Greek party with neo-Nazi slant poised for seats in parliament

Sat, Apr 28, 2012, 01:00

Much of the symbolism and political message of Golden Dawn puts the blame on migrants

ILLEGAL IMMIGRATION is a major issue in the Greek general election and if opinion polls are to be believed, a party with more than a whiff of neo-Nazism about it is poised to enter parliament for the first time after the May 6th vote.

Officially, immigrants amount to about 10 per cent of the Greek population – about a million people. However, in the absence of reliable statistics, many believe the figure is higher.

Loukas Tsoukalis, president of the Hellenic Foundation for European and Foreign Policy, suggests it is closer to 15 per cent – that is more than 1.5 million people in a host population of 11 million.

The net effect, the ghettoisation of a large swathe of central Athens for instance and a popular desire to apportion blame for the crisis engulfing Greece, has provided fertile territory for Golden Dawn, a far-right organisation with a penchant for black shirts and neo-Nazi paraphernalia.

It was founded in 1993 by Nikolaos Michaloliakos (55), a far-right activist since elected to Athens Council. A fan of the junta that ruled Greece from 1967 to 1974, Michaloliakos has fond memories of meeting the deposed colonels while in jail, where he was twice – once for assaulting journalists and once for illegally carrying guns and explosives while also serving in the Greek army, from which he was then cashiered.

“The centre of Athens explains Golden Dawn,” says Tsoukalis. “Immigration is now out of control; they [people from Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran, Iraq and other parts of central Asia] keep on flowing in every day, through the islands and across the border with Turkey.

“So, after the election, we will have, for the first time in 38 years, the extreme right in parliament which will not be a pleasant thing . . . It is going to be an awful parliament, a zoo. In a parliament of 300, you [will] have up to 60 who are screaming.”

There is no screaming in the offices of Golden Dawn, located on the edge of the heavily immigrant area of northwest Athens. A huge banner hanging over the second-floor balcony announces, in deep red and black, the party’s presence. The party’s symbol, a variation of the ancient Greek meandros, the decorative meandering line often used as a border, is also on display. It evokes comparison with the swastika, the Nazi symbol.

Several young men in their 30s hanging around the pavement ignore me as I enter the building. Inside the narrow hall, there are half a dozen motorcycle helmets but no bikes visible. There are Greek flags furled around poles and what looks like a home-made riot shield. The office, a large open-plan room, is crowded with about 15 people, all men bar two, and most, but not all, in their 20s or 30s.

There are three tables and chairs and activity that mirrors any constituency office during an election campaign, but the posters and books on display tell a different story.

Most of the books for sale have neo-Nazi symbols on their covers. Most are in Greek and are historical but they include one titled White Power. Another sports on its cover Josef Goebbels, Hitler’s minister for propaganda; still another has a picture of Field Marshall Erwin Rommel, commander of the German- Italian Afrikakorps in the second World War.

Party T-shirts and baseball-style caps are on sale. So too are CDs by Der Stümer (German for The Striker), a Greek heavy metal band, whose members are all in Golden Dawn and who take their name from the most virulently anti-Jewish newspaper published in Germany between 1924 and 1945.

Did the Holocaust happen, I ask Costas Alexandrakis (33), the mild-mannered, smiling activist who runs the office and says his day job is home schooling maths teaching. The reply is, well, meandering . . .

“We want to see history taught not in the politically correct way,” he begins. “David Irvine [the British writer and Holocaust denier] is a good historian but after the second World War, the victors wrote history. We want to see history in all its views . . .”

Yes, but did the Holocaust happen?

“Look, for the Holocaust right now in Europe, even if I say the Holocaust didn’t happen, I will go to jail. That’s not democracy, that’s not how history should be taught.”

But did it happen? “Look,” he adds, “many Jews died in the second World War in concentration camps but the whole thing is about the numbers. You want me to count them?”

What does Golden Dawn want for Greece?   “We want Greece for the Greek people,” he says. “Greece no longer belongs to Greeks but to bankers and immigrants. Greek people that live in the centre of Athens are afraid to walk after seven [at night]. They [immigrants] kill and rape, they steal. Look around, soon other areas will fall.”

So what is to happen? “They must go home, to Afghanistan, to Pakistan, Libya, Algeria – I don’t know. When I see a Greek child, a little Greek child, I don’t care where they [the immigrants] go; I just want him out.”

Alexandrakis does not believe in democracy, as most people seem to understand it. “The politicians lie and steal from me and my people. I don’t believe in this democracy. Real democracy is telling the truth.” Nor does he believe in capitalism.

“I feel socialist but not Marxist,” he says. “I don’t believe in syndicalism [a system of economic theory involving trade union collectivism and state economic corporatism that found adherents in 1930s Italy, France and Spain] or in fascism. I believe in co-operation, in one union for all workers.

“I am a nationalist, I am a socialist but I am not German so I am not a national socialist.”

Golden Dawn and Alexandrakis’s solution to the current crisis is for Greece to remain in the European Union and the euro.

“Leaving is not feasible now but we must make Greek people work – go back to industry and agriculture and make our economy ourselves, not with tourism.”

Golden Dawn says it has about 10,000 members – “and more every day,” says Alexandrakis. When opinion polls ceased on April 20th, it was standing consistently above 5 per cent – enough comfortably to win a dozen seats or more.