Jon Henley, Guardian (London), June 18, 2012
Despite predictions of a slump in popularity, Golden Dawn won 6.92% of the vote — marginally down from 6.97% last month.
Its members have slapped and hurled water at female rival politicians live on TV, threatened to throw immigrants and their children out of hospitals and creches, been accused of violent assaults on foreign workers in Athens, and arrested for attacking anarchists. But despite polls predicting Golden Dawn’s share of the vote would slump following its shock eruption on to the national stage last month, support for Greece‘s ultra-right party — which preaches ridding the country of illegal immigrants, promotes books on Aryan supremacy and has denied the Holocaust — held strikingly firm in Sunday’s general election re-run.
According to official government figures, Golden Dawn collected 425,970 votes compared with 441,018 in the previous, inconclusive vote on 6 May. That gave the party a 6.92% share of the national vote, only marginally down on the 6.97% it scored last month, and secured it 18 seats in parliament — just three fewer than before.
“It really shows the aggression in Greek society right now,” said Nikos Zydakis, commentator and editor in chief of the daily Kathimerini. “This is a society not just in crisis, but in depression — like Germany or Italy in the 30s. The EU is pushing too hard, on the economy, yes, but also on society, which is cracking. When that happens, all the barriers to extremism fall.”
Golden Dawn collected around 10% of the vote in parts of Piraeus and the Peloponnese, and saw its share between the two polls fall significantly — by between 1% and 2% — in only a handful of electoral districts, including one part of Athens and in Corinthia. Its lowest score nationally was on Crete, where it averaged little over 3%. “Today’s vote proves that the nationalist movement is here to stay,” the party’s leader, Nikolaos Mihaloliakos, who fiercely denies his party is neo-Nazi, said in a televised message on Sunday night. “Golden Dawn represents the Greece of the future.”
Polls had earlier estimated that support for Golden Dawn had dipped to between 3.6% and 5% percent before Sunday’s vote, with some voters seeming set to take their vote elsewhere after watching assorted party members order journalists to stand to attention, get themselves arrested for violent aggression, and smile next to an Auschwitz oven.
In the most highly publicised incident, the party spokesman Ilias Kasidiaris hurled water at one leftwing female rival then slapped another during a live TV debate, before going on the run. He appeared alongside his party leader on TV on Sunday night. Sia Anagnostpoulou, a historian and political scientist at Athens Panteion university, said Golden Dawn, whose party symbol resembles the Nazi swastika and whose members frequently give Nazi-style salutes, is rooted in a historic current of extreme nationalist neo-Nazism in Greece.
“Combine that with relatively high immigration, particularly Muslim immigration, and the fear and insecurity engendered by the economic crisis, and you have a potent cocktail,” she said. “This is a racist party, its language is completely racist. But its support is nourished by fear.” Zydakis said Golden Dawn, which opposes the international bailout deal for Greece, proposes mining Greece’s borders to stop illegal immigration, and actively works to clean up crime-ridden neighbourhoods, is also part of a broader nationalist, protectionist and anti-immigrant movement across Europe, from Scandinavia through Austria, the Netherlands and France.
Javed Aslam, president of the Union of Immigrant Workers, said the party’s score was also a consequence of mainstream political parties repeatedly blaming foreign workers for the country’s woes. “Then people start to think: ‘That’s why I haven’t got a job,’“ he said. “The police, too, stand by while these people attack foreign workers on buses, trains, in the street. This is a black day for foreigners in Greece.”
Golden Dawn voters, however, are increasingly confident about expressing their views. In the central Athens neighbourhood of Ayios Panteleimonas, Alex said he had voted for the party because “they help deal with the immigrants”. A 29-year-old unemployed labourer, he said his mother had been attacked twice by men he presumed to be illegal immigrants. On one occasion “they took her crucifix from round her neck”, he said.
Was he happy at Kasidiaris televised assault? “They wound him up, called him a fascist and a Nazi. How much is he supposed to take?” he said. “You can say that it’s shameful. But, you know, she asked for it.”
Party members and sympathisers have become a strong force in Ayios Panteleimonas, lingering outside cafes in black T-shirts. The area used to be solidly middle-class but has in recent years seen a large influx of immigration, mainly Somalis, Nigerians, eastern Europeans and south Asians. Violent crime has risen. Aris, a postman who grew up in the area, said crime was more of a concern than the economy. “When I don’t feel safe in the place I was born, when I live just streets from my mother and she asks me to call her at 9pm to let her know I got home safe, it hurts psychologically,” he said. “In a situation where we’re going bankrupt, we just can’t take more hard luck stories from another unfortunate part of the world.”