. Having been scoffed at for more than thirty years, is Greece’s viciously xenophobic far-right now a force to be reckoned with?
After watching his party collect almost 7% of the votes in Greece’s May 6 parliamentary elections, far-right leader Nikolaos Michaloliakos felt vindicated. For the first time in its history his ultra-nationalist Golden Dawn party will count 21 members in the 300-seat Greek Parliament.
“You insulted, ignored and humiliated me. But I won,” he spat at reporters during a press conference in Athens after the election results were announced. “I came, I saw, I conquered. Now, all foreigners out of my country! The hour of fear has come for the traitors of the fatherland."
Golden Dawn rejects the “neo-Nazi” label, but its rhetoric, symbols and history are, for many analysts, cause for concern.
While the party has adopted an ancient Greek symbol as its emblem, its likeness to the Nazi swastika is striking. As for the open palm salute used by its members, it leaves no doubt as to who the party draws inspiration from.
Golden Dawn’s official website sells copies of Adolf Hitler’s manifesto “Mein Kampf” and other Nazi literature, as well as dozens of books that defend white supremacy, including the controversial 1978 novel “The Turner Diaries” by William Luther Pierce, an American white supremacist.
“I rarely use the term neo-Nazi because it is often incorrectly used to describe far-right parties,” said Jean-Yves Camus, a French researcher and expert on European far-right groups. “But in the case of Golden Dawn, the term fits.”
History of violence and ‘charity’
In little more than 30 years, Michaloliakos has carried Golden Dawn from prison to the halls of Parliament.
Dubbed 'the Führur' by the Greek press, Michaloliakos was handed several jail sentences in the 1970s on charges of assault and possession of weapons. It was after his release from jail that he founded a magazine that would carry the same name as his future political group.
Soon, Golden Dawn was involved in a lot more than printing and selling nationalist literature, says Camus. “Since its beginnings the group has engaged in violent street action. Members have often organised night patrols, especially in central Athens, with the objective of beating immigrants who crossed their path,” he said.
The past two years have seen an increase in racist attacks in the Greek capital, with Afghans and Pakistanis most often the target.
Writing in the International Herald Tribune last January, Human Rights Watch’s Eva Cosse said some areas of Athens had become virtual “no-go” areas for migrants and asylum seekers “because of the risk of attacks by vigilante groups.”
But Golden Dawn members have also become conspicuous through their peculiar brand of community outreach. The group’s members offer to escort elderly residents who want to withdraw money from ATM machines and organise food and clothing drives for families in poor neighbourhoods surrounding Athens – as long as they are white.
“It is a very commonly used tactic to appeal to disenfranchised voters, and is especially prevalent in neighbourhoods with many immigrants,” said George Prevelakis, professor of political science at the Sorbonne University in Paris.
“Today [Michaloliakos] is slightly trying to conceal his Nazi roots. But his ideology remains the same,” said Camus. “It’s an ideology dominated by anti-immigrant and xenophobic rhetoric, and which now counts anti-austerity.”
Consequence of austerity
Michaloliakos' rise in the past two months has been meteoric. In the country’s 2009 parliamentary poll, his party received only 0.23% of votes, and only as far back as January he was so low in surveys of voter intentions that polling agencies did not bother mentioning him.
However, hundreds of thousands of Greeks cast a ballot for Golden Dawn on May 6. "We should avoid generalities. This obviously does not mean that all people who voted for Golden Dawn are neo-Nazis," said Camus.
Analysts say Golden Dawn’s sudden surge has much to do with the strict austerity regime imposed by the EU and accepted by Greece’s former ruling coalition in February. “The increasing poverty and the feeling of lost sovereignty in Greece have generated a nationalist rejection of all decisions dictated from abroad,” Camus explained.
But not all observers are overly concerned about the far right’s recent political advance. For the Sorbonne’s Prevelakis, Golden Dawn is merely benefitting from the current disarray of Greece’s mainstream parties. “This is a reactionary phenomenon that will not last long,” Prevelakis said.
“It's sad to see the rebirth of a party like Golden Dawn, but its leaders have no credibility. They have so far avoided public debates, they will eventually be discredited,” agreed Camus.