Rise of Far Right in Greece Worries Mainstream

Elena Becatoros, AP, April 30, 2012

Reeling from a vicious financial crisis that has cost them pensions and jobs, Greeks have been turning away in droves from the mainstream politicians they feel have let them down. Another political force is trying to tap the void, with blunt promises to “clean up” the country.

It’s one that could see Europe’s most extreme far right deputies take up seats in Greece’s Parliament in crucial May 6 elections.

Black-clad Golden Dawn members have been storming across the campaign trail across Greece, stopping to chat at cafes and shops, handing out fliers promising security in crime-ridden neighborhoods—and vowing to kick out immigrants.

Greece’s borders, they say, must be sealed with land mines to stop illegal crossing into a country that became the entry point for 90 percent of the European Union’s illegal migrants. Authorities estimate there are about 1 million migrants living in this country of 11 million.

Appealing to populist sentiment, Golden Dawn has been gathering donations of food and clothing to deliver to the needy while pledging to make politicians accountable for the crisis. {snip}

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Firmly on the fringe of the right since it first appeared 20 years ago, Golden Dawn garnered a meager 0.23 percent in the 2009 elections. Now, it looks set to easily win more than the 3 percent threshold needed to enter Parliament, with recent opinion polls showing support at about 5 percent.

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With parts of central Athens turning into ghetto-like neighborhoods where drug users inject openly and muggings and burglaries are regular events, many have lost confidence in the police.

Giorgos Vardzis, who lives in the small seaside town of Artemida, has taken down the numbers of Golden Dawn members in case of emergencies.

“Who else should I call, the police? . . . When you ask for help from the police because you’re being killed, you have to be killed first, and then the police will come,” he said.

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Led by Nikolas Mihaloliakos, who won a seat on the Athens city council in 2010 local elections and shocked Greeks by delivering a fascist salute in his first appearance there, Golden Dawn rejects the neo-Nazi label, pointing out that many of their fathers fought the Germans during the Nazi occupation of Greece.

“We are Greek nationalists. Nothing more and nothing less than that,” said Kasidiaris.

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With none of its more than 220 candidates, bar its leader, a recognized politician, the party also plays to voters disillusioned with the political elite.

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So the mainstream has been scrambling to win back the right-wing vote, putting immigration at the top of the agenda. Public Order Minister Michalis Chrysohoidis has pledged to build detention centers for 30,000 illegal immigrants by 2014, with the first one to open within days. Police have raided migrant apartments, and legislation now allows authorities to force migrants to have health checks and medical treatment.

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For their part, Golden Dawn seem confident of taking up parliamentary seats after May 6—even if it is on a protest vote.

“That is why the whole system is fighting us,” said [party candidate Epaminondas] Anyfantis. “Because they are afraid that when we get into Parliament, the Greek people will understand that we are neither a gang, nor Nazis, nor children of Hitler. . . .   We are just Greek patriots, we love our country. We are prepared even to sacrifice ourselves for our beliefs, for the country, for its people.”

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