Far-right Greek party with neo-Nazi roots crashes out of Parliament

After Sunday election, Golden Dawn leader says ‘fight for nationalism continues’; faction had been Greece’s third-largest during country’s economic crisis

Supporters of Greece's far-right Golden Dawn party at a rally in Athens, February 2, 2019. (AP Photo/Yorgos Karahalis)
Supporters of Greece's far-right Golden Dawn party at a rally in Athens, February 2, 2019. (AP Photo/Yorgos Karahalis)

ATHENS, Greece (AP) — Golden Dawn, the far-right, anti-immigrant party that had shocked Greek politics by evolving from a marginal, violent neo-Nazi group into Greece’s third-largest party during the country’s economic crisis, was knocked out of Parliament in Sunday’s national election.

With nearly 95 percent of precincts reporting, Golden Dawn had 2.95% of the votes, just under the 3% threshold needed to win representation in Parliament.

The government’s official pollster declared that the party had no chance to enter Parliament, and party leader Nikos Mihaloliakos admitted as much when he declared in a fiery concession speech that “Golden Dawn is not finished.”

Golden Dawn had 18 lawmakers in the outgoing 300-member Parliament, having won 6.99% of the votes in the last national election, in September 2015.

Greek opposition leader Kyriakos Mitsotakis after his win in the country’s parliamentary in Athens, July 7, 2019. (AP Photo/Petros Giannakouris)

“We are sending a message to our enemies and so-called friends: Golden Dawn is not finished, get over it. The fight for nationalism continues. We return where we became strong: on the streets and squares, in a tough struggle against Bolshevism and the coming savage capitalism,” Mihaloliakos told a crowd of supporters.

He attacked both the outgoing prime minister, leftist Alexis Tsipras, and his incoming successor, conservative Kyriakos Mitsotakis. Mihaloliakos ended his speech with his customary “Hail victory!” — a direct reference to the Nazis’ “Sieg heil” salutation.

Founded in 1985, Golden Dawn was known for years as a collection of violent youths obsessed with military bearing and ready to attack political opponents and then increasingly migrants, as Greece became a destination for the latter.

Golden Dawn’s appeal long remained insignificant, polling just 0.29% in the October 2009 election. But as Greece’s economic crisis unfolded, the party achieved a breakthrough in 2010 municipal elections, getting its first elected officials and scoring best in neighborhoods with a heavy migrant presence.

Golden Dawn party leader Nikos Mihaloliakos speaks during a news conference in Athens, May 6, 2012. (AP Photo/Petros Giannakourism, File)

It won its first seats in Parliament in 2012, and in four successive national elections held from 2012 to 2015 it got around 7% of the votes. Its high point came in the 2014 European elections, when it polled 9.39% to become Greece’s third-largest party — a position it retained in national elections held in January and September 2015.

Golden Dawn’s weakening become apparent in May’s European election, when it got only 4.87% and slipped into fifth place among Greece’s parties. A new party on the far-right, Greek Solution, less extreme and apparently less menacing, may have siphoned away rightist support. It is projected to win 10 seats in the new Parliament.

Golden Dawn also faces potential legal problems. A party member is accused of murdering an activist musician in September 2013, and a case is wrapping up in which several prominent party officials, including Mihaloliakos, face charges of operating a criminal organization. Any convictions would hit the party hard.

A woman casts her ballot at a polling station in Athens, July 7, 2019. (AP Photo/Thanassis Stavrakis)

Still, many doubt Golden Dawn will shrink back to its previous marginal status. In the European elections, the party’s share of the vote among 17- to 24-year-olds was about 13%.

Some recent statements by prominent party leader Ilias Kasidiaris, until recently also a lawmaker and a candidate for mayor of Athens in May, indicated that Golden Dawn may seek to rebrand itself as a less extreme organization, aligned with Euroskeptic or alt-right forces. Kasidiaris has expressed admiration for Italy’s anti-immigrant deputy premier, Mateo Salvini, and spoken favorably of the largely Euroskeptic Eastern European “Visegrad countries” — Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia.

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