With the Greek government having arrested its leaders and trying to dismantle the party, the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn has chosen the backup name of National Dawn to use in upcoming municipal elections if it is banned.
Golden Dawn spokesman Ilias Kasidiaris, out on bail and among the party hierarchy arrested on charges of running a criminal gang, said it would rise under the other name and field candidates no matter how the government tries to stop it.
“Patriots will have a party to vote for in the next election if (authorities) go ahead with the coup to ban Golden Dawn,” he told a gathering of about 3,000 Golden Dawn supporters on Feb. 1.
He was the keynote speaker at the Golden Dawn rally held to commemorate a 1996 incident which cost the lives of three navy officers and brought Greece and Turkey to the brink of war. Golden Dawn has been holding the rally for years at the monument dedicated to the three officers, in central Athens.
A formerly marginal group with neo-Nazi roots, Golden Dawn exploded in popularity amid Greece’s financial crisis, a growing sense of insecurity and an expanding migrant presence.
It entered Parliament for the first time in June 2012, as the fifth most popular, gaining 7 percent of the vote. Despite the jailing of its leaders, it consistently comes in third place in opinion polls, although its appeal has dropped back to single digits after the murder in Sept. 2013 of an anti-fascist hip-hop artist, Pavlos Fyssas, by a party member.
Two of Golden Dawn’s guards at a neighborhood office were later gunned down by a group which said it was in retaliation for the killing of Fyssas, setting off fears of a spiral of retribution.
Nonetheless, it remains Greece ‘s third most popular political party and is expected to perform well in the May elections amid anger over government cuts. Recent polls show the party would garner 8.9 to 10.3 percent of the vote if it were held now.
Kasidiaris, who is running for mayor of Athens, said that the arrests of senior Golden Dawn members wouldn’t stop the party from moving forward.
“They put us in jail. And what happened? Did we falter? No, we did not,” he said. “We are stronger, we are more powerful and in a short time we will be in power.”
A prosecutor’s report called Golden Dawn a “criminal organization” that has engaged in attacks on people, some fatal, with migrants a favorite target. The report said Golden Dawn functioned as a top-down organization with a strict hierarchy, with Nikos Michaloliakos as a “fuehrer-like leader” who was aware of all criminal actions.
Since the arrest of Michaloliakos and his officials, there have been calls to ban the party and Kasidiaris said the National Dawn move was a contingency response to provide a legal front in case of such a ban.
“We will contest the elections, whatever happens. Greek patriots have founded National Dawn, which does not include the Golden Dawn ‘murderers,'” Kasidiaris said, referring to those who imprisoned his colleagues.
While the extreme rightists dispersed peacefully from the area of the rally, there were scuffles between leftists staging a counter-rally at Syntagma Square, a few hundred meters away outside the Greek parliament.
Police had banned both right and left extremists from marching through central Athens to prevent bloody clashes between the two. The scuffles broke out when the leftists spotted a man carrying a Greek flag, attacking and injuring him slightly. Golden Dawn rallies frequently feature supporters waving a field of Greek flags.
Riot police used stun grenades and tear gas to disperse the crowd. The chase eventually ended at a subway station, where police again used tear gas amid protesting commuters and chased protesters through the tunnels. Protesters set fire to garbage cans and an ATM but the riot was short-lived. Police detained six persons and eventually arrested one.