Golden Dawn: The Rise Of Greece's Extreme Right Wing

ANALYSIS

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Member of Greece's extreme-right Golden Dawn party holds flag bearing party logo during election campaign rally in Athens
Member of Greece's extreme-right Golden Dawn party holds flag bearing party logo during election campaign rally in Athens

Shortly after winning 21 seats in parliament, Greece's 'Golden Dawn' Party has already become a political pariah, and the neo-Nazi party was not invited to a meeting with President Karolos Papoulias, who called on five other political party leaders to discuss the formation of a new coalition government.

Since taking close to 7 percent of the popular vote during parliamentary elections earlier this month, Golden Dawn and its cult-of-personality leader Nikolaos Michaloliakos have not backed away from the inflammatory language used during their campaign. The most recent uproar occurred after Michaloliakos made comments about the Holocaust on Tuesday.

There were no ovens, this is a lie ... there were no gas chambers either, Mihaloliakos said during an interview with Mega television on Sunday, adding that the figure of six million Jewish victims was an exaggeration.

The comments garnered widespread condemnation, with government spokesman Pantelis Kapsis stating I most categorically condemn such views, which distort history and offend the memory of millions of Holocaust victims.

But right-wing sentiments in Europe have been on the rise in recent years. Politicians like France's Marine Le Pen, who finished third in this month's president elections, and Holland's Geert Wilders are becoming increasingly commonplace, while the murderous actions of Andres Breivik in Norway last July represented the ultimate manifestation of such radical thought.

Although it rejects the neo-Nazi label, Golden Dawn makes does little to hide its extreme political leanings. It touts a National Socialist ideology -- there are copies of Hitler's Mein Kampf on display in party headquarters, according to Israel National News -- and the party's flag is a slightly distorted version of the swastika (although the party insists it's a traditional Greek meandros).

It should be noted that during World War II, the Nazis and Fascist Italy invaded Greece, leaving some Greek 400,000 bodies in their wake, including 70,000 Greek Jews who were killed in Nazi death camps.

The election of Nazi nostalgics is a heavy blow for Greek democracy. It is an insult to the history of Greece, the council of Jews in Greece said in a statement.

The rise of Golden Dawn this year is indicative of the ongoing political and social turmoil in Greece, a country where a four-year-old debt crisis has resulted in near-daily riots, a huge spike in both unemployment and suicide, and the resignation of the prime minister.

The Golden Dawn party was officially registered in 1991, although its roots are a decade older, and found very little political success before this year. Golden Dawn did win a city council seat in Athens in 2010, but in the last parliamentary elections the party took a microscopic 0.23 percent of the vote.

But now, Greeks are looking for a change, and Golden Dawn is a radical break from politics as usual.

Its most salient political point is actually its aversion to Germany, namely the European austerity programs championed by Chancellor Angela Merkel. The sentiment was shared by the left-wing Syriza party, which came second in this month's general elections.

The (Greek) government has been playing pranks on the people -- cutting its wages, pensions, sending riot police to spray them with chemicals, party spokesman Ilias Kasidiaris told Greek TV.

The other policies on which Golden Dawn ran were more fringe. While immigration is always an important issue around the world, and an especially polarizing topic during economic crises, Golden Dawn's insinuation that immigrants should be rounded up -- either to be put in work camps or deported -- have brought the party negative attention, as has its plan to put landmines along the Turkish border.

The party's stance on immigration and calls for night-time patrols of certain neighborhoods have already been blamed for a rise in violence against immigrants, particularly Asian migrants in cities.

Full Comment’s Araminta Wordsworth wrote on Tuesday that Party members beat up immigrants, sometimes even killing them; they firebomb buildings housing mosques while Michaloliakos has cloaked himself in nationalism while abundantly signalling his disdain for democracy and free speech.

Javad Aslan, a spokesman for Greece's Pakistani immigrant community, told the Telegraph that he can barely believe there is now a political party that comes with knives and bars against us, that hurts people and puts them in hospital.

This is dangerous for everyone who is living in Greece. This [result is] unbelievable for me. It is very serious, very dangerous.

Golden Dawn's fiery leader also branded journalists liars and traitors, and added during a rally that those who betrayed the motherland -- you should be scared now.

No one should fear me if they are a good Greek citizen. If they are traitors -- I don't know, Michaloliakos said.Those who betray this country -- it's time for them to be afraid. We are coming.

Who Voted?

The voters who cast their ballots for the far-right group are hard to find -- or, at least, reluctant to admit how they voted, Athens News said after the elections.

Polling numbers have helped elucidate who supports the party. According to a Greek media report, more than half of all police officers in Athens -- and possibly Greece as a whole -- voted for Golden Dawn, and support was high in the neighborhood of Kypseli and other run down neighborhoods, where the party has earned a reputation for providing assistance for the elderly.

“I just wanted them to get into parliament but not to be so big. I just wanted them in to rock the system,” a clothing shop clerk named Vaia, 30, told Reuters.

People voted in anger, without thinking. When they realize what they did, they'll be afraid, Maria Savelona, a 51-year-old widow, told Athens News.

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