By Danae Leivada
Golden Dawn, Greece’s extremist far-right party, appeared on the political scene almost 30 years ago, but has thrived during the past crisis years.
Here’s what you need to know about it:
Nikos Michaloliakos, a former mathematics student who had been a member of extremist right-wing youth organizations since his teenage years and was imprisoned for participating in bomb attacks in Athens, launched “Golden Dawn,” a national-socialist journal supportive of Greece’s former military junta, in 1980. Five years later, he founded a political party with the same name.
From the start, Michaloliakos’ program and semiotics were quintessentially nationalist and racist, strongly reminiscent of Nazi ideology. Golden Dawn was recognized as a political party in 1993, but because of its radical beliefs remained marginal at first.
In the 1990s, the party gained some attention when it opposed the name change of the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia to the “Republic of Macedonia” — a designation Greeks associate with the territories in the north of Greece — and because of the rise of violence by extreme-right street gangs that were behind attacks on demonstrators and left-wing students.
Golden Dawn participated for the first time in elections in 1996, receiving 0.1 percent of the vote. They didn’t participate again in elections until 2009, when they won almost 0.3 percent of the vote.
Golden Dawn’s big boost occurred under the conditions of harsh economic crisis, biting poverty and surging unemployment that erupted in Greece in 2009, and grew after the country signed up for a number of bailouts by its European partners. As the party made vocal accusations against “corrupt” politicians of the old status quo and condemned the austerity brought on by the bailouts, Golden Dawn saw its popularity rise among the disaffected. In the 2012 parliamentary elections, Golden Dawn won 6.9 percent of the popular vote; in elections this January, it came in third behind Syriza and New Democracy.
Golden Dawn’s political program today is a mix of anti-austerity and anti-EU rhetoric, with strong elements of racism and anti-immigration policies. They propose to arrest and deport all “illegal immigrants” and hold them in detention camps that “will not resemble five-star hotels” between arrest and deportation.
In recent years, and especially since it entered the Greek parliament, Golden Dawn has attempted a face-lift of its profile, presenting its ideology as merely nationalist and trying to shed all suspicion of links to Nazi ideology. Investigations by journalists and academics over the years, however, have revealed articles in the Golden Dawn magazine admiring Hitler, and found images of Nazi salutes during Golden Dawn rallies.
In terms of economic and social policies, the party does not propose specific fiscal and economic programs needed for the country to overcome the crisis. Rather, Golden Dawn sticks to criticizing the proposals of other parties and advocating the expulsion of immigrants.
When it comes to the thousands of refugees and migrants arriving daily on the islands of East Aegean, Golden Dawn representatives who have visited them have been speaking on behalf of residents who do not want to see their islands “collapse under the thousands of illegal immigrants.”
In September 2013, anti-fascist hip hop artist Pavlos Fyssas was murdered by a Golden Dawn member in the city of Piraeus. According to investigators, the perpetrator, Giorgos Roupakias, had been in direct contact with top Golden Dawn party members during and after the murder.
Although Golden Dawn has denied all involvement in the Fyssas murder, several high-standing party members, including party leader Michaloliakos, have been charged in the wake of the investigation of the case. They now face several accusations, including of forming a criminal organization and being responsible for assaults on immigrants.