ATHENS – Although Greece country suffers through a crushing economic crisis, most citizens are not desperate enough to embrace the hate rhetoric and immigrant-bashing of the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn party.
“They have a bad history and violence breeds violence,” Athens resident Stavros Petropoulos, 35, told Southeast European Times. “People are in despair, but Golden Dawn is a trend and they will be over.”
The extremist group, which was regarded as a joke three years ago when it won only 0.29 percent in elections, got 6.97 percent this year to garner 18 parliamentary seats on an anti-immigrant platform and now has the support of 10 to 12 percent of voters, polls show.
But its leaders have been anything but parliamentarian after taking their seats. Several of its MPs took part in a party raid, smashing immigrants’ stalls at a local fair, causing some to call for authorities to pull their political immunity.
The neo-Nazi party embraces an extremist ideology. They promised to rid the country of illegal immigrants and plant landmines on the borders to make sure no more came in. They put up hate flyers around Athens’ gay club district. They said people with disabilities were undesirable. They even threatened to unleash “stormtroopers” on Greece.
Founded in the early 1980’s by backers of the vicious military junta that governed Greece from 1967 to 1974 and tortured opponents, Golden Dawn party members wear black T-shirts bearing the meander, an ancient symbol that resembles a swastika. It gives away food and calls for blood banks for Greeks only, conjuring recollections of Aryan superiority messages in Nazi Germany.
Golden Dawn’s leader Nikolaos Michaloliakos, who has twice been imprisoned and tossed out of the military, gives bombastic speeches against those he perceives as enemies, including the parliament, and has targeted the disaffected and dismissed criticism and suggestions the party should be banned. He would not talk to SETimes despite repeated requests for interviews.
With nearly 2 million people out of work and the country’s politicians and rich elite above the fray, Golden Dawn has associated itself with the working class and poor, and played on the fears of illegal immigrants overrunning the country, who they blame for a surge in crime. PASOK leader Evangelos Venizelos said, however, that disdain for Golden Dawn is widespread among the mainstream parties. “Parliament cannot become a place for those nostalgic for fascism and Nazism,” he said.
George Tzogopoulos, a research fellow at the Hellenic Foundation for European and Foreign Policy (ELIAMEP) in Athens, said the party’s popularity should not be a surprise. “Its rise is a normal phenomenon in a time of crisis,” he told SETimes. “When people suffer, they tend to endorse the rhetoric of extreme parties.”
Yiorgos Tsalikis, 45, a clerk at a fast food outlet in an Athens neighborhood said many Greeks who support Golden Dawn don’t like what it stands for, but have given up on the country’s leaders. “It’s because of the despair people feel, they are desperate and don’t trust politicians,” he told SETimes.
Prime Minister Antonis Samaras, overseeing an uneasy coalition with his otherwise rivals, the PASOK Socialists and the tiny Democratic Left, has been forced to take a harder turn to the right, ordering a roundup of illegal immigrants to be put in detention centers around the country. “Many Greeks are for different reasons disappointed by the established political system and they express this disappointment, or anger by voting for Golden Dawn which appears itself as an anti-systemic movement,” Klapsis said.
Alex Afouxenidis, a sociologist at the Athens-based National Centre of Social Research told SETimes that, “Golden Dawn managed to bring together a number of people who existed across the established political spectrum. There have always been many, many people in Greece with such opinions, extreme right wing, racist, and highly conservative.”
“I don’t like them, but they are the only party that does something,” Yiota Lazarou, 18, told SETimes. Alexandros Sakellariou, a sociologist and researcher at Panteion University in Athens, told SETimes that he’s worried that young Greeks especially are ignorant of the Nazi occupation of Greece and atrocities. “This means that the ground is fertile for Golden Dawn,” he said, adding that he thinks the party is dangerous.
“They attack immigrants and other social or religious groups and homosexuals and Muslims, threatening them that they are the next to come. Golden Dawn does not have any legitimate place in the government, but it does have a legitimate place in the political arena from the moment it is a legitimate political party,” he said.
(Reprinted by permission of Southeast European Times, www.setimes.com)