Extremist-right party Golden Dawn, whose logo is reminiscent of a swastika, gathered enough votes to win almost 20 seats in the Greek parliament. The results of Greece’s May 6 election have shocked the Greek political scene, but the biggest shock comes from the far-right Golden Dawn that gathered about 7% of the vote.
“The touch of the cat” is the name of the admittedly effective tactic followed by Greece’s most extremist party. Just like cats detect their prey walking on their toes, Golden Dawn quietly observed Greek voters becoming more and more vulnerable, and then they attacked them.
Founded in the early 1980s by backers of the junta that governed Greece from 1967 to 1974, Golden Dawn has always embraced a neo-Nazi ideology. Its symbol looks like the swastika, and copies of “Mein Kampf,” and books on the racial superiority of the Greeks are on prominent display in its Athens headquarters. In the past, not many Greeks took Golden Dawn seriously, but the May 6 national elections showed Golden Dawn surpassing the 3 percent threshold needed to enter Parliament.
Right after the initial results of the election, leader of the Golden Dawn – Nikolaos Michaloliakos - held a press conference. During the conference and before Michaloliakos entered the room, his party’s officials asked the journalists to stand up as an ovation to their leader. When a journalist refused to stand, they forced her outside of the room. Greek Politicians are afraid that Golden Dawn will show similar improper behavior in the Greek parliament. See the video from the incident below:
The New Face
Golden Dawn’s prey – aka desperate, cash-stripped Greek voters – don’t even realized what has changed. But for some reason, Golden Dawn suddenly appears “a bit more normal” than what it used to be. Their ballots included ordinary, low key people, not the usual hard core fascists. And instead of talking about Nazi fascism, Golden Dawn candidates talk about the ordinary people and their daily sufferings due to the crisis. They are worried about the cuts in pensions and salaries, about the schools and the hospitals that are being merged. Michalioliakos, the general secretary of Golden Dawn, transformed his party from a collection of street fighters into a political party.
“This is our party’s program, for a clean Greece, only for Greeks, a safe Greece,” says Ilias Panagiotaros, the group’s spokesman and a candidate for office.
In the pre-crisis times, the majority of Greeks would make fun of him. Yet those living in downtown Athens have been so badly hit by the crime coming from illegal immigrants that they may have voted of him.
Almost all European far-right parties have come up with the same toxic cocktail. The Dutch MP Geert Wilders, leader of the anti-immigrant Freedom party, has compared the Qur’an to Mein Kampf. In Tel Aviv in 2010, he declared that “Islam threatens not only Israel, Islam threatens the whole world. If Jerusalem falls today, Athens and Rome, Amsterdam and Paris will fall tomorrow.”
Right after he realized there is a chance he would enter the Greek parliament, Michalioliakos reinvented his party’s image, disassociated himself and almost denied his extremist past, the Nazi symbols, the praise to Hitler and stopped hunting immigrants around St. Paneleimonas square in central Athens (he’s probably going to continue his hobby after the elections).
Those who know say that Michalioliakos used all his talent and manipulating strategies, and very skillfully prepared the ballots so that he could mislead the voters who won’t even realize what exactly they’re voting for. So, while everyone waited after continuous information that not much would change in Golden Dawn’s ballots, and the majority of candidates would mostly be retired army officers, ultimately only a handful were actually included. Instead of including the usual fascist suspects, Michalioliakos decided to open the doors to unsuspected Athenians, who have no clue about his party’s past. The majority of his candidates have no party activity, no fascist past. They are taxi drivers, fishermen, security guards, farmers, bank employees a couple of journalists and municipal staff. And for those left that have some sort of a blurry past, he refuses to answer as to how they ended up in the ballots. “I do not know all the candidates, or how they ended up being included in the lists,” he says.
The Right Timing
Golden Dawn has been running in national elections since 1994 with no luck. In 2010 however, in the beginning of the crisis, its leader Nikos Michaloliakos was elected to the Athens City Council. In one of his interviews, Michaloliakos called the group “national socialists” and said the party’s main concern was the crime and the financial crisis. But opportunistic words of caring for Greeks cannot disguise the Greek far right’s toxic rhetoric of hatred.
What Michalioliakos did is pretty clear. He seized the opportunity, and in the wildest capitalist crisis Greece has ever experienced, with Greeks killing themselves as they never did before, and children fainting out of starvation at schools, he smelled the desperation, camouflaged himself and his party and presents himself as the new savior. In fact, Michalioliakos’ group has been campaigning on the streets, something that PASOK and ND politicians have avoided for fear of angry reactions by voters who blame them for Greece’s economic collapse.
The elections results showed the party is blooming where the Greek state seems absent, the most dangerous sign of how the economic downfall has strengthened extremist groups while destroying the political mainstream, a situation that some Greek news outlets have begun paralleling to Weimar Germany.
Neo-Nazi But Anti-German
Golden Dawn is a paradox in itself. While it is clearly still comfortable with neo-Nazi ideology, it has also started developing a Greek nationalist sentiment, which is now anti-German. “We hate Germany, because it is still the leader of the banksters and the European Union,” Michaloliakos, said, using a derogatory term for bankers. Michalioliakos fiercely opposes Greece’s agreement with its foreign lenders and says that the country’s political leadership is too beholden to “international bankers.”
Both the socialists and the conservatives warn of the dangers of extremism. Evangelos Venizelos, who is running in the national elections as Socialist Party leader, warned that “Parliament cannot become a place for those nostalgic for fascism and Nazism.” Golden Dawn is nostalgic for both. And sadly, given the current polls, the Greek parliament will provide a place for Michalioliakos and his nostalgic fascists, just like the French did with Ms. Lepen, who appears to be the big winner in the French elections. From Greece to France far right parties capitalise on immigration and eurozone fears. They have the perfect recipe: from one side they are deeply conservative and talk about the old, white, illiberal, homogeneous nation states of Europe with no immigrants. On the other side they tend to be anything but right wing. They are further to the left of European social democracy in supporting generous welfare states, high salaries, pensions, and early retirement ages. And as the eurozone crisis drags on and things get worse and worse for ordinary people, the far right will be getting higher and higher percentages. One thing is clear: the situation with sundry extremists, racists, neo-Nazis, or simply deep conservatives in Hungary, Sweden, Finland, Greece, France and so on, should give Brussels some food for thought.