Athens, Greece – While far-right, populist and often neo-fascist parties across Europe have successfully broadened their bases since the massive influx of refugee arrivals started in 2015, that has not been the case in Greece.
In January 2015, the neo-fascist Golden Dawn became the third-largest political party in the Hellenic Parliament, just three years after elections that first thrust the party into the parliament.
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That same year saw the advent of a pattern across Europe. With hundreds of thousands of refugees and migrants arriving on the continent, far-right parties like Germany’s Alternative for Germany (AfD) and Austria’s Freedom Party (FPO) seized the opportunity to exploit anxiety over migration.
Since then, the FPO, which has Nazi roots, has become a junior coalition partner in Austria’s new government, and the AfD has entered Germany’s Bundestag for the first time.
In Italy, populist parties like the Northern League made large gains in the March elections, while Hungary’s recently re-elected prime minister, Viktor Orban, has grown increasingly far-right and authoritarian.
In Greece, however, Golden Dawn has been largely unable to influence the discourse on refugees and migration, and it appears to be as politically isolated as it was when its leading cadre were first arrested and charged after the September 2013 murder of anti-fascist rapper Pavlos Fyssas.
Charged with operating a criminal organisation, the trial of 69 Golden Dawn members, including its entire 2013 parliamentary group, is slated to conclude this year. It has moved at a snail’s pace, and the effect of the trial has been stifling for Golden Dawn.
Along with the anti-fascist movement entering a period of new-found strength and the internal nature of the party, the burdensome weight of the trial has largely prevented Golden Dawn from growing.
‘The parliamentary party and the militia’
In Golden Dawn Girls, a new documentary by Havard Bustnes, both the internal contradictions of the party and the growing public consternation over its brazen use of racist violence were laid bare.
When Bustnes implores Ourania, the daughter of Golden Dawn chief Nikolaos Michaloliakos, to simply condemn Nazism, she flatly refuses.
The scene was emblematic of something larger than her personal inability to condemn Nazism: While far-right parties throughout Europe have rebranded and reformed as more moderate populists, Golden Dawn is incapable of shedding its national socialist roots, according to some experts and observers.
In a recent conversation, Thanasis Kampagiannis, a lawyer in the Golden Dawn trial, echoed that analysis. “The distinctive thing about Golden Dawn is that it was at the same time the parliamentary party and the militia,” he told me.
“They want the public funds, the speeches, the offices – but they also want these offices to house clubs, sticks and knives.”
These contradictions, along with the burdensome weight of the trial, have made it hard for Golden Dawn to mobilise and find new, receptive audiences.
Another pair of scenes in Golden Dawn Girls demonstrate the disgust and horror that many Greeks felt about the wave of violence that the party’s assault mobs had unleashed in Athens and elsewhere in the years leading up to the arrests.
When Dafni, the mother of then-jailed parliamentarian Panagiotis Iliopoulos, is passing out fliers and introducing herself to shoppers in a street market, an older man dismisses her request for support.
“When the German Nazis were in Greece, I was eight years old,” he tells her. “They would gather people in the square, and they would say: ‘He is a leftist. Hang him.'”
Later, when she approaches a woman purchasing vegetables, Dafni met yet more pushback. “Just tell them not to kill us,” the woman says plainly.
Yet, while these scenes and others like them may speak to the reasons Golden Dawn hasn’t grown, there remains the grim fact that the neo-fascist party hasn’t shrunk much, either.
A Kapa Research opinion poll published earlier this month found that Golden Dawn still commanded nearly eight percent public support, as reported by the Greek daily Ekathimerini at the time.
And with increasingly heated rhetoric between Greek politicians and Turkish officials and growing tensions over name dispute negotiations between Athens and Skopje, the soil could prove fertile for Golden Dawn and other ultranationalist groups.
This comes at a time when hate crimes are back on the rise, with such crimes motivated by race, national origin or skin colour nearly tripling last year when compared with 2016.
While Golden Dawn has never had a monopoly on far-right violence and racist vigilantism, there is no doubt that it tilled the soil for others who wanted to carry out attacks.
With the trial is expected to conclude this year, some are fearful that Golden Dawn may be let off with the hook.
Yonous Muhammadi, head of the Greek Forum of Refugees, came to Greece in 2001 after fleeing war-torn Afghanistan. Having been attacked by Golden Dawn members in the past, he told me recently: “If I’m honest, I’m not so hopeful Golden Dawn will be [found guilty].”
He added grimly: “I’m afraid of what will happen [in such a case].”
Note: Patrick Strickland will host a Facebook live discussion about the rise of the far right in Europe on Wednesday, April 18th, at 8:00pm CET (19:00 GMT). Send us your comments and questions on Facebook www.facebook.com/MovingDocs and Twitter @MovingDocs.