As summer draws to a close in Greece, the latest opinion poll shows falling support for every party in Parliament. Except one that is - the neo-nazi Golden Dawn. From 6.9% in June's legislative election, a Pulse poll for Pontiki newspaper puts the Greek fascists on 10.5% of the popular vote, 2.5% ahead of the centre-left PASOK, who previously polled 43.92% in Greece's 2009 elections before watching their support collapse in the wake of the Eurozone crisis.
Golden Dawn’s signature mix of militaristic violence and public "goodwill" has been fully on display this summer. Though keen to downplay the apparent role of some of their members in the Srebrenica massacre (as noted here), the party still trades on its thuggish image, with party leader Nikolaos Michaloliakos invariably flanked by skinheads in his public appearances. In the Peloponnese, Golden Dawn have called upon young men to join their “security brigades”, with their uniforms including black shirts, naturally. After the torture of an Egyptian migrant there, the communist KKE party condemned the government’s policies and actions on immigration for ramping up racial hatred, and fuelling the climate in which Golden Dawn’s brand of racially motivated violence has prospered. Human Rights Watch have compiled a report on the escalating Rates of attacks on migrants, documented and undocumented. The appointment of an MP from an anti-semitic punk band, whose lyrics included "Fuck Anne Frank" and "I want to piss on the wailing wall", gives a sense of the mindset that accompanies this violent behaviour.
As for the purported acts of goodwill, these are little more than a thin veneer which, if anything, merely confirms the party’s true character. The attempt to open blood banks, but for Greeks only, is one example. Another is the setting up of food banks in Syntagma Square where before being fed, citizens had to show ID to prove they were "ethnically Greek". Disturbingly, their identification details were then recorded by the party. Another part of the public service peformed by Golden Dawn has been the spreading of inflammatory disinformation about the Greek border agencies. All this from a party growing increasingly adept at using social media to promote its message.
More troubling still is the fact that Greece’s neo-nazis do not find themselves isolated or out on the fringe. Victims of racist attacks have told of pressure by police to drop charges, deny Golden Dawn members were the perpetrators, and even to claim other migrants attacked them. In a way, this is unsurprising. The militaristic ultra-nationalism pedalled by the party constitutes a direct rhetorical and ideological link to the former ruling military junta, which had always treated the police very well. And though the zombie statistic from To Vima that 50% of police officers voted for Golden Dawn in the last election has been shown repeatedly to be false (most deftly here by Theodora Oikonomides) it's undeniable that support for Golden Dawn amongst the police is far higher than amongst the general populace.
Is Golden Dawn's increasing success a surprise? Not for anyone following the actions of the New Democracy/PASOK government, which has consistently pandered to, and thus lent credibility to, the fascists’ trademark xenophobia. Over the summer, in a period when many Greeks leave Athens, the police were ordered to stop and search foreigners and detain them while their domicile status was checked. When Golden Dawn threatened to form vigilante squads to, amongst other things, drag migrants and their children from hospitals and kindergartens, they were warned off doing so in parliament: "Raid brigades across the country, who trade upon national symbols, will not be tolerated. Any such phenomenon will be crushed" Public Order minister Nikos Dendias told Golden Dawn spokesman Ilias Kasidiaris in response to an oral question. However, shortly afterwards, as dozens of undocumented migrants were transferred to a disused military base in Corinth, Golden Dawn members were there waiting with baseball bats, stern faces, and flags bearing the swastika homage whorl of their logo. Since the start of the "Xenios Zeus" campaign to crack down on illegal immigration the Greek police have detained over 15,000 and arrested more than 2,000 foreigners who didn't meet legal conditions. Seeing their own policies enacted, with the added opportunity to portray themselves as protectors of Greece, is a coup for Golden Dawn, and one they can dress up as testament to their lobbying abilities in parliament and the press.
The violence of Golden Dawn is not merely limited to its lay members, however. Despite the new parliament only being sworn in two months ago, already the parliamentary ethics committee have had to convene following a complaint by SYRIZA. Dimitris Koukoutsis, a senior member of the party is accused of attacking three people as they left parliament: SYRIZA MP Vasiliki Katrivanou, ANTARSYA councillor Petros Constantinou and Javiet Aslam, the president of the Pakistani Community in Greece. Similarly, Golden Dawn MP Efstathios Boukouras attacked Corinth Mayor Alekos Pnevmatikos (PASOK) with a military whip during an argument about forest fires in the area.
Meanwhile, Ilias Kasidiaris continues his fight to get immunity from prosecution and the movement restrictions linked to a pending court case against him lifted. Prior to becoming an MP, Kasidiaris was arrested for allegedly providing a getaway car to fellow Golden Dawn members who attacked and fatally stabbed a postgraduate student at Athens Polytechnic in October 2007. Kasidiaris gained worldwide infamy for throwing water in the face of SYRIZA deputy Rena Dourou before repeatedly hitting Communist Party member Liana Kanelli in the face, on live TV. Where is he now? He's Golden Dawn's main spokesman as well as an MP, and being primed to take over from Nikolaos Michaloliakos as party leader.
Kasidiaris may be a thug, but he's no fool. As the Eurozone crisis continues to push Greeks away from PASOK and the mainstream right/centrist parties, he's positioning Golden Dawn as a legitimate, practical party, and taking full credit for the government crackdown on immigrants across the country.
Dawn Foster is a writer, and editor of The Flick.