Greece election: Neo-Nazi party still vocal despite its leaders being in jail

Golden Dawn’s jailed leader Nikos Michaloliakos addresses rally in the northern Greek city of Thessalonikirally by phone

Golden Dawn party’s Ilias Panagiotaros delivers a speech during a rally in Athens last May. The far right party aims to become  Greece’s third political force in the elections on January 25th. Photograph: Reuters

Golden Dawn party’s Ilias Panagiotaros delivers a speech during a rally in Athens last May. The far right party aims to become Greece’s third political force in the elections on January 25th. Photograph: Reuters

 

It’s doubtful whether the rally’s organisers intended the analogy, but the sight of rows of people staring at an empty stage and breaking into chants in response to the slightly muffled, staccato voice blaring out from the loudspeakers made it difficult not to compare the scene with something from a dystopian George Orwell novel.

The crowd, gathered in a hotel in the northern Greek city of Thessaloniki, had already stood to attention before the floor was handed over to the man they call the “leader”, Nikos Michaloliakos.

And by the time Golden Dawn’s imprisoned boss had finished his speech 20 minutes later, most of them were still on their feet.

Custody

Along with half of his party’s MPs, Michaloliakos has been in custody since late September 2013, pending trial for forming and running a criminal organisation. His arrest followed a crackdown on the neo-Nazi party triggered by the murder of left-wing rapper Pavlos Fyssas by a party member.

Golden Dawn will become the country’s third political force in the elections on January 25th,” Michaloliakos told the rally over the phone from his Athens prison cell.

Lashing out at the government and the election favourite Syriza party, he claimed his party was the target of a “political conspiracy”.

Unlike the two election campaigns in 2012, when the party’s spokesman assaulted a woman opponent on live television, Golden Dawn is barely visible in this contest – although like all contestants it does enjoy allocated slots for party political broadcasts on all TV channels.

Party support

The prosecution of its leadership and the reduced media exposure, however, have barely dented the party’s support.

“Golden Dawn has maintained much of its popularity because unfortunately none of the political reasons that led people to vote for them has disappeared,” says journalist Dimitris Psarras, an expert on the party.

Greece has experienced not only an economic crisis but a universal collapse of the political system, where large segments of the population no longer trust the media or democratic institutions such as the justice system.”

A survey published on Wednesday put Golden Dawn in fourth place, on 4.6 per cent. Given the reluctance of voters to admit to supporting the party, many expect it to perform better on election day, as happened in the European Parliament elections, when it won 9.4 per cent and had three MEPs elected.

Evidence

“If you consider that the right-wing element that votes Golden Dawn is already prone to conspiracy theories and the belief that Greece is surrounded by enemies, it is very easy for them to view the prosecution as politically motivated,” says Psarras, who believes the evidence against the Golden Dawn leadership is more than enough to convict them.

“Golden Dawn’s violent activities were directed by a core of a few hundred members, organised like a militia. So when the ‘leader’ and the hierarchy were jailed, there was a dramatic decrease in night-time attacks and assaults on migrants,” he says, underlining that this demonstrates the importance of treating the party as a criminal organisation.

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